My apologies. I missed that subtle distinction in the attitude of the remainder of your post and in my rush to make a point of my own.
I think crippled & broken as descriptions are a bit exaggerated. You could easily argue that ending this version of the game in an winnable scenario isn’t as fun as the legitimate version of the game but I hear that a lot of people hated the ending to Mass Effect 3, for example. I don’t think that design choice was unethical, no matter how many people hated it. Obviously, these are different circumstances but were’ still essentially talking about design choices, not malicious damage to the product.
I also see some parallels between this and “unrated” versions of certain DVD releases of movies. A movie studio releases a theatrical version and an unrated version that ‘contains scenes too hot for theaters’. The viewer might expect explicit nudity or something else more than they actually receive when they end up with 10 minutes of deleted scenes. Labeling the torrent as ‘cracked and working’ (as in DRM removed) might imply fully functioning or unofficial but none of the claims in the torrent description are actually false. I’d also suggest that the potential lack of a class-action suit has more to do with the idea that attempted illegal activity would undermine the case, more than any other factor.
It’s a fair point, though, that frustrating the players that really do use the torrent version as a demo, since they heard about it there first, hurts the conversion rate for those kinds of players. That’s a risk the company decided to take with this particular strategy. Does anyone actually know how many people genuinely use torrent as a try-before-they-buy system Vs. how many just play what they want for free just because they can? Numbers on that are probably pretty hard to come by.
Does it seem more or less disrespectful than illegally using software that took the developers considerable time and money to create?
As for ‘gloating’, it seems more like publicizing the results of their ‘experiment’. I read no real hostility toward the pirates in this article. At least now the users of the torrent version know exactly what’s going on. You can end up with a lot worse trouble than a prank/joke ending to a game when you search torrent sites for warez.