Android Piracy: A Symptom of Wider Problems?
On Monday, Madfinger Games switched its Dead Trigger games from paid to free, claiming that this was due to ‘unbelievably high’ piracy levels on Android. This game was launched in June 2012 at $0.99 but according to an interview with Pocket Gamer, 80% of copies installed in the three weeks the app was available on a paid-for basis were pirated copies. This action prompted a large amount of debate about the state of piracy on Android and what could be done about it. The 80% piracy rate asserted for Dead Trigger is similar to other claims about the rate of piracy on Android which range from 80-95% although this figure depends largely on the country in question. What is most interesting to me about this debate is why Android piracy is so large. Like any problem, there are a number of causes. One of these is cultural; China and Russia, for example, are hotspots for piracy and this is not restricted to the mobile platform, a huge amount of software is pirated in these regions in general. That is not to say that these two countries are the only places in the world where copyright laws are extensively flouted. Developers can try to overcome this attitude: one mobile games CEO told us that creating a fully localised version of their flagship game for Russia had reduced piracy rates for that particular game. However, this strategy will only reduce piracy amongst people that ultimately are willing to purchase content. If the reason for piracy is disinclination to pay for content then a localised version of the game is unlikely to persuade them to purchase. The next question is then: why do Android users have a disinclination to pay for content? Well, the chances are that it’s not Android users per se, just mobile phone users in piracy hotspots. In these regions, Android is used as the operating system of choice on ultra-low-cost handsets simply because it is free to use. Most purchasers of the very cheapest handsets are not likely to want to spend even as much as 1% of the cost of their handset on one piece of content for it. That’s if they can pay at all – a credit card is often the only payment option open to users wishing to buy content on Android. In countries where credit card ownership is not widespread this can cause a problem and leave the end user with no way to legitimately acquire the content. Do I see a time where the Jolly Roger will cease to fly over the Android seas? No. Some people will always pirate and it will not be possible to persuade these people to purchase. However, publishers and developers should not regard this as a lost sales opportunity; these people will never purchase content. What developers should do is tackle the problems that can be solved. Can they offer a localised version? Can they offer their game for download with an alternative payment mechanism? Could they use an alternative business model to monetise their product? The piracy wars might never be won but that doesn’t mean that the Android platform is a lost cause. Find out more about Juniper Research’s Mobile Games report here.