Android Still Has A Massive Piracy Problem


android-pirateFlickr/Kenneth Lu

Google's mobile operating system has a longstanding issue with people pirating apps initially made available on its Play store. But here's a sign of how bad the Android piracy problem really is.


Ustwo Games, the developer behind the wildly popular mobile game "Monument Valley," revealed in a series of tweets that only 5% of all Android installs of its game were paid for.

Five percent.

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Comparatively, the developer said 40% of Monument Valley installs on iOS were "legitimate." So piracy isn't an Android problem per se, but it is particularly bad there.


This doesn't mean the other 95% of Android installs of Monument Valley were pirated, but Ustwo suggests that besides a small number of legitimate installs - which doesn't include all the free copies it gave away during its one-day promotion on the Amazon Appstore late last year - the vast majority of that 95% came from "unpaid installs" of the game.

Piracy, or "unpaid installs," isn't a new problem for Android. 

Monument Valley high rezustwoOne of the levels in "Monument Valley," from Ustwo Games.

In 2012, Gamasutra reported that piracy for a game called Shadowgun reached 90% on Android; a year later, developer Butterscotch Shenanigans reported that 95% of the 34,091 Android installs of its first game were "unofficial." In contrast, only 5% of iOS users had pirated Butterscotch Shenanigans' game, according to SlashGear.

Gamasutra also points to two other game developers that say a whopping 99% of their game installs were pirated on Android. Those are incredible figures.


One reason pirated copies of Android games are so commonplace: Gamasutra says Chinese mobile users don't have access to the Google Play store, so they find other ways to play those games. And those pirated copies usually find their ways back to the West.

This lingering issue on Android partially explains why most mobile developers prefer iOS to Android, even though Android has a much bigger audience. iOS users, compared to Android, tend to spend more money on their devices for shopping and apps. It pays its developers more money, and it's generally a more stable operating system.

And yet, developers, including Ustwo, say they are not deterred by all the "unpaid installs" on Android. It's better to have people playing your game for free than not at all, right?

Here's how Monument Valley producer Dan Gray explained the conundrum to Re/code:

We're not unique in this situation. Various developers have had a roughly similar ratio of Android piracy. We made a decision in the past - obviously, we've all made games in the past - not to implement piracy protection on Android. It usually gets cracked within a day or two anyway. We can't respond to it in any way.


The best way I like to think about it is, the majority of those users probably wouldn't have bought the game anyway. So it's not like we're losing revenue. And, of course, I'm sure some of those users have recommended the game to friends who maybe aren't as tech-savvy as they are. It's essentially free marketing. When I say we're not complaining about that ratio, that kind of ratio was expected before we made the game and it's not that surprising now that we've released the game. You just roll with the punches.

 Perhaps this is why more developers are turning to the "freemium" model.