I’d like to draw your attention to The huge success of an AppStore failure by Luís Fonseca of GAMEized. It’s the sad story of a mobile-game developer running into the reality that there’s a lot of pirated software out there. I think the obvious conclusions are wrong, mostly.
(GAMEized had perhaps the worst possible outcome, observing piracy rates on the order of 90%. They got unlucky, having been prominently featured on one of the biggest steal-apps-here sites.)
Let me start by saying that this isn’t an Apple-specific problem; there are pirates on the Android side, too. It’s not even a mobile-apps problem, per se, but a monetizing-bags-of-bits problem.
Countermeasures are the conventional response: Keep the pirates from getting their hands on the bits, stop ’em getting the warez to their customers, and prevent the customers from using these ill-gotten goods. What GAMEized in their blog calls “functional counter-piracy safeguards”.
What I Don’t Believe · Let me call out two quotes from that post:
It’s reasonable to assume that many if not most of the 16,000 users playing FingerKicks on Apple’s Game Center probably wouldn’t be playing a pirated version if it weren’t so readily available
The game’s popularity was skyrocketing but the losses from piracy were mounting
The first quote sort of makes sense: if you could stop piracy, fewer people would play pirated games. But consider the second, in particular the phrase “losses from piracy”. It presupposes that there was a ton of potential revenue out there that GAMEized would have taken home, but for the pirates.
Why on earth would anyone believe that? This postulates that there are a significant number of people who could pay for software if they wanted to, would have paid $0.99 for this game, and thus GAMEized lost that money.
I don’t buy it. The pirates’ customers are people who go to the trouble of signing up with flagrantly-illegal warez sites, either because they’re penniless teenagers or just sleazy; people whose time is worth so little they’re willing to skulk around the dark side to save a buck. Once again, let me borrow words from the blog: “people who willingly crack existing apps just to save — or steal — 99¢”. Well, yeah; and you seriously think that you’re going to make money on one-time sales of bags-of-bits to this flavor of pond scum? On what planet?
Fortunately, the planet contains huge numbers of people who will cough up a buck for a nifty-looking app. Enough to have taken this market from zero to billions since 2007. There’s business out there for smart, creative people. But let’s draw the right lessons.
Choose Your Business Model · I’m still convinced that free downloads followed up by in-app revenue is an immensely better approach than a one-time charge for access to a bag of bits.
Yes, the banditos can sometimes hack the in-app buying transaction, but it’s a lot more work so the economics are against them.
Competing With “Free” · Apple, with the iTunes store and its successors, proved that you can do this; “easy and convenient” can win.
So maybe the single best thing the app retailers can do is to make the buying experience increasingly quick, lightweight, friction-free, and delightfully entertaining. After all, most people like to shop sometimes.
It’s still worthwhile for the Apple and Android communities to whack the pirate moles whenever our hammers have a target in reach.
But still, the best antipiracy tactic isn’t a negative countermeasure, it’s being proactively and positively delightful.