App devs facing major problems with piracy, profitability

New App Developer Conference survey finds 26% of devs have had their apps pirated, and many struggle to make any profit

Organizers of the new App Developers Conference (ADC) - taking place November 5th-7th at the Los Angeles Convention Center and co-located with another inaugural event, GDC Next - have revealed interesting data about the significant challenges facing today's app developers.

While games clearly rule the apps world (69 percent of devs surveyed made games), the developers making the apps have numerous challenges to overcome in order to see success. Piracy in particular has become very prevalent. 26 percent of surveyed developers reported that their apps had been pirated, and even if a game is free, it's not protected against piracy. For developers whose apps use in-app purchases (IAP), 26 percent also found that their IAPs had been obtained without any payment.

"Of our 8 million+ total downloads," one dev confessed, "1.5 million+ have been pirated, mostly in Russia and China. 
Another dev commented that, on Android, "approximately 90 percent of in-app purchases were faked."

Aside from piracy, the top problem for app devs remains discoverability. This was the top-cited obstacle to success in the ADC survey. Too many apps, crowded app stores, consumers' expectations for free or $0.99-priced apps, and device fragmentation were all cited as contributing to the discoverability problem.

The bottom line is that app development isn't the opportunity many think it is. The numbers on profitability are somewhat startling. 40 percent of all surveyed developers made zero revenue from their latest app, and nearly half made zero profit from that app (through all channels, including download fees for paid apps, ad revenue, and income from in-app purchases). That said, it's important to note that roughly half of the zero-revenue devs are solo developers that don't pursue development full-time. Even so, 26 percent of all full-time devs made zero revenue on their last app. Devs going it alone have an especially difficult time, as 70 percent of solo, full-time devs reported making zero profit on their latest app.

81 percent of the devs surveyed were targeting iOS as their primary platform compared to 68 percent developing on Android. Most, however, look to leverage multiple platforms; 72 percent of iOS devs also develop for Android, 36 percent for web, 32 percent for Windows, and 24 percent for Mac OS, while 86 percent of Android devs also target iOS, 42 percent target Windows and web browsers, and 26 percent for Mac OS.

For those interested, the complete survey is available for download here.

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Latest comments (12)

Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd6 years ago
Lots of interesting stuff here. It's similar to a developer survey I saw a year or so ago that also said that none but the top 20% make enough profit to sustain their business on their apps alone.

Apple is still the lead platform, but that gap is MUCH smaller than it was very recently. In early 2012 it was only 23% focusing on Android. It seems likely that the lead platform will have shifted next year.
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Every day I'm feeling more comfortable with my decision to completely ignore mobile markets for ones with smaller install bases, and much, much less competition.

If mobile is bad now, imagine in 5 or 10 years. Eek.
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve6 years ago
It's the gold rush era for the sector, with everyone and their dog heading for the supposed green pastures of app development. I don't think you ever get such rapid growth without growing pains. Hopefully the market will eventually come back to a sustainable equilibrium soon.
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David Lee Chief Concepticator, Concepticate6 years ago
If your app hasn't been pirated then either you have really great security or (more likely) very few people are using your app.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 6 years ago
Dense content in this article.
1) The apparent barrier to entry to being an app publisher appears to be very low. It isn't.
2) People who think that they will make their dream game and the customers will come are misguided at best.
3) Monetisation mechanics need to be sorted out before game design. Or, at the very least, at the very same time.
4) Marketing, in the broadest sense, is more important than the game.
5) The vast majority of mobile publishers have woefully insufficient marketing talent and skills.
6) Most successful mobile publishers have good marketing or had a very lucky break.
7) Metrics and their use are phenomenally important. If you are not metrics obsessed you will lose.
8) Your "finished" product is not finished. It is just a step along the route.
9) Piracy has always been the number one problem of the video game industry. The main reason that consoles replaced the 16 bit home computers was that they served as an anti piracy dongle.
10) If you don't set out with a clear idea about how you will be profitable then you won't be.
11) The competition is so great that you must set yourself up with a clear strategic advantage. Then you must optimise your use of that advantage.
12) People coming to mobile from console have a very big problem. There is much that needs to be unlearned.
13) Get it right on mobile and the ROCE is incredibly impressive.
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I agree with many of Bruce's points. You are better off with a great marketing campaign and a so so game, then vice versa. And this isnt just true for mobile games, its sadly true for most products in the US and abroad. I call it the Subway effect, those places make lots of money and it surely cant be because of their so so ( and thats being kind) sandwiches.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 23rd September 2013 8:04pm

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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development6 years ago
As I've said many times before, it's a treacherous landscape no matter which way you go. Whether it's console with its higher overhead but a much nicer wealth distribution.

Mobile gaming is like Russia and the console sphere would be like Sweden or Switzerland.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development6 years ago
As I've said many times before, it's a treacherous landscape no matter which way you go. Whether it's console with its higher overhead but a much nicer wealth distribution.

Mobile gaming is like Russia and the console sphere would be like Sweden or Switzerland.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee6 years ago
Its all a balance I guess. The same aspects that make mobile such an attractive proposition have several downfalls too, but its a market that potentially dwarfs all others and offers a level of openness not often seen when it comes to creating and distributing games.

I think Bruce raises great points, there are a number of different areas that need to be considered when targeting your platform, in this case mobile. If they're left as an afterthought and your game is a flop then it would be unfortunate to think things could have been different.

This doesn't guarantee success but the mobile industry can't be approached with a half-hearted attemtpt it needs a completely different approach to consoles and PC. I'd also say there is even less a set formula to follow at this stage.
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Kevin Corti Product Manager - Games, Mobile, Odobo6 years ago
I totally agree with Bruce as well. Marketing was something that some could get away with not doing on mobile (as with Facebook) for a very brief moment when the platforms were new and there was a very willing consumer base that was not being served. Those days are gone forever. I would comment though, that I believe that the market is failing right now in that we have a huge and rapidly growing consumer base and a decent number of good games available (I discount 80-90% which are old, bad or just hobby projects) but that the visibility of those games to those users is massively in favour of devs/pubs with very deep pockets.

I do believe that better ways can be found to surface GOOD games to a willing consumer audience in a much less expensive way than currently prevails. Apple (and to a lesser extent Google/the android stores) have done a very bad job at showing players the games that are actually engaging other players like them. Instead they have favoured download volumes and velocities and sales revenues as the indicators of popularity.

I'm exploring the potential for a games discovery platform that surfaces games to consumers based on how well they are engaging players. The goal is to help GOOD games get seen by players without the need to pay huge amounts on buying your way into the top 25 chart rankings. If you are interested in this concept (as a player, developer or publisher) please register at and we will let you know when we launch.


Kevin Corti
Chief Evil Officer, Evil27Games
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@Bruce I think your version of events is 'a' truth for sure but don't slip into thinking its 'the' truth. We are all making particular games chasing a our particular audiences but you do like to spin your methods as cast iron laws of the market rather than laws of Bruces head - which is all they are, though thousands may agree with them. People who have similar experiences to you (& chasing similar business) will agree with a lot of what you think, because they are correct - for them! - and those of us who don't have those experiences, won't. Looking through your points, I can happily report we discounted almost every single one of them when making The Room and it worked out for us. Now you can argue Fireproof are a rare group, or you may even bring up that classic head-in-the-sand explanation 'You got lucky'. Fair enough, say all that is true - that still doesn't explain how almost every item of your list can be discounted with no repercussions except success. One or two of them sure, maybe even half - but all of them? No, I think the evidence points to their being many different ways to attack mobile gaming, that your strategy is just one of them, and that the vast market is far far bigger than just your experience can hope to explain. Against the billions of human mobile users, a 'cast iron' list like yours is borderline hubris. And to say that marketing is more important than a good game - I've been hearing that since 1990 and have no argument against it except laughing into my sleeve at the myopia of it all.

If any dev sensibly sets their sights lower than making zillions of dollars and contents themselves with slow growth, it's perfectly clear that you can make a life and a success of mobile without a whole raft of cancerous and distracting shit to undermine the work on your game. There are different audiences, different devs, different games and different ways to success. I'd far rather see talk more about the dizzying breadth of the market, the untapped needs of the audience, the limitless potential of mobile gaming and less about potted lists of must-have's, orders you cannot ignore, and how-to-bottle-success chicanery dressed up as golden advice. The key to success in games has always been the same: make something that deserves it. This is simple in concept but exceptionally difficult in execution. It amazes me that people still think this is a naive view when it fact its the most brutal and difficult view of all to face up to.
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Massimo Guarini Founding Director and CEO, Ovosonico6 years ago
@Barry Couldn't agree more. "Make something that deserves it" works in almost any industry.
There is no road to success but the very one you build for yourself.
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