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Oh!, no?, the attack of the Android pirated copies
by Juan Belon Perez on 04/01/14 08:20:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Well, I adquired a Pro license of Unity,two months ago I started to think of a new game development with this guy R-TypeX..., a gamer suggested me to make a zombies game. So we did Silver Zombie.

This is the game teaser:

Soft launched in Google Play, in the first day there was a purchase from USA, this person use 10 minutes and returned the game (refunded it), in that time, the game was copied and in the next hours, the same person uploaded the game to a downloads site...from this moment, the links ,tweets, facebook posts started to grow like mushrooms on a rainy day: 20 new results/hour in google search for ["Silver Zombie" Android] for illegal copies...that was crazy, now the number is 12000 results can find our game in forums of all kind,..also,and as a reason for derision its users are scoring the game very low on their downloads forums... XD

BlackBerry Appworld, Apple AppStore, Windows Phone, Amazon ...they all have its own DRM to try to avoid the copies but...The discussion here is, is it good to get your game pirated? if people liked it, should they pay for it? 

Some of you can argue that ,if your game is good enought ,piracy should not bother you, but if someone that can actually pay for the game, searchs for it in the internet and found an illegal copy, what stop this use from get the free version?

I was told to add ads to the game, so although the game is pirated, you still receive benefits from ads, but i dislike ads, then , should I just close my mouth?

I just wanted to measure and analyze how fast these pirate-networks replicate content.

This is a table of 6 days since the launch.

Day Pirated Links Purchases Refunds Organic Search Data Estimated Pirated Downloads
1 1 2 1 100 1
2 4 1 0 1000 100
3 13 1 1 6000 500
4 23 1 1 10000 1000
5 56 1 0 12000 2000
6 95 2 0 16000 5000
          Total: 8601

Organic search data is the results from search engines, the info about the game mixed with other content over the net.
Pirated links: search engines can determine what is the actual information (not copy-paste) and this number can vary so I have balanced the data.
Estimated downloads: a statistical measure counting posts views, comments and number of downloads webs files.

Look at the graphic...

The more tweeter, blogs, facebook posts, and youtube videos, the more people will know of the game, only 20-40% of the downloads sites also contains the link to the original game.

Looks like that someone needs to do the dirty job, once the game is purchased-downloaded-copied-refunded, then there is no more need to do the process again because other people will copy the first one from the network...

We can think, if the game were free, maybe it should not attracted people, but what make them to want to download first from a no-secure web?

You may be well aware that the software in these sites are not safe, so, if you download a game, it could be modified, ...sometimes they just change a value so the new apk will show the hacker ads, not from your ads account.
Sometimes, the hacker can change the game and break it, like this guy...the point here is, that device runs perfectly the original game, so, has he introduced malicious code inside and broke the game?. Probably.

Looks like in 3 days the numbers are going exponential because people copy other people.

I have tried to avoid this writting to some of them and asking , begging them for remove the links, but there are like 2/10 responses, so, can we learn a lesson from this?,
Is Android the platform where people release free games with ads?...
Other people should release a fake crack / software that prevent others to be the first ones downloading the original copy and distributing it. It works too. But do we need to do this crazy things?

But if you want to enter the fight like I wanted, first you need to register the game legally, because when you ask downloads servers to remove the link (even your trailer in youtube with pirated links), they will ask you for the copyright, they will not proceed until they receive that.

For example:
"For MediaFire to be legally compliant, we must have a completed DMCA Take Down Notice.
(For more details on the information required for valid notification, see 17 U.S.C. 512(c)(3).)"

Other way to try to avoid pirated copies is to add online checks to verify buys,obfuscating source code to prevent hacking/replacing ads and Google Play check game license services.

I would like to know, if each time a refund op appears, it indicates new pirated copies in its way...

Silver Zombie:More info

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Greg Scheel
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Wow, games need copycat defense rather badly.

Rafa Del Riego
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Really interesting article! We are going to release a real time strategy game for tablets, starting with iPads, and were wondering about the Android market.

How did you estimate the total number of pirated copies downloaded? This would be useful to estimate how much money you could have potentially missed. Also, how do u register your game legally globally? I mean, there are several ways, but which one did you choose/recommend, if you can share that info?

Juan Belon Perez
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I don't know how to properly register an IP but I would like to know, I'm mostly a developer and as an indie, I usually see myself going into these, new topics for me :D

Estimated downloads are measured with forums posts with answers / ratings, you could add some internet mechanims to analyze / define users installs like the google console... the money lost...well, think in a 0.2% ratio of conversion from the estimated count.

Eric Salmon
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.2% of 8600 is a little under 20 sales, right?

I'm not sure how I'd feel about it. On the one hand, 20 sales isn't a terrible price for reaching a good sized audience. On the other hand, that audience has little potential to become paying customers.. which then also makes it pointless to lament losing them as potential customers.

One good thing is that you get a massive amount of relatively unbiased feedback. They literally got the game for free, so anything they complain about will likely be hated tenfold by someone who paid for it.

Andy Lundell
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>>"because when you ask downloads servers to remove the link (even your trailer in
>> youtube with pirated links), they will ask you for the copyright, they will not proceed
>> until they receive that."

This is not true at all. At least not in USA. Filing a DMCA report doesn't require a registered copyright.
Filing a DMCA report is a simple thing that you could do for free in much less time than it took to write this article!

>>"now the number is 12000 results approx"

No, it's not. Google's estimate on the first page is almost always wrong. Go to the LAST page of results to get the real number. (Spoiler : It's 76.)

>> "Sometimes, the hacker can change the game and break it, like this guy..."

So, a YouTube reviewer sees a visual artifact, and your first thought is that pirates have not only copied your game, but decompiled the APK, modified a shader for no good reason, and then rebuilt the APK, all before distributing it?

You have a very high opinion of how much time the pirates spent with your game.

>>"also,and as a reason for derision its users are scoring the game very low
>> on their downloads forums... XD"

Are you ... *laughing* that players don't like your game? Really?!?


Juan Belon Perez
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Thanks for your comment Andy, I'm from Europe so I didnt know that I just needed to fill the DMCA in USA, I can do that ;)

>> No, it's not. Google's estimate on the first page is almost always wrong.

I invite you to go back and re-read the information of the post, I took a time to write it so, the Organic Search Data is now over 23k and it is, again "the info about the game mixed with other content over the net", ok?. The second number in the table "Pirated Links" is the number in the last page ;) and spoiler or not, it varies a lot, some days it is high other low because we are trying to remove them...

>> So, a YouTube reviewer sees a visual artifact, and your first thought is that pirates have not only copied your game, but decompiled the APK, modified a shader for no good reason, and then rebuilt the APK, all before distributing it?

Again you missed reading, I said, the game is working in that mobile...our beta testers tested the game in that device and it has no errors with the shader, so this guy must have mem hacked the device

>> You have a very high opinion of how much time the pirates spent with your game.

I do, there is an interest in the game, are you saying it is a bad thing to defend your game?

>> Are you ... *laughing* that players don't like your game? Really?!?

Take a look to this link:

if they laugh at you and your game ,why dont you laugh with them? XD

Andy Lundell
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""the info about the game mixed with other content over the net"

Could you please explain where this number comes from?

Because it *LOOKS* like you're getting it from the "About X results" field on the first page of a the Google results. This number is 100% fictional and tells you absolutely nothing. (It's supposed to be an estimate of how many results are on the list. But the true number, found at the end, is often WAY less. As in this case.)

Incidentally, the term "organic search engine results" means something else entirely. It's about tracking incoming hits to your own website.

Andy Lundell
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>>" if they laugh at you and your game ,why dont you laugh with them? XD "

... because, I would not ever be happy about players laughing at my game's quality?

>>"I said, the game is working in that mobile"
Even if you tested all versions of the Note 3 (there are at least two) with all operating systems available for those phones (4.3 and 4.4 officially), I would still not be confident publicly accusing someone of piracy. There are so many tiny programming problems that can cause a bug to show up only very rarely and slip through testing.

Especially, since, again, it doesn't really make sense for the pirates to mess with your shaders.

Juan Belon Perez
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They are not laughing about quality, but about the topic , the theme...

And in the other hand, when you reassemble a game it can be broken just for using a buffer, ...well, try an export of an unity game with 32b ,24b buffers option and other renders options, in that mobile and you will see ;)

Joshua Olsen
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You are still missing the point that Andy is saying with regards to bugs however. Even if you have tested your game thoroughly does not mean that there is no bugs. I'm not saying that the youtuber didn't use a pirated copy maybe he did. But a graphical glitch that you have not seen before does not mean that it is.

That being said instead of just describing the graphical glitch to us that you saw in the video perhaps provide a link towards it. You could very well be right however no one else can verify this without seeing said video

Juan Belon Perez
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It is a known error that happens when you use 32-24bits buffers in Unity and that kind of GPU, ...we are not using those buffers, we have tested the game in those Samsung gpu's, so...I understand it could be a shader. The "mobile unlit shader (with lightmap support)" one, in psvita it is bugged too and i had to change it to another one but not in samsung gpu's.
Thanks for your point of view.

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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This article is very wrong, is without real data. You should add to app some statistics sender, after that you will have real numbers, of course that someone could hack it too, but it is more problematic.

Other wrong idea is that majority of pirates would be buy game, its not true they usauly 12-17 years old without real income. And of course there are greedy, wicked people too.

Wes Jurica
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Using some simple analytics, we can see that our game ULTRA4 Offroad Racing has been installed over 400k times. We have 60k sales between all platforms. Am I worried about this? Hell no!

This game was made possible by the ULTRA4 organization taking the risk of allowing their IP to be used by a couple of developer that had never shipped a game. Their motivation was simply to get their racing organization into the consciousness of more people. As far as they are concerned, there are more eyeballs on their name.

As the developers of the game, it would be easy for us to look at those numbers and think that we were robbed of 3/4 million dollars but, that isn't realistic for the same reasons that have been discussed over and over again. We made a tidy sum and some of those pirates may have contributed to our success in the same way that Amazon's Free App of the Day has contributed to some other developers' success.

The real problem I have is the stolen versions of our game that keep showing up on Google Play. Three times now I have had to contact Google about our app being sold on their store and each time it has taken 2-3 weeks to get it removed. Once it gets removed, the developer account that posted on game on their storefront, still has an account! And on that account they have other games that are stolen from other legitimate developers.

A few months on, those accounts are no longer on Google Play. I can't say that it had anything to do with pirated content because Google doesn't communicate very well with their developers. In order to get these games taken down I had to fill out a DMCA takedown request which is just ridiculous. I am a legitimate developer on Google's own service, making them money (no matter how small) and then other developers that signed up on their service steal content and resell it as their own (though I guess they are making Google money too). As soon as this happens these accounts should be banned.

I would love to discus this with a representative of Google Play but, as far as I can tell, there is no direct line of communication between Google and its developers. If anyone know of an avenue, please let me know.

Troy Walker
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wow, that is really disappointing... gives me the impression that Google Play is the "last" place you would want to publish as they don't really care about what gets spread.

Troy Walker
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I think the point of this article is more about the problems developers have with protecting their IP... I wish there were better options for obfuscators, but the tools are overly complex and really don't provide the protection needed (basically ends up being a waste of time).

Juan Belon Perez
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Yes, thanks Troy :)

Jean-Claude Cottier
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I've stop worrying about this many years ago. As a solo indie, I just don't have the time to spend with people that have absolutely no willing to pay me for my games. It's just not worth the effort. Play is obviously not a great place for premium games. So, may be you should only release the free with ads/iap version first. Then later, release a premium version. But stop wasting your time fighting, it's like fighting against the wind sadly.

Zachary Strebeck
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Just to add to clearing up the DMCA confusion above, I have a few posts here on Gamasutra talking about how to properly send a DMCA takedown. Not legal advice, of course!