On August 1st, Gamezebo published an editorial by Madfinger Games CEO Marek Rabas, on the subject of piracy.  Mr. Rabas’ opinion stirred up a good deal of controversy and debate, and more than a few developers contacted us about writing a rebuttal. What follows is one such rebuttal, written by Chris H. of the app development studio Simply Applied;

The issue of piracy has been front and center lately, with the recent press release from MadFinger Games declaring “unbelievably high” piracy within Android as the reason they reduced the price on Dead Trigger from $1 to free in the Google Play Store. Technology blogs jumped on the story and a huge discussion resulted – both about Dead Trigger and also the bigger issue of piracy in general. The main beneficiary of all this was MadFinger, whose downloads of Dead Trigger skyrocketed as a result of the increased publicity. Madfinger’s CEO then published an article for Gamezebo making similar allegations regarding pirating on iOS while making the game free in the App Store.

Whether a clever marketing gimmick, a legitimate problem, or both, it should be noted that Madfinger continues to sell other games for more than the $1 they were originally charging for Dead Trigger. Those games still sell for between $3 and $5 in the Play Store. What Madfinger hasdone is create huge interest in a game which generates revenue through In-App Purchasing. This is a potentially powerful model for mobile developers to generate publicity for their apps. And it makes the discussion of piracy even more important.

We don’t support piracy, and as a developer we understand the frustration knowing that people are taking advantage of the time, effort, and money we invest to create a quality app. The goal here isn’t to argue for piracy or disparage another developer’s success. But claims that “the main cause of today’s form of piracy is both because people do not want to pay for games and the availability of pirated copies” over-simplify the issue and don’t consider a variety of factors which affect the true price of piracy.


1. Piracy is not necessarily stealing

Piracy isn’t “stealing” in the traditional sense of the word, as many would have us believe. Pirating software or music or movies does not remove a physical copy which cannot then be sold resulting in a direct loss to the developer. Piracy is the unauthorized use of someone else’s creation. Certainly piracy can impact actual sales, but claiming 90% piracy doesn’t mean that the developer lost 90% of sales. A significant percentage of pirates only acquired the game because it was free and never would have paid for it. So in many cases there is no direct loss of a sale to the developer.

Furthermore, piracy greatly increases the number of people who use the app. This can lead to additional exposure to people who are willing to pay money for the game. This doesn’t legitimize piracy, but having your game being played by significantly more people can benefit sales due to word of mouth. There is also a segment of people who will try the game out to see if it is worth purchasing. If we use a 90% piracy rate (as alleged by Madfinger), then a game which has sold 100,000 copies has 900,000 unauthorized downloads. If 2% of those people who tried the game out for free decide they like it and want to support the developer, that is 18,000 additional legitimate downloads that likely would not have occurred. Some pirates choose to compensate the developer by buying other titles from that developer.


2. Piracy will not stop

Anyone developing software must understand that piracy is going to happen. Protections are already in place for the main app marketplaces; however none of these are fail proof. People who want to pirate software are going to find a way to do it, and depending on the hardware companies to protect against piracy is never going to be a very effective tool. Many developers don’t activate the included protection offered because they understand it is a minimal barrier to piracy at best. At worst DRM protection of apps can negatively impact legitimate users.

Now just because something can’t be stopped does not mean that developers should just go along with it. There are ways to mitigate any impact to revenue such as pursuing alternative revenue models. Many apps use a freemium model in order to gain wide distribution with the hope that many of these users will eventually pay for upgrades or have an ad-free experience. This reduces the need for piracy and increases the legitimate distribution of the game. Madfinger has done this with Dead Trigger. However, an area where Google can help developers is availability. A significant amount of piracy on Android is the result of the apps not being available for legitimate download. By making the apps and upgrades available to users in more countries, some piracy will be alleviated. This is an area where Apple currently has an advantage over Google and Amazon.


3. Piracy is not about the cost

Even though Madfinger priced their app at $1 they still experienced significant piracy. Any person who can afford a smartphone and pay the monthly carrier fees can afford a few dollars to purchase an app or game. It comes down to the fact that people willing to pirate software are going to do it regardless of price. Instead of worrying about people who were never going to pay for the app or game in the first place, developers should focus on making the experience for legitimate users as good as possible. This will hopefully convince some people with pirated versions to obtain a legitimate copy and compensate the developer.


4. Claims that pirating apps is easier than buying apps are mostly false

While installing pirated apps is easy, it isn’t easier than downloading an app directly to the phone from iTunes, the Appstore, or the Play Store. Plus, legitimate downloads automatically receive updates without having to manually locate and reinstall the updated version of the app from a pirated source.

One initial barrier to entry for legitimate purchases is that most purchases are made using a credit card, and many users don’t have credit cards on file. Google should do a better job of making it even easier to legitimately purchase by requiring a credit card to be tied to a Play Store account similar to Apple iTunes. This would reduce the barrier to entry for people making first time purchases through the Play Store, which is one reason people pirate apps. Google has started to encourage people to enter credit card information with their $25 promotional credit in the Play Store that comes with the purchase of the Nexus 7. Hopefully further efforts are made in this respect.

Other options, such as carrier billing for app purchases and other integrated options such as PayPal or gift cards/store credit would reduce the barrier for first time purchasers as well as younger users who don’t currently have easy, legitimate options to buy the app.


5. Awareness is important

Awareness is another area where the developer community as a whole can make a difference. Many people who pirate games and apps don’t realize the significant investment in time, money and resources to make high quality apps – especially games. Developers and tech blogs should continue productive discussions regarding app development and piracy. Sensational headlines like those seen with Dead Trigger do not lead to a productive discussion – just read the comment sections in those articles. Moreover, claims of piracy could become a marketing tool for developers due to the free publicity generated by making these claims. This only dilutes the legitimate discussion of how to minimize the true price of piracy.

There is always going to be a segment of the population who feel entitled to get something for free even at the expense of the developer. However, starting with an honest discussion of the issue is a good first step in minimizing the negative impact piracy has on developers. When developers are better able to generate revenue from their apps and games, they will continue to improve those products as well as develop new apps and games. That benefits everyone.