How Bad is App Piracy Really?

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We recently posted about the different options for monetising apps, this led on to an interesting discussion about piracy and the effect it has had on the app market. So, I thought I would write a post to look at some of the myths and facts surrounding app piracy.

Piracy has long been an issue for all digital media, there are so many sites available to download pirated games, music, films and apps and it’s been a hot topic among record and film companies for many years. But how bad is piracy really? Is it having any effect on the booming app market?

It’s hard to find any concrete figures for the amount piracy costs any particular app. Large companies don’t seem keen to share their figures. However one successful app company, Robot Invader, do state that when their game Wind Up Knight was a paid app on iOS, the piracy rate was at one point as high as 80%. In addition to that, a recent criminal case has seen the leaders of a file sharing site plead guilty to piracy; they had run an alternative market for downloading counterfeit Android apps, offering over 1 million apps with an estimated retail value of $700,000 dollars.

Certainly it is something we have experienced with our own apps. Shortly after Spectrum Puzzles was featured in the UK I watched for tweets mentioning the game and was astonished how many were links to pirate sites that were offering our app for free.

A common myth about app piracy is that it’s mainly an issue on Android, however figures suggest that it is in fact just as prevalent on iOS. Madfinger Games, makers of the popular Zombie shooter Dead Trigger report hitting peaks of 90% pirated downloads on Android and 87% on iOS.

With pirated apps it’s not just the money that developers are losing out on. Since the apps are being downloaded off grid, it also means new apps struggling to climb the rungs of the app store ladders lose valuable downloads and reviews that could push them up the ratings.

One solution to the problem is app verification. All apps bought from the main app stores, Google Play, Amazon and the Apple Appstore will check back regularly with the store so it can verify it’s a legit copy. However it is apparently easy for a moderately savvy hacker to remove said security. Marek Raba CEO of Madfinger certainly seems to agree in his interview with online magazine GameZebo. “It is really very sad for us and the gaming industry that with a few clicks of a mouse (err.. touches), a user can install the game and use it for free. It‘s definitely more easy than setting up an account on iTunes or Google Play, filling out large forms and answering all security questions.”

With all this in mind it’s no wonder that the “freemium” model has become so popular. Allowing the user to download the app for free ensures that there is no demand for pirate versions. Companies can benefit from higher download numbers whilst still offering paid content. Some, like Madfinger, have gone as far as completely re-launching their game as a free download after experiencing “unbelievably high” piracy rates.

Personally my favourite solution so far is that of Greenheart Games with their game Game Dev Tycoon, where you ran a virtual games development company. They introduced a bug into pirated copies of the game that made it so anyone playing on a counterfeit version would be unable to win due to their virtual games suffering from too much piracy. Superb!


Sources: Android AuthorityThe Verge, USA Dept of Justice