95% Android game piracy experience highlights app theft challenge

Android's problem with app piracy remains a key issue for developers, anecdotal figures suggest, with rates of stolen Android software outnumbering their iOS counterparts almost 14:1. Towelfight 2 and Quadropus Rampage devs Butterscotch Shenanigans saw 34,091 pirated copies of their first game on Android, vastly outnumbering the 2,438 pirated copies on iOS, with 95-percent of users of Google's OS hunting down an unofficial copy.

In contrast, only 5-percent of iOS users pirated Towelfight 2, Butterscotch revealed on the DroidGamers forums. On both platforms, the game was priced at $0.99; "these numbers are dwarfed by the size of an audience we could get with a free title" the developers suggest.

"While it's great that the pirates are playing the game, and we're happy for the exposure, they are operating "off the grid". That is, our app rank doesn't jump up in the app stores when a pirate downloads it, they can't review it, and they tend not to contact us for support if something goes wrong with the game. They play the game in the shadows" Butterscotch Shenanigans

Although the statistics are from one game developer's experience, and shouldn't be extrapolated across the entire Android app industry, it's not the first time we've seen Google's platform criticized for how relatively straightforward it is to find and install unofficial apps. Last year, another developer made headlines by blaming "unbelievably high" piracy rates for being forced to drop the Android version of its game from $0.99 to the "freemium" model, where a free-to-download app is monetized with adverts.

That freemium switch is the approach Butterscotch will be taking with its newest title, the developer team says, with monetization "solely based" on in-app purchases. Progress within the game will be achievable both by beating goals and by paying for access, with cut to the price if partial-progress has already been made.

Attempts have been made to curtail Android piracy – last year, the US Department of Justice and FBI seized and shut down three app pirate sites for instance – but the more open nature of the Google Play store versus Apple's App Store has meant circuitous routes to find and load titles without paying for them remains a key issue for the OS. Last month, one developer attempted to use irony to highlight the issues of stolen content, lacing a specially-leaked version of their dev-studio simulator game with inescapable failure through piracy, though many players didn't appear to understand the message.

For Butterscotch, the initial piracy numbers were a tough lesson in how to monetize in different ways on different platforms. "We made a free game" the developers concluded, "we just didn't know it at the time."