A video game file sharer uploaded a cracked preview build of Deus Ex: Human Revolution to torrent sites as part of an experiment designed to help fight PC game piracy.
In what is perhaps the most bizarre anti-piracy effort so far, Vigilant Defender founder James Grimshaw took the preview build of the Eidos Montreal-developed action stealth game, which leaked in May, modified it to look like official releases from well-known piracy groups, and uploaded it to torrent sites for pirates to download.
Included were the first few levels of the game, but after level three was completed, pirates were booted out and directed to an online questionnaire.
Questions included why people illegally download and which torrent sites they use. It also asked questions around DRM systems such as SecuROM and Steam.
Speaking to Eurogamer, Grimshaw defended his controversial "anti-piracy experiment", saying it was designed to get users to download a free trial of a game and then go on to buy the full product.
"We wanted two things: to gain attention and let people know of our anti-piracy strategy, and to show that illegal downloaders can be potential customers," he said.
Grimshaw estimates around a million people downloaded the 'trial' version of Deus Ex, based on the 900,000 unique visitors it saw come to the company's questionnaire.
Vigilant Defender, a small operation based in Co. Mayo, Ireland, claims to offer game publishers anti-piracy strategies.
It wants to create some kind of controlled distribution system through torrent sites that will benefit publishers in the long run.
As part of its Deus Ex experiment, Vigilant Defender set up a Paypal account and promised to distribute a copy of the torrent to anyone who gave a donation.
"This would then go back straight to the publisher, but this didn't happen and shut down this part of the anti-piracy experiment," Grimshaw said.
Grimshaw's goal was to "ask illegal downloaders what they would pay, then to ask them to put their money where their mouth is".
He said 26,000 clicked a link declaring their interest to pay, and the average pledged was 14.49 euro.
While most publishers agree PC piracy is harmful, Grimshaw insists he is helping their cause.
"We are offering them a way to reach the mass market, a targeted mass market of illegal downloaders, at an unbelievably low cost. This low cost will allow us to encourage more money back to the publisher; the rate of return is much higher as they only have to supply one digital copy."
Grimshaw has contacted Square Enix and Eidos about Vigilant Defender's work, but is yet to hear back. Square Enix declined to comment when contacted by Eurogamer.
Either way, Grimshaw and Vigilant Defender appear determined to mark their mark.
"Sceptics will always exist; only people can stop illegal downloading, this anti-piracy method gives customers hundreds of benefits that far outweigh piracy," Grimshaw said. "This is the best way to stop piracy.
"The grandeur of our experiment was not to upset people, but to get the attention and show we could do this. Of course we are sorry for having to attempt this in such an extravagant way, but now we are here we can get down to business."
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