Ryan posted earlier last week about Apple’s growing pains. Yes, Apple has approved over 100,000 apps, and we’re long since past the 2 billion download milestone, which is great. But alongside the explosive growth in the App Store has come explosive growth in another, not entirely unexpected direction: piracy.
I’m not going to pretend that piracy is a new or even an unusual phenomenon. Grabbing the latest album or movie off of the internet takes about as much effort as wiggling your pinky finger. But App Store piracy is a bit unique. First of all, we’re hearing a lot more indie developers speaking out about it. And secondly, those developers are extremely restricted in what preventative measures they can take, thanks in no small part to Apple.
The real power is in the numbers. Recently, Fishlabs reported that they experienced first-day piracy rates of 95% for Rally Master Pro. This is far from unusual; Smells Like Donkey claimed to experience rates as high as 90% in the week following the release of their newest game, Tap Fu, and ngmoco regularly experiences first-week rates of 50-90%. These rates decrease over time as pirates lose interests and more legitimate customers download the game, but indie developers are hit the hardest, with many enduring lasting piracy rates around 50%. Worst of all, hotly anticipated apps are cracked not within hours, but within moments of their release.
Needless to say, many are frustrated. Smells Like Donkey wrote that they felt “totally screwed over” after seeing just how rampant piracy was. And who can blame them? There aren’t many viable ways to protect applications.
Developers can attempt to check for pirated apps, but they often feel compelled to tread lightly. There’s nothing worse for PR than blocking a legitimate customer after a piracy check generates a “false positive.” (I.e., a genuine buyer gets mistaken for a pirate.) In the App Store, word of mouth is often what makes or breaks a game. Some insert pop-up notifications when a pirated app is detected, asking the user to buy a legal copy of the application, while others revert their games to a “lite” mode; most are loathe to permanently disable the apps.