New survey shows that piracy and discoverability are still pressing issues for game developers today

It’s no secret that developing a successful mobile game isn’t easy in today’s increasingly digital age, but I don’t think that any of us gamers truly realized just how hard some of those challenges may be until now. The new App Developers Conference (ADC) has conducted an extensive survey that serves to show just how difficult it is to turn a profit with your latest mobile game, let alone to get mobile gamers to actually play it legitimately.

The ADC surveyed over 250 solo- and small team-developers who primarily make games and other apps for iOS and Android platforms (other operating systems like Windows and Mac, in addition to web-based games also had a strong showing in the survey, although iOS and Android were in the majority by a clear margin, representing over 80% and over 60%, respectively).

As some might have expected, the survey results show that app-based game development is not all that lucrative as it might initially have been cracked out to be. A staggering 40% of all developers surveyed made zero revenue at all from their latest applications, while an equally poor 49% made a disheartening profit of zero. And while most of the developers who participated in the survey work out of very small-scale studios and have only been in the development game for a handful of years, it’s still a pretty tough pill to swallow.


Image and data courtesy of the App Developers Conference 2013 survey.

So why such depressing numbers in an industry that, on the surface, seems to be steadily on the rise? Well for one thing, many developers cited game piracy as a continuing and serious issue that harms their overall business and success as a company. One developer in the survey noted that of their app’s 8 million+ downloads, over 1.5 million of them were pirated. It’s something that everyone in the gaming world has been aware of, but I don’t think anyone was truly expecting the enormous numbers of piracy accounts that this survey produced.

And the pirating isn’t just restricted to premium apps, either: free-to-play games have also fell victim to piracy as well, with large portions of content attached to in-app purchases being unlocked illegally without having to pay. Another Android developer notes that on one of their studio’s games, “approximately 90 percent of in-app purchases were faked.” All in all, of the 250+ developers surveyed, 27% had their apps pirated, while 19% had their in-app purchases hacked in some way.

But even with the unsettling amount of pirates that continue to run rampant over the mobile games space, the survey ultimately revealed that discoverability, not piracy, was the number one problem in disrupting a developer’s road to profit and success. The complaints directly related to discoverability that were unearthed through the survey include everything from “Too many app stores” and “Too many competing platforms,” to app stores that are “crowded” and “overpopulated with low-quality apps.”

newsImage and data courtesy of the App Developers Conference 2013 survey.

It’s a sad truth to behold: with so many people developing mobile games and applications these days, not everyone is going to score that coveted spot on an app store’s “Featured” page, nor bring in the big bucks needed in order to become the next Rovio or PopCap. But the current trends in piracy and discoverability are making it difficult for game developers to even stay afloat in 2013. It also doesn’t help that most mobile gamers expect to get every one of their games for $0.99 or less, making things just as problematic for those investing time and dedication into making premium game downloads that start at $1.99 or more.

At this point, it seems there’s nothing else the developers can really do to combat this app discoverability issue that’s plaguing the app stores, other than simply making better apps, and striving to “Give them an app worth paying for.” So the next time you see an interesting-looking game pop up on the App Store, throw a bone or two the developer’s way: so they don’t continue to be the starving artists of our new digital age.

The full App Developers Conference survey can be downloaded for free right over here, and be sure to let us know what you think about these startling numbers down in the replies!

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