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ADC survey finds piracy, discoverability to be key issues facing app creators
ADC survey finds piracy, discoverability to be key issues facing app creators
September 23, 2013 | By Staff

Piracy and discoverability are the top issues facing app developers today, according to new research conducted by the organizers of GDC Next sister event the App Developers Conference.

In order to paint a picture of the app development landscape as it stands right before ADC, more than 250 app creators were surveyed on topics ranging from targeted platforms and app stores to app verticals, monetization methods and more. The full text of the survey results is available for free.

Organized by UBM Tech (also owners of Gamasutra), creators and producers of the largest and longest-running professionals-only game industry conference, the Game Developers Conference, ADC will take place November 5th-7th at the Los Angeles Convention Center and will be co-located with another inaugural event, the future-facing GDC Next.

26% of surveyed devs had their apps pirated; of those with IAP, same percentage saw them hacked

The ADC survey found that piracy is a major issue with app development—though it appears that some developers feel the sting far more heavily than others. 26% of surveyed developers reported that to their knowledge, their apps had been pirated. Of those developers whose apps use in-app purchases (IAP), a similar 26% found that their IAPs had been hacked (that is, obtained without payment).

7% of respondents were familiar with their app's piracy statistics, either from internal checks, analytics, or other sources, and some of those provided anecdotal evidence. "Of our 8M+ total downloads," one said, "1.5M+ have been pirated, mostly in Russia and China." Another stated that, on Android, "approximately 90% in-app purchases were faked." Yet another said, "Flurry analytics unique users: 11862. App Store downloads: 1141. 90.4% pirated copies."

Discoverability cited as #1 problem with app ecosystem

In a free-form survey question, developers were asked to identify what they felt to be the biggest problem within the current app development market. Most answers connected to problems with discoverability—albeit from different ends of the spectrum. Developers frequently described app stores as "crowded" and "overpopulated with low-quality apps"; others also noted that users' expectations for free apps made it hard to charge even $0.99 for their higher-quality app.

Other developers cited platform and device fragmentation as their main issue: "Too many devices and operating systems to support," "Too many app stores," "Too many competing platforms," "Different languages and stores," and other similar comments came up very frequently.

When it came to how their studio attempted to solve said problems, most developers were fairly clear: Make better apps. "Create the best app possible," "Build a quality app," "Make innovative apps," "Give them an app worth paying for," "Make things that matter," and similar responses were very common.

Games rule app verticals, but developers are willing and able to diversify

Games were by far the most popular app category: 69% of surveyed devs made games, followed by entertainment (37%), education (32%), lifestyle (22%), brand marketing (21%), enterprise (16%) and health/wellness (14%).

But the respondents didn't only make games; a significant portion of game dev respondents also made apps for general entertainment (38%), education (29%), brand marketing (17%), lifestyle (15%), health and wellness (11%), and even enterprise (11%).

ADC is an entirely new event from the creators of the acclaimed Game Developers Conference focusing on the very best programming, architecture, UI, marketing and business of apps outside of games.

Speakers include notables from Evernote, Dropbox, Netflix, Pandora, Six To Start, Tumblr and a multitude of others. The show is co-located with Game Developers Conference Next - an in-depth event that will feature detailed content about creating the game experiences of the future, from free-to-play through indie and next-gen platforms.

ADC will run November 5th-7th at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the early registration cap of 500 reduced-price attendees is rapidly being reached, so attendees should consider signing up now. More information is available at the official App Developers Conference website.

ADC, GDC, and Gamasutra are siblings under parent UBM Tech.

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Michael van Drempt
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In other news, 74% of devs don't care about piracy, and 90% of users consider microtransactions a waste of money.

Sean Sang
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I think all developers care about piracy but this has been with us and has only increased over time so it's not that the developers don't care they just know this is part of being a game developer. For some developers they know piracy can lead to sales so they just accept it. In terms of in-app hacking, well if you have people who won't pay for a game why would they pay for in-app items? The simple fact that they hacked the game to get the item means they had an interest in the game enough so to go out of their way to hack it. It's really a sad state the mobile market is in. Prices are rock bottom yet the expectation is to go even lower. $.99 for most people is pocket change yet in the app store it's treated to have far more worth.

Robert Green
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"In terms of in-app hacking, well if you have people who won't pay for a game why would they pay for in-app items?"

Once upon a time (and maybe still to this day), there are pirates or piracy defenders who claim that price and quality are a large factor in piracy, that the reason people pirate is because they can't afford the thing they're buying, or they want to know it's worth paying for first.
The amount of piracy on IAP's should basically put this to rest. Pirates gonna pirate.

On a side note - while there is some 'in-app hacking' going on, the fact that all purchases on mobile devices go through a central place has unfortunately meant that if someone can hack that store app (and that was probably always going to happen), they've essentially hacked every F2P game on offer, unless that game uses a secondary verification method.

Sean Sang
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What I find really sad is that some of those games are f2p and hoping to make money with those in-app purchases. So even though people can legitimately play your game for nothing they still won't even spend just a little bit of money to support what they are enjoying with an in-app purchase.

Robert Green
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In our experience, most of the pirates hadn't completed more than 1 game when they pirated the IAP. So it's not necessarily true to say that they wouldn't support the game they're enjoying, it's that they were prepared to pirate your IAP's before even finding out if they enjoyed it.

On a related note though, I notice that a lot of people still use terminology for IAP's that implies people are supposed to pay because they're enjoying your game. That's nice, in concept, but most games don't have an "I'm enjoying the game, give the developer money" button.

Sean Sang
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Well thanks for clearing that up. Sounds like they wanted to experience the whole game by removing any pay barriers before determining if the game is worth their time.

I think there is a certain portion of the gaming population that do realize that the in-app purchase while a functional part of the game does goes toward rewarding the developer when the game is free. It's a small hope that their conscience gets the better of them.

Robert Green
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I realize that, but very few gamers will consider us to be charities. The challenge of making a F2P game is that you have to make it enjoyable enough for them to keep playing, and make the IAP's seem like good value as well. There are already plenty of stories about devs who put out popular, well-received games and failed to make any money, not just because of piracy, but because the honest consumers never felt the need to spend anything. It's a tough balancing act.

Jonathan Sparks
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“users' expectations for free apps made it hard to charge even $0.99 for their higher-quality app.”

-- a very similar issue arose in the music industry and has been a bit of a death knell for artists. While previously, people had to buy the entire album to get a hit single, iTunes changed everything when they released all singles for only $0.99. This allowed purchasers to buy just the small product they want, without paying for the full album. The fact that game companies (like music artists) have to underprice the competition to get a foot-hold creates an environment where customers can reasonably expect free or very cheap apps on all of the major app types they want / need.

Jonathan Sparks, Esq.
Author of Save Point Law Blog (