The Hills Are Greener: DRM and Piracy Still Aren’t Dead on Mobile, Even in 2013

The Hills Are Greener: DRM and Piracy Still Aren’t Dead on Mobile, Even in 2013

Jul 15, 2013

Piracy in the mobile space is a story that has remained latent over the past couple years, what with free-to-play making the issue moot, largely. But it hasn’t gone away entirely, as seen by Deus Ex: The Fall’s release this past week on iOS. Namely, the game made it initially so that users with jailbroken devices couldn’t fire their weapons at all. Which, of course, is a slight problem in a first-person shooter.

Now, on iOS, jailbreaking is a direct precursor to piracy at this point: you need to do it in order to pirate apps, but all jailbreakers are not necessarily pirates. It’s a square and rectangle thing. As well, there’s a real problem with giving legitimate purchasers of a game the shaft just because they’re jailbroken. Thankfully, Square Enix seems to have recognized that this is a problem and is going to correct it.


However, it shows how DRM continues to create problems: it’s possible to use it in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t hurt those who legitimately purchase a game. Too many systems are being built that hurt legitimate users. And they exist on Android too. The license activation on apps that requires an internet connection before launching is something that has affected me. Namely, one time when I was playing Towelfight 2: The Monocle of Destiny from Butterscotch Shenanigans. I wanted to play the game on my Nexus 7 after having legitimately purchasing it, and I suddenly discovered that I had to connect to the internet in order to play it. Just one problem: I was on an airplane without wi-fi. I was left without playing their game because I couldn’t confirm that I actually bought it.

While this sort of DRM is annoying, I totally understand why Butterscotch Shenanigans did it, in part because they eventually released the numbers on it: 34,091 Android pirates to 1538 sales of Towelfight 2, which is a much higher ratio than iOS, which was close to 1:1 with purchases just outweighing sales. They actually decided to go free-to-play with their next game Quadropus Rampage, which has at least left the company in a much better position financially going forward.

And in many ways, it’s hard not to see this sort of thing as a microcosm of the industry at large: players rejecting paid apps to the point of piracy has created this market where free-to-play is seemingly required to draw players in and make money off of them. The market gets what it asks for, which is free games. Of course, for those who like paid experiences, they’re getting somewhat hosed by the pirates. But that’s such how the DRM dance goes: those who play by the rules wind up getting the short shrift when the rules change against their favor by those who would break them anyway.

So, while I wish that DRM would go away, and abusive free-to-play disappear, especially in the mobile space, when people still refuse to pay for content, it’s hard to be critical of those who decide to play by the new rulles. I just sigh because there’s a better way.

Dead Trigger Going Free, and the Realities of the App Economy

Dead Trigger Going Free, and the Realities of the App Economy

Jul 24, 2012

File this one under “Seriously, Android gamers?” There’s an outrage – if it can be called that – over the new game from Madfinger, Dead Trigger, having dropped from $0.99 to free. Nothing in the game itself has actually changed, with it being supported by in-app purchases, and it’s still $0.99 on iOS, it’s just free to download now. People are apparently hopping mad about this switch, enough so that Madfinger felt compelled to comment on it on their Facebook page.

Now, I will admit that no one likes having something they spent money for being devalued. That’s a hypothetically fair position. However, we are talking about $0.99, not a $59.99 game, or even a case of something like Band Together on iOS which launched at $4.99 and went free days later. Seriously. As well, Madfinger did this because the piracy rates are reportedly “unbelievably high.” So, if people want the game for free, Madfinger’s giving it to them, with the hope that the tradeoff between giving it away (and making it possible to get in-app purchases) will wind up working out for them. Whether or not piracy is the sole excuse, this shift is happening, and the $0.99 price was a perfect setup for this.

There’s a reason why this kind of shift is happening – it’s because of the fact that there are people so cheap that they would do anything to avoid even paying $0.99 for a game. The excuses for piracy in other media segments, like the music and movie industries which many people feel are corrupt at least hold some value in a Robin Hood sense, if Robin Hood was about getting free music instead of giving to the poor. But this is essentially depriving an independent business of a handful of coins instead of paying.

This refusal to pay for apps – by piracy or just a love of free things – has been an economy created by the actions of consumers. While some individuals may feel slighted by it, we’re all affected by it. At worst, we get to figure out if we would enjoy experiences by paying nothing before the game suggests handing over money, and Madfinger are quick to point out that Dead Trigger is desinged to be free-to-play, not “freemium” where a paywall (actual or practical) hinders progress, and that even they on the team play without IAP. Still, it’s there, and on Android, it’s going to be how they make their money off of their game. Indie developers may make games for many reasons, but they’re still businesses. They still have to find ways to bring home the bacon, and the market is forcing developers to get creative, and sometimes do things out of self-interest like this.

BlackBerry Thinks Android is a “Cesspool” – What Does That Make the App World, Then?

BlackBerry Thinks Android is a “Cesspool” – What Does That Make the App World, Then?

Apr 10, 2012

Apparently beggars can be choosers. BlackBerry is going to make it a lot more difficult to take advantage of the PlayBook’s ability to run Android apps. In particular, it appears as if as of BlackBerry 10, the OS “will encrypt apps so they can only be run by the user who purchased the app.”

There appears to be a problem with sideloading and piracy. This does appear to be related to Andorid apps and their perceived quality, as Alec Saunders, RIM’s VIP of Developer Relations, tweeted recently that RIM “[didn’t] want to duplicate the chaotic cesspool of Android market” on the BlackBerry App World. As well, there’s mention that RIM “[has] seen apps from devs uploaded by others, and charged for by people who don’t own.”

This of course, seems like something RIM could easily prevent on their end. A little bit of research when checking apps they have to approve to ensure that they are from the original creator doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult. If there are issues, they should resolve them instead of approving them. On a curated market, this kind of thing falls on RIM’s shoulders.

The problem is that this might ultimately hurt users who are taking advantage of sideloading in order to try and extend their device’s capabilities, because the App World itself is not very capable. There is a severe lack of apps for the device, and while perhaps anti-piracy measures may help, it won’t solve the ultimate problem.

Ultimately, RIM is at least coming out and saying what they believe their best policies are. But trying to separate themselves from Android is a bad idea because the best thing they have going is that they can support Android apps. Plus, users have found ways to root the Playbook before, and new root techniques are in development. People will get the apps they want on the Playbook, and encryption won’t stop them.

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.

Rooted Users Rejected Access to Android Market’s Movie Rentals

Rooted Users Rejected Access to Android Market’s Movie Rentals

May 26, 2011

Google’s new movie rental service on the Android Market is about to come with one huge caveat for a large subset of Android users. According to Android and Me, users of rooted devices will not have access to movie rentals on the Market. When a rooted device tries to rent a movie, an “Error 49” pops up, which should only pop up on rooted devices. According to Android Market’s page on Error 49, “You’ll receive this ‘Error 49’ message if you attempt to play a movie on a rooted device. Rooted devices are currently unsupported due to requirements related to copyright protection.”

Right now, this only affects a small number of devices, that number being one – the Motorola Xoom on Android 3.1, although the Galaxy Tab 10.1 will ship with Android 3.1, and the movie rental service should be coming to all Android devices on Android 2.2 (Froyo) and above soon. This demand was likely put in place by the content providers wishing for protection on their movies so that rooted users couldn’t just pirate them easily, despite the fact that pretty much every movie is readily available from illicit sources as it is.

This could prove to be a double-edged sword – while rooted users represent a minority on the platform, they do still number in the millions (at least based on the number of users who have downloaded ROM Manager, a tool for rooted users to download and install new custom roms). As well, many of them may be the kind of frequent Android users who would rent movies more often than non-rooted users. As such, blocking off this class of users from renting movies based on a mild piracy fear could be an ill-advised move. Of course, it could also turn out to only have a minor effect as well, as rooted users are a minority of Android owners, after all. Android and Me points out that the HBO Go app for Android is available to rooted users as well, and that app is home to HBO’s lucrative content, including an episode of Game of Thrones that is available through the app before it airs on TV – a true target for piracy. These security fears may likely be overblown given the actual threat.