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Mobile Pie's Will Luton on how to turn pirates into useful mobile consumers

Mobile Pie's Will Luton on how to turn pirates into useful mobile consumers
Will Luton is the creative director at the award-winning boutique studio Mobile Pie.

Reported piracy rates on iOS vary from 96 percent to 1 percent, with the Wall Street Journal claiming 75 percent; a figure which fits with my experience in paid.

Despite this rage, what is clear is that piracy is endemic on all mobile platforms. It is a reality of doing business, despite the work of trade bodies and platform holders.

Yet many approaches to it lack any realistic perspective.

Make the most of it

"Piracy is a form of imposed Free. You may not have intended your product to be free, but the marketplace thrust Free upon you." - Chris Anderson, Free (2009).

Anderson's argument, of which mine is an admiring xerox, is not one of ethics, but rather economics. Piracy is so prevalent because cost of distribution has fallen, ostensibly, to zero. People can offer access to content to each other for free, where content owners are charging.

This squeezes companies that execute on a 'charge for access' model. To them, not paying is theft from honest, hardworking developers. The perpetrators, they believe, don't understand the economic reality of their actions. It should be tackled legally and with moral blackmail.

Turned on its head


That was once my thinking.

I now believe it's incorrect, because of the realisation that our industry is predicated on the selling of data, not physical goods.

An additional game, unlike an additional car, has a marginal - effectively non-existent - cost. If a pirate plays a game without paying, they have made a copy. The pirate hasn't taken something from the owner; nothing physical has been removed from them. The owner may have gained less, but they have not lost what was theirs. Free has been imposed.

Here, a pro-freemium rant would be easy, but ignorant.

The majority of top grossing games on iOS are straight paid-for titles, despite that number dwindling. Whilst there is no solution to piracy, I believe the thinking normally applied to free service-like games is already turning the pirates of some product-like games from lost gain to new revenue.

There's a lot to benefit from seeing piracy as imposed free, not theft.

Be a free thinker

In free-to-play games, revenues are reported on an average per user basis, yet the majority never make a purchase. Why then, don't we disregard them and count revenue only of users who pay?

Because a non-paying user is never lost revenue, but rather marketing, a pair of eyes and a potential paying customer. They are part of an ecosystem and generate value for the service and that value generates revenue in multiple ways.

This is particularly the case when it comes to advertising.  Brands look at how often an app is viewed and by how many. They're less concerned if the users have paid.

Using FarmVille, for example, Zynga created the Mega-Farm for Dreamwork’s Megamind, whilst the branded clothing and gear in EA's paid Skate series added authenticity. Both are sympathetic and non-intrusive.

But the attitudes of the different users can be very different. In freemium games, paid propositions are constantly offered to the user, offering ease, quicker progression or more features. In paid games, these things may anger an already paid-up user, causing negativity, so need to be considered carefully.

Rovio is a great example of how to think more widely.
Angry Birds has two convincing upsells in The Mighty Eagle, which Rovio claim 40 percent of new users have taken advantage of it, and the plush toy range, which has already grossed in excess of $24 million.

Pirates on your team

Or look at it another way. Pirates can generate content, from building new levels or items to being an opponent in an online match. This adds value to your game, making it more enjoyable and appealing. Also, if you’re using analytics, they generate usage data, which can be applied to improve the game's quality, making it more appealing.

Similarly, if a free user likes your game enough they will tell a friend. So, make it easy for them. Add in Facebook, Twitter, SMS and email share buttons. These people may then purchase the app or pirate it. Either way you benefit.

A strong strategy of lite and paid upsell, crack checks or other steps may well reduce piracy, but it will still remain an economic force during an app's profitable life.

What developers can do, and some already are, is use techniques found in the free model to take the lesser gain of imposed and turn it to an advantage and new revenue.



Based in the heart of Bristol, UK, Mobile Pie creates delicious own IP and works its magic on tasty licenses, with a client and partner list that includes the BBC, Orange and Hewlett-Packard. It has recently released the free-to-play social location title My Star for iOS.

You can see what it gets up to via its website.


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