The Hills Are Greener: A New Breed of Pirate

The Hills Are Greener: A New Breed of Pirate

Nov 21, 2011

The beauty of freemium is that it’s hypothetically immune to software piracy. After all, how can one ‘steal’ what is already free? By instead trying to make money through in-app purchases, developers can not only increase exposure, but can minimize lost revenue from people who would pirate their app instead of buying it legitimately. After all, pirating in-app purchases isn’t possible, right?

Apparently, wrong. According to a report on, at least one developer of free to play games has noted that iOS users have been hacking their app to get in-app purchase items for free. In fact, their top in-app purchase was being pirated at an almost 14:1 ratio of hacked ‘purchases’ to regular. Note that the overall ratio was 1.16:1 hacked to legitimate purchases, though, so it’s not a huge issue at this point, but it is something on the horizon to consider as more games and apps move to this business model.

It’s interesting that this started on iOS, the more closed platform, rather than Android. While it is conceivably more difficult, it might show that iOS gamers are more dedicated than Android ones. It just doesn’t show up in positive ways, apparently! Of couorse, given the more open nature of Android, this could be a practice that starts up before too long. However, all the hackers on Android may be too busy getting their devices to run on the newest versions of android rather than trying to modify the apps on there.

Of course, the thing to remember is that software piracy may be more a sign of people who want to consume more content, rather than people who solely wish to steal from developers and get everything for free. Those people do exist, but as research in the music industry has shown, there’s evidence that the people who download music illegitimately tend to actually buy more music legally. My hypothesis is that there are people who are massive content consumers – they do not have the means to buy all the content they want to consume legally, but will occasionally spend money on the content they wish to spend money on. The same is likely true for mobile gamers as it is for music fans and TV/movie fans. The latter audience also has DRM to deal with on purchased items. In a way, this is why I discount piracy as a major drain on sales – it’s not that they want to actually steal content, it’s just that given a zero-cost option, that’s what they often take.

I wrote an article about freemium for another site recently, and the comments were largely along the line of dreading when the games started to ‘require’ money being spent. People just don’t want to spend the money if they can avoid it. That often supersedes any potential moral quandaries that may be arisen by undergoing the act. I understand why people pirate, and I can understand why people would pirate IAP. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it.

I personally choose not to pirate apps because I know that if I did pirate apps instead of buying them, then I am threatening the business prospects of small developers by my actions. For many pirates, they potentially affect people barely making a living by offering these apps and games. While I understand that piracy is inevitable and impossible to stop entirely, I can only hope that mobile pirates taeke into consideration just who they may be affecting, and that this trend of pirating in-app purchases does not spread. While thankfully, it appears that it may be easier to ban users who pirate IAP than it is to stop people who pirate paid apps, and maybe the pirates never planned on spending a dime anyway, but still, I hope users consider the morality of what they’re doing before they do it.

Carter Dotson
Carter Dotson, editor of Android Rundown, has been covering Android since late 2010, and the mobile industry as a whole since 2009. Originally from Texas, he has recently moved to Chicago. He loves both iOS and Android for what they are - we can all get along!
Connect with Carter Dotson // email // www
  • Anonymous

    Go ask Glu Mobile if all the people who play their game, especially their latest, Blood & Glory, (a shameful Infinity Blade rip-off) have downloaded the regular copy from the market! Of course the answer is NO, they haven’t!
    But they did good, ’cause freemium games are always pretty lame, IMHO! I prefer buying a full game, at a reasonable price, than having to buy extra items every time I run out of ammo, or having to buy a medikit when I need one!