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iPhone Game Piracy "the Rule Rather Than the Exception" 268

An anonymous reader writes "Many game developers don't think of the iPhone as being a system which has extensive game piracy. But recent comments by developers and analysts have shown otherwise, and Gamasutra speaks to multiple parties to evaluate the size of the problem and whether there's anything that can be done about it. Quoting: 'Greg Yardley confirms that getting ripped off by pirates is the rule rather than the exception. Yardley is co-founder and CEO of Manhattan-based Pinch Media, a company that provides analytic software for iPhone games. ... "What we've determined is that over 60% of iPhone applications have definitively been pirated based on our checks," he reveals, "and the number is probably higher than that." While it's impossible to estimate how much money developers are losing, it involves more than the price of the game, he says. "What developers lose is not necessarily the sale," he explains, "because I don't believe pirates would have bought the game if they hadn't stolen it. But when there is a back-end infrastructure associated with a game, that is an ongoing incremental cost that becomes a straight loss for the developer."'"
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iPhone Game Piracy "the Rule Rather Than the Exception"

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  • Conflicted (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DesertBlade ( 741219 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @08:59PM (#30180486)
    What's up the past few days. Stories about iPhone development sucks, Android development rules, no wait Android development sucks and iPhone development rules, no wait iPhone owners are a bunch of pirates.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Simple reality.

      All software sucks, it's just a matter of matching strengths and weaknesses to your own needs.

    • War of the memes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:55PM (#30180958)

      What's up the past few days. Stories about iPhone development sucks, Android development rules, no wait Android development sucks and iPhone development rules, no wait iPhone owners are a bunch of pirates.

      What you are seeing is a battle over memespace, two sides trying to convince a technical populace that the other side sucks.

      Happily slashdot readers are more savvy than this, and there are well reasoned responses in each of these articles that lay out what is going on, despite very misleading article summaries - like this story implying 60% of iPhone users pirate, when in reality it's about 5% and the 60% figure is only the percentage of apps that have pirated VERSIONS, which says nothing about number of users who are pirating any given app.

  • Finally (Score:5, Interesting)

    by delta419 ( 1227406 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:00PM (#30180502)
    It's nice to see a big name admit that 1 pirated copy != 1 lost sale.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's nice to see a big name admit that 1 pirated copy != 1 lost sale.

      Now let's see if we can get someone on the other side to admit that software houses lose a lot of revenue from piracy, even if 1 pirate copy != 1 lost sale.

    • by iCEBaLM ( 34905 )

      Notice they only admit that when they can show how piracy is still costing them money in some other way.

    • by furball ( 2853 )

      So how many pirated copies = 1 lost sale?

  • News at 11 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:01PM (#30180524)

    Our headlines today:

    * DRM doesn't work
    * People are assholes
    * iPhone the same as any other platform shocker

    • Re:News at 11 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nbates ( 1049990 ) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @01:18AM (#30182148)

      Not all piracy is because people are assholes. See, iTunes is not available in my country (Argentina) without an international credit card. They won't even take my paypal account unless it has a valid US address. Most of the time they won't even allow me to subscribe to free podcasts (!!!).

      So I went to a Mac Store and asked them if they sold Gift cards, nope...

      Then I contacted the company who makes the app I wanted (I was willing to pay the $2 they asked, using paypal) but nope... They only do business through Apple.

      Ok, screw them. I just downloaded the app, uploaded it to my iPhone and run it.

      Something similar happens with the Wiistore. And don't get me started about PC games, that cost several times their US cost.

      No wonder piracy is so widespread.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:02PM (#30180526)

    My company also tracks iphone piracy rates. And while the piracy rate is in line with the OP there's more to it than that. Apps with demos generally have lower piracy rates. Also we track usage rate, pirates tend to only launch once or twice, as if they're sampling the app. So it's not as bad as the article makes it sound.

    • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:19PM (#30180668) Homepage Journal
      TFAs were scant on details. How is it that they can identify which instances of apps were pirated and yet still be unable to put in a decent kill switch* ? Are iPhone games that easy to crack? Do iPhone games use a ubiquitous piracy control scheme where you crack one, you crack all? Are there that many bored or unemployed crackers who would go through the trouble to crack a $2 game?

      *Not that I condone that sort of thing, but people are used to that kind of control on mobile platforms anyway.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by WarlockD ( 623872 )
        Its easy enough. I spent a good 2 weeks trying to figure out how to create my own personal "registration" system. The old type where your given a license key and it says "Yea you bought it" Most of the time I have a root seed value thats hashed with some random data. Sure, a cracker can make a key gen once they figure out the hash method and seed value (not that hard), but it was resonantly simple to set up. Using public key cryptography you could make sure that a key gen is not possible, but at that
      • Why even kill the app? Just deny the remote service to pirated apps. That's their chief complaint about it anyway. Or do they realize that having the app working is actually good advertising?
      • because with a kill switch, pirates will have to circumvent your system, and you end up with knowing nothing at all.
        with tracking, you at least can see how bad the piracy is

    • Also we track usage rate, pirates tend to only launch once or twice, as if they're sampling the app.

      I'm guessing that legitimately-purchased iPhone software is only launched once or twice, too.

    • I can only speak for myself but sampling is the main reason I download cracked apps.

      Most apps and games are so dirt cheap even a cheap bastard like me has no problem with paying up a few dollars.

      The main problem is the app-store itself. There are what? 100.000 apps? 99.99% of those apps are either crap, useless or a combination of both. Not even worth the 99c.

  • by Archfeld ( 6757 ) * <treboreel@live.com> on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:02PM (#30180536) Journal

    "Yardley is co-founder and CEO of Manhattan-based Pinch Media, a company that provides analytic software for iPhone games...."

    I'm sure reporting greater pirating numbers is in Mr. Yardley's financial interest as well. Not to say there isn't pirating going on but when the entity reporting the pirating number derives a living from said numbers I tend to be a bit skeptical. It is like the RIAA's number's, there has to be some basis for truth in them, but you can rest assured they are massaged and slanted to show the greatest impact to the paying customer...


    • I'm sure reporting greater pirating numbers is in Mr. Yardley's financial interest as well.

      Actually they would be far more valuable kept private. There's no reason at all not to believe these numbers, as Pinch Media gains nothing by the numbers being higher or lower - any developer can easily add code in themselves to check if an app is pirated, so it's not like people not using Pinch Media today would be overly compelled to do so if they really wanted to check.

      Don't forget this is just the number of apps

      • by Fex303 ( 557896 ) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:55AM (#30182680)

        There's no reason at all not to believe these numbers, as Pinch Media gains nothing by the numbers being higher or lower

        Not so. Pinch media make money from apps which sell advertising space. Apps which are ad funded don't care about (or even benefit from) piracy.

        As such, it's in Pinch Media's interests to make piracy seem more common, because app devs will make ad supported apps, which means Pinch get more business.

    • I'm sure reporting greater pirating numbers is in Mr. Yardley's financial interest as well.

      Read his website:
      http://www.pinchmedia.com/ [pinchmedia.com]

      There's a lot more to any analytics than "is this game being pirated".
      It's like complaining about google trends because google is a for profit corporation
      or about web analytic companies because they're also for profit.

  • by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:09PM (#30180604)

    Whenever a developer claims to be "losing money" to piracy, one has to wonder... are the developers losing this money trying to combat piracy directly (lawsuits and DRM tactics), or is it simply a case of self-flattery, where the developer is grossly over-estimating the value of their software, thinking "If my software isn't great, then why would anyone pirate it?"

    Perhaps its time for some self-reflection. You are just another pawn in an industry wide problem spanning over 30 years. Chances are, you and your app aren't special. The piracy was likely nothing more than a bulk job handled indescriminately with no concern for you or anyone else.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mysidia ( 191772 )

      In this case, they're losing money because they have to pay for bandwidth and server resources that unpaid app users are utilizing.

      What the developers should do is utilize in-app purchase capability, that produces a unique transaction id# kept on their servers for each purchase, username/password, that the developer gets associated with the unique device ID.

      Cut the initial cost of the app, and charge a consumable fee.

      A fee for "X hours" of app usage, which gets tracked by the server, e.g. 1000

      • A fee for "X hours" of app usage, which gets tracked by the server, e.g. 1000 hours of app usage.

        How can the server track an iPhone or iPod Touch device using the app in airplane mode? If your app refuses to run in airplane mode, and its normal operation wouldn't reasonably need a constant connection to the Internet, you risk drawing undesirable comparisons to Valve's Steam authentication.

      • Ok, this actually makes sense to me. Even if the app can identify itself as legitimate or pirated in a server/client setting, even the bandwidth used for verification of each copy of the app alone would eventually add up.

    • by wrook ( 134116 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @11:03PM (#30181416) Homepage

      the developer is grossly over-estimating the value of their software, thinking "If my software isn't great, then why would anyone pirate it?"

      I once worked for a small company with a semi-popular application. Sales were almost all of the form of pay pal purchases off the website. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was enough to pay one developer. But piracy was a huge problem. It was quite obvious that more than 90% of the copies running were pirated.

      The company changed directions and started bundling the application for free with online services. The service provider would pay for the application and the customers would get the software for use only with the service. But the company was worried about piracy, so they asked me to write DRM that tied the application to the service. They would continue to sell an untied version off the website, but with "call home" DRM (it's an internet app, so it's not quite as draconian as it sounds). I very reluctantly agreed (i.e., I had to decide whether it was worth quitting over -- if I had to do it again, I'd quit).

      The end result was that all piracy stopped. In fact, all usage stopped. Instead of selling 2 or 3 copies a day off the website, not one copy of the DRM version was ever sold. And due to very poor choices of service provider partners, the company received no revenue at all. Within a year the company had folded.

      The thing is, the new version was head and shoulders better than then non-DRMed version. And the DRM was truly unobtrusive (think DRM in WoW). Paying customers wouldn't even know it existed. But sales are generated by popularity, not quality. Piracy, like it or not generates popularity. The company was very small and had no means of effective advertising. By cutting off the pirates, they shut off their only revenue source.

      What always kills me about this story is this: The app we were making was *perfect* for an open software model. Ask the service providers to each spend a small amount of money to cover development and give them the app for free. Give them branding in the app to thank them for their help. But the "sales" people were always quick to point out that the service providers they found had no money and couldn't afford to pay us up front. How on earth did we fail? :-P

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by BitZtream ( 692029 )

        How on earth did we fail?

        You're app really isn't that good. Piracy really isn't as big as you'd like to think it is.

        I too am a developer.

        I've worked on one particular app now for 7 years, there are probably 50-60k legitimate sales of the app over its lifespan. Not a huge number by any means, but if there have been 1k pirated copies installed over its entire life I would be shocked. Our app doesnt' call home, but if you use it, you're going to connect to one of a handful of sites at some point that we ca

  • I have a jailbroken phone and it was ridiculously easy to do so. So does my girlfriend and technically speaking, she's amish. In short, jailbreaking a phone is stupendously simple, so much that I wonder why even Apple's numbers claim that the figure is something like 10% of all iphones are jailbroken.

    That being said, it would appear that pirating apps from the app store, while not hard, would take at least a little more technical know how than the average iphone user has or is willing to put up with.

    • by xwizbt ( 513040 )

      I jailbroke, played with it for a while, then reinstalled and went back to my comfort zone. I find it hard to believe that the majority of my fellow iPhone users didn't do the same. We like it Apple, and we like it simple. We don't pirate, and we all have fresh breath. Right?

    • So jailbreaking an iphone, which takes almost no technical know how is done by 10% of users and pirating apps, which takes more know how, results in 60% of games being pirated?

      My phone is jailbroken, but damned if I ever even thought to try and pirate games. I just got it so I could SSH and pull other applications from Cydia.

      Never even thought about it. Now I have.

      The apps in the store are cheap enough that I'll keep buying them. $5 is within my range for willing to risk it. At $2 or less I'll just buy

    • So jailbreaking an iphone, which takes almost no technical know how is done by 10% of users and pirating apps, which takes more know how, results in 60% of games being pirated?

      The thing is it's very, very easy to automate this pirating. That is to say, the supply of pirated apps is what the 60% figure comes from - 60% of apps they track have pirated versions run at one time or another.

      It's not saying 60% of users are running pirated apps, or that any one app has 60% of users running a pirated version.

      I wou

  • Hey, Submitter! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cliffiecee ( 136220 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:22PM (#30180698) Homepage Journal

    Don't change the meaning of the article when summarizing.

    over 60% of iPhone applications have definitively been pirated
    as submitted

    60% of paid apps using Pinch have been pirated.
    (as written in the article, bolding included)

    Let's "reverse-bold" that...
    60% of paid apps using Pinch have been pirated.
    (emphasis mine)

    It might be relevant to non-pinch-using apps, it might not. But let's not delete that relevant bit of data.

    • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @03:49AM (#30182662) Homepage
      The point is to get people angry and accomplish positive change. I have a problem with you criticizing a very valid tactic used daily by working journalists. Who the hell are you to judge? You can't do that by dryly reporting a mind-numbingly boring story in didactic terms. You do that by "taking an angle" on the story, and making it relevant to people's lives.
  • Shhhh, (Score:5, Informative)

    by Icegryphon ( 715550 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @09:37PM (#30180816)

    he explains, "because I don't believe pirates would have bought the game if they hadn't stolen it...."

    Don't tell the MPAA or RIAA that.
    They will get all uppity in your shit!

  • I jailbroke my iPhone before the App Store started up. Then I un-jailbroke it. I just didn't see the need, even though it is really easy.

    But I cannot figure out how to pirate anything off the App Store and I didn't know it was possible. I also don't know how anyone could subvert iTunes to steal applications for one's (or one's friends') iPhone or iPod Touch.

    Now I'm not looking for anyone to list the steps to steal stuff on slashdot, but people can pirate apps from the App Store?! I thought Apple had it pret

    • but people can pirate apps from the App Store?! I thought Apple had it pretty much locked up.

      Pirating apps from the app store works pretty much the same as pirating games or music: you buy a legal copy from the store, remove DRM if necessary (not on the iPhone), then distribute it through pirate sites. If your iPhone is jailbroken, you can rip software from it and install pirated stuff on it.

      Personally, the only reason for me to jailbreak my iPhone would be to get access to apps that do not exist in

  • by Francis ( 5885 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @10:09PM (#30181084) Homepage

    The way the numbers are reported is a bit misleading. “Of paid apps that use Pinch Media’s services, 60% have been pirated. Of those pirated apps, 34% of all installs are the pirated version.” This means that maybe only 20% of installs are pirated. Those numbers are actually really good for software.

    The way the first picture is reported is also misleading. It’s titled, “Application Piracy is Global” and then it shows a graph of jailbroken iphones. Jailbreaking is not the same as pirating. Jailbreaking is what you need to unbind an iphone from the app store, and the first step to unlocking an iphone. Since iPhones are were not sold in China until just recently, almost all their iPhones have to be imported from other carriers, so it is no surprise that an abnormally high percentage in China are jailbroken.

    Judging from the graph, it appears that roughly 10-15% of all iphones have been jailbroken. “About 38% [of jailbroken iphones] have used a pirated application.” “34% of all installs are cracked” This means that roughly 4-6% of iphone users have ever used a pirated application. And yet somehow, those 4-6% of iphones account for 34% of all installs? I’m a bit skeptical.

    “Pirated apps on jailbroken iPhones crash more, which may be why they’re used less.” I’m really skeptical about this interpretation. That graph is really really zoomed in. Crash rates for pirated applications appear to crash only 0.5%-1.3% more sessions than a regular app. That’s fairly rare. That’s like one in every 80 to 200 sessions results in an “extra” crash.

    This blog post is either really poorly written or the author has an intentional bias that they want to express.

    On a related note, I hope this gets more app developers to make “lite” versions of their software so people can try them out. The conversion numbers are much better than the alternative.

  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Friday November 20, 2009 @10:21PM (#30181170)

    Ok, wait a second

    - In order to pirate an iphone app, you have to jailbreak your phone. Only a small percentage of the user base have done this

    - By measuring the total number of "phone homes", you can figure out how many copies of your app are out in the wild, INCLUDING copies on jailbroken phones.

    So if you find out that your app has 1000 copies in the wild.

    600 of those copies are on the jailbroken iphones that make up maybe 5% of the total phones.

    Therefore, you're out the revenue from those 600 copies? Nope, because if those users hadn't hacked their phones, they probably WOULD NOT have paid for your app. The reason you only have 400 sales in this scenario is that the 95% of users who are eligible to buy it weren't interested enough in your app. The jailbreaking users just grab whatever they want whenever they want, but wouldn't behave like that if they had to pay.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khchung ( 462899 )


      Even if you ignore for the fact that owners of jailbroken iPhones are even less likely to pay for apps, i.e. assume the same percentage as normal iPhones.

      So 400 apps sold to 95% normal iPhone owners. Extrapolate to the remaining 5% means 400x5/95~=21 people with jailbroken iPhone would would have bought the app if cracked version not available.

      So it means at most ~5% (21/400) of "sales lost". Less if you take in account that fact that jailbreakers are not likely to buy any app anyway.

      Strange that

    • by brit74 ( 831798 )
      I'm not sure who you're talking to when you say "Here's the flaws in their reasoning" (the summary concedes that 1 pirate != 1 lost sale).

      A simpler way of making your argument is simply to say that:
      If 5% of iPhones are jailbroke AND
      Jailbreaking is necessary for piracy AND
      If pirates would've bought apps at the same rate as the general public
      Then: no matter how many pirated copies are being used, eliminating piracy would increase sales by 5%.

      * There are reasons to suggest that pirates would buy apps
    • In fact, ideally, you'd want every single jailbroken iPhone user to bootleg your app because of unbeatable marketing effect that would have on the other 95% of iPhone users.

  • Saw a similar 'study' a few weeks ago.

    This sounds like a shocking figure, but don't forget, it doesn't mean that over 60% have managed to jailbreak their phones and have manually added the pirate repository and bypassed the morality message. That would be silly.

    People who are heavily into pirating tend to download everything they can get their hands on. Doesn't matter that they won't touch 99% of of it and will just store gigabytes of it on their hard drives and DVD-Rs - that's the point. It's like a gam

  • I would not pirate an app for my iPhone or any machine I own.

    I have a lot of friends and co-workers with iPhones and I don't think a single one of them has a jailbroken device OR any pirated apps. Considering a fair amount of them (and myself) have the technical ability to do so, I wonder about the "rule", regardless of whether they're Pinch-based apps or not.

    And honestly, most of the apps are so cheap that anyone and everyone should just pay the $2. I bought RedLaser for $1.99 a while back and saved far mo

    • Pirates...whether they're stealing apps or cargo ships...are the lowest form of life.

      thank you.

      more of us (the slashdotters) need to speak out and communicate to our friends and families to stop stealing shit.

      the way to reduce piracy is not through legal [wikipedia.org] or technical [wikipedia.org] means (which have both failed miserably) but through social change. It's unfortunate that the biggest thieves around are the ones running the country, but that can be a pillar on which to build the argument: "Do you want to be like the corrupt fucks on wall st?? taking shit that isn't yours?? fucking over constructive working

  • My 3 year old son urges me to download games on the iPhone. I get all the free ones listed for each category and listed under "most popular." He and I agree that 99% of the games we see are some of the worst crap you can imagine. There are a few types:

    * Stuff that requires a lot of downloading, rendering, entering passwords, connecting to various multiplayer networks, answering their questions, etc. It takes 5 minutes before the game starts, but by then, we've both lost patience.

    * The games are obnoxiously

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      My 5 year old must be way less sophisticated than your 3 year old. He can't/won't stop playing Animatch (concentration, with wonderful cartoon animals that make amazing sounds) and I get lost playing Backgammon NJ.

      Both apps are super, but beyond that I don't find the idea of most games on a tiny screen worthwhile, free or otherwise.

  • by BLKMGK ( 34057 ) <morejunk4meNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Friday November 20, 2009 @11:53PM (#30181694) Homepage Journal

    Look, I and almost ALL of my friends have iPhones. We're all geeks and I think almost all of us have jailbroken our phones at least once and I for one have kept up and stayed jailbroken since the very beginning. We're not the sort who wouldn't pirate an app or two, if nothing just to try it out, but so far as I know NONE of us have. Apparently it's not very hard, I've heard there are torrents out there full of them, but come on - for .99 why bother? Hell I even bought the Navigon mapping app for full price and THAT stung! But pirating never crossed my mind and I know that the two other friends of mine that have it have paid for it too. If the rate of pirating were really as high as 60% then I'm pretty sure my friends would be chattering about it quite a bit or at least asking me about it. I will admit that with all of this talk about it I'm tempted to go learn more about how to do it and maybe try an app or two but most games these days have a trial version and that has satisfied me. This isn't like PC games that often turn out to be crap and if you watch the store you can often find apps on sale - wish there was an app to tell me about THAT! It's like MP3s, I used to pirate the heck out of them and had ripped ALL of my friends CDs and vice versa. I refused to buy anything DRM'd! Now I use Shazam to pickup on any songs I like and then about once every couple of weeks I sit down and download all the ones I like from Amazon at a buck apiece. At THAT price with no DRM it's simply not worth my while to ask around to find out who has the song and it feels good to not download it from some cheezy torrent. I might even buy a used CD once in awhile too but sorry no new ones RIAA.

    So, I'm sort of the demographic that would consider this and frankly I've just not been tempted and I don't think any of the ten+ iPhone owners I know have been either. I think these guys may be pushing an agenda here, maybe next week they will release an app designed to halt this. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if that's what this was about....

    • by Cederic ( 9623 )

      I'm confused at all of the "It's only 99c, just pay it" comments in this article.

      99c is throwaway money to you. Hell, $10 is throwaway money to a lot of Slashdot posters. In fact, a few wont blink twice at dropping $300 on a night out.

      Is $300 throwaway money to you? 99c isn't throwaway money to a lot of other people.

      Just because someone has an iPhone doesn't mean that they're wealthy. It may mean that they've managed to satisfy their technolust by spending a significant percentage of their income on one. Th

  • ...that people are willing to pay a minimum of $60/month for iPhone service and $100 on the hardware itself (and on average quite a lot more than this!), yet are pirating games and apps worth, what, $2?


    I don't get it. Pirating movies and music, at least, I get. An album or movie is usually at least $10. And the replay value is not as high as a game--you saw it or listened to it, okay, that's everything to the content. A game, IMO, has more lasting entertainment value (provided it's a good one)

    • by Cederic ( 9623 )

      Consider that only people in the US are spending $1440 on their iPhones. In the UK I could pick up an unlocked iPhone for around $900 and that's going for a brand new legitimate purchase from a reputable retailer.

      Now throw in the cheaper markets than the UK, include the second hand market, include the black and grey markets and throw in the iPod thing.

      Then see the other response I've made in this article which highlights that focussing on the $2 cost of the apps is a specious argument.

  • Android and piracy (Score:3, Informative)

    by chrysalis ( 50680 ) on Saturday November 21, 2009 @07:01AM (#30183276) Homepage

    Well, Android is no better, or even worse.

    Almost every commercial Android application gets immediately cracked. Anyone can freely download them from links posted on public forums you can find with a simple Google search. And as far as I understand, there's even no need to jailbreak the device in order to install Android cracked software.

    This is really bad for developers and I really hope that eventually, Apple and Google will find a solution to prevent this.

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.