Book piracy has always been hard to quantify, but it turns out that is almost as true for apps. App developer Ustwo Games revealed on Twitter this past week that their hit puzzle game, Monument Valley, was seeing far more downloads than purchases:
Interesting fact: Only 5% of Monument Valley installs on Android are paid for. 40% on iOS. There’s a sneak peak of data!
— ustwogames (@ustwogames) January 5, 2015
Monument Valley is a puzzle game in the style of M C Escher. Like that artist's perspective denying pen and ink drawings, this game challenges the user to rethink what they are seeing while building a path for the game character to move from the start of a level to the end. (I have it; it's not long but very fun.)
Ustwo Games was working on a year end infographic when they shared that detail. While it looks like a very depressing indictment of Android and iDevice users, I am not sure that it's worth getting upset over.
The reason you can't claim that there is a 95% piracy rate is that Ustwo Games doesn't know how many games were bought once and installed legitimately on multiple devices. Or as they explained to Re/code:
Re/code: First off, how was that 95 percent statistic determined?
Dan Gray: Five percent are paid downloads, so the ratio is 9.5 to 1, but a portion of those are people who have both a phone and a tablet, people who have more than one Android device with them. So a small portion of that 95 percent is going to be taken up by those installs.
Do you know how big that portion is?
It’s impossible for us to track that data. The only thing we can do is, two bits of data: One, how many purchases we have and, two, how many installs we’ve got. And we just leave people to draw conclusions from that as they wish, because we can’t clarify any further than that.
That 5% rate doesn't include the 300 thousand copies downloaded on the free day in the Amazon Appstore.
I first read this story earlier this week but was unable to post anything due to the mayhem and chaos of CES 2015. And that is probably a good thing because it gave me a chance to run an informal poll of my relatives and learn just how many copies of an app were installed versus paid for.
I didn't get a rate nearly as low as 5%, but I did find that there installs (for a really cool game like Monument Valley) averaged 4 times as high as purchases. That's a 25% purchase to install rate.
I can't say whether that is typical, but it does make me wonder just how many copies of this game were actually pirated, rather than being shared among a household.
The only thing I can say for sure from this data is that Ustwo Games has an idea of how many users they have versus the number of customers. This would be like an author knowing how many times their books had been purchased new vs read, with the latter number including copies which were pirated, borrowed, or bought used.
In neither case can you say that you have any real grasp on the piracy issue.