iPhone Piracy May Be Rampant

I was taken aback when I read these iPhone piracy anecdotes on Gamasutra:

When indie game developer Bram Stolk detected 1,114 copies of his The Little Tank That Could being played online, he suspected something was up. He had, in fact, sold only 45 copies of the new iPhone game.

The piracy rate on the day [Rally Master Pro 3D] went on sale for $6.99 was around 96 percent. It has since settled down to “only” 80 percent after three weeks, reports CEO Michael Schade, sarcastically.

Only one in 200 people ever [install a legit version of a game after installing a pirated version].”

I had no idea that piracy was that bad on the iPhone. On other platforms, there is a higher barrier to purchasing the game legitimately than pirating it. Whereas a legit customer has to drive to a store, buy a box with a DS cartridge in it and then keep track of all his little slivers of plastic, a DS pirate just has to buy one of those Korean flash carts and then he/she can download as much as he/she wants and keep all their games together (and then sell it on half.com when you are done as I am prone to doing). I can certainly see the appeal. But on the iPhone, games can be downloaded from anywhere, most have a free demo version and the ones that don’t are generally cheap or at least transparent.

But what was Stolk supposed to do? The linked article makes this normative statement about devs being ostriches and ignoring the problem, but what can they really do? They can spend all their time trying to beat the pirates, but the pirates have more man-hour resources and always win. Or they can spend all their time making quality games. I don’t see that as an ostrich approach – it is a resource allocation approach.

Observing a piracy “rate” is probably a waste of time. I’d be interested in seeing the numbers. My guess would be that there is a large contingency of pirates that just download and try everything and that the quality-to-piracy demand is pretty inelastic. So saying you have 96% piracy infers that if you have a 100 players, 4 are legit but if only you would have 400 players that only 16 would be legit. I bet the marginal piracy rate decreases as users increase and that indie and smaller volume titles will always have massive piracy rates.

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