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.