Monday, July 27, 2009

iPhone piracy - the cold hard figures

After the first release of my iPhone game 'the little tank that could', I was very excited. I thought the game was fun to play, and could possibly do very well on the appstore. That turned out not to be the case. For the first 5 days on the store, it sold 20, 10, 5, 2 and 8 copies. A total of 45 copies sold. That was disheartening.

Now, my game has an online leader board. The players with the best times show up on a ranking. The leader board is consulted when you play the game, so that it can be displayed on the phone. When I took a look at my server logs, I was absolutely astonished. There were 1114 different people in the logs!

So how can a game that sold 45 copies, have 1114 players? That does not make any sense? I have no reason to believe that Apple's sales reports are faulty, so the answer is piracy. Very quickly after the release of 'the little tank that could' the game got cracked, and distributed via torrents. Those crackers are a weird bunch, even taking pride in their work. Proudly tagging my game with 'cracked by Hexhammer'. Well screw you Hexhammer. If you had any talents yourself, you would make your own game. Cracking one is petty.

So here they are, people, the cold hard facts: for every game you sell on the appstore, there are 24 pirates playing a bootleg copy. Out of 25 people, only one will choose to pay. So how much money are they saving anyway by pirating? Well... that would be a whole 1 dollar 99. A sad bunch really.

The whole experience of iPhone publishing is frustrating. But there is one part that I really liked. There is a great place for developers to meet up with players. I got some excellent help from the people over at the TouchArcade fora. They will tell you what needs improvement, and they came up with ideas for new levels for the next update. I did put in an update, but looking at the sales, it may be the last. Let me conclude with a video of the game.



UPDATE:

The pay-rate grew to over 10% rather quickly. The 4% measurement was done shortly after the crack got released. The updated (version 2) of the game has so far not been cracked, and there is a 100% payment rate for the players on the leaderboard of version 2.

68 comments:

Amber said...

Cool game Bram! Im impressed you got through the Apple approval process. Ill download it (legally ;-) ) for Archer and Skyler to play. They love the game Jelly Car, somewhat similar.

jacco said...

Sad indeed.

I'm hoping that it's just your sample pool that is too small. Contributing to the problem is that the Apple App Store favours the already popular apps. Most iPhone / iPod Touch users seem to stick with top ranked apps. It's very difficult to stand out in the crowd of apps. It also does not help that security on the iPhone is almost non-existent.

Simon said...

now that's a sad story :/

tsadiq said...

Sad, but true. That's the way it is now. And that's the way it's gonna be.

I'm not an iPhone user, so don't believe i play with a cracked version of your game ;o What i'm gonna say is just a "cold" observation from outside.

The problem is, i think, your "business model" :) Selling an app as is isn't a good business model anymore. Just like music, or anything.

The way to go now is free games. People can play for free. But - and then we talk about money - you can sell additional features. More levels, more vehicles, etc etc.

Just like mmorpgs do. You can have the game for free, but you need to have a montlhy subscribtion to play.
Just like most of legal music sellers do. You can access, sometimes even listen for free, but you need to pay a subscription so you can download files.

Paying an app is an old model, as old as the first softwares. So is cracking - I had cracked soft on my Atari, bout 20 years ago.

To be honnest, i think you're not a victim of pirates - i'd rather say your a victim of an old-fashionned way to sell that can't exist any longer over internet.

KC said...

It's amazing what some people will do to save a buck, or two.

I had never heard of people cracking the DRM on apps, which surprised me. I figured there'd be stories on it all over the blogosphere.

I would have to think that there's a group that would never pay no matter what, so I wouldn't sweat it. Hexhammer and his ilk wouldn't pay even if the DRM wasn't cracked. The fact that they will crack a $1.99 game proves that.

Matt Rix said...

Keep in mind that these pirates wouldn't pay for ANY game, so ignore them! Don't feel like you're losing 1000 sales, because they wouldn't have bought it in the first place. There are plenty(millions) of users out there who ARE willing to pay for games.

What this article really highlights is that the pirate sites are better at promoting small indie games than the official App Store is, which is sad.

Tam Hanna said...

Hi Bram,
just posted it to my blog:
http://tamsijungle.tamoggemon.com/2009/07/28/iphone-piracy-96-of-players-did-not-pay/

Not sure if this helps you - but leave me a comment with your email adress at the post above if you feel like a review on the site!

All the best
Tam Hanna

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I would encourage you to continue to develop your game. As said earlier, the pirat will not buy a game anyway.
More you will improve your game, more buyer you will have....

I will show your story to my sons as I want them to pirat softwares....

Regards from France.

PS : they is some advertising for you on a french site :

http://www.applicationiphone.com/2009/07/histoire-dun-developpeur-pirate/

Anonymous said...

please read in my previous message :

...as I do NOT want my sons to pirat software...


sorry English is not my native language

Anonymous said...

Not that my "anonymous" opinion counts for much, but as frustrating as piracy is, I don't think it's the cause for low sales, and shouldn't deter you from further development. As has been stated, the pirates can't be considered lost sales, as they likely wouldn't have tried the game nor paid for it if it weren't free.

I think the major challenge with the game, based on the readings in the TA forums is packaging. You've made a good framework, but packaged it with one level. Regardless of how good or long that level is, it's one level. Compare that with Ragdoll Blaster, which has over 100 levels for the same $2 price. Sure, they aren't the exact same game, and the RB levels are shorter--some very quick--but very generally speaking, one can get a hundred smaller levels for $2 or one level. While your game looks good, there are many competing $1 games as well, which also seem to have more content.

I think if you repackage your game, add many more smaller levels (which I understand you're doing), you might have a chance. You might also consider dropping the price to $1 until you've got more content. I know that I've picked up a number of $1 games to give them a try, but at $2, I'll hold off until I know more. Yes, it's only $1 difference, but in the current "race to the bottom" of app store pricing, you've got to give your customers reason to spend their money on your game instead of another one.

Anonymous said...

Bram, I am the developer of Blocks2. If you need some help on what measures you can take to secure your game from being cracked, contact me at info ATT blocks2 DOT com

Cheers,
Florian

GMan said...

Well I'm going to help you out Abraham, I've just bought a copy. Looks like a great game and you have my support, as I know one day I would have liked to make a game and I think what these crackers don't understand is it's one thing to want to make something free, so everyone can enjoy it, and that's usually the principal they do it on, but they don't realise, but not paying for something, the developer is less inclined to either support, or make new games in the future.

That will be their downfall, and we've already started to see it, how many less than average games do you see being pumped out every month?

And in reply to another users comment, the model adopted by Blizzard and the like for monthly subscriptions is a nice dream, but I don't think somebody is going to pay a couple of cents a month for a subscription to an iphone game.

What is needed is an authenticity check back to Apple HQ to ensure it was downloaded from the AppStore and some tamper-proof algorithm if a cracker attempts to change it. Heck knows why that isn't in place.

Sean said...

I second the lowering the price suggestion, then sell level packs at the same or a higher price (DLC seem to be the way to go these days... keeps people interested and it is easier than making a whole new game).

Edward J. Stembler said...

There are ways you can detect if a cracked version of your app is running. If detected you could downgrade it to a less featured lite version, or even disable it all together.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry that those pirates are really playing your game. Most of them get hundreds of games every month and only try every game a few minutes.

I think your problem is the price - $1 is much better to get attention, the missing light version and missing promotion.

Dan said...

Here's another point of view. I haven't pirated your game, but only because it hasn't come to my attention. If it had, I would have pirated it.

Why? Because I live outside of the United States, that's why. More specifically, I live outside of the US, and I don't have a credit card. In Canada, we have the iTunes store. Your game is on there. It looks pretty neat, even though the screenshots are all sideways.

I can go on the iTunes store and buy music with gift cards. I can buy TV shows, even in HD. I can rent or buy movies. The one thing I can't do is buy apps. Apple's never said why, nor given any indication when or if this will be fixed.

Thus, as a Canadian who does not have or want a credit card, I have literally no way to buy your app. It is not possible. In fact, even if you wanted to give me a copy of your app, you couldn't send me a promo code. Those don't work in Canada either.

I don't pirate apps that make heavy use of some server (where the cost of upkeep is part of the price of the app), but anything else is fair game. No matter what I or how hard I try, you won't get any money from me until Apple changes it's policies, and there's nothing you or I can do about it.

So yes, people pirate your app. Heck, it looks kind of neat, and I think I'll go pirate it right now. If it's good, I'll show it around the office, and maybe the people I work with that do have credit cards will buy it. But I won't. Not because I don't want to, but because I'm not allowed to.

It's too bad for both of us. Until Apple changes the rules, you won't get a cent of my money. And until Apple changes the rules, I have to face a choice between 'stealing' from honest developers such as yourself, who put a lot of hard work into their app (sometimes), or sufficing without the 'app store' that was a major deciding factor in my purchase of phone (and which is the only way to get a lot of necessary functionality to make the most of my purchase).

Sounds like we both got screwed.

Anonymous said...

With proprietary software you always lose.

Anonymous said...

I encourage you to lock down your game with terrible and offensive DRM.

That'll teach people to pirate your proprietary software on a proprietary platform where you have to wait a month just to update your game to add more DRM.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

@Dan your stand is totally immoral, you can simply choose not to violate IP and not to break the law. You have no moral standing here. Grow up.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bram, why not give your users the same rights that you abused to make your game.

You took an MIT licensed engine, used the freedom it afforded you and then STOLE those freedoms from your end users. How is that fair?

Anonymous said...

I looked at the engine you used, your game is not an addition to that engine in anyway. You simply too boxdraw2 and added a tank to it.

Frankly you're lucky you can get away with selling something like that.

Anonymous said...

Wait, you just took some opensource and slapped it into an iphone game and sold it for $1.99?

Did you give anything back?

Dan said...

So many useless anonymouses!

Anonymous who spoke to me: I'm not claiming any moral standard, just a practical one. From a practical point of view, what I do hurts no one. In fact, I've had more than a few people buy apps on my recommendation after I've tried them out, which means that those apps have sold more copies with my help than without it.

Other anonymous: If Bram did use that library, so what? It's MIT-licensed. Its creators intentionally gave it away, with the freedom to use however people saw fit. They explicitly chose to give their code away in such a way that it could be used in commercial software. Don't berate Bram for using code licensed specifically for that purpose, it makes no sense.

You may not like proprietary software (and I assume, then, that you don't own a cellphone, since none are completely open-source), but the creators of this library obviously had no problem with it. Don't fight a battle on behalf of someone else who doesn't want it. It's pretentious, presumptions, and arrogant.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry dan but you can't have it both ways. That makes you a hypocrite.

Stop stealing and start respecting creator's rights. Even if all they did was crap out a level based on tutorial code for an opensource library.

Dan said...

It's ok if I steal?

Bram said...

Yes, I gave back.

- Stormbaan coureur (GPL)
- crashtest (GPL)
- sonic-snap (GPL)
- etc...

On top of that: I maintained and help develop OpenDE for a year or so.

Here are the links:

http://sourceforge.net/projects/opende/

http://libregamewiki.org/Stormbaan_Coureur

http://freshmeat.net/projects/sonic-snap/

http://bram.creative4vision.nl/crashtest/

And I did not use box2d, btw.

Bram said...

Anonymous comments remain welcome. But stop posting crap, do your research before you comment. If not, I will have to close anonymous access.

GMan said...

Amen Dan.

Other guys - stop wasting space on this forum, as it has been said, the engine is under a licence in which he can use it for commercial use, and there is no problem there.

Hey Bram and Dan, I bet these haters aren't developers. Seems to be the way and have no comprehension of respecting work.

GMan said...

(in regards to pro-piracy)

Dan said...

Because I choose not to have a credit card it is ok for me to steal?

Because I can't get a credit card due to my age (cosigner) or my credit history it is ok for me steal?

lorit said...

Hey Bram, your story is going to turn the world. Look this: http://www.iphoneitalia.com/pirateria-su-iphone-la-storia-di-abram-48080.html

:D Good luck for your awesome game!
Sincerely

Lorenzo

Juan Manuel Formoso said...

Those people would probably not have bought your game. They are playing it because it's cracked, they wouldn't if it wasn't.

So you are not missing any money...

Anonymous said...

I bought the game last night and have enjoyed it. Looking forward to new content (still not defeated the original yet).

The game has a great feel to it with its use of physics. The App Store is definitely a rough place to make any sort of money until you hit the top 25 or so.

normal said...

Bram,

I'm curious what record you are using to identify unique players on your leaderboards. My curiosity stems from the fact that I have often seen erroneous figures used to claim some sort of wrong done when in actuality the data sample was just bad to begin with. I've been looking at starting to develop software for the iPhone but have not yet so i am not certain what data is available for use as a unique identifier.

Markos said...

My ipod is jail broken, but it doesn't mean I go the cracked app route. These guys work hard to create an app there is no reason to use cracked apps, 1.99 won't break the bank... especially if you can afford an iphone with service.

Dana said...

Well, I went and bought it yesterday and have been playing the crap out of it. Cool game though I think I found a bug. My tank got caught on one of the spinning platforms and the treads actually broke off the tank! I was left to drive around on my "wheels" which of course made it impossible to finish the level. So it's back to the beginning. Fun game Bram! Hope you continue to develop it.

Bram said...

Dana, I am glad you liked it.
Version2 is pending on approval from apple.
This version has a fix for the ferris wheel getting stuck, so losing your tracks is made is little less likely by that.
It will also contain 2 new levels.

matt said...

Well, I'm sad to see the news of piracy figures in your post.

However, I bought your game and just dropped by to say it's a job well done! Looking forward to the update. Well worth the money.

I'm also an iPhone developer, so if Florian can't hook you up with anti-piracy measures, then get in touch with me and I will do the same.

Best of luck. Don't let the hackers grind you down!

Sempavor said...

i would like to buy an I-Phone only to buy your game, Brad. :(

David Colebatch said...

Just bought your game. Video looks cool.

I would never have found it if you didn't write such an exposé of an article though. Who knew you could pirate iPhone apps??

Olivier LAHAYE said...

Bought :-)

Thanks to piracy of your game I went aware of it and bought it.

Bram Stolk said...

Well, de kritieken worden steeds positiever. Er zitten dus ook goede kanten aan de piracy. Maar denk ook eens terug aan je eigen ZX-Spectrum tijd, hoeveel bandjes zijn er toen niet gecopieerd?
Het is natuurlijk wel zo dat de developper van Pac-Man heel wat minder effort in zijn line of codes heeft moeten stoppen als wat er nu in ''The little Tank"" is gestopt.
Er is iets voor de stelling te zeggen dat dank zij de copieen de bekendheid van het programma toeneemt..

Bram said...

Ik typte de source code van games over uit Your Sinclair en zo... dat was nog eens werk, voordat je kon spelen. Een enkele hex code fout, en de game werkte niet.

ethanbrand said...

i'm not saying there isn't piracy out there, but have you ever considered that at least a portion of those on your leaderboard are members of a family?...we have four iphones in our house, and they all sync to the same itunes library...as such, they can all access the same apps bought from the app store once...and when we play games, we all use different phones and accounts...now, i'm not arguing that this is right or fair, but that's the way itunes works...we aren't pirating the game...granted, your 45 to 1000+ ratio can't be explained by that alone, but just keep in mind you won't be able to equate purchases to accounts on your leaderboard...

JA said...

Hello, Bram.
Sorry to hear about this piracy issue.
I saw a friend of mine on twitter talking about it and came here to read more.
You developed a cool game and I bought it somedays ago. I think that good appz really deserves to be rewarded. Thanks for making this awesome game.

cando said...

You better tell us what your sales are like now, after all the cool attention that you have received!!!
Thousands of views of your game down in the tube!
Good for you friend!

August Branchesi said...

I hate to say this, but your game only has one level at the moment. I just bought Doom Ressurection for 2.99 and for one dollar more it has a lot more playtime.

I'm actually itching to buy your game, but it needs a little more content.

Bram said...

August, the current version (2) has 3 levels, and the upcoming version (3) has 6 levels.

steven said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff said...

Bram,
If you included GPL then wouldn't you have to release all your source code? Heck, iPhone SDK doesn't allow dynamic linking either, so I guess you can't really abide by LGPL either? iPhone doesn't strike me as a great platform for compatibility with open source efforts.

Also you listed SonicSnap. Did you use that somehow with the Tank game?

Bram said...

Jeff,

I listed the OpenSource projects I created. Those are not related to 'the little tank'. That one uses no GPL software.

SonicSnap is a linux application that let's you snap pictures and movies with your Sonix based webcam. Most other webcam software will not support this cam, because it uses data formats which are rare.

Offperception said...

Hi Bram! Love your game, bought it fair and square from the App Store. Since I like physics games, this was a must-get. And the retro visuals are a nice touch.

This might have been mentioned, but an ability for users to add levels or load them from the net, would certainly help the game soar into more popularity. User content seems to be the way to go with level-based games.

That being said, I hope people keep buying your game. :)

Bram said...

Thanks for the kind words, offperception.

When you think about level editing, what kind of editor do you have in mind? One that runs on the iPhone itself, or one that runs on the PC/Mac?

I myself edit the levels in inkscape, which is an existing svg editor. Duplicating all that functionality on the iPhone is a huge task.

Dimitri from Holland said...

Bram,
As soon as I have an I-phone..I will buy your game...looks good!

frabber said...

Bram,

I didn't know, will buy your game. You used a Mac or Linux to build it?
Cheers,
faizal

Bram said...

frabber, iPhone development requires Mac OSX. I bought a Mac Mini for this purpose. It's a fun little machine.

frabber said...

I haven been doing enterprise java dev from my macbook almost a year now.
So might be dabbling into this as well for fun. By the way , game runs great on 3gs iphone. We had some fun just a few moments ago.

Alexander A said...

Folks, don't get bought by this post. Dude just wants you to buy his app, nothing more. Nobody is pirating software from appstore as it does not make much sense. In fact, there's no such thing as hacking or cracking there. You always can download binaries from your phone once you purchased the app and downloaded it.
So this is just a cheap way to push the app.

Glenn said...

@Alexander A. Alexander A, you seem a little ignorant. You should enlighten yourself my doing a google search
Of course Bram wants you to buy his game, just like bands want you to go to their gigs.

skymod said...

Bram i'll buy it, i promise, in the next days, maybe tomorrow morning. i didn't know the existance of that game, while watching the video it impressed me second by second! i HOPE you'll release updates, for the fans you have, cause you Have fans. at least one more fan it's me.
sorry for my english i'm italian!
the bad thing is that i never knew that app,never heard it anywhere! i was looking on youtube about funny videos and found the story of the little yellow tank that could, then in a related video there was your game, and so found this page..
you need publicity!

Bram said...

Skymod, thanks for your kind words. I want to get some more exposure with a LITE version (free). Maybe that will work.

Marshall said...
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costa rica retirement said...

I would encourage you to continue to develop your game. As said earlier, the pirat will not buy a game anyway.

Dark Schneider said...

Piracy is a shit, people think it is not a problem, but it is really a PROBLEM.

People who likes your game will not see sequels because I think you will not realease a new version with improvements, to sell 50 copies.

So piracy affects all of us!

jackob said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
manutencao iphone said...

Do you know if anyone has written Mac-based Cocoa code so that these optimized PNG's are loadable/viewable in a Mac application?

SUSAN DAN said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.