Android and piracy

Saw this article ( on the BBC today which got me thinking. Is piracy as big as people are making it out to be? Clearly there’s the potential, but is the average user really bypassing the Play store and hunting for illegal copies elsewhere? I suppose the answer to that question depends a whole lot on where that average user lives. It’d be interesting to see piracy rates by country. has some amazing claims to of their particular game being pirated 90% of the time. How do you go about figuring out how many copies of your game are pirated?

How affected are all of you by this issue?

For Micro CPU Monitor I added a little piece of tracking code, which attempts to discover if the Pro version is pirated or legitimately purchased.

According to these stats, in the past month I had 15,000 free users, 53 pro users, and 32 pirated pro users. So apparently nearly 40% of my pro users are pirates.

In the first few weeks after release, I set up a Google Alert and tried to send DMCA takedown notices to file sharing sites hosting pirated versions. This was surprisingly effective - after a week, all of the sites I requested had removed these files! But people just kept uploading new copies, and eventually it got too time-consuming to take down every file. Now I just ignore them for the most part.

Basically - I accept that some of my users are pirating the app. But really I’m not concerned about this. I’ve got no server-side maintenance costs, so more people using the app can only be a bonus. And according to the stats, all the pirates are from countries like Russia where I don’t get many purchases anyway.

Interesting David, thanks for sharing. Out of curiosity, how does your tracking code work? How do you separate the legitimate pro user from the pirate? Love the app by the way :slight_smile:

Piracy is a global problem.

If we take living standard and other things like non-available Google checkout system, non-available Paypal and so on in Asia (and most east-EU countries) and compare it to living standard in developed countries like west-EU we see that piracy is even bigger in that (developed) countries then in Asia.

You also have to keep in mind, if someone does pirate something they most likely had no intention of paying for it in the first place. Also this is why ad supported aps work better in android. It’s too easy to just get an .apk of an app, no root necessary.

My code looks at the package installer, as per this thread on Stack Overflow. It may not be the most accurate of methods, but in my testing it worked fine.

When looking at Android App piracy, I keep comparing it to piracy of videos & music. You can’t beat it by DRM. You can’t beat it by sending takedown notices to everyone who dares copy your content. While you have a legitimate right to control the content, it’s just not possible to completely lock things down.

The alternative approach is to let people pirate your app as much as they like - but make it really easy to pay for it, and provide extra value to those who do. I really think this is the best way to go.

So if you’re browsing on Google Play, and see an app for $3 that you’d like to download, there are two options. Either click “Buy”, click “Confirm”, and you’ve got it - with unlimited automatic updates. Or, go across to your computer, type in “app name apk”, sift through a few dodgy sites to find the right APK, somehow send the URL or APK across to your phone, download & install the file. Then you’ve gotta hope that somebody didn’t add malware to the apk (admittedly unlikely), and if you want any future updates you’ve got to go searching for them manually.

Looking at this scenario, it’s hard to see many users going to the extra effort to pirate your app. Sure, if they’re in a country with no Google Play purchase support, or if they don’t have a credit card. But the vast majority of users have an easy & painless way to purchase your app - and that’s what really matters.

Contrast this with the video & music situation. In Australia it is ridiculously hard to purchase movies & music online. Piracy is by far the easiest way to get hold of entertainment (unless you’ve forked out the money to own an iDevice and want to use iTunes). People don’t pirate stuff just because they want it for free - it’s also because of the convenience.

Anyway, that’s my rant for now :slight_smile: I realise the situation is different if your app has a server side with maintenance costs. But for most client-side apps, I think convenience is key.

I was thinking about adding a safe guard - for example after a week of failing to check licence the game would display ads (pirates might miss that). But right now my games isn’t pirated yet (I think there is too many alternatives for people to bother).

Just try to think like a pirate (no, not the people who download, but people who distribute your work to get money per download from file sharing services)

The pirate wants to get the most downloads possible to earn money with it - so they will hunt all the games which are a) very popular or b) very easy to pirate.

Again - my current opinion is not against people who download cracked apps - but it is against people who distribute my work for their own profit.

After all, I hate(!!) all the copy protection nowadays … most of the time you’ll get a better product when downloading a pirated copy (i.e. not being forced to watch FBI trailers on bought DVDs or unable to start a game because steam lags or origin is broken)

So what makes an one app ‘very easy to pirate’ over another?

No Proguard for a start…

That’s a good question … which I do not know.

I generally agree with david in making your app more easy to buy than to pirate (do not harm legal users by copy protection issues)

When someone finds your app on a warez board and he likes your game it is indeed possible, that this guy will buy the full version (which he never found on his own) - so it IS a bit of advertising for your game.

Is it fair? na… actually it isn’t… updating your game frequently with new features is a way to prevent piracy … on the other hand, you cannot update a paid app all the time without having a frequent income of it

PS: pro guard is only obfuscating (prevent uncompiling) - it is not copy protection (in no way)

ProGuard isn’t copy protection - but the obfuscation features are almost a prerequisite if you’re going to implement any sort of copy-protection. Without obfuscating your code, it’s really easy for pirates to jump in & disable whatever code you’ve got to check the licence.

Yep… and even with Proguard it is still easy to disassemble and see what the code is doing it you have a lot of experience. You just can’t easily recompile it. For that there are other tools that allow you to modify the byte code directly.

All Proguard does is prevent clueless people and increase the time/effort it takes to rip & repackage a game without copy protection. And not by much either.

I know PC people who can read assembly by looking at a hex dump. They know all the instruction op-codes. People of THAT sort of skill level are doing the hacking and there is NOTHING you can do to prevent them.

It is far better to provide users with an experience that they want at a price they can afford … and frequent upgrades (meaning the game needs to be re-hacked) … and an easy path to become legit if you are using a hacked version.

I Would recommend to use a simple level of protection. That will keep non hackers from distributing your apk files. As far as protection, I would suggest a simple activication routing and using ProGuard to make it a bit harder to crack. Just remember, if good hackers want to hack your copy protection they will succeed. So in my opinion it’s useless to spend hours and hours on a heavy protection that might also give annoy legit users.

yea look at EA Games … people does download more than before just to get rid of origin xD reaction from EA: Online Only Games, Reaction from Hackers: Making their own servers xD (very popular nowadays)

so, EA spent millions of dollars just to raise piracy …


Has anyone everf tried to bust any of these hackers? I mean just for fun. I just put my first application to the market about a week ago and two days later it was cracked and available for download. I just happened to receive a purchase cancel report from google that was the purchese when hacker stole my game(I know this because there are only two purchases and I know the other dude :). Some guy from Poland and I have punch of IDs, network operators and stuff in the mail. I was just thinking that should I maybe contact google and tell them that it was that account that did it… Anyone ever tried? I would assume that Polish police has better things to do than investigating this stuff…

The only good thing is that the hacked version crashes all the time and my advertisement version has no worries at all :slight_smile:

The game:

Link to crack site: Veggie Vengeance 1.0.1 apk | Cracked Games

The guy even had the courtecy of rewriting my description. It’s partly better than mine, so Maybe I’ll steal it. I hope he/she does not mind…

Polish police won’t help you. I think I’ll consider adding a remote activated option that can show infomation for users of specific version - for example that new version has fixed bugs, so those who pirated would know it’s worth buying because of the fix.

The only thing that I thing would help is to authenticate it some way when you download the app.

Exactly. Application Licensing | Android Developers

Just updating the obvious here. Just for laughs, I contacted google two weeks ago and told them the credit card number, name and address of the guy who started to share my app. I told them that the card is used in such illegal activity in their shop and that card is either stolen or user is just a bit stupid(ok, he is not stupid, because he knows that nobody will blame him…) Not a word from google so far and if I would have to guess, I would say that radio silence will hold… :slight_smile: