When crowd-favorite zombie shooter Dead Trigger decided to drop its price from $0.99 to free, citing concerns over piracy, the tech world renewed its interest in an age-old debate: how bad is piracy for developers? Of course, any lost sale is money out of a developer's pocket (though it's important to distinguish between downloads and lost sales). However, the question should and needs to be answered: just how bad is the piracy problem on Android?

Zombies Vs. Knights


Dead Trigger provides an interesting starting point. The developer, Madfinger, notes that its previous game Shadowgun experienced a rather high level of piracy when priced at $8. Given that this is on the higher end of game prices, it's not entirely surprising that the piracy rate might also be on the high end. However, when the company released Dead Trigger for a buck, the company expected that the piracy rate would decrease along with the price. Turns out, that's not so! In fact, according to Madfinger, despite the bargain bin price point, the piracy rate for the app was still at a whopping 80%.

The evidence would seem compelling at first glance. How do you argue with an overall average piracy rate of 80%? Well, as it turns out, the developers of Wind-Up Knight found a way. A series of tweets that began here (and were handily collected on Google+ here) from a Wind-Up Knight developer pointed out that the game's piracy rate on Android was a meager 12% on Android and 15% on iOS. Yes, that's correct. According to this one developer's anecdotal evidence, the piracy rate was actually higher on iOS than on Android.

Those numbers represent the piracy rate after Wind-Up Knight became a free app. Prior to that time, when the game was a paid app on Android and iOS, the piracy rate was actually a lot higher. Closer to 80%. Sound familiar? Yep. That's a lot closer to the rate that Madfinger witnessed for Dead Trigger. Another common feature: both companies report that nearly 100% of their Chinese customers downloaded the app illegally(in Dead Trigger's case) or that nearly 100% of the overall pirated copies originated in China (in Wind-Up Knight's case).

The Middle Kingdom Conundrum

The Chinese data is a significant data point. It also raises the question of why. Why is the piracy rate so high for China? And just how much does this rate inflate the piracy numbers for the rest of the world? The answer to the first question can be found here. This is a list of countries where the Google Play Store supports paid apps. Notably absent is China. It's a generally accepted principle in the fight against piracy that one of the best ways of reducing piracy is to provide an easily accessible paid alternative. In China, at least via Google, there is none.

This doesn't just mean that Chinese Android users can't buy an app, either. Since in-app purchases using Google's built-in billing fall under the same compatibility list, it's also not possible to make up the lost income with in-app purchases. In short, a free game with in-app purchases will not make any more money in China using Google's system than a paid app will.

It's also worth pointing out that this is entirely on Google to fix. It's obviously in Google's best interest to make paid apps available in as many countries as possible, and we can only assume Google is working with relevant organizations to enable this. Google and China may have had their differences in the past, but the two still conduct business as usual in most areas. A conspiracy theorist might wonder if Google would have particularly difficulty getting paid apps running in the world's most populous country due to the sometimes strained relationship between the two, but that's all just speculation at this point.


What's not speculation is the effect that piracy in China can have on worldwide stats. According to market research company Ipsos, 33% of Chinese citizens own smartphones, and of those 38% of smartphone owners use Android. In a country of over 1.3 billion citizens, that comes out to close to 170 million Android users. Or nearly half of all Android users ever. This information is somewhat extrapolated and only from one research firm so it might not be perfectly accurate, but the broader point is clear: there is a considerable number of Android users in China and none of them can pay for Android apps.

This, more than anything, is the real problem with paid apps on Android. Until Google manages to get paid apps available in China, these incredibly lopsided statistics will continue to be common. Despite any new app encryption. Even once paid apps are allowed in China, Google may still have its work cut out for it, as it's not uncommon for developers to simply bypass the Play Store entirely, distributing apks to consumers directly.

Is Piracy Really Harder On iOS?

The argument will, of course, be made that perhaps what Google needs to do is lock down the system. After all, how easy is it to sideload an app? All you have to do is go into Settings, enable third-party apps, download an apk and install it. On iOS, in order to download an app, a user would be required to jailbreak their device. Jailbreaking is, admittedly, a higher barrier to pirated apps. It voids your warranty and some users may be put off by some complex-sounding terms. On the other hand, sites like jailbreakme.com make it stupid easy to jailbreak an iDevice, and because iOS only has a few devices that all run the same OS, it's possible to have a single, always-up-to-date article with instructions on how to do it.

Video on how to jailbreak an iOS device running 5.1.1. This video is a little over one minute long.

Of course, this is all hypothetical talk. It may not be that much more difficult to jailbreak an iDevice than to sideload an apk, but do people actually do it? Wind-Up Knight's numbers are anecdotal. Only one developer's perspective. However, WDK numbers do at least highlight one significant point: if the piracy rate on Android was 15% and iOS was 18%, then neither platform is a hotbed for piracy. If this were the case, there should be much larger discrepancies between the numbers than three percentage points.

Unfortunately there isn't much data to confirm that domestic piracy rates are really this low. Any developers are more than welcome to submit information about their piracy rates if they'd like to help clear the air, but when the newest version of Android promises apk encryption to curb piracy, and we can see a staggering percentage of Android users who are simply unable to pay continue to go unserviced by the platform, it becomes difficult to stomach the already tenuous notion that 9 out of 10 people are just dicks.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The first step should be to dispense with the bickering over which platform is better or worse for piracy. They get us nowhere. While the two platforms may have wildly different philosophies on how to approach piracy and security, ultimately both boil down to a few clicks to get around the walls. It's not hard.

What is hard is getting 170 million users the ability to pay a developer on the other side of the world. It may very well be Google's fault that developers see such high piracy numbers for their apps, but it's not for the reasons you might think. Until the problem is fixed, however, there's nothing that developers can do about it. Dropping the price of an app, pursuing in-app purchases instead of a one-time price tag, or complaining on the internet won't do any good. Google needs to sort out paid apps in China (and several other countries, by the way) before piracy numbers like 80% will be removed from headlines.

Oh, and one other thing: if an app is a dollar, don't be a dick. Pay the money. And if you can play the game without spending money on in-app purchases, maybe it's not the worst thing in the world. Developers have to eat, too.

Eric Ravenscraft
Eric is a snarky technophile with a taste for the unusual. When he's not obsessing about Android, you can usually find him obsessing about movies, psychology, or the perfect energy drink. Eric weaves his own special blend of snark, satire, and comedy into all his articles.

  • MrHaroHaro

    I think Google can make a major dent in the piracy problem by offering Google Play gift cards like Apple's iTunes gift cards. You knock out the people that don't have credit cards and/or don't want to add the cost of apps to their phone bills (ie teenagers). These are most likely to have the time to look for and exploit pirated apps on the platform while not necessarily having a good means to spend their money on apps even if they want to.

    • Joshua Barta

      I have a hunch (or at least a hope...) that this is in the works. People who bought a Nexus 7 received a $25 Play Store credit, so their system clearly supports a "Play Store account" payment method. Now there just needs to be a way to add to this account.

    • RenatoFontesTapia

      Yep... It seems so stupid for a company as big as google that they are not offering this right now.

    • Windbeutel

      I would buy apps, but without gift cards, I can't buy them because I haven't got any credit card.
      It is much more comfortable to download and update paid apps than piraing them, but they don't need bullshit like always-online, in this case I would rather use a modified apk.

    • Nicholas Loomans

      I want Paypal access, and then I want Paypal to let me top up with my Internet banking, damnit. Paypal've been promising this feature for a while...
      From what I've heard getting a credit card is one of the worst things you can do and I tend to agree.

    • sam

      They can use prepaid mastercard !!

    • Deathbyillusion

      The do offer Google play gift cards.

    • Michael Prince

      Major Dent! *salute* (himym)

      reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmAWIDI4ZgY

  • http://twitter.com/KickingLettuce Kicking Lettuce

    Seriously. Pirating a .99 cent app is the ultimate cheapskate.

    • exiss

      Depends on the situation, for example i pirated asphalt 7 even tho its .99 because google play wont let me download it as it says my device is not compatible. Also, some people prefer to try the app first before buying it.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

        Incompatibility is one thing (though I generally just skip games that aren't compatible as I doubt how well they'll run anyway), but it's possible to try out a game before committing to the purchase. This is built in to Google's system. True 15 minutes isn't a very long trial, but since now it starts after game data downloads have finished, it's usually more than enough time. The occasions when it's not are the exception, not the rule.

  • Nicholas Tino

    Remember, Cydia and Installous make pirating on iOS ridiculously easy and convenient.

    • moelsen8

      yeah, i jailbroke a friend's iphone last week and was absolutely stunned at how quickly i was looking at a huge list of pirated apps to install. all it took was a short youtube video to get set up. it's amazing that doesn't ever get mentioned.

    • http://twitter.com/ToysSamurai Toys Samurai

      Keep in mind though, if we Android fans believe the stereotype that iOS fanboys are not as smart, a large percentage of them will not jailbreak their phones. Although the same can be said to Android users -- I've seen people who have no idea that there's a setting to sideload app.

      • Nicholas Loomans

        I would say the average Android user do less with their phone as they buy the cheaper phones and use them for txting and calling. I know a LOT (pretty much all of them) of friends who don't even have a Google Account attached to their phone, let alone know of the Play Store.

    • Louis

      Cydia was the precursor to the appstore, so no it didn't make piracy easy, Installous did though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1745689461 Hal Motley

      Cydia does not include pirated repos by default, recommends the user doesn't add any 3rd party repositories (or repos) at all and warns the user when he/she is about to add a well-know pirate repo like SinFul.

      Cydia for me was a great platform on iOS and hosted many interesting tweaks, games and applications that the App Store lacked. Also it's based upon apt-get which is a Linux technology! :-)

  • http://www.jaxidian.org/update teh Jax

    Have I pirated software before? Yes, in the following scenarios:
    1) When it was software I was simply unable to pay for (mostly when I was a poor college kid)
    2) When I found there was some bullshit DRM system built into it.
    3) To try it out before buying it.

    Have I pirated Android apps? Never in the sense talked about here, unless you consider hacked unavailable apps as pirated (something like Swype hacks or FlipBoard when it was exclusive to certain phones). So yeah, that also falls into the above category because, well, I had no option to purchase them!

    • Chad Kitching

      I haven't pirated any Android apps, either. The ease of purchasing, and the relatively low price means I'm not going to waste my time trying to find pirated games.

      I wish I could say the same about music. My options are buying from iTunes, and then manually transferring to the Android, or going to one of the other smaller companies, that usually charge more for less. Amazon MP3, and Google Music are both unavailable here. Pirating seems to be easier than paying in this case.

      • Nicholas Loomans

        Same here with music, do the recording companies not realise the people who sign up for streaming services aren't really the people buying the cds anyway?

  • Randy

    Two small niggles....

    "... when the game was a paid app on Android and iOS..."
    I don't believe Wind-Up Knight was ever a paid app on Android. It certainly wasn't when you reviewed it.

    "... both companies report that nearly 100% of their Chinese customers downloaded the app illegally."
    Robot Invader's Chris Pruett actually said "Also, for both Android and iOS, close to 100% of our pirate users are in China. Those users can't buy things on Android anyway."

    Nearly 100% of the pirates are in China, but no idea what percentage of Chinese users are pirates.

    • Himmat Singh

      Correct on both counts.

      1) Wind Up Knight has always been free on Android and only recenty went free on iOS after being $0.99, mostly because you only got the first book free and the rest had to be unlocked via IAP or sheer skill.

      2) In an interview, a MadFingers rep claims that 99.998% of Chinese install were pirated. Robot Invader however says that nearly 100% of it's pirates are from China. Very different story.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/eric-ravenscraft/ Eric Ravenscraft

      Fair points, all, and I've updated the article to more accurately reflect these numbers. That being said, it's likely a distinction without a difference. In the case of paid vs. free piracy, it's fair to note that the game was never free on Android, but we nonetheless see the demonstration of the vast difference between the piracy rates. That's the more interesting piece of information here. The gap between 80% and 15% is more important than either of the numbers themselves. While it would be further confirmation if we had piracy numbers for a version of WUK that charged, we still have enough data to raise the same questions.

      As for the piracy rate in China. Wind-Up Knight's developers may not have specifically said that nearly 100% of their Chinese users were using pirated copies, but for the reasons specified in the article (lack of availability of paid versions), given the overwhelming majority of overall pirated copies that are Chinese in origin, and given how similar WUK's numbers are to Dead Trigger's, it would actually shocking if there were a significant number of Chinese users who were using paid copies.

  • http://www.williamint.com William Aleman

    The ultimate cheapskate is pirating a .10 cent app, you know those from a few months ago.

    • Himmat Singh

      Well, I really believe that no one in their right mind would want to pirate a $0.10 app. Heck, even a $0.01 app. But you know what, most people in countries not called the USA have no other real choice.

  • Trill43

    I knew this all along and so glad its finally been touched on but another thing missing is how Androids user base consist of a lot of people and that there is a prepaid market. With your average 9-12 year old having no way of buying an app thanks to no gift cards (prepaid cards can be a headache) where does that leave a large portion of Android users

    • serrastone

      How do you mean? Anyone can go to Walmart with cash and buy one of those Mastercard debit cards. Unless you mean in China, since I don't know what they have there along those lines.

      • Will

        problem with pre-paid cards is you end up with odd remainders, and you usually have to add in $5 amounts, and after the first 30 days you start getting charged a fee to keep the card active (at least, here in Canada you do, and yes this is with the Visa, Mastercard pre-paid cards)

      • Himmat Singh

        My friend, don't be so ignorant. Prepaid cards exist in probably the US, Canada, UK and some EU countries only.

  • Aaron Berlin

    I wonder what percentage of those pirated copies were Chinese copies, and therefore not lost "sales". And if 15% of free apps are "pirated" you really have to wonder who these people are - when is it easier to grab a free app anywhere but the Play Store? Maybe I just haven't spent the time looking, but how robust is the app-piracy community? Unlike the world of $50 or $60 PC games, it seems like such a waste of time.

  • serrastone

    I can tell you, in my opinion, why people are pirating apps. And it isn't because they are a cheapskate like Kicking Lettuce says. With times being tough like they are, and with there being so many good Android/iOS apps out there, if someone were to buy everything they wanted in a month- they could easily spend $50 or even more.

    With some apps not having a trial version, or having a pretty much disabled trial version, that also makes people want to pirate to see what an app is like. But back to the original point- sure, 99 cents for an app isn't that much, but when you add that up over a month of finding all kinds of cool and new apps, that could quickly add up.

    In this study on the piracy of the apps, I wonder how many people kept them and how many people tried them out then uninstalled them because they didn't like the apps after all.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      So it's OK to steal your completely non-essential luxury/entertainment goods "because times are tough"?

      Well, money's a little tight this month, guess I'll have to rob the liquor store to get my Don Perignon. After all, times are tough.

      • serrastone

        I get what you are saying, but a bit of an extreme comparison comparing apps to Dom Perignon bottles which cost hundreds of dollars, don't you think? :P

        • ExtremeT

          If times are tough, buying a $199 or more Android phone shouldn't be on the list of things to do with your money. If times are so tough yet someone can buy a new Android phone, they can certainly afford $0.99. Also don't forget since times are tough for everyone, that includes developers, especially the indie ones who rely on sales to feed their families.

          • Louis

            you assume someone BOUGHT a $200 smart phone, what if it's a "pre-loved" phone from a friend and you just supplied a sim card because you needed a phone (I dont have or need a data plan on my android phone because I'm always somewhere with wifi).

            Perhaps times weren't tough when they got the phone but turned bad, for example, 4 months after I bought my android phone I got laid off, and it was hard for a good year and a half to find another job because I was a college student and they didn't like the fact I wasn't available at the same time every day.

          • ExtremeT

            Then people should play free, freemium or free-to-play games until they can get out of their hard times instead of justifying pirating a $0.99 game which, in turn, takes money from developers.

          • skitchbeatz

            He might not be saying it's OK to do.. just explaining why people justify doing it.

          • Tom

            so.. if I pirate an app, I wasn't going to buy.. tell me please how that developer lost money from me.

            I want all you "piracy is bad mm'kay" people to tell me, how I just cost the developer money, if I wasn't going to buy his app to begin with

  • Gastón Festari

    I think a key aspect is always missing from this "don't be a dick / Jesus wouldn't pirate" articles: what happens when my money is worthless?

    I live in Uruguay and, for example, neither Microsoft nor Google will take my money (via a valid CC or paypal purchase, mind you) due to "country restrictions" and whatnot. On Steam, this means getting friends on the US to gift me games on discount or, on the Play Store, go fuck myself with a sharp object.

    So, even if I have the money and despite I am more than willing to pay (in the hundreds if it means helping out a fellow dev -- see: humble bundles) Google's answer is simply NO.

    And to top that healthy dose of Fuck You, pirates will still pirate, and I get called a cheapskate.

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      Who's calling you a cheapskate?

      I'm sympathetic to your situation, but your situation clearly isn't the one this article's conclusions are aimed at.

      • Steve Freeman

        Partially incorrect. They determined that a large amount of piracy, at least overseas, specifically China, is due to the fact that they can't legally purchase anything from the Play Store. That was part of the article. I promise, read it again, it is.

    • Masha

      Iam with you. I live in Kenya and I really had to get out of my way to set up a Google wallet and I was paid back by a mediocre amount of apps available in my country. Not many Kenyans can do what I did so buying apps for them is impossibe in the play store

    • mehim

      Your argument is valid , until the Android market was available in Saudi Arabia a little while ago I could only acquire apps from pirates. Even when I ordered my tablet from the US, that's changed when I COULD pay for apps (although I get the pirated game first to see if it is worth the $$, return policy doesn't give much time especially with very short games with no replay value "lost souls")

  • http://twitter.com/thoriqmm Thoriq Muthohari

    This. The author is right on the money with this one (no pun intended).

    It basically boils down to some simple logic. A large chunk of Android users reside outside of the US/Europe. In those countries, the overwhelming majority of smartphones, as with all mobile phones, are bought OFF-contract; prepaid credit, no paperwork required. I live in Indonesia, and I can attest to this. There is no "credit card" culture here; many people see them as a huge hassle to maintain, debit cards and ubiquitous ATMs are how it's done. So basically, these people CANNOT even PURCHASE an App, added with the already overwhelming piracy for any other media; many simply don't bother and simply sideload the apk, or take it to dubious phone counters that offer to "install" (pirated) apps for you.

    Now there are always the people who pirate for piracy's sake (i.e. the "dicks") that will pirate these apps either way. But what we need to target is the people who are WILLING to pay with an opportunity to do so, with a mechanism that suits THEIR WAY OF LIFE.
    There are 2 ways to go about this.

    1. Phone credit. Make it so that mobile phone credit (prepaid/postpaid) can be used to pay for apps. Make the process integrated with the Play store functions, or even make a "custom" Play store localized to suit a certain region/country in cooperation with local cell providers. THIS HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE. Nokia has done this with the Ovi app store. Blackberry already has a system in place with Indosat (local provider). Hell, even individual game companies such as Gameloft already made it possible to purchase games with phone credit . There is NO EXCUSE that Google should not do this, as it is the only way they can make the Play store and the entire Android ecosystem succeed in developing countries.

    2. Gift cards. This is how Apple does it, by using their official distribution channels (Apple store equivalent) to also sell gift cards. While having less magnitude than option 1, this can also be viable if, again, there is a good distribution infrastructure. Currently, Gift cards have only been 'tested' with $25 one for purchasing the Nexus 7. Make more of them at different price points ($10, $25, $50) and sell sell sell, preferably alongside prepaid phone vouchers

    It's pure BS how certain sites like to portray that uhh.. 90% of us are cheap bastards. Developing countries are not dirt poor, and still has the purchasing power and disposable income to cope with $1-$5 apps, which is what most of them cost anyway. For perspective, smartphone users here pay (eq.) $5-10 for phone credit and about the same per month for data packages. Google and Android needs to tap into that.


    • Al McDowall

      " Phone credit. Make it so that mobile phone credit (prepaid/postpaid) can be used to pay for apps."

      THIS! Easiest way to be sure. Do THIS!

    • mody

      Debit cards work with google play, heck they work with google wallet. I've used mine this way to buy things including apps with my debit card.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

    The numbers I want to see are the shares of piracy of an app (eg, Dead Trigger) as a whole by country. I think we'd see Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia making up well over 90% of piracy, where people don't have the money to spend on such things or sometimes access to paid apps at all (or even the Play Store itself).

    It's extremely unlikely paid apps will come to China any time in the near future. The Play Store isn't even available in China except by sideloading - no Google services are. I don't even know if the Play Store would work without location spoofing (easy enough) and proxies that get around the country's censorship regime (which from what I've heard is quite common). Google is basically banned from China outside of Hong Kong. Google refused to implement search censorship, and it would be pretty hypocritical if they agreed to a Play Store content censorship arrangement. And beyond even that, you have the fact that many people are using phones developers have no intent on explicitly supporting in the Play Store even if they're capable of running a particular app, making piracy even more appealing.

    I do not think developers should be figuring in piracy in developing countries where it's already such a notorious problem (and where they have zero hope of making any revenue in the first place), and where the distribution mechanisms (or lack thereof) make it so appealing to most users.

    • Gastón Festari

      See: Team Fortress 2.

      There's profit to be made on developing countries. You just have to think outside of the box a bit.

  • nat chan

    I can't pay for apps. Why? I'm below 16, the legal age to own a credit card, even with parental consent. Yes, I will willingly pay $1 for an app, but I can't.

    • serrastone

      As I put in a comment below, aren't you able to go to Walmart and get one of those prepaid Mastercards? If you are posting with your real name, and it is Chan, I would be interested to know if you are Asian-American or Asian. As I said below, I'm not sure what countries like China (mentioned in the article) have in the way of establishments like Walmart that freely let people get prepaid Mastercards.

      • http://twitter.com/thoriqmm Thoriq Muthohari

        Prepaid credit cards are only available in USA/ parts of Europe, AFAIK. The solution would be gift cards.

        • serrastone

          Thank you for the clarification. I will really have to look into it to see the reason behind it. I am guessing that the governments of the countries that don't allow it really have something against prepaid credit cards for some reason.

          I know that those countries probably have regular credit card services, right? Sorry for not being prepared for the subject by doing research on it! Just got into this article and conversation before thinking about getting ready to go out to do some geocaching!

      • Will

        the prepaid cards are also restricted to those 18 and older, however it could be put in the parents name.

        • serrastone

          Ah, I'm good bit over 18, I didn't have to worry about that. I didn't get carded for it though, I know that much. I have my own debit card from my bank and a credit card now, but I also was using a debit card for a while to pay for online subscriptions due to forgetting when each one was due and ending up getting overdraft fees from my bank.

          Makes me wonder how closely monitored those prepaid cards are anyway. The last times I bought alcohol before I quit drinking, I've got carded. In the last 10 years, I know that I have got carded for cigs I'd say a couple of times at least (I'm 34). I guess that I can't imagine getting carded for a prepaid card and I can't really imagine Mastercard or whoever running someone through a database to see what their real age is. Hell, when I was around 12 years old, I had a credit card company send me one of those preapproved credit card mailers for some reason.

          I feel bad for those people who would like to pay for apps but don't have the means to do so. I remember how much it sucked to be young and want to order something that I needed a credit or debit card for. Begging your parent or guardian for use of their credit card isn't fun or easy. I can only imagine kids now-a-days begging to use their parents card every few days when an app comes out that the kid wants. ><

        • http://www.facebook.com/andresdroid Andres Schmois

          Prepaid (debit) cards are not restricted to those 18 and older. When I was under 18 I bought my fair share of them (at least in the U.S.).

      • Al McDowall

        Just to add to this, paid apps are not available in China. Even something like Dead Trigger, which became free, is not available.

        Also, pre-paid credit cards are not available here.

    • hldc1

      That's not an excuse to download software you didn't pay for. Can can ask your parents to help buy you apps. If they won't, it's called "tough break, move out when you're old enough."

      • Himmat Singh

        Which parents would attach their credit card to their children's Google account? The fact that kids can't pay for games on Google Play is a legitimate issue that doesn't really exist on iOS devices.

      • http://twitter.com/RubiconDevelop Rubicon Development

        OMG. I'm shocked by how many posts I had to scroll down before someone said that. Well done!

        What is it with people these days that they think they have a divine right to get stuff, even without paying for it. All these bullshit reasons like "try before you buy".

        It's up to developers if they want you to try before you buy their stuff. Your legal choices are exactly one. Accept that or move along.

        ftr, I think it's bad that Google don't provide enough payment options, but the results of that are for you to deal with, not the developers. If you take issue with it, stop stealing stuff and petition Google instead.

        • Himmat Singh

          Really? You gonna leave kids in the cold? How if you were a kid in this age of awesome mobile games? They would really want to pay, but can't. The blame here lies mostly on Google, no one else. Be more accommodating.

          • Ionut Costica

            At the very least I'd love an option to buy for a friend or something. This way kids can bug their parents/older siblings/older friends to buy them the app... My brother hates buying apps and sometimes I just want to buy him an app or a game I think he'd really enjoy/find useful, but really don't want to tie my CC to his google account. He's my brother, (and I bought him lots of stuff as presents) but there _are_ limits :)

      • MadOgre

        Bullshit! Pirate everything man! Software should be free! Always pirate everything myself! Always will!

  • Souvik Kar

    I wonder if they can make money out of product placement within the games. Make the products relevant to some of the major markets and you may have an opportunity to recoup your loss. A lot of these games have urban settings, so throwing in a billboard or a vending machine for coke products, etc should not be difficult.

  • William

    a pirate download does not equal a lost sale, the reason? perhaps I had no intention of ever buying that app to begin with, either because of how it looked, the name, screenshots (or lack there of).

    so if one wouldn't have bought a game (Dead Trigger for example, as before it was free I was hesitant to sink money into a FPS on a mobile device) there was never a sale lost.

    To put it in a slightly easier to understand way, my friend purchased a PS3 shortly after it was hackable for free games, before that he had no interest in the system, didn't want it, because there were no games he felt he would enjoy. so there was never a sale to lose, he bought the PS3 (sale gained), hacked it, enjoyed the games he did pirate, and as a result, bought those games (sales gained) and bought a few other games after he had borrowed them from me (more sales gained).

    obviously that doesn't speak to everyone, but for me, when I pirate something, it's because I have no reasonable way to test it out (not every game gets a demo, and not every demo properly shows the game off, the demo for Genji for the PS2 was like that, I hated the demo, but liked the full game), and with most games getting the 59.99 treatment (yea yea, console player here) and PC games at 49.99, which more often than not can NOT be returned, those are rather high prices to be gambling on a "maybe I'll enjoy it scenario", and seeing as you can't quite try out mobile games (I admit, with android you kinda can seeing as how you have 15 minutes to file a return on the app before it's charged to you, but iOS users don't get that luxury), I see it as a way to try before I buy, if I really enjoyed the app, I'll support the dev and buy it (and if it's possible) donate to them with paypal or, take a look at their other apps and be more willing to take a chance on those, but if I hate it, I delete the app, and I don't lose money on something I won't ever use again.

    tl;dr version: just because one pirates a piece of software does not mean a sale was lost, it's similar to borrowing the software from a friend, or playing it on their phone instead of buying it yourself.

    • Sqube

      Very few groups are willing to even acknowledge that every instance of piracy does not equate to a lost sale. As long as we're not willing to even accept this baseline truth, it's very hard to have this discussion.

    • ExtremeT

      " I see it as a way to try before I buy, if I really enjoyed the app,
      I'll support the dev and buy it (and if it's possible) donate to them
      with paypal or, take a look at their other apps and be more willing to
      take a chance on those"

      That's the wrong way to go about it. If you look at it as a 'try before you buy' scenario and you enjoy the game, delete it and buy the actual game instead of looking at the other titles that you 'may' take a chance on

      • William

        that IS what I do, the "or" bit of that was regarding the donate via paypal, either way, if I enjoyed the pirated app, I always purchase it. I support the Devs that make a good product.

        Several of the apps on my android phone are the Donation version of an app that was free and I really found useful or fun and wanted to toss my coin in as a way of saying thanks.

        • ExtremeT

          Glad to hear that. I've heard a lot of people use the whole try before you buy argument but saying something like they will just check out their other games, which is what is sounded like you were saying as well. I personally don't believe in that reason but I can at least understand it with the refund period being so short in regards to big games.

          • William

            I've come to rely on the return period on the android in regards to non-game apps, such as a number of predictive keyboard apps, and was glad I didn't sink money into them.

            Though 15 minutes for a game isn't always enough, for simple games like Cut the Rope, it was fine (and I got hooked on Cut the Rope in the first 5), but Dead Trigger, I didn't like until I had played it for at least a couple of hours (the day after I had downloaded it to my tablet actually), that's when I finally got used to the controls (it's still odd playing a FPS on a touch screen to me lol).

            Some people do it because they have no other means (apps not available in their region etc.), some do it because they want to try how things operate before investing, and some people pirate because they just don't want to pay and would find a way to pirate regardless.

            Piracy won't ever be stopped, no matter what, and DRM to stop pirates hurts no one but the people who buy the product, and then turn them into pirating that company's software just to avoid the DRM, (such as me with EA games, however, I do still buy a copy either physical or digital and just use the pirated copy so I don't have the DRM clogging my computer)

  • http://twitter.com/havens1515 Randroid

    I love your closing statement:

    "Oh, and one other thing: if an app is a dollar, don't be a dick."

    I'll admit, I've pirated apps before, but they were EXPENSIVE apps. I used them for a while to test them out, (since Google's 15 minute return policy IS NOT enough time to fully test all apps,) and when I decided I didn't like them I removed them. If I was going to use the app long term, I would have bought it after testing it out. (I have bought many apps from the play store too, like ROM Toolbox, franco.Kernel updater, and some others.)

    I did also use Tasker's preview license multiple times before buying that. But I did end up buying it, and eventually bought it twice (first directly from the dev, and again from the play store) just because I thought the dev deserved some extra money for his work.

  • Abhigyan Banerjee

    There's another issue here. I'm an Indian, and very recently the Reserve Bank of India mandated two factor authentication for all online payments using debit/credit cards. The issue here is that Google Play hasn't been updated to take that into consideration. Only a few CREDIT cards can skip the authentication, and one of them is AMEX. As far as I know, not a lot of people here use AMEX. Unless Google updates it's payment gateways, even us Indians will find it tough to buy apps. Those who're lucky enough to have cards to bypass the two-factor authentication do buy them.

  • Himmat Singh

    As some have pointed out here, you statement saying "don't be a dick" is unfair. Granted, that would be OK if it's aimed at a US audience, but I'm sure AP caters to a larger worldwide audience.

    Pause and think for a moment. Do you actually people are SO stupid that they would rather pirate a $0.99 game if they could pay for it? Trust me, more people than you think who pirate have no other way of getting the game they would otherwise gladly pay for. I am a living example. My first ever 'legitimate' Android app purchase was the Humble Bundle for Android simply because it had something other than a credit card as a payment option.

    Kids with no credit cards, countries where credit cards are not common and the fact that prepaid Visa cards are not available in most countries should all be taken into account.

    I really hate people who take swipes at those who 'pirate' without thinking what would they do if they were in the pirateers shoes. I welcome you to be living in a country like India where paid apps are available but credit cards are not trusted.

    Anyway, with regards to MadFingers claims of 80% piracy rate, I really feel like taking them to court for misleading their paying customers who have a right. It's OK if they say we can make more money going free, but going under the guise of piracy is disgusting.

    Just to point out, Vector Unit's Shine Runner had a 29:1 piracy ratio. They said MOST of it came from China, so they didn't bother. In that respect, it would be very, very unfair for MadFinger to include China in their stats. Don't you think so? Or you still cheering them on like a bozo?

    • Himmat Singh

      A little more regarding the whole piracy issue. I've recently attached my Debit Card to my Play Store account, yet I still had to 'pirate' games such as ME; Infiltrator, Nova 3 and Asphalt simply because they were region/device restricted. So yeah, that's another big reason games get pirated. Note: I would have gladly paid for the 3 games above.

      • Ionut Costica

        That was actually my situation too when I considered pirating. I'd gotten the OG Transformer and really wanted to play a MMORPG on it, and Gameloft had locked the device out (even though it was basically the xoom anyway). Unfortunately the pirated version didn't work, but I did manage to buy the xoom version on their website and they'd apparently changed it not to check the device it ran on right before I'd bought it.

    • mily’); drop table comments;–

      Debit cards work with google wallet.

  • hldc1

    It's a generally accepted principle in the fight against piracy that one of the best ways of reducing piracy is to provide an easily accessible paid alternative. In China, at least via Google, there is none."

    In China, this is simply not the issue. This is a country where anyone, and I mean anyone, will ripoff something if they can make money off of it. China does not really have a homegrown entrepreneurial drive, and with corruption a part of the culture, it's easier to steal the ideas of others and repackage them as your own. Counterfeit goods are available all over China. Why buy a $1000 Louis Vuitton purse when you can buy a knockoff for $30? The same goes for every consumer good, including apps for Android devices. Why spend $1.99 on an app when a site has it for download for free? Take it from me, it's the downside of doing business in China as there simply is no respect for intellectual property (IP) at all.

    • Al McDowall

      What absolute twaddle. First of all, the paid apps are not available here unless you download them from a site or torrent source, or use the Chinese pirate market I mentioned in an earlier post. If it was made easy enough to pay 6RMB for an app (that's about a dollar) I think you'd find a lot of people over here would do so.

      Secondly, this whole linking of counterfeit goods to pirating of Android apps is ridiculous. The main market for the counterfeit goods is foreigners (like me) who come over here and snap them up (not like me). Both in Shanghai and Shenzhen (where I have lived) the Chinese see the real designer goods as a sign of status and would be ashamed to buy or use the knock-offs.

      On top of this, one thing has nothing to do with another. Counterfeit goods are available in London too (all over the UK for that matter) so would you level the same argument at the English? I doubt it. If Chinese devs were copying games wholesale and then distributing them, then I could see the connection, but that's not what we're talking about.

      Let's have the apps available over here, make it easy to pay for them via AliPay, phone credit or debit card and then see what the sales are like.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=636165701 Zaeem Shahzad

    This is a very long discussion and all I want to add is that; developers work really hard to make apps. I just hope people have the decency to respect that and pay them.

  • Pancake345

    Google has done very little to stop the piracy problem and I wonder if that's why they saw that 5% drop in developer interest this year...

  • http://twitter.com/yellowspyder Spyder Ryder

    Piracy rate is higher in China because their culture is built on copying everyone else's designs and pirating them and selling clones. They have very lax laws regarding that sort of thing. Want a Rolex? $60 from China. Can't tell them apart unless you're an expert. You can also see that if they are experiencing 100% piracy rate in china, that skews the real-world figures. So maybe that 80% is really 70%? OK, you dumb developers, wouldn't you rather get 20% or 30% than nothing at all? Come on, guys... that's takes logic even a 5-year-old has.

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      Borderline racism here, if you ask me.

      People in China *can't* buy apps through the Play Store.

      • Francis

        it's not borderline, it IS racist to say that their culture is built on copying, pirating and cloning..

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    I have never pirated Android software in about 2.5 years of owning an Android device.

    That said, there have been moments when it has been tempting, and the reason is one others have discussed: Consumer Protection.

    If I were to walk into my local Best Buy and buy a new Android Tablet, I would have certain protections guaranteed to me, including the ability to return or exchange a defective product, or for one that better meets my needs.

    With Android software purchases, those same protections simply don't exist. I'm grateful for the 15 minute return window and all, but 15 minutes is 15 minutes (whereas with a typical retail purchase, I'd have 15-30 *days*).

    E.g., Final Fantasy Tactics is a game I enjoyed growing up. I've thought for a long time that that type and genre of game would translate very well to a touch interface. However, there's no way to evaluate a game like that in 15 minutes. It's literally impossible. And given the hefty price tag in the Play Store, I'm just not willing to take the risk.

    I *could* pirate the software under the guise of evaluating it and then purchase it later. Ethically, I don't object to people who do that. But that would only be a temporary (and illegal) solution.

    The solution for my issue is more robust consumer protection that allows users to evaluate the software they're purchasing with their hard-earned money, whether that be a dollar or twenty.

    • http://twitter.com/RubiconDevelop Rubicon Development

      You contact the developer, they issue a refund. If they don't you can compain to Google or the trading standards in your territory. You have the exact same rights as you do for non-digital purchases.

      • Himmat Singh

        How likely are they to do so? I sent MadFinger Games asking for a refund because as a paying customer, it was not right for them to put a paid game free. Even one buck, but for the principle I wanted it back. They bluntly replied to my request saying no such arrangement can be made. Your thoughts>?

  • http://twitter.com/RubiconDevelop Rubicon Development

    We had GLWG localised into Chinese by a Chinese portal who then got the game promoted on China Mobile's own store, plus plenty of other options that allow Chinese to pay for apps.

    I dunno how many of those 2 billion people saw our game, but we did $700 worth of sales in a month. You do the math.

    Meanwhile, we released Great BIG War Game on Android and iOS simultaneously. It has asynchronous multiplayer via our own server and we check licenses each connect.

    On day one, we had ~1500 legit players sign up to play online. And 24,000+ license check fails. The random IP traces we did left no surprises.

    Sorry if anyone finds this offensive, I'm just reporting facts.

    • Simon Belmont

      It's not offensive to me. It's legitimate data gathered on the subject at hand.

      You really have nothing to gain by fudging the numbers here in a comment section on an Android website. I find the information to be interesting.

    • Himmat Singh

      Hi Rubicon! Can you please just expand a little more? What do you mean by "left us with no surprises"? Do you still allow non-legit players to play online? Do share location and platform stats as well. And finally whether you think piracy is a problem or not for you (frankly) seeing that your app had a 16:1 piracy ratio on day one.

    • http://twitter.com/thoriqmm Thoriq Muthohari

      Fair enough, I applaud your dev team for making the effort at least in spite of its futility. However I think the big move has to come from Google, as I said in another comment, to fully integrate Google Play with carrier billing. My issue is that as someone who wants to pay for apps (including yours) legally, I'm left with no option to do so in my country (google wallet rejects debit cards from Indonesia for some reason). Saying that people are 'lost sales' or 'dicks' even for pirating $1-$5 apps is flat out wrong; we're never really 'customers' to begin with.

  • Mustafa A.K

    I live in Pakistan and here the major attraction in iphone for me would be the ease of piracy ... getting premium apps easy as fuck ... 99.9% iphone owners here DON'T PAY for apps and just jailbreak to get apps.

  • cooldoods

    I've bought several games and apps for my Galaxy Note, including Dead Trigger. if you want quality, you should want to pay for it.

    That said, the piracy problem on jailbroken iDevices are probably largely ignored. Most people I know would have their iOS devices jailbroken immediately after purchase.

  • Jason

    I dont know why every paid app doesn't just have a free demo and you have to purchase the full game as an in app purchase from there? Would that not solve the problem?
    I realise this would create another problem, changing devices and your in app purchases not following you, but surely this would be a fairly easy problem to fix?

  • http://www.facebook.com/andresdroid Andres Schmois

    Piracy doesn't hurt developers. In fact piracy helps developers. A person not willing (or unable) to spend money on the android play store will never spend money on it so whether that person downloads the app illegally or not the developer has 0% loss. People will just say well who can't pay a dollar for an app when a $200 phone was purchased, well that is true but it's just human values, people are greedy. Now that person that downloaded the app with 0% loss to the developer shows this app to one of his friends that doesn't like to pirate apps and decides to purchase it. The developer has actually gained money from a pirated app. These conditions are rare however and don't usually happen. The people that can spend money on the play store but decide to just pirate it anyways sometimes find out that having to go out and look for the apk every time there's an update it's a hassle so just decides to buy the app because when he downloaded the apk he really liked it. Now piracy has once again helped in the purchase of an app. There's always outliers that will always download an app and never pay for it, but if it was impossible to pirate the app, do you think those users would have payed for it? Of course not, maybe a few but certainly not enough to make a difference. I am an app developer that sells app and leaves piracy checks out, it gives users an easy purchase without the bother of piracy checks and I have not seen a drop in sales from when I had piracy checks, in fact I saw an increase. Don't spend time on wasting time for legitimate users, people will always get around piracy. Just my two cents.

    • ChrisLH


      Really good points and as a developer I agree. We also don't include any DRM protection on our apps in either the Play Store or the Amazon Appstore. I've seen our apps listed on various "pirate" websites and its really not worth trying to fight that. Its better to embrace it and understand that you aren't actually losing revenue but gaining users which may eventually lead to revenue from other sources.

      People who pirate apps aren't our target market - they weren't going to buy the app in the first place. Now there's more people out there using our apps and hopefully enjoying them and telling other people about it so those people may buy them.

      My biggest issue with this entire deal is that MadFinger has gotten a TON of free publicity out of the deal. It's a brilliant marketing/publicity stunt, yet even today there's a new article on The Verge about MadFinger games. Why are these tech websites so willing to give out all this free publicity for this game and this developer? They're getting played like fools on this - just go look at the downloads for Dead Trigger. They have over 500,000 downloads and if you look at the chart, it doesn't take off until they made this claim of rampant piracy which all of these tech blogs ran with.

  • Al McDowall

    Great article - of particular interest, and quite correct, was the point about not actually being able to buy apps in China.

    I am based in China and my girlfriend and I are avid Android fans. There are a lot of apps I'd like to buy or donate to, but it's actually not possible. For me the combination of being unable to pay in Chinese currency and my own lack of an international credit card mean that it just can't be done. Not only that, but there are also many apps that I don't get to try because they are not released in China (or I wouldn't get to try without Market Unlocker)

    App prices are by and large pretty low. Both of us value the work that developers put into the products we enjoy and it would be great to be able to support them. I'm hoping we can stock up in the UK at Christmas and get some well deserved funds to the devs. If only we were able to buy apps in China, there would be no need to torrent them down and we would be free to put the money where it belongs.

    I'd like to add that Chinese friends of mine have a market app on their Android phones which actually allows them to directly download pirated apps. It's not presented as any kind of piracy, it appears to be just a market. It's only because we recognise premium paid titles that we know this is piracy. Any non-connected (or non-English speaking/reading) Chinese user would just assume that free apps on Android are exceptionally plentiful and high quality.

  • Azi Anzari

    the only thing that prevent me to buy apps on Google Play is that i don't have Credit card neither my family or my friends.
    Thanks to gameloft, i bought Asphalt 6 from my vendor cellular.
    if google could cooperate with my vendor cellular so i can buy apps without credit card but using my phone bills. i would thanks for that

  • Himmat Singh

    While we're at piracy, let me just put this out there....Angry Birds Space and Amazing Alex (especially this since it's new and after Google's enhanced app encryption) are completely without and DRM encryption. You can basically copy the APK and send to another device without and license checks. I tip my hat off to Rovio. They understand that not all piracy is bad. Their products and games are being pirated like crazy in China and Asia, but that made them popular in the public's eyes in the first place.

  • josh

    You want me to consider buying apps? then let me BUY them. i want to be able to trade them with my friends like the games of ole. i want to resell my copy when it's time to vanquish the bloat from my phone. how will you increase revenue that way? idk, not my problem, you don't get anything from me now though: I'm sure you can think of something. maybe do something special for the first owner. off the top of my head: weapons, colors, a desktop or theme, maybe make the opening screen unskipable for subsequent owners; but if you let me OWN my copy, if what i purchase has some kind of value to me when i'm done with it: that's a drm i won't be trying to crack.

    but if you want to sell me something that has a high chance of sucking, that loses 100% of it's value once it's downloaded, then don't expect me to feel sorry that your $8 app is getting ripped off. "but we worked really har"stfu, you worked hard on some crap that you're trying to get my $8 for. you may not realize this, but I worked really hard for my $8 too.

    "but if people are giving away our app to their friends, how will we get others to buy the app?" "it's good, i'm keeping it." that's better advertising then anything you can buy. i turned on dozens of people to magika when it came out. people who didn't even have steam accounts. of course, if the game sucks, then yeah, you're not gonna make any money. i'm gonna give it away, the person i give it to will give it away...

    TL:DR: if you want guaranteed value from me, i want guaranteed value from you. (and $1 is too much to risk on a crappy product.)

  • Deathbyillusion

    Developers need to stop blaming Google for allowing someone to get free apps. A phone that's open source is is what a lot of people want that's why I moved from a iPhone to android. Instead of the developers whining on their app being pirated, server costs, and support costs for this pirates. They need to implement security measures so that the app can detect if you pirated the app. There is already apps that do so. That way pirates can't use the apps. Also for the free versions implement ads so that you can cover costs that way too!

  • jdylam

    I'm skeptical Google could do much of anything to implement Google Play in China. This is more than just about a tiff between Google and the Communist Party (which, by the way, isn't something easily gotten around without assisting that party in censoring their internet/spying on China's people). It's a lot bigger. The real motivation is protectionism. Google's Play store is banned in China because it competes with domestic companies. It's the same reason why Gmail, the only Google service allowed in China, is 7 times slower than other e-mail services. There's nothing Google can do to surmount China's obstructionist and protectionist policies.

  • boss

    It's not hard to prevent pirating. All developers need to do is start adding licwnse verification. Though easy to remove it requires root acess to do. So ot would act like a jailbreak barrier. Also rooting is harder than jailbreak so it would be a bugger barrier

  • http://www.facebook.com/dydric.dixon Dydric L Dixon


  • amonia

    US people -------------------------- call charge 1 dollar per minute --------- lunch cost 5 dollars ---- app costs 1-10 dollars

    Chinese and Indians people ---- call charge 0.02 dollar per minute ----- lunch cost 1 dollars ---- app costs 1-10 dollars

    apps are really expensive in Asia.
    More sales possible. rates should be equal to purchase parity.
    US max population 330mil. India China 2600mil.

  • Morris Buel

    The android piracy problem is pure FUD. It's absolutely based upon conjecture and lies.

    As the article points out, android does not experience higher piracy than other platforms.

  • aaron

    Piracy on Android platforms is easy because developers don't take the proper time to make DRM.

  • tux9656

    The main reason I would consider pirating an app is that Google Play doesn't support or run on my Android tablet. I really want TeamSpeak3 for my tablet. If Google Play's ball and chain wasn't attached to it, I'd buy it right now. Bottom line is that it's the DRM that's causing the piracy. Most android apps are fairly inexpensive. To put DRM on them is like running a grocery store and putting all the canned fruit and vegetables inside a cage and opening the cage when a customer wants one. It's ridiculous.

  • casder

    There's the thing tho - 3 years after this article was written the issue still stands. I live in Bulgaria and I have NO EASY WAY to buy any app from google play. I can't purchase a gift card because they are simply not sold to customers outside US. I can't buy one online either because even if I'm prepared to purchase it with my own debit card, the online store requires me to input a "ZIP code". Apparently that's an American standard, it is 5 numbers long, and bulgarian postal codes are only 4 numbers long and appear generic - Sofia (the capital) 's postal code is 1000. How exactly am I supposed to input that in the required "ZIP code" field of any online store that sells online Gift cards and is a genuine partner of Google?!
    OK, so gift cards are out. Let's try to register my own debit card to the play store. Guess what-no dice! I furst must go to the bank that issued my card, ask them to ENABLE it for internet payments, and then they tell me that with just a debit card I won't be able to receive a refund if something happens, and I would in fact need a credit card for that. OK, so let's get a credit card...no dice AGAIN! Turns out I need to have been employed at the same place for at least a year and have stable income AND be above 20 years old in order to be approved for issuing a credit card. And the procedure itself will take at least 10 working days!
    All that for an app that costs like 2$. Oh come on! At that point i just search for the .apk file online, sideload it, remove the license with LuckyPatcher and say "To Hell with all this bullshit"!. I want to buy the app...I just CANT.

  • merfy

    The "developers have to eat" argument is my favorite. If I wouldn't buy their app anyway, then piracy makes absolutely 0 difference to them.