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The Android piracy problem
The Android piracy problem Exclusive
August 21, 2012 | By Mike Rose

August 21, 2012 | By Mike Rose
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

The piracy on Android train continues to roll on, with developers continually favoring iOS as a result. And there doesn't appear to be much being done on Google's end to quell the piracy fears, either.

One huge issue is that the average smartphone gamer doesn't even realize that piracy is as bad as it is on Android, and subsequently may accidentally download a pirated version of a game, Misha Lyalin, CEO of Cut the Rope developer ZeptoLab tells Gamasutra.

"Users ofter search for 'Cut the Rope' through a search engine and end up downloading a pirated version," Lyalin says. "That's just an honest mistake.

"While we do try to take down most copycats and pirates, a lot of ways to protect our games would be not very user-friendly or won't meet our quality standards. Because the user is the most important piece of our puzzle, we generally choose to focus on adopting our business model -- utilizing ads and in-app purchases - rather than taking on pirates," he says.

The iOS platform is still Zeptolab's top priority as a result of Android's issues, Lyalin admits, although the Android platform still allows his studio to deliver its games to a huge number of players, despite whether they actually pay for the products or not.

"Ultimately, that is what's most important to us," he says.

Dead on arrival

Madfinger Games marketing boss Anna Porizkova isn't so sure that the piracy issue is a problem of Android itself.

"To us, piracy is a general contemporary problem. It is so easy to get a pirated copy everywhere for free that people don't even think about buying it," says the Dead Trigger and Shadowgun developer.

"This is the norm nowadays. It's normal not to pay for anything you can have for free and nobody cares. All developers are tackling this problem, and so we are."

Madfinger recently made its zombie shooter Dead Trigger free-to-play as a result of terrible piracy rates -- however, this wasn't the first time that the studio had fallen foul to piracy on the platform.

Dead-Trigger.jpg"The piracy rate for Shadowgun was actually even higher," she tells us. "It reached 90 percent, then after a few months decreased to 80 percent and now it is falling bit by bit and averaging at 78 percent. Being sold for $8 and $5 later, there was no effective way of defending against piracy."

And yet, the studio believes that "Android is just as important as iOS. Both platforms have their pros and cons anyway. As for development issues, there are no differences between these platforms. We do not prefer one of them to the other."

She goes on to note, "The Android install base is so big that it can't be cold-shouldered by developers - especially when using the Unity engine makes this process considerably easier,"

Porizkova isn't sure yet whether Madfinger's next game will also be made free-to-play, although she is aware of the current popularity of the model. "Let's see how it will be doing in couple months," she adds.

Shock of the new

Sports Interactive's dabble with the Android space was well documented earlier this year, when its game Football Manager Handheld saw a piracy ratio of 9:1 on the Google platform.

The studio's director Miles Jacobson noted that he has never seen piracy rates that bad before -- Football Manager 2009 had a 5:1 piracy rate, but that's about as bad as it had been before Football Manager Handheld hit Android.

"We are well aware of piracy on all platforms, and were expecting it to be bad on Android," he added. "But it's still a shock when you see just how bad it is! It has had an effect on the company - there are costs, both financial and opportunity wise, for each person playing the game, and each hurdle that we face."

Jacobson believes that the Android platform simply cannot stay in the same way that is currently is otherwise all Google Play users are going to be left with is free-to-play titles.

"Someone clever will come along and do something to help fix it," he adds. "Piracy will never go away though - it hasn't on any format in the last 30 years."

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Phil Nolan
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That's just ridiculous. I've never heard a single person say they pirated Android apps, online or off. I wouldn't even know where to go for it Yet ask any teenager off the street and they could tell you exactly how to pirate every single ios app.

BTW if you Google Cut The Rope it's impossible to miss all of the legit ways to get it. The first results are the official website, the Play Store, and the ios store.

Pedro Figueira
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Man, you have no's really easy to install a pirate version of an android app since all you've got to do is transfer via USB and pick it up in a file manager.

You can find them pirate versions all over the internet, for basically any game.

Also, I agree this "honest mistake" illegal download sounds....weird. And really hard to believe

Rob Wright
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@Phil it's exceedingly easy to find Android apps/games on various torrent sites and even so-called "free" Flash/Web game sites. And as many studies have indicated, piracy is much, much more prevalent in emerging markets overseas -- and it's also where Android is seeing monster growth. In fact, Android's growth last year was highest in Southeast Asia (per analyst firm GfK Asia, I believe), where software piracy is also rampant.

This of course leads to interesting questions: did Android's growth in the region benefit from piracy? Are more people moving to Android because of the availability of lots and lots of free apps and games? Or is piracy mostly occurring AFTER people adopt Android?

Adam Rebika
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"It is so easy to get a pirated copy everywhere for free that people don't even think about buying it"
That is exactly the point. I think the main problem isn't that people don't want to spend money, they just go for the simplest solution they find. And this is only made worse by the always more annoying DRMs. Why would one pay when he can get a better version of the product for free?

Toby Grierson
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Here are the office we have two Android devices; an HTC Desire and an Arnova tablet.

The HTC will not download packages larger than 40 megs -even though- it can install larger programs onto the SD card. The dolts who made it gave it paltry internal memory, and it can only cache app store downloads on the internal memory.

And the Arnova? IT HAS NO APP STORE.

Piracy is literally the only option on both of these devices for most games. You can't _buy_ Final Fantasy on them. But pirating is a snap.

iOS, for contrast, is just plain easy to spend money on. Jailbreaking's a risky chore.

Danny Bernal
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...and now we begin to see the root of the problems... ( pun intended! )

Ruber Eaglenest
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It is more easy on IOS since the Black Market App.

Emmanuel Navarro
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This is maybe a "your mileage may vary" thing but I've never head anyone saying that they pirate iOS apps and I assume that pirating apps requires that you have a "jailbroken" device.
Android on the other hand is another story. Forums are full of user exchanging links to cracked versions of basically every apps, and you don't even need to modify your Android device to run them.

While a search on a major title will usually lead you to the official website, for less popular titles links to pirated versions show up in the top hits (without adding the 3 letter extension for Android application package files in your search).

David Provenzano
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If you cant beat it ... exploit it.

Android users have iOS friends. If they are talking about your game to iOS users, then chances are that iOS user will check it out on the app store. I've often thought about having two completely different systems for Android and iOS. Have simple advertisements or free to play with in game purchases on android, and just a pay once model for iOS.

Matt Robb
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Pirates will pirate. A pirated copy is usually not a lost sale.

People who actually pay for apps typically do. People who have decided they're not going to pay for anything don't. There really isn't much overlap between the two sets of people. Only when a piece of software is really popular *and* it won't function without a legitimate license due to a server dependency will "pirates" actually pay, and even then you'll still find copies of games like World of Warcraft that are stuck at a specific version for people to play on custom-written servers.

You can always hope that you can hook some kids on your game/brand through piracy so that, when they're older and actually have income, they'll start buying your games. Or if your game is good but the cracked version won't let them play with their friends or some such, it may end up on a Christmas list or some such.

Michael DeFazio
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"Pirates will pirate. A pirated copy is usually not a lost sale. "

understand your point, and i would totally agree with this stance prior to Itunes ... "why would anyone pay for music?... get everything for free on napster/limewire..." i thought...
... but then itunes came around, i was sure it would fail ("you can't compete with free")

turns out i was wrong, and i think the same would hold true if google (or a competitor) could create a robust, reliable and convenient market... The options I've used thus far on Android can only be considered mediocre... (the ratings system is a joke, it's pretty much 5 stars or 1 star "didn't work on my...")

the downside of users opting for the free "pirate" versions is the same now as it was for itunes... yeah you get it free, but will it brick you device? give you mallware? install trojans?... really I'm sure plenty of users (who are currently pirating) would pay $1 for the a security of knowing the app won't do any of those things and the experience was fluid and convenient... that's on google.

Kevin Matthews
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It's more about convenience and setting the right price than anything. Pirates will pay if it's convenient and they don't think they are being ripped off. Ask Valve.

Aaron Fowler
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@Kevin 99 cent apps and songs get pirated all of the time. It could cost 25 cents and it would still get pirated.

Perhaps there was a time when they paid for stuff as well. But then discovered that they could get it for free.

A big problem is that many pirates don't see it as being wrong at all, or they don't care because they can get away with it. They also don't really understand how big of a problem it really is.

Everyone is doing it. What's one more really going to do?

If everyone had that mindset, those "one more" adds up to a substantial number very quickly.

Duong Nguyen
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That's assuming all pirates are forever freeloaders, which some are of course but there is an overlap between legitimate buyers and the irredeemable pirate.. That overlap is dependent upon the barrier to entry. Look at the consoles, they have massive hurdles for piracy to the casual user and only the a dedicated pirate actually bothers with the consoles (mod chips, boot exploits, etc..). Their piracy rates are "reasonable" no where near the 80-90% piracy rates seen on the PC and Android platforms.

For the PC and mobiles its as easy as downloading a torrent and unziping it in the right folder. Anyone could do it, even a 10 year olds..

Scot White
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fragmentation is the main issue. convenience triumph anything else.

hence the reason iOS works. It make it simple to buy and pirating difficult while Android is the opposite.

Alex Nichiporchik
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Exactly! It's so much easier on Android to google up an app by it's name and get the pirated build first.

While on Cydia/Installous for iOS it's a hassle you have to go through in order to get a free app, you'd rather just spend $1 on it in the store -- and even Installous links directly to the appstore as the preferred method of download vs the other free ones.

Tori Kamal
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I tend to agree with Matt Robb. I doubt that the piraters would have ever paid for the apps in the first place if that was their only option. Plus, if they could afford iOS products in the first place, they would already have lots of extra money to throw around (sorry, that probably wasn't very fair).

So personally I don't see it as really costing the developers money--they were never going to get it anyway. Unless the pirated version is costing the devs money for server fees somehow--then it becomes a real problem as they are now costing the developer real money.

Tom Baird
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This doesn't explain why Android has higher piracy rates than other platforms. Unless you were to think that Android users were just all morally lacking freeloaders, which I don't buy either.

iTunes, Steam are both effectively demonstrating that convenience is paramount for a successful digital storefront. Make it easier to buy than pirate, and people will pay for the convenience. The Google App Store just isn't there yet, and it's simpler just to get the free version than to be able to pay for it.

Diana Hsu
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I disagree. Most people pirate when it's convenient, it's only the people who either have no opportunity cost or think of pirating as an inalienable right that cannot be defiled by paying for something who would never buy an app.

Think about it this way -- assuming a person has no ethical qualms about piracy, has a full-time job with no particular money problems -- if this individual can pirate easily, within a few seconds, he or she will do so. But if it's inconvenient and will take hours to find and download a pirated version of the app, and it's an app they particularly want, don't you think they'll just pony up the $1?

The people who will never, ever pay for an app are not as common as you think. The idea that a pirated copy would never have become a legitimate sale is ridiculous.

Adam Bishop
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"This doesn't explain why Android has higher piracy rates than other platforms."

Does it? The 90% rate mentioned in this article seems to be well in line with published estimates of piracy on other platforms such as PC.

Wendy Jones
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Server fees and bandwidth are the major reason I will not port any of my apps from iOS over to Android. I'm constantly getting requests from users asking for Android ports but because of the amount of piracy across those devices it isn't going to be worth it.

While pirates aren't users that would have paid for the app anyway, they are taking up server resources which costs me money and they're not willing to pay the few dollars to help offset that cost over the lifetime of their application use. On iOS there are a few ways to lower the amount of people using a cracked version of your application so piracy has been a smaller problem but it takes a lot of work to stay in front of it.

john doe
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I dunno about you guys, but i'm much more having trouble getting pirated games on my Android device than iOS, up to the point that sometimes I would just end up giving up. There's the compatibility issue, screen size, sd/obb files that should be put on the right place, lucky patcher stuff, etc. While in iOS, I'll only access installous on my old ipod touch 4th gen and then pirating would be a breeze from there.

Martin Edmaier
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its easier to piracy android games then iOS. But for me the piracy was bigger on iOS. Second day some pirates put it up for free;(

Cordero W
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I hope Ouya will be called the Free Box because the same thing is going to happen there, too.

k s
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I'm not so sure, they're going to have one store and thus make it more convenient. As stated before convenience is a big factor and most of the people supporting the Ouya at this point love games, down the road they'll be less gamers and more average Joes supporting the Ouya.

Cordero W
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I guess they love mediocre games, too, because only those type of people would make games for a system that is meant to be a pirate box.

k s
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Again I'm not convinced it will be a pirate box. There will be some degree of piracy for sure as there is with every system but I doubt Ouya will be any worse then most platforms.

Cordero W
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And yet the Ouya creators specifically said it's meant to be an "open system." Just like a PC. Which is the highest pirate platform ever.

k s
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Piracy on the PC is way over blown. The real reason publishers have given up on PC is the fragmentation issue, and the interface for games.

Alfe Clemencio
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Well if it makes any of you feel better, any pirates are at extremely high risk of getting credit card and other sensitive info stolen that is on the phone. Android apps can intercept sms messages used to verify accounts.

Curtiss Murphy
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Android OS has a vastly larger install base, but even still, 80+% of the app revenue goes through the iOS Store. It's not a no-brainer ... but it's pretty close.

Linh Ngo
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Even with this so-called piracy problem on Android, we found more success at Google Play:

Chris Melby
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I missed this article, thanks for posting it, going to chew through it later today.

Groove Stomp
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Interesting! I've been an Android user for over a year, after having abandoned iOS. On iOS it's obvious, you just jailbreak your device. Jailbreaking is a well known term and is easily searchable.
I wasn't even aware of how to pirate things on Android until reading this article!
I'm not saying it isn't prevailent, or it's complicated or anything, just that I was well aware of how to do it on iOS, and completely unaware of how to do it on Android.
On my Android devices I have the Play store, and you search for apps in there and buy them. It's very simple, very similar to the iTunes app store, except hooked up to my Google payment account so it's even easier to use.

But, I'm clearly not representative here.

Michael Wenk
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I don't buy this. Piracy on Android is an excuse more than anything. I think that fragmentation and just the simple fact that it is one more platform to make your app for is more of reason why android is avoided.

Also the iOs walled garden gives the illusion of elitism, and lets face it, it is an illusion, its more of a pain to find a decent app in the crapware that invests the app store than it is on android market.

Michael Wenk
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I don't buy this. Piracy on Android is an excuse more than anything. I think that fragmentation and just the simple fact that it is one more platform to make your app for is more of reason why android is avoided.

Also the iOs walled garden gives the illusion of elitism, and lets face it, it is an illusion, its more of a pain to find a decent app in the crapware that invests the app store than it is on android market.

Chris Melby
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I'd like to point something out....

What's not mentioned above, is that MadFinger Games also made Dead Trigger free-to-play on iOS.

Now factor this in. MadFinger cries wolf about piracy and in turn they get a TON of publicity advertising the fact that their game is going Freemium. Am I the only one seeing this? Even this article is giving them more press. They let the reactive nature of the web advertise their new free-to-play versions. Good for them, taking advantage of our often naive system, that loves to perpetuate gossip and ignorance first, then fact checks later; FUD rocks!

And for reference, since all of the quotes are pro iOS, CEO Marek Rabas of Madfingers says this about piracy on that platform; "the number of pirates on iOS is comparable with the amount of jailbroken devices."

I know I'm not alone on this, for every iPhone user I know, I know another that's jailbroken their device. It's not only tech savvy people doing this -- they did make it incredibly easy for others to do so though -- it's anyone that's tired of the constraints of iOS, that needs more -- and generally doesn't want to pay? -- but doesn't want to leave that ecosystem.

Piracy is an issue on any platform regardless. Those here that view it as a detriment and want more measures / lock-downs in place to stop it, aren't wrong in their thinking, but the end result of these actions is never healthy for any open system. Android needs to remain open, because its good by far out weighs the bad; and a closed systems is generally short lived anyways, because people want freedom of choice, weather it be free or just the option of having it available.

Anyways, was this article an opinion piece, view-bait, sponsored FUD, or something else I'm not considering? :)

OK, back to my iPad Note 10.1", that for some odd reason has a Samsung logo on it and I could have sworn that one guy said styluses were a fail...

Jed Hubic
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People can definitely post what they want but to say in any way shape or form that piracy is even close to as bad on iOS as Android is an absolute delusional lie. Speaking from experience and other devs I've talked to experiences this is the case.

I wish people would quit being so in love with whatever OS they are fanboys over and just admit there's a problem.

Chris Melby
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R. Hunter Gough
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Geez, guys. Everyone's forgetting history. Obviously the solution to all of this is to sell every Android game in a physical box, with a pack-in manual and accompanying short story, and have the app ask you for word X on page Y every time you launch it.

Wayne Gardner
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As a kid I remember borrowing a freinds Amiga games ..he used to moan as i borrow them for ages and siad ..why cant i just make a copy. I tried it was easy to do ..though once I played it I destroyed it and added to my Xmas list if I wanted to play it again. As I kid I did nto know better ..but not would never pirate anything ..for me the price of most of the games and the easy to get them ..makes it point less to fuse with a free copy.

Note Im a tight git though and dont buy full price games unless I really really really want them ..otherwise its steam sales.

I going to release my first title on iOS soon then Android ..not looking forward to pirates ..though ever day I look around ..i pretty sure there is on even in the industry it game, music or movies.

Dave Long
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A shame to see piracy afflicting another platform. Pirates ain't gamers, they're bottom-feeding scum leeching off people's hard work, and I ain't got no time for 'em 'til they escape the self-centred bubble they're living in.

Cordero W
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You can't blame pirates for being pirates. Pirating is essentially the easiest thing in the world. I could easily just download a game onto a flash drive and give it to my friend. Back in the day, it was called shareware copies, and the devs put "Please" screens in their freeware demos to let people know to buy their games. The more people who play your game, the greater its effect. And even then, there will be more people who buy your game if it's good enough than those who pirate it.

In addition, it's not like they're roaming the seas and ganking ships. It's the data format fault for being so easily copied. Until that technology is advanced, there will always be digital pirating.

Lincoln Thurber
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Dear Developers

Make your games easy to find, easy to purchase, and worth buying. Piracy spreads when the effort needed to get something legally is higher then the pirated product....just the effort...not the money in most cases. Second, innovate all the time and keep moving. If you have put a game out on iOS and Android have another game ready two or three months later. Put out new games, put out new versions, and keep moving.

Also, avoid making adware and nag-ware annoying. If you have a good product charge for it, if you have junk give it out for free. There is nothing worse then a products that is nags or shoves an annoying ads in your face for the free very careful about the user experience...if the ads are in the way of course pirates will give out your product for free.

James Coote
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The first two, easy to find and easy to purchase, are kinda out of the developers' hands. They're to do with the app store (Google Play), which is obviously controlled by google.

For sure, there are other markets, but none are as universal / have as many customers.

Sure there are other payment / purchasing API's, but wouldn't you rather have developers working on the game itself rather than spending time trying to make a payment system?

Magnus Soderberg
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Android piracy is not really a problem according to me, an piracy is just as big on iOS as on Android. For us our piracy is even bigger than on android.

Roughly the same amount of downloads on both iOS and Android.
Pirates "buy" IAP's for ~$1-5k a day on iOS
Android that numbers is ~$100 a day.

Amount of pirates on Android is ~50% iOS we don't have a number for yet.

If we would count as a lot of the industry does we would have had lost sales on iOS of an amount of ~$40 000 since our launch on Aug 1st. (but we don't count that way)

The main difference is that most android pirates still generate money for us, via ad's and incentive offers. And incented offers is now allowed on iOS any longer.

So in essence while we can monetize our pirates on Android that is not quite as doable on iOS. And it seems most Android pirates are people who have found the game on another site, but the game is actually not cracked so they can still access Google Play and be monetized. On iOS a jailbroken phone is not able to access the store and users have to download a cracked app, and due to this they are also harder to monetize.