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Smartphone Piracy: 'Life's Too Short To Worry About It'

May 18, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[While console providers and publishers are mum about the next generation of piracy prevention as implemented in the Sony NGP and Nintendo 3DS, smartphone developers share their best strategies to combat the scourge.]

Software piracy may have taken a heavy toll on the previous generation of handhelds, and it's a matter of concern for the new models, but when it comes to smartphones, developers shrug. There are more pressing matters, they say.

At least that's what anecdotal evidence from a handful of recent interviews indicates.

Exactly two years ago, then-Sony senior VP Peter Dille stressed the enormity of piracy's effect on the PSP: "We're convinced that piracy has taken out a big chunk of our software sales on PSP. It's been a problem that the industry has to address together."

That same month, Nintendo admitted that it lost trillions of yen a year thanks to software piracy, much of it due to R4 "flash carts" that allow users to download and play pirated DS games.

So it wasn't surprising -- with portable game piracy such a hot-button issue among publishers and analysts -- that Sony and Nintendo turned up the anti-piracy juice on their next generation of handhelds -- the Sony NGP and the Nintendo 3DS.

According to Nintendo UK GM David Yarnton, the 3DS is "one of our best pieces of equipment in that respect." Logically, Nintendo hasn't enumerated the technical specifics of its anti-piracy measures but, says Yarnton, "There are a lot of things we've learned over time to try and improve the security and protection..."

This month, asked to further report on its anti-piracy efforts for this story, a Nintendo spokesperson would say only that "Nintendo 3DS contains the most up-to-date anti-piracy measures available. We do not discuss product security details (for obvious reasons), nor can we discuss the details of countermeasures available in the Nintendo 3DS system." Sony chose not to comment.

So did Ubisoft, when asked what effect piracy had on its portable gaming strategy; Electronic Arts wouldn't respond to multiple e-mails and phone calls. It's clearly still a sensitive topic.

But elsewhere, on the smartphone side of the industry, the developers Gamasutra interviewed report they are far less concerned about piracy on the iOS and Android games they are creating.

The reason is twofold: the good "anti-piracy" work Apple and Google are doing on the developers' behalf and, more importantly, the current trend toward "free-to-play" -- or freemium -- games. When a game is free, developers say, who in their right mind is going to make the effort to crack it?

"Most people [in the iOS and Android space] could care less about piracy," observes Adam Martin who had been CTO of NCsoft Europe and is now CEO of Red Glasses, an iPhone studio in the UK that developed the game Star Catcher. "Obviously this doesn't apply to the bigger studios, but for individuals and small teams, every moment you spend thinking about piracy is a moment you could have spent doing another app and getting sales. Most people seem to be taking a 'life's too short to worry about it' view."

Brian Robbins is one of those people. As founder of Denver-based Riptide Games, he has personally -- at Riptide and at previous companies -- been building iOS games since the App Store launch in July 2008. In the next month or two he's about to launch Riptide's first big freemium title, My Pet Zombie, for both iPhone and iPad.

At first, Robbins saw piracy as a significant problem -- between 70 and 80 percent of the copies of some of his earlier games were illegal ones -- but not necessarily a problem he could solve.

And so, rather than spinning his wheels trying to protect his IP, he decided to spend just a small portion of his time trying to annoy the thieves while using the majority of his time improving his games and keeping happy the customers who were actually paying for his titles.

"I knew I wasn't going to convince the pirates to pay for my software, but I'd be darned if I was going to let them enjoy the fruits of our labor for free," he said. "So if I couldn't stop them, I was going to do my best to aggravate them."

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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