ChiffaN’s Rants – Advertisments in paid apps – a new trend in combating piracy or an outrageous money-hogging scam?

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iTankster.com, the developer of the new game iTankster, have shocked the iDevice community by being the first company to place advertisements inside a paid app (which you can see above). iTankster.com argue that it is due to “our discovery of rampant piracy during the development process”. But is in-game advertising really a way out?

According to the press-release:

The developers of the game originally planned on releasing iTankster at an introductory price of just $0.99 ad-free and believed that since it was priced so low users would purchase it without resorting to piracy. However, they discovered during the development of the game, that other applications were pirated regardless of how low they were priced. Upon further research, it showed that in some instances the number of people installing an application or game illegally far outnumbered the legally purchased version of the same.

Piracy of the game would have impacted the revenue projection and recovery of development costs for the developer drastically; as a result they were compelled to tie up with a sponsor to recover some of the expenses. This decision was taken by the developers as they felt it would be better than increasing the price of the game and risk deterring users from making legal purchases.

During the last month or so I’ve had several interviews with various developers. I’ve asked each of them what they thought about piracy. And, remarkably, all of them stated that they really think that even if there was no way to pirate an app whatsoever the sales would not be significantly higher.

While there have been multiple outcries regarding obscene amounts of piracy of newly released titles (up to 96% according to the developer of the little tank that could) most of the developers fail to realise that almost none of the people that downloaded the app illegally would ACTUALLY buy it. Once the illegal game is downloaded, the wrongdoer would run it no more than a couple of times, then delete it.

Furthermore, as many of the readers from Russia already know, in quite a lot of countries it is extremely difficult to purchase legal apps since most credit cards are not accepted by the AppStore. In such countries, iPhones owners are left with only 2 alternatives: either risk purchasing iTunes gift cards from various online auctions and shady figures (thereby face the possibility of receiving a fake code or  worse, an illegal one, which can easily lead to a permanent ban of their iTunes account), or play it safe and get a pirated copy. What would YOU chose in this case?

Another part of the press release that piqued my agnostic side was:

Until rampant piracy is resolved, the insertion of ads within the game or application allows the developer to keep the price low on the Apple App Store and help them recover their costs. This is especially true for small developers who rely solely on sales via the Apple App Store to recover the cost of developing their application. Unless Apple secures the iPhone and iPod Touch from being Jailbroken it is likely that an increasing number of developers might turn to advertisements within their paid applications.

Notice that instead of specifying that Apple should pay more attention to protecting the apps themselves, they shift the responsibility to securing the phones from being Jailbroken. It should be noted that a Jailbroken iDevice is absolutely no way equal to piracy; many users simply jailbreak in order to take advantage of some great features like SMS delivery reports, quick wi-fi toggling, themes, multitasking and much more (not to mention unlocking their iPhones for use on different networks). Instead of trying to prevent Jailbreaking, Apple could shift more attention to employing a second layer of protection like the Kali wrapper (which is also available directly to app developers) created by the recently disbanded RipDev team. To date, it hasn’t been cracked and is perfectly compatible with the iPhone SDK and costs either $100 or $300 up front with a respective quarterly fee of $50 or $150. If you’re interested, please contact the developers.

Back to our hero/victim iTankster. The game is sort of a mix between the good old NES Tanks game and the Hero Defence genre. The goal is to destroy the enemy castle (skull) passing through it to the next level while keeping the enemy from doing the same thing. This is peppered with upgrades, powerups and special weapons. I had a go with it (thanks to the code provided by the developers) and can say that it’s quite a fun game, though it suffers from an excessively small virtual joystick which makes gaming an art rather than leisure activity. At the same time, I respect the amount of work the developers put in the game, since it is a highly polished product with very nice graphics and a huge (10 maps with 5 stages each) amount of levels.

Unfortunately, the devs fail to realize that the pirates will have no problems removing the ad from the game, leaving only legitimate buyers suffering with tiring pack-ins. If they manage to circumvent said protection, leaving the game files freely available could it really be THAT hard?

iTankster has been released at the introductory price of $0.99 and the full is targeted at $2.99. I’m not sure if iTankster, being quite the fun game it is, is really worth the full price even without the ad. If I happened to buy the game I know I would be… hmm… how to put it lightly… disappointed, frustrated and angry to see an ad there, especially at full price.

In paid apps, ads really infuriate me – and probably many other gamers. Recent announcements reveal that some devs are investigating OS-level adverts. And, no matter statistical/anecdotal evidence of the ineffectiveness of App Store piracy, some devs are taking advantage of an emerging market by waving an anti-piracy flag and meanwhile raking in the extra cash.

Just remember, folks, greed is a sin.

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