For as long as things have been available on the internet for a price, there have been people trying to get those things without paying said price; thieves. These days, when the term piracy comes up, we’re usually talking about music, movies, or video games — PC games in particular — but the problem stretches much further than the average person may think. These attempts to steal original content has lead to many (in some cases extreme) attempts ont he part of developers to protect their lovingly crafted works of art, but DRM on a disk or download is not a tool in the app-developer’s belt. Piracy on mobile platforms such as Android and iOS has become a disturbingly common practice and we will explore just a few of the more prominent examples and developer’s attempts to repel these attacks.
How Easy Is It To Pirate?
iOS devices, typically restricted by Apple’s near air-tight ecosystem, must be jailbroken before a potential pirate can do his work. Once jailbroken, unauthorized application files (*.ipa) can be sideloaded into to the phone with no real problem, .ipas could even be acquired through various dedicated pirate outlets in the past. For a short time, the process was as easy as visiting a website via the jailbroken device’s Safari browser in order to do so. Many of these sites are closed down everyday, however more typically open in their places. Despite numerous non-pirating advantages to users, similar to some other technologies such as P2P file sharing or torrents, the idea of jailbreaking has become, in some circles, synonymous with pirating. While a simple way to jailbreak any device may not be commercially available, the internet has proven many times that if someone wants to find something enough, they can and eventually will.
Android, on the other hand, is a completely different story. The equivalent process on Android is known as rooting, and while activities like rooting, modding, hacking, and other warranty voiding practices on Android devices are virtually norms for Android users, thanks to the openness of the Android ecosystem, rooting is not even necessary to pirate an app. Following a fairly simple process, the application file (*.apk) can be installed (via a PC or the phone itself) once obtained. This leads to some active anti-piracy measures from the developers, such as employing Digital Rights Managements that verifies the app’s validity following installation — pirates can crack the apps anyway, but this at least slows them down and provides developers some peace of mind. Consumers have since advocated DRM-free products, making the scene on Android very close to PC gaming.
The Current Situation
It’s a common notion among both the general public and developers that Android is avoided due to the widespread presence of piracy, something that quite echoes the drama of PC vs. console gaming. Some simply even refuses to develop for Android for this reason.
Dead Trigger, Madfinger Games‘ 3D zombie shooter, going free-to-play on Android is a perfect example which will only, with good reason, reinforce the idea that Android is the least secure mobile platform on the market. Practically anyone, even someone without any hacking experience, can easily pirate apps. While certain carriers actively seek out and remotely delete sideloaded apps, the practice naturally isn’t popular among customers, and so isn’t widespread.
It’s been speculated that the prevalence of free apps on Android may dissuade owners from buying priced titles, and thus promote piracy, because they are used to getting their apps for free. Because piracy is so ingrained in the Android psyche, it has become an issue for AAA developers as well as independent studios. Of note were concerns of piracy during discussions to bring the popular Football Manager series, which suffers from a nine to one paid/pirated ratio, to Google Play.
One would think, then, that Apple’s draconian security measures would mean lower piracy rate on iDevices. In reality, piracy is almost as wide-spread on the iOS as it is on Android, as evidenced by Madfinger Games being forced to drop the price tag on the iOS version of Dead Trigger shortly after the Android version. Marek Rabas, co-founder of Madfinger Games, said that a rise in the number of illegal copies of Dead Trigger and the number of jailbroken iDevices were directly related. The implication is clear: jailbreaking equals piracy. And just because jailbreaking an iDevice is more difficult than simply sideloading an app doesn’t mean it’s less of an issue. Chris Pruett of Robot Invader recently revealed statistics showing that iOS piracy rate was actually higher than the Android rate for Wind-up Knight, with as much as 80% of all copies of the game being illegal.
Regardless, piracy happens and it happens on all platforms. It might happen a bit more somewhere, but the facts have spoken that the difference isn’t all that significant. On separate occasions, both Rabas and Pruett spoke of China, where access to the App Store is limited and piracy was close to 100%. There have been plenty of myths and opinions about pirates: inaccessibility to the paid product, overly expensive games, lack of demos, some are as confusing as attention to updating contents frequently; none of which are exclusive to mobile gaming.
It is often argued that one pirated copy might not be equal to one lost sale, and people who pirated games would never pay for them no matter what, but possible consequences are hard to deny for many. Gaining access to pirated products for free would diminish the probability of them being actually paid for by a number of capable and potential customers. The fact is that most mobile developers are small and independent, and their survival hinges on these differences. On the other hand, seeing your works, which have been invested in monetarily and emotionally, being stolen is indeed not a pleasant feeling. It was never the developer’s intention in the first place to upset its customers by going free in such a manner, but Madfinger was apparently in a bad position caused by pirates.
Both Google and Apple are aware of the piracy issue and are implementing measures against them. Whether you think these measures are fair to the consumer or not, one bad apple spoils the bunch — or something like that — and developers have as much right to try and protect themselves from theft of call kinds as you have to be upset about their methods. iOS 6 is slated to add new security measures, while Rabas has noted app piracy to be “far less an issue” on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, citing the new app encryption feature that makes a difference in small firms like his. In any case, we should expect more frowns on jailbreaking from Apple and more DRM-equipped apps on Android.
Piracy is not just about Android or iOS; it isn’t even just about videogames. It’s probably a fact that piracy can’t be completely stopped, and there’s little anyone can do about it. At the end of the day, what consumers spend on apps is amazingly cheap. Considering that a Unity license, software, iOS plugins, plus assets can easily run developers into the $3,000+ range, it really seems unfair that on top of that they should have to worry about people trying to steal their hard work. Many will say that people who pirate these games weren’t planning on buying them to begin with, but if that’s the case, why bother stealing them anyway? If you had spent years of your life, and thousands of dollars out of pocket to develop a game, would it console you to hear that the people who were stealing your game did not plan on buying it in the first place? It just seems like adding insult to injury, really.
What do you think? We would love to hear your opinion in the comments below!
This article was a joint effort on the part of the IGM Mobile staff, but a special thanks goes to our very own Minh Tri Nguyen for putting together this final product.