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Case Study: How Piracy Destroys App Profits

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The folks at GAMEized were proud. They had produced a great iOS soccer (football) game called FingerKicks, built it with full HD support, and waited with bated breath as soccer fans in country after country began to pick up on the title.

But things weren’t looking very good. According to Apple’s own sales data, first day sales hit $97 while day after day they saw lower and lower sales. Things leveled off and rather than depend on Apple’s numbers they decided to check out the Game Center leaderboard. To their astonishment, suddenly 5,000 people picked up the game over the weekend. They were over the moon.

Even at 99 cents, 5,000 players meant a nice chunk of change. They waited for Apple’s official sales numbers and realized the sad truth: only 160 purchases were registered that weekend.

Their app was on the “featured” page of the popular pirate collection, AppTrackr, which is part of Hackulo.us, a major player on the “cracked apps scene.” With AppTrackr and an app called Installous (available on jailbroken iOS devices), users can grab almost any app for free, including FingerKicks.

“Apple apparently has no functional counter-piracy safeguards in place on their Game Center – essentially permitting users to play pirated software on their Game Center without any fear of reprisals or consequence,” they wrote.

We’re obviously dealing with two competing worldviews. On the one hand, we can say be neckbeard about it and say “Information Wants To Be Free, DRM Is Bad, Fight the Power, Free As In Beard” and on the other hand we can say that the folks at GAMEized would eventually like to eat.

We can also say that the folks who won’t pay 99 cents for soccer game are scum, but that’s neither here nor there. Platforms like Steam have consistently proven that easy payment gateways are a boon for any digital industry and to work around those paywalls in order to save a buck is abhorrent.

The guys at GAMEized clearly love the iOS platform. They write:

GAMEized loves Apple. As application developers, we invest enthusiastically in Apple’s tools and methodologies. We buy and use Apple’s machines, their peripherals and their accessories almost exclusively. When we decided to build FingerKicks, it was a foregone conclusion we would build it exclusively for the iOS and available only through Apple’s AppStore.
Apple has yet to reciprocate our devotion to them.

While “reciprocation of devotion” is a little much to ask for a faceless corporation, maybe Apple could try and reduce the level of piracy?

It is my hope that folks like the guys at GAMEized and other devs will look past Apple’s short-sightedness and keep producing quality games and I also hope Apple steps up their game and attempts to ameliorate this problem, even by allowing producers to sense jailbroken devices and to ask users to pony up. I, for one, bought FingerKicks even though I’ll probably never play it. As much as I don’t like soccer, I don’t like small devs being fleeced even more.