A new study, believed to be the first ever of its size, has determined that game piracy is widespread but not to the extent that the industry claims.
Academics from three separate universities say they have gathered three months of data from a large-scale open-method investigation into torrent downloads. They say this has been "the largest examination of game piracy via P2P networks to date", finding that 173 games were illicitly downloaded by a total of 12.6 million people during a 90-day period.
These findings show game piracy is widespread, though they contradict data published by the ESA, which previously claimed that piracy was responsible for about 10 million illegal downloads of around 200 games in just a single month.
The paper, published here, claims there is "very little objective information available about the magnitude of piracy".
It also claims that data reported by the ESA is "potentially biased, partially due to the interest of the industry to reduce piracy and thus potentially over-estimate the problem".
One of the study's authors, Anders Drachen of Aalborg University, said it was important to remember that - despite the lack of objective data - game piracy remains a key problem.
"First and foremost, P2P game piracy is extraordinarily prevalent and geographically distributed," he said.
"However, the numbers in our investigation suggest that previously reported magnitudes in game piracy are too high. It also appears that some common myths are wrong, eg that it is only shooters that get pirated, as we see a lot of activity for children's and family games on BitTorrent for the period we investigated."
Further reading: DRM vs Piracy: An expanded timeline