Daniel Amitay, the creator of the iPhone app Punch 'Em!, says piracy is to thank for more than doubling his sales.
Game makers don't like piracy because, simply put, it costs them money. When somebody steals a game, developers don't get paid and despite what you may think about artistic expression for its own sake, that doesn't put food on the table. It's a valid point, generally speaking, and it's also well-rehearsed party line, which is what makes it especially unusual when a dev - an indie, no less - admits that piracy is actually doing him some good.
Punch 'Em! is a fairly simple 99 cent game that lets people virtually fight each other through their iPhone cameras. It was Amitay's first paid app and the recently-passed holiday season was his first as an app developer. He'd intended to write up a blog post about how the season gave his sales a substantial push, but as he examined the trends he came to a surprising realization: the holidays weren't responsible for his sales jump. Piracy was.
Amitay looked at two 17-day stretches, December 4 to 20 and December 30 to January 15, putting together a sales and piracy graph plotting the data. Over the first period, sales and piracy run flat, with sales appearing to marginally outpace piracy. But just before Christmas there was a "huge pirating push against Punch 'Em!" reflected in a piracy rate in the second time period almost 39 times higher than the first. But something else happened, too. Amitay's sales during that same stretch of time more than doubled.
He said he's still against piracy for the simple reason that it's stealing but added that at the end of the day, business is business. "Throughout Punch 'Em!'s paid lifetime, I couldn't raise its sales count in the long term," he explained on his blog. "So if thousands of users end up pirating my app, but hundreds buy it as a result of hearing about it from their pirate buddies, why should I cry?"
He also noted that an earlier version of the game included a code which checked to see if it had been cracked and if so, displayed a message asking the user to purchase the app and then exited. But that ultimately did more harm than good, as the game was pirated very little but his conversion rate was zero. "After all," he asked, "my app quit almost immediately, so why share it at all?"
And how does he know the holiday season isn't actually responsible for the bump? Sales tend to jump immediately following Christmas but the effect only lasts for a few days and app rankings don't change because everyone takes advantage of the same push. In his case, however, the situation is different. "My sales increase extended well past Christmas, and is still stable," he said. "My sales increase during Christmas was well beyond the standard 2x [caused by the holidays]. My app increased in rank over the period of time that my app was pirated."
It's an unusual perspective but under the circumstances, not an altogether surprising one. I don't imagine that Amitay wants to be seen as advocating for piracy but since most developers are critical of piracy because it costs them money, it's not unreasonable for him to be a little more upbeat about it when it's actually bringing some in. "Bottom line: people stealing my app has increased my sales," he said. "The alternative for me is no pirates, but fewer sales." And that's not really much of an alternative at all.