If you think your game suffers tremendeously from App Store Piracy, you’re wrong. To put it bluntly: your game has simply failed on the market!

Reports that put the App Store piracy rates at “at least 60%” and developers reporting piracy rates of 80% and even up to 95% are mathematically correct but what they often forget to tell you are actual sales numbers. In the rare cases where Indie developers also mention how many sales they have made, pirates or not, these numbers are always extremely low. For a commercial developer who reports an 80% piracy rate on one of his games it’s simply an attempt to turn terrible sales into a PR story which might give their game a little bit more attention. In fact, i expect the games who report piracy rates of over 30% to have sold no more than 5,000 copies. At $.99 this creates a revenue of $3,500 – maybe a good number for a two-man team but a catastrophe for a commercial developer. This is hardly a problem caused by piracy but a simple failure of the product on the market.

What you have to understand about Software Pirates in general: they use a lot of software. In fact, this is their hobby and favorite passtime, to try out as much software as they can get their hands on. So you will always have a minimum amount of pirated copies of each piece of software, no matter how successful this software is (or not). Of course, with higher success and more sales of the software more pirates are also likely to use it because they, too, value quality software. But given the amount of jailbroken iPhone devices prepared to run pirated software there’s a hard cap of the maximum amount of piracy you will ever see on any title. Just as much as there will be a minimum number of pirates playing every game as soon as it becomes available and regardless of how successful it is on the App Store. If your sales are close or below that minimum number of pirates, you naturally get piracy rates of over 50%. These pirates don’t cut into your revenue however. Ignore them. They never would have bought your App in the first place!

David Rosen from Wolfire reports in his Another View on Piracy article that the highest number of Jailbroken iPhones worldwide is said to be 10%, and in the USA – whose users constitute about two thirds of the iPhone/iPod market – the number of jailbroken devices is just 5%. Assuming a total installed base of 75 Million iPhones (50 Mio. as of April 2010) and iPod touches (20 Mio. as of Sept. 2009) we get at most 7.5 Mio jailbroken devices worldwide, or approximately 2.5 Mio jailbroken devices in the USA. They are not all pirates, however. PinchMedia reports that 38% of jailbroken devices have run at least one pirated App. They also state this number is low. So let’s just take half and we’ll end up with 3.75 Mio. jailbroken devices worldwide which have run at least one pirated App. Still a pretty high number – but it only tells us that they have started one pirated App but not how many or how much of a pirate these users really are. If i had to guess i would say that 10% or just about 400,000 of these users are active pirates who try out a lot of Apps on an almost daily basis. These are the pirates who make the biggest impact in terms of per-App piracy numbers. They are also the users who are least likely to upgrade their pirated copy to a legal one, if they ever do it at all. And trying to fight these pirates is anything but futile – they will never be your customers!

PinchMedia also supports my theory that most Pirates try out as much Software as they can which, of course, leaves less time to use each App intensely: “Pirated applications are used less frequently, less intensely, and for a shorter overall length of time than purchased applications.”

Let’s go back to the gist of it: developers who have a problem with App Store Piracy have, in my opinion, either a problem of perception or they’re making a simple PR statement aimed at getting them more attention, hoping to achieve better sales. The developers who suffer most from App Store Piracy are those who simply are not successful. Their real problem isn’t Piracy, it’s much more likely that they failed either at Marketing, Timing, Quality or finding their Target Audience.

Let me sum this up with a simple chart which i think explains why App Store developers report amazingly high piracy rates, when in fact they are reporting the commercial failure of their App:

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20 Responses to “Ignore everything you’ve heard about App Store Piracy!”

  1. Max says:

    Bookmarked for farther inspiration!!! :)

  2. Kris says:

    The other thing to keep in mind is there is next to nothing you can do about piracy.

    Every hour you spend researching and implementing anti-piracy measures for your application translates at best to a few hours longer for someone to crack it. My last application, despite using the best anti-piracy methods I could find was cracked within about 36 hours of going live on the App Store. Could I have done more to protect it? Probably. Would that time have been better spent adding more features, more levels, or putting more time into marketing? Almost definitely.

  3. Ryan says:

    I only wish the argument was this straight forward on the PC.

    Developers and publishers (especially) need to get it into their heads: DRM != boosted sales

  4. Roger says:

    So, what you are saying is that every application has to sell more than 200,000 copies in order to be happy and ignore piracy? Even if you had 300,000 top apps on the App Store you would not have 200,000 sales for each one. This kind of thinking is based on the winner/loser approach. For a small developer creating an app for a vertical market, trying to make a living, 5,000 sales will be considered a success. This guy will be doomed by piracy. And yes, many people don’t buy your app if they can pirate it.

    My sales for one of my apps skyrocketed when I asked several sites, specially those megaupload-like sites, to remove my app being pirated there. My sales increased 4 fold.

    • And there weren’t any other influencing factors as sales increased? I know there are certain apps and games that are more prone to being copied than others, and some are hurt more by piracy than others.

      What I’m saying is not that you’d have to make 200,000 sales to be able to ignore piracy. It’s just that the percentage numbers for piracy are extremely skewed when the app is making little sales, because you’ll always have a base number of pirated copies being used. That’s simply because a lot of pirates try out every app they can get their hands on. They have no intention of buying it though, unless they really like it and then the pirated copy stops working for some reason.

  5. Chainsaw says:

    The only guy I ever knew who pirated software had, back in the day hundreds and hundreds of CDs stuffed with pirate apps. AFAIK, he never used ANY of them besides Windows itself and maybe a few games. He had industrial control software that was useless unless you also happen to own a refinery or a factory full of NC machines, accounting software that took a three-person team a month to customize for your business model, every pointless game that ever was for platforms he didn’t even own, thirty or fifty redundant apps that did the same thing, many times over, gigantic piles of crapware that never worked for anyone, and pretty much anything else that owning a copy of, preferably day-zero or day-one, would enhance his reputation among the few who cared. He probably accounted for a million in piracy all by himself – but pretty much no one ever lost a sale to him.

  6. Gil Beyruth says:

    My game uses inAppPurchase, is there any way to piracy inAppPurchase?

    I don’t think so, and it seems to improve sales, I have 550k downloads in a year for SoccerVirtualCup and I don’t think it has been pirated, sales still good.

    • Andy says:

      As far as I know, there’s no easy way to pirate in-app purchases, mostly due to the fact that IAPs cause the app in question to contact Apple’s servers. This is further compounded by the fact that releasing a free game with IAPs allows customers to try a game out, which is really the most popular reason for piracy. A lot of pirates have been burned in the past when buying a game on faith alone or based on a short demo, and so they want to try put a significant portion of the game before they make the monetary investment.

      I should also mention that the free+IAP for more content strategy is very similar to the shareware model that was popular in the DOS days, which helped companies like id

      • Andy says:

        …which helped companies like id Software and Epic in their early days. It’s an extremely useful business model, if you ask me.

        Also, sorry about the cut off post, somehow I accidentally hit submit before I was finished.

  7. luiz says:

    let´s supose
    a developer that make a CRAP sholveware that no one will want to pay

    the developer sell 1 copy (his mother who bought!)
    3 pirates installed just to test and probably will uninstall after noticing the crap
    is This developer a victim of piracy?
    of course that NOT.
    because the numbers of curious pirates who will install this application(regardless of liking or not) will be gratter than
    the large number of potential buyers who did not like this application and that never will not buy at all.

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  9. John romero says:

    Steffan you ignorant slut………

    Your missing the big picture here, it’s not the imaginary money lost by people who would not have purchased my app for 5 bucks ( 2546 pirated copies to 231 sold in my first month of sales, with only 300 or so active players) it’s the actual revenue gained by web sites hosting links to share illegal files though megaupload and such collecting ad revenue. sure they give a link to the AppStore to legally purchase along with external links to download boards profiting from this traffic,
    If no one was profiting from this illegal trade, I wouldn’t be ‘whining’ about it, honestly I’m not bothered at all by anyone who is willing to sacrifice the personal security of an apple approved app to play a pirated copy of my game for free. if the want the latest updates they can buy it if the like or just wait for the next crack.
    Hey, that kid that just stole that candy bar at the corner store, no worries he wasn’t going to buy anything anyway …. Right
    Please support the cracker named Abu Ahmed the_one_8_one, follow him on twitter, click his links , 5000 more downloads and he will probable be able to afford tha diaper bomb he aspires for, with any luck he’ll be sitting on you next flight.

    • Oh, App Store pirates support terrorism?

      I did not know that. Seriously, I had no idea.

    • Andy says:

      Well, I for one will never, ever buy any apps you ever make. I’m sorry you’re angry that your flight simulator with graphics that appear to be from 1996 didn’t sell well, but it’s hardly becoming to insinuate that someone with a middle eastern handle online is a terrorist, even as an exaggeration.

      Also, you’re off your rocker if you think someone pirating an app is equivalent to shoplifting.

      • John romero says:

        Sorry if I sounded angy with my opening statement I was making a joke, remember SNL point counter point segment from the 70 ‘s
        Dan akroid and Jane curtain?
        why do feel you need to make this an ethnic issue,
        Abu Ahmed is the name of the currier that got bin laden caught.
        Do you really think that’s his real name,
        as far as your comments about my app, ( a little personal I think) but thanks I was recreating a game I used to play in 96, and kept it low res so it would run on 2nd gen iPods, if you knew anything about real game development, not drop and drag programming, you would know that hires textures can be put in at anytime at the expense of rendering time.
        what makes you think I’m angry? That crappy looking game reached a rank of 101 in th US for daily gross on the 2nd week of release

  10. dudebro says:

    I find anti-piracy methods make the builds harder, debugging more difficult and sometimes shoot legit users in the foot. While they may give you a launch window (36 hrs in your case) many developers actually lower their prices in the first initial runup to get more units in the field.

    I do believe the piracy rates are blown out of proportion. Of the app installing jail broken pirates I have known, they would never by that stuff anyway. And like Steffen says, they do not use the apps for an appreciable amount of time. They aren’t your demographic and they aren’t your customers so forget about them. Make your software better.

    The time wasted in DRM could be spent communicating with your customers and seeing what they like, dont like and what they want fixed or improved. Much better use of ones time.

  11. John romero says:

    so you agree, that they support something, just not the developer.

    The state department claims movie pirates support terroism, that’s why homeland security has got into that mix.

    • Every time someone gets screwed, someone else benefits. That’s a fact of life.

      I agree that money is made through piracy that doesn’t benefit the developer. For example there are also pirates who turned to the Usenet in light of the P2P busts. The Usenet access is a paid service, the biggest providers are US companies. Piracy was also a driving factor that helped lower the prices of DVD burners and media as well as lowering the prices of Internet access and traffic.

      So there’s another fact: if someone gets screwed and someone else benefits, the benefactors are often contributing to our society as well, just in a different way in a different industry. We all contribute our part, it’s sometimes just not as direct as receiving cash for one’s own work.

      Terrorists however make their money every way they can. They have to be resourceful. Terrorists are fueled by the big gap between the rich and the poor, and by exploitation of third world countries by people like us who would rather save a penny on chocolate, gasoline, plastic toys, jewelry, and other things we don’t really need but make for great and profitable businesses on the backs of whole nations.

      Money makes the world go round. In some odd cases it’s merely a matter of time and circumstance before it comes full circle and hits you in the back. Ie Afghanistan and the Taliban were heavily supported by the US 20 years ago, when the Afghans fought the Soviets.

      There’s a reality we’d rather not want to see: WE are supporting terrorism as we walk through our lives, living in comfort and ignorance. We don’t see the link between our actions and where we spend our money, to where it ends up going or who it ends up screwing.

      Any argument that say “doing X is supporting terrorism” is not an argument, it’s just a portrayal of ignorance. The same ignorance that makes terrorists as hateful and dedicated as they are.

  12. John romero says:

    I was just stating this as an extreme,

    so you agree, developers a getting screwed and others a benifiting
    And this is a point that should be ignored ,
    and that’s ignorance , or am I just being redundant.

  13. […] complain about piracy to begin with. There always seems to be the issue that low selling apps see a much larger percentage of pirated copies being used than high volume apps. This is because some pirates download and try out almost everything […]