The debate raged through the mobile world when “Monument Valley” game developer Ustwo released their financial numbers in early January. They made a lot – joining an elite number of games that are in the multi-million dollars earned category. But that wasn’t the reason people were so shocked.
Ustwo also released the “piracy rate” of their games on iOS and Android. That’s where things got very interesting. According to their numbers, only 40% of iOS users and 5% of Android users actually paid for every instance of the game. That means the developer made almost $6 million on one game with around 55% of their players not paying for it. That number is a little misleading simply because they lump those that play on multiple devices into it – if you bought the game and play it on your tablet and phone but didn’t pay for it on one, they consider 1 of them legit, the other not – thus pirated (see what Monument Valley Producer Dan Gray had to say about it here).
Any way you slice this, it looks as though Ustwo lost a considerable amount of revenue DESPITE earning $6 million. It wasn’t half but I think we can agree it was significant.
Since this happened I’ve had a number of people ask me if they should just simply stop shipping on Android and focus on iOS exclusively. My answer is no – you can’t ignore 50% of the market but you have to understand what you are wading into and assess the cost of doing so.
So if roughly 95% of the second largest mobile market is pirated, what can you do?
Build a platform revenue strategy.
There has never been a “one size fits all” approach to mobile when building an app, marketing an app or even deploying an app so why should there be for earning revenue on different platforms.
Mobile companies can’t afford to build in fear that their game will be pirated. This is a reality of the industry and has been forever. But a little thought into how and when to charge users could go a long way into helping curb it and put more dollars in the developer’s pockets.
Mobile isn’t easy – never has been – and now that there are more devices in our hands than on our desks it has become a natural target for pirating. Mobile gaming alone blossomed into a $21 billion industry last year with additional billions lost to pirating.
The first step in this is to understand the difference between the various mobile platforms. This means understanding what can be done technically of course but it also means understanding the habits of the user base, what types of apps they are paying for and what app types are trending or popular (or, conversely, falling out of favour).
When it comes to earning revenue from an app, Android generates 1/4 the revenue that iOS does for developers. There are a number of reasons for this but the point is that this is the reality. iOS apps earn more than Android when it comes to app sales (in fact, almost $3 billion more in 2014). This does not mean you give up, you just have to think differently about how you do it. Depending on the app that you’ve built and the potential audience, it might be more prudent to sell the game on iOS and offer it free with a different revenue model on Android (smart advertising, additional downloadable content, etc).
If you feel you must charge for the app on Android, perhaps set up a challenge/response system when the app is loaded. We did this with Rove’s Mobile Admin product by having the app ping our server to validate the license. We didn’t do this every time but usually once a month depending on use. This is also how we controlled what modules were visible to our users.
The point is that you shouldn’t give up on the market leader because the user base isn’t ready to spend BUT you shouldn’t sacrifice the opportunity to earn revenue for your hard work. There just isn’t – and never will be – one strategy that will work across all platforms. We each buy the devices we buy for different reasons. You have to understand that when you get into this industry and build your strategy around the habits of each user base.