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App Store Developer Speaks Out On Game Piracy 762

theguythatwrotethisthing sends in a write-up of his experience releasing an iPhone game on the App Store. By using a software flag to distinguish between high scores submitted by pirates and those submitted by users who purchased the game, the piracy rate is estimated at around 80% during the first week after release. Since a common excuse for piracy is "try before you buy," they also looked at the related iPhone DeviceIDs to see how many of the pirates went on to purchase the game. None of them did.
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App Store Developer Speaks Out On Game Piracy

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  • by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @05:23AM (#29855051)

    It seems strange to me considering the pricing and how much more convenient it is (at least IMO) to just use the App store. In fact, all the apps I've got on my iPhone are from the App store and were either free there or I paid for them.

    That's not to say I'm fervently anti-piracy, I'll admit that I've downloaded a fair amount of movies, music and software in my life but it's almost always been because it was too expensive, not yet released where I live or simply much more convenient to do so.

    As an example, a piece large expensive "professional" software that I want to use at home for fun or some minor non-commercial purpose isn't something I'm about to pony up $300 or whatever it costs for (I try to use open source when there is a good alternative), I've also downloaded games simply because I wasn't willing to pay full price to play it once for a few hours with a friend or two and then never play again. As for music and movies it tends to be a combination of pricing ($20 for an album I've never heard that probably only has a handful of good songs?), convenience (DRM) and it simply not being available where I live yet (woohoo, ordering Region 1 DVDs from the US). But a $4 iPhone game that can be downloaded in a minute at the click of a button? That seems pointless to me...


  • flagged? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ash.D.Giles ( 1278606 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @05:26AM (#29855063)
    How exactly do you set a software flag to determine whether it's pirated or not?
  • Pirate Flag... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Manip ( 656104 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @05:27AM (#29855073)

    Without knowing exactly how this so called "Pirate Flag" works we cannot say that it is recording correct data. Frankly an 80% piracy rate seems a little difficult to believe given how most iPhone users I know use their phones (most use stock firmware, since they're still on warranty, and people have spent up to £800 and don't want to 'brick' it).

    Most iPhones owners are happy to use the App' Store and iTunes. That is one of the reasons they purchased the device, to give them access to a huge array of high quality applications.

  • Ads (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ModernGeek ( 601932 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @05:28AM (#29855075)
    If I were this developer, I would display ads to the pirates, be it within the game or on an HTML formatted score board. This would hopefully recoup some of the lost money, and would keep everybody happy. I would be interested in their take on the idea.
  • by BorgDrone ( 64343 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @05:33AM (#29855095) Homepage

    (..) I've downloaded a fair amount of movies, music and software in my life but it's almost always been because it was too expensive, not yet released where I live or simply much more convenient to do so. (...) But a $4 iPhone game that can be downloaded in a minute at the click of a button? That seems pointless to me...

    Same here, I've spent more money on software in the year I've had my iPhone than in the decade before that. If I can buy a great game like Monkey Island for a few euro's it's not even worth the effort to pirate it.

    I would happily pay an honest price for (on-demand) movies and series if only it was as convenient as buying app-store apps and if it would actually be available over here. For example: the new Stargate series, it'll be years before it's on TV here, and they'll probably mess up the order (I have no clue why they do this, but they can's seem to ever show any series in the correct order over here), stop halfway through a season, broadcast it at random times, etc. It's almost as if they don't want people to follow the series.

  • by phonewebcam ( 446772 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @05:35AM (#29855101) Homepage

    Unfortunately the usual places carry the lot. One conspiracy theory goes that as Google at heart are an advertising company, rather than play DRM/lockdown why not "encourage" authors to give away apps funded by ads - in which case what does piracy matter?

  • An admission... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cybereal ( 621599 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @05:47AM (#29855127) Homepage

    I must admit that prior to the days when I had money to throw away on games as I saw fit I truly did pirate a game now and then for the sake of a trial period. I found it effective, but mainly in convincing me not to buy the game. And see, there is this unexpected factor I discovered, actually only recently, that severely impacts this chain of actions...

    Basically it amounts to this: I find, all too often, that many games are not worth playing beyond the amount you normally get in a demo! I have downloaded so many demo games, especially racing or fighting games, on the PlayStation Network or XBOX Live and found that... well that was enough. To spend $60 more dollars simply to add a few levels and get the same experience was not a valuable prospect for me.

    I won't try to claim that any significant portion of these piracy observations can be explained by what I'm describing. I would say it's not without merit though. In these days, there are so many games. I mean, honestly, I think there are more games released in a year than I could humanly play through in their entirety. Even filtering out the disinteresting games I would still never have the time, given work and other responsibilities, to finish anywhere near say, 10% of the releases in a year.

    So to go from trial period to purchase, especially on a game that's likely a shallow me-too on the iPhone... well let's demonstrate the thought process with another nugget: I have downloaded probably 25 different "Light" games and never even tried them before I deleted them because I simply lost all interest.

  • Pirate Entitlement (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 24, 2009 @05:58AM (#29855161)

    They would only continue to crack and use the ad-free versions. It's been tried before.

    Software pirates have an inflated sense of entitlement (which is why they are circumventing the payment structure instead of either paying for things or suffering the indignity of not having access to things they refuse to pay for in the presence of a payment structure); settling for second-class software versions is not part of their agenda.

    I would only ask pirates not to fool themselves into hypocrisy over what they are doing, making excuses and deflecting guilt. Realize that you are a psychopath, whether you decide to hide the fact or not. :)

  • by tsm_sf ( 545316 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @06:02AM (#29855173) Journal
    Sounds like you're just making excuses to justify yourself.

    Uh, that's exactly what he said he was doing. Nice detective work there, Sherlock.

    I'm not the biggest warezing cheerleader, but there's something about people on high horses that really chaps my hide. Here's a tip: if you, or any of your choirboy pals, ever made or gave a mix tape in your life, you're just as guilty as this guy. If you ever checked out a book from a library, you're just as morally complicit. This guy's no hero, but at least he's not a self-righteous hypocrite.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 24, 2009 @06:23AM (#29855255)

    It's like you just chose not to read half the words in my original comment.

    I think he understood your comment better than you did.

    If something's expensive, why do you feel the right to watch it/listen to it/use it, when others have to pay?

    Well, this is the classic "try before you buy" combined with factors like "I have a few friends over and --- asks me if I have a specific album", in both cases I'm unlikely to listen to it again and the act of listening to it once will actually be a waste of my time.

    If it will be such a waste later then don't download or buy the album. Anyway, it is clear that "try before you buy" is a myth.

    As for convenience, that's no excuse at all, it's just laziness. Given the ease of legally downloading these days, it's even less of an excuse.

    I see you missed the "(DRM)" bit in my post, I like to have control over data, something which I suspect I'm not alone in here on slashdot.

    If people didn't pirate, there would be no need for DRM. I blame you in part for DRM.

    As for pirating professional software for 'fun' or 'non-commercial' use, if you don't need all the features, then why not get a more limited program that does what you want and actually compensate a developer? On the other hand, if you do need the features, then pay the money or don't use it.

    If I pirate it I generally want to use specific features not available in open source alternatives (as I pointed out! Please do yourself and everyone else a favor and read comments before replying to them.). Also, just because I feel like using some Maya-specific feature that isn't available in Blender doesn't mean it would make any sense whatsoever for me to shell out $3000+ for a Maya license, no one pays for Maya unless they're doing for-pay work (and the developers are well aware of this and the "trial" version is a joke).

    If it's too expensive, then don't use it, period. Or roll your own -- Blender is open source. You do the painstaking research on how to implement the feature. You do the exhausting labor to code, tune, and polish. Then you have the feature. Until then, you're exploiting the developer's effort unjustly.

    You don't have a right to use something for free just because you think it's too expensive.

    I can definitely think of quite a few situations in which a vast majority of people would disagree with this argument (e.g. AIDS medicine licensing).


    Oh please. Maya and the latest Black Eyed Peas single are not AIDS medication.

  • It is simple (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wildclaw ( 15718 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @06:46AM (#29855335)

    To start out with, I would like to mention that I have pirated a lot in my lifetime. I pirated more when I was unemployed and poor, because I had lots of time and less money. I still pirate some, but nowadays I also buy more now that I am earning good money. But anyway, here is my viewpoint of piracy.

    Most of the excuses pirates use are just that, excuses.

    * Try before you buy! It does happen, but rarely.
    * Everything sucks! Then why are you pirating it in the first place?
    * Damn the evil publishers!! You really believe most pirates are like that?

    Want to hear a valid excuse

    * It is free to pirate, so I don't have to worry about money.

    Now, you will here people mention that these games aren't really that expensive. But that misses the point. There is a huge difference between cheap and free, and it affects behavior a lot. When something is free, you can consume it without feeling like you have to get value out of it. And that gains a certain amount of freedom which is very difficult to compete with if you are trying to charge for a product.

    Now, the article in question I actually found was fairly unbiased. It did mention that piracy is high as soon as the game is released. This is not strange at all. As pirates have no restrictions on them in regard to money, they will play whatever they feel like. And the newest thing on the market is simply an easy target.

    This may point out that Pirates generally have a lower attention span they quickly move on to the next game

    This is a nice observation in the article. I would say that it isn't attention span per se. It is just that pirates have a fare wider selection of items to select from. Again, having to do with the freedom I mentioned above.

    The author goes on to discuss ways to combat piracy. And here I want to mention an important thing. If you use piracy protection to fight against piracy, then you are using it wrong. If you use piracy protection to steal customers from a competing product that doesn't have piracy protection then you are doing it right.

    If you fail to understand the difference, it is simple. Pirates buy products too. And they are more likely to buy something if they get value out of it beyond legal ownership. This is why authenticated multi player mode is a very efficient piracy protection mechanism. It gives the pirates something that they want to buy, without providing any negative effects on other customers (who may or may not pirate other products).

    It is the same in other businesses. If a pirate has to decided between buying a CD of one artist, or attending a live performance of another artist, guess what they will choose. Same with DVD vs. movie theater.

    Of course, there are always pirates that won't buy anything. Either because they have no money, or because they intend to use that money for other things. But, those are the kind of pirates that simply aren't worth spending any effort on. At best you can hope that their money habits will change over time, and that you as a developer will be a beneficiary.

  • Re:First pirate! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 24, 2009 @06:58AM (#29855377)

    All this example shows is that the system works. They tried. It sucked. They didn't buy.

  • agreed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @07:17AM (#29855447) Homepage Journal

    I have roughly the same statistics at work, except it's 40+ iPhones and 2 jailbroken (although 5 others have had them jailbroken in the past, but then went back). Most of them are programmers who buy into the whole free software movement, so you'd think all of them would be jailbroken.

  • right and wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @07:21AM (#29855451)
    This is probably not a story of 100% being a pirate or anything, but mostly a landscape of lighter and darker grays.When I started buying game, i bought a lot. Why ? Despite good reviews, a lot of them ended up being utter crap, or with a lot of bugs. So I started "pirating" them game to check them up, then if they were crap I would not buy them. But nowadays ANOTHER problem has cropped up. The game is very very very short. So while I try the game I already finish it in the afternoon. Should I buy it since I enjoyed it up to the end ? Yes I should. But I do not. And usually there are no demo or the demo come LATER. So in a way I am depriving of my money a few software developper and it is not justifiable. But OTOH pirating to get a demo, *IS* justifiable, it avoided me a lot , and I mean a LOT of stinkers. Nowadays i do not even need to pirate. i jsut rent the game (it is in gray zone here around). And i buy on regular basis the game when I like them. I even bought some game which were not findable for more money than the publisher originally asked for, (5-10 euro more) after trying the game and not finding it easily. one such example was Okami, after I tried it at the videothek. So no, it is not only black and white.

    A final word : sicne i started renting game / pirating them my disposable income directed toward the game industry has increased. Because now that I know that what I will buy is GOOD, I buy witghout a remorse. Earlier I got stinged so much that I hesitated or even pushed a sale for later. Not to be burned again. So pirating/renting has allowed the game indsutry to make MORE money from me, even if actually some of the stuff I tryed would be coutned as LOST SALE due to piratery at high sea.

    That said "Cat got your tongue? (something important seems to be missing from your comment ... like the body or the subject!) " yeah, my bloody cat DID indeed paw on the mouse and somehow submit the post while I was writing the title
  • Re:Another example (Score:3, Interesting)

    by teg ( 97890 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @07:28AM (#29855467) Homepage

    How would you know that something is pirated? Do you get the ID from Apple when something is purchased? I've got an iPod Touch now... and I'll get an iPhone soon. When that happens, the two devices will be tied to the same account and use the same apps that I've already purchased. Would that show as piracy for you?

    I also expect that many are sharing an iTunes installation inside the family, to avoid duplicating all the files and get immediate access when someone buys a new album. Not 50% though...

  • Re:First pirate! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @07:31AM (#29855483)

    When I was a pennyless student, I pirated software because collecting titles was the goal. We all did it. When I started earning money of my own, I would buy anything that lasted on my computer for more than a week. (And back in those days, it wasn't as easy to finish a game as it is now)

    The theory was that if I got more than a week's value out of something then it was worth keeping. See - try before you buy.

    After a while, I got more money, but had less time. I started to buy games (in big spending sprees) only to find later that I had never even installed the game once. I am currently going through my backlog of titles - 107 in total, some of which I have to run in DOSBox! If a pirate is someone who plays a game without buying it, what is the name for someone who buys a game without playing it?

    On second thoughts, maybe I don't want to know the answer.

  • Re:Another example (Score:5, Interesting)

    by happy ( 7659 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @07:52AM (#29855581) Homepage

    Good question, which I don't have a "true" answer for.

    My feeling is, as very little percentage of pirate finally bought the app after "trying it", having them downloading the app for free did not help on the sales after. Almost none of those hackers did post on blogs, Twitter, etc so it doesn't help neither.

    What might have helped a bit is being listed on appulous, I guess some people are tracking the 'hacker' websites to see what's hot, and what was released recently. What might happen is people buying the app straight without going through the hacker stage. However, as I had 99.3% of hackers on the next days after it was published on appulous, which only 1% bought the app after, I would say it did not impact on my real sales.

    I think Photoshop is a different case which you can't compare with mine. I agree with what you say about it, but I don't think it applies on mine (sadly ;).

  • Re:Another example (Score:2, Interesting)

    by happy ( 7659 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @07:54AM (#29855589) Homepage

    Piracy is an app you did not buy at all, if you buy an app on the appstore, you are able to install it on as many devices as you want (at least for me), my notifications app will even sync what you received. If you read the notification on your iPhone, the alert window disappears from your iPod and vice-versa.

    My 50% hacker are real hackers, they just never bought the application.

  • Re:First pirate! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @07:57AM (#29855607) Journal

    >>>The "try before you buy" excuse that people give as a reason to pirate (very popular here at Slashdot) has always been a steaming pile of bullshit

    No it isn't. Just because I downloaded 90210 or an iPhone App doesn't mean I don't use the "try before buy" model. If I don't buy 80% of what I download, it's because 80% of it is shit. (Or worse: "99% of any genre is trash"-Isaac Asimov). BUT if it's good then I will buy it. Just take a gander of what's on my shelf:

    - Star Trek TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT
    - Babylon 5
    - Earth Final Conflict (seasons 1 and 4)
    - BSG complete collection
    - Stargate SG1 complete
    - Stargate SGA complete
    - Red Dwarf complete
    - All in the Family 1,2,3,4,5
    - Random movies: Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, the Abbott & Costello Collection, .....
    - random music: Greatest Hits of 1980, 1981, ..., 1999. Depeche Mode GH, R.E.M. GH, and on and on and on
    - Random games: About 100 Atari titles, ~50 SNES titles, ~50 N64 titles, and literally hundreds of PS1/PS2/Gamecube discs.
    - and on and on and on

    Yes I "try before buy" a lot of stuff off the net. And a big chunk of it is trash so I don't buy that trash. This is Not a bullshit approach to consumerism, but a SMART approach to consumerism because it keeps ME wealthy, and it keeps YOU the bastard corporation from sucking away all my dollars. (Of course you then beg politicians for 2000 billion dollar bailouts, but that's a separate issue.)

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @08:15AM (#29855679) Journal

    Two separate studies have shown that is not true. Out of 2500 songs downloaded, only 1 album sale is lost. One of those studies was done at Harvard, which I've heard is a fairly good research institute.

  • by JonJ ( 907502 ) <jon.jahren@gmail.com> on Saturday October 24, 2009 @08:31AM (#29855771)

    Is your company in the habit of paying bills for items you haven't received yet?

    He's not saying that they paid before the software arrived, just that the bill arrived 6 months before the software.

  • Re:Another example (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sky Cry ( 872584 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @09:02AM (#29855945)

    However, as I had 99.3% of hackers on the next days after it was published on appulous, which only 1% bought the app after, I would say it did not impact on my real sales.

    So your real sales were 0.7% and pirating brought 0.993%, effectively more than doubling your sales, and you say it had no impact? Are you serious?

  • So you argument is basically that development time costs nothing?

    Not at all — the argument is that development time is worth nothing if people aren't willing to pay for your product. There is a big difference there. Unfortunately, you don't know until after your labor has produced fruit if people will pay for it. If they don't, you may choose to whine or you may choose to move on, but nothing else is productive (unless you plan to sue all these potential customers, ensuring that they hate you eternally.)

  • Re:First pirate! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Saturday October 24, 2009 @10:16AM (#29856425) Homepage Journal

    The problem with the data we have here is that we don't know if the game was actually any good. Maybe they all played it and decided it wasn't worth the money.

    Even if it was good, maybe people didn't play it for long enough to find out. A friend of mine used to pirate Playstation games. Back then CD burners were only 4x speed and he often spent longer copying the thing than actually playing it. When you have an infinite supply of games at no cost you have no reason to give any game that doesn't instantly grab you more than 5 minutes play. There are thousands of free games in the App Store, more if you jailbreak.

    Apple say there are over 85,000 apps in the App Store. Had a pirated copy not been available (probably as part of a larger pack of pirate games) how many people would even know about it? For all the developer knows most of his sales could be from recommendations by people who pirated and enjoyed the game.

    You know what they say: Lies, damned lies and statistics.

  • Re:First pirate! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Saturday October 24, 2009 @01:01PM (#29857609) Homepage Journal

    Right...because everybody plays a game that they hate long enough to get good enough to post to a high score board, just to show the world how much they hate the game...

    So either you are right and the data only covers the 10 people who got on the high score board or the data is based on every use whose game communicated with the high score server (i.e. all of them).

    Unless the high score table has a few thousand entries I think we can assume that the data set was meaningfully large and that not all of them got a world-beating score.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 24, 2009 @02:16PM (#29858267)

    Most small developers will not sell in countries where additional work is required to pay taxes.

    If a country's tax code requires the developer to submit tax documents then it's usually not worth the hassle to sell in that market. Apple will make those payments on behalf of developers for the U.S., Canada, and most of Europe. Japan requires developers to download and sign a legal document that entails significant reporting requirements.

    The fact that Apple is willing to pay sales taxes on a developer's behalf in so many locations is why it's worth it to give them their 30% of sales.

  • Re:First pirate! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Saturday October 24, 2009 @02:29PM (#29858389)

    Others have already gotten into a long point by point discussion here, probably with no real change in your opinions. Instead, I'd like you to consider a scenario. Suppose tomorrow I invented a device that allowed a person to instantly copy matter, exactly. Point it at a car and poof, two cars. Point it at a brick of gold and poof to gold bars. I think this invention is too important to patent so I release it free to the world.

    First, is instantly copying things inherently unethical or evil or is it a great technological achievement that moves our society forward and can be used for good or ill? This device could drive large numbers of companies out of business, companies who invested a lot of money in those businesses. Does that mean they are entitled to a return when technology moves forward and the government should restrict technology legally to protect profits?

    Assuming you agree copying is not inherently evil, then surely any laws regarding it (physical or intangible) should be written to benefit society as a whole, as the original copyright laws were. After all, no one has an inherent right not to have their property copied, at least not according to any human rights organization I've ever heard of.

    Suppose all the big companies lobby congress and ban this technology. Does that make using it immoral or unethical? Should we be banned from copying food for the starving to protect the profits of industrial farm corporations? I mention all this because copyright is not some natural right, like freedom of speech. It is actually an artificially imposed limit on free speech implemented in an attempt to create a greater good for the people. As such we should always be questioning the balance of power these laws create, rather than viewing them as absolute principals as we do free speech. Likewise we should maintain in our minds the fundamental distinction between copyright violation and theft because one is a violation of a natural right and one is a violation of a law that restricts a natural right on behalf of society in an attempt engineer greater innovation. Comparing it to theft, erases that important distinction and muddies the waters of this very important debate.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford