Anti Piracy Approach

Hi Guys, maybe there are some good developers around here, which have opinions about that.

Because currently I do not find any System with fullfills my requirements to stop piracy without disturbing the user and/or will work on different stores, I cam up with an idea of the following.

Let’s say I make some sort of unlocker app - and this unlocker app is only available through my own server. I would be able to use this unlocker app, to unlock content in my games which are available on different stores.

This unlocker app will be some sort of licensing system and because it is my own it will hardly been cracked. I think of combining it with paypal.

But there are several questions about it:

  1. Will this approach be legal over the different ToS of the markets, when the unlocker itself is not available at these markets but the free version of the app itself is available?

  2. May it be better, to not work with an unlocker app but implement something in the free version to check my server for a purchased code instead? Because getting an app without market would need to allow “non market apps” (how is this handled with different stores?)

Let me know what you think about it.

PS: As far as I know currently it is not allowed to do any purchasements in your app without other tools than the market tools (for the different markets) - so including a paypal system directly into the app is not possible)

I’m not sure that an unlocker app will do what you are looking for. From what I can tell, the way most apps are pirated is the apk file is copied off the device after downloading. Obviously for markets with some sort of protection, they do some extra stuff to remove the protection. What is to stop them just copying the unlocker app and including it with the locked ones?

You might be able to build in a licensing system though - link it with your website and keep track of install keys or such. This would be quite an undertaking though and will probably cause more issues for your valid users than you’d like.

disclaimer: please read to the end to understand. I don’t condone piracy but the initial paragraphs may sound this way.

My personal view on this is to embrace the piracy rather than get so upset. Use it to your advantage. Let me put it this way: how many of those who pirated your app would have actually bought it? probably less than 5%. Maybe none. Those who pirate are doing it either because they can’t afford it (might be poor or might just be a kid with limited pocket money), or because they don’t want to spend money on it. A few will be because their device doesn’t support google play market and they can’t find your app legally. It’s not because it’s easier to pirate.

Is it easier to open google play market - find app - click ok twice to buy it and have it installed than go searching piracy forums/sites to find the app. So those who are going out of their way not to pay, are unlikely to pay anyway.

This might sound a little depressing or perhaps you don’t agree with me, it’s not something I can give figures or stats to back up (probably the biggest issue with piracy in general is the impossibility of getting actual figures).

But what about using the piracy sites to promote your app? The more people download it (even if it’s an illegal download), the more people know about it and tell their friends. The friends are a bit more likely to get the app from the market than piracy sites, and the next set of friends are even more likely to get it from the market.

Perhaps even make a 2nd version of your app that is ad based and stick that on the piracy forums and your non-ad based one on the markets. This way at the very least those who download from pirated sites won’t know there’s a difference, and even if someone else posts your main app, users seldom read and will most likely pull the ad-based one down.

I’ve been meaning to actually contact you since I read your blog entry about finding your app being pirated, to ask what the sites were so I can “publish” my app there for more exposure :wink:

I think the biggest issue is that there’s no full-proof DRM. There’s no stopping piracy. Even if all the websites were shut down it would be passed via messenger apps or flash drives or direct in email groups or via some other method. We either have to accept losses or find innovative ways to profit from it.

I agree completely with you that ppl who take piracey haven’t bought the game at all.

My problem is not with that ppl - I always (!) give away ad supported free versions of my games - so everybody can play it for free without restrictions. If they find my game on a warez site, they will not even know that there is a free version.

My problem is more with ppl that pirate the adfree version, publish it on a hoster and get paid for every download - I cannot accept that.

I also really don’t want to punish any “legal” users of my apps - so I am seaching for ways which does not spoil any fun with my game.

I also would not stop the pirated game from working - I would just show ads again - so I get a decent amount of benefit when ppl pirates my game … so the reason for using my own license service is simple that it cannot be removed automatically and it will work on EVERY store.

My intent also is not to get reach with selling adfree versions - I just want to give users the possibility to get an adfree version, some people want that and I want to deliver that.

Short, there is no solution.

I will be constructive and give some ideas (they are copyed from link below):

Freemium model

  1. Make the first 5-10 levels free so people can learn the game and have some fun without paying. Less will want to hack the first level and the game will spread even further by Freemium model.

Shareware/clustered levelpacks

  1. Let part of the game levels or logic stay online. Eg. when reaching for level 5 or 10 or 15, then download small parts for the game, and every time submit the progress-log from the game and validate this against possible values + hashcodes. This could perhaps make it possible to automatically close down of hacked accounts.

Stealth cheater protection

  1. You could also just count “small warning flags” that you place around in the game. Dont just check for the “validation” in the beginning, no build these flags into the game logic itself. Dont make it break the gameplay, because then noone will look for it. Then when the user reached the end of level monster, check if there were any logged warning flags. These will not show up inside the game, so the unknowing user with a hacked edition could be playing for hours/days and suddently realize that he/she couldnt finish the game or advance to next level, because the game had a “bug”. What the user didnt know was that this bug only occures on hacked clients.

Hi and thanks for your reply!

  1. Does not work - I did that with Tablet Tower Defense. In the beginning there was a free demo highly playable. Game was copied all over the web. People doesn’t even know that they can now play the full game for free (ads).

  2. Does not work, because what happens when user re-installs the purchased game onto a new phone.

  3. That’s a good approach and I do something similar when using google licensing. Recently Serious Sam 3 had this kind of copy protection. If your copy was illegal there were a unbeatable monster in some level.

That unbeatable monster idea seems pretty cool. The pirates who post your app probably won’t check for details like that, and it would definitely prevent the pirated app from becoming really popular.

I can’t help thinking though - maybe there should still be some kind of message, to give the user the option of buying the app legally.

drawback of unbeatable monster: people maybe do not know, that this is a copy protection and they will say, that your app has a big bug :slight_smile:

I just started selling apps on Google Play Store and the app that I have free version and paid version was not pirated (Home Screen Title Widget) - But the app that I only have paid version (Wake Up Screen) without power buttons - was immediately pirated. and I keep sending DCMA Notifications and copyright infringement warnings and bringing down the illegal websites. I know that there is no way to protect the app file from being pirated. But those software pirates are collecting donations to post illegally downloaded apps. They are encouraged by the rest of the users which amazes me because some of them donate $5 per download but the app costs $0.99 if downloaded legally. So, this whole lesson gave me ideas how to make money just like the pirates who stole my software and are posting it everywhere impacting my income.

I Guess the only way is to make separate projects for every store you want to support.
I do not see any other solution. Making a unlock app and selling it on your own website is a option, but then again you could do the same by only putting the paid app in Google Play.

Hi Guys,

I read this a while ago and it reminded me of some stuff I read a while ago on android stuff. Are you all familiar with Edward Kim? He was one of the first people to make the headlines with making money on the Android market with his “Car Locator” app. You all are probably familiar with it. Well, I went reading on his blog, and it turns out his app was pirated a lot, and so he came up with a licensing scheme. Essentially what happens is that when a user purchases an app, his server generates a unique licensing key unique to the hardware id that the app will run on. And each time the app is run, it checks with their servers to make sure the key is valid. If not, it prompts the user to pay for the app.

I’m not sure how good it is, but it supposedly is better than what Google’s protection is. The site is androidlicenser

I probably won’t use it, but I thought I would share for someone will.


Have a great day!


I Do not see any real advantage on the new Play license system. Also I do not think checking the license every time the app runs would be a good idea. Especially for a car locator, because that would be used when there might not be a internet connection available.

Instead of an unbeatable monster, spawn a crude graphics pop-up that says:

“UV b1n P0wn’d by H4X0r M4X1Mu$”
“–Save Game Deleted–”

And delete their save game data.
Of course there is no H4X0r M4X1Mu$. But they don’t have to know that.

Guerrilla anti-piracy warfare.

Disclaimer: Evil begets evil, Mr. President. Shooting [may] only make it stronger.

The license can be cached, you specifiy your own key for that - so there should not be any “single point of cracking”.

At the moment, I think in-app-purchases are more suitable. there is always a free version which can be upgraded inside the app.

for the unbeatable monster you could purchase a special shield or weapon which is needed to beat it xD or just buy a key for the next level.

Buying on Google Play allows running on all your devices. How does he cope with that?

do you mean how the licensing does it? In the moment, when you download the game you have a working connection and when u start the app it gets verified (which is cached for some days)

Licensing is coupled with your google acc. For IAP you need to get the state and google does not cache it for you (I think)

There will be some new form of DRM soon - there was a talk about it on Google I/O. Maybe licencing won’t be needed then.

Yes, they mentioned in Jelly Bean paid apps will be encrypted before downloading. I’m not sure how this differs from the original DRM solution they had though. Unless the decryption is actually performed by a hardware chip?