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23 Apr 2014

Fighting Piracy in Your Mobile Game

It seems there is one constant to mobile game development: piracy. No matter how many sales your game earns, you’re always going to be thinking in the back of your mind that you could have earned more had it not been for piracy. Many mobile developers have learned to embrace it and use it as a method for allowing people to spread the word about their mobile game, while others have merely accepted that it’s something they simply cannot stop.

However, there is a way to fight piracy. Your game does not have to be the victim of piracy. Here are a few tips to fighting piracy in your mobile game, thus allowing you to sleep better at night.


Switch to a freemium model

The vast majority of all pirated mobile games are premium titles. The obvious way to fight piracy on the mobile side of things? Switch to a freemium model (if applicable, of course). This removes the incentive for pirates to steal your game, and also allows you to monetize your mobile game better than ever. Especially if you are not seeing strong returns on your premium priced game, the decision to go freemium could have a few extra perks in addition to fighting piracy.

Yet, this does not exclude the piracy of in-app purchases (IAPs). Pirates are able to spoof transactions using various piracy tools that could trick your mobile game into giving them IAPs for free. It happens a lot more often than you would think, but the good news is there are a few methods for fighting the piracy of your IAPs all the same. How can you do this?


Remotely communicate with your servers

The best defense against piracy is by forcing your mobile game to communicate with your servers remotely. It doesn’t matter what type of game it is either: you need your mobile game to record the IDs and actions of your players. This will allow you to identify if piracy is indeed occurring, and if it is? You can put a stop to it promptly. From shutting down user accounts to removing IAPs that were purchased fraudulently (whether by tricking your mobile game or actually purchased with a stolen credit card), it allows you to have full control over your mobile game.

This works incredibly well whenever you force players to register to play your mobile game. Requiring players to create a free account to play your indie studio’s games and signing in every time they want to play is a great way to ensure that the people playing your mobile game are actually playing legitimately. If someone signs up for an account and is using a pirated IAP to get ahead in the game? Fighting back against their efforts is as easy as locking out that account, thus keeping them from pirating further.

Going further, you should also ask players to verify their email address before they can play. The reason? Most pirates that want to pirate your mobile game will use a fake email address – usually from a service that allows you to create a temporary email address in a few seconds. Now, every time a pirate wants to pirate some of your content, they are going to need to have to:

  • Create a new email address (and verify it).
  • Create a new player account.

I’m not sure if you have created a new email account recently, but it takes a few minutes to create one – plus it’s annoying. If a pirate has to repeat these steps just to pirate your content, they’re going to eventually give up and move to another indie game that is easier to pirate.


Want to make a pirate’s life even more difficult? Encrypt.

Encrypt all communication between your mobile game and your server. This will make it more difficult for hackers to steal your IAPs, your mobile game, and beyond. It’s another layer of protection that will (hopefully) make even the most determined pirates from stealing content. Yet, remember one thing:


Your game will never be 100% pirate proof

And if someone proclaims their game is, they’re lying. The trick to fighting piracy isn’t to succeed in making your indie game pirate proof (again, it’s never going to happen) – rather, it’s to make pirates jump through so many hoops that it becomes too time consuming for them to continue trying to pirate your indie game. You want to force them to move onto another indie game and leave your game alone, and with the tips above, you will succeed.


Yet, keep the player in mind

There is a fine line between protecting your indie game from piracy and making it difficult for your legitimate players to enjoy your game. We’ve seen studios attempt to stop piracy using strategies that not only makes it difficult for players to enjoy a game legitimately, but actually drives players to pirate a game because it’s:

a)      Easier to play the pirated version rather than the legitimate version.

b)     Angers players so much that they don’t mind ‘stealing’ money from the developer.

It’s safe to say you do not want this to happen. Thus, always keep the average player in mind when implementing piracy measures. After all, ‘tis better to lose a few sales to piracy and have a player base that can easily enjoy your game legitimately versus a player base that hates you for making it difficult to enjoy your game legitimately. Use common sense, and everything will go swimmingly.

Do you have any tips for fighting piracy? Let us know in the comments below!

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