Several media outlets are documenting the growing problem of infringement of games and other apps developed by individuals and small companies for smart phones and tablet computers.
These apps are easily and cheaply available online. Looking at the Top Ten most popular apps at the Apple store in recent days, most all are games, and most all are available for 99 cents – a cost one would presume is trivial for someone who can afford to spend several hundred dollars for the iPhone or iPad on which they are played.
Yet TechCrunch, for example, reported recently about the company GAMEized, and their experience rolling out FingerKicks, a game app they developed.
The game costs 99 cents and in a few days after release counted more than 17,000 players registered on the Apple Game Center. Unfortunately for the developers at GAMEized, only a fraction of those were players who purchased the app legally. As of a July 12 post about the issue on the GAMEized blog, not quite 1,200 legitimate copies had been sold, and nearly 16,000 pirated copies were being played – a piracy rate of more than 90 percent.
The FingerKicks story is far from the first of its kind in the app world. Macworld wrote about the impact of piracy on small developers back in 2009, sharing the experience of Ben Gotow, who designed an app called Layers. His story is not unlike that of the developers at GAMEized.
24/7 Wall Street estimated in January of last year that Apple and the companies that sell software for the iPhone and iPod Touch had lost more than $450 million to piracy since the app store was launched in July 2008. While some may dismiss these losses to a big company like Apple as part of the cost of doing business, people are beginning to see that piracy rates such as these certainly impact the ability of app developers to make a return on their investment. The article enumerates the experiences of multiple app developers reporting piracy rates of as high as 95 percent and notes that pirated versions of software are available as soon as 40 minutes after release of an app. The article estimates the overall piracy rate for apps at 75 percent.
It is refreshing to see that many voices are speaking up on some of these blogs to point out that not spending 99 cents for an app is just, well, cheap.
As one person appropriately commented, “It just does not make sense that someone would pay several hundred dollars for the latest, greatest phone + usually the most expensive phone plan offered - and then not pony up to paying $2-$5 (the price of a beer) for a legit copy of a software program."
The frustration of small developers is a particularly unfortunate development given this industry’s potential as a growth area of the U.S. economy. The Software and Information Industry Association and OPEXEngine last week released a study illustrating that small and mid-sized software firms are growing and creating jobs.
For positive growth to continue, app consumers should play fair and support the small firms who not only are making a difference in our entertainment options but who, if they have the ability to reinvest in themselves and make it to the next level, could be a bright spot in our economy.