How Piracy Can Boost iPhone App Sales

We recently reported the story of the pirated iPhone game 'Whack em All', where the developer actually engaged the game's cracker instead of taking an aggressive stance. The dialogue had a surprising effect. Sales increased 100%, pirates donated and the game is now available free of charge.

whackWhack ‘em All is a game for iPhone and iPod Touch, based on the ‘Whack-a-Mole’ idea. The creators are married couple Constance and James Bossert, who together form Fairlady Media. After discovering the game had been cracked and made available for free download, they didn’t take the usual stance of setting the legal dogs on the culprits.

Instead they engaged the cracker in dialogue, and the results have proved interesting. Not least, sales are up 100% and people are donating freely.

James told TorrentFreak that after the initial disappointment, they tracked down the cracker’s email address and surprisingly he responded. “Connie read the emails I sent and thought it was really amazing that we were having a civil conversation with the guy who was directly responsible for pirating our game,” said James. “I had decided to be really nice and accommodating in the emails to have a better shot at getting the pirate to respond.”

The email exchanges are detailed in our earlier story, but it’s developments since that really shows the importance of dialogue, with James telling us that the feedback has been excellent for the company. The game was originally up for purchase on the iTunes App store, but things have changed, he notes. “We decided to release a free version supported by ads to accommodate the issues that folks were reporting with the iTunes App Store, a.k.a the ‘Crapp Store’ – no try before you buy, lack of demo versions, and too expensive.”

The game hasn’t been withdrawn from the iTunes though, with James and Connie now preferring a dual-track option for the customer – a choice to either pay for it through iTunes or download the free ad-supported version. “We feel that a free app that still provides us with revenue through advertising is the best possible solution to the issue. Ads can be annoying for some people, so we’ve left the 99 cent version out there for folks who love the game but don’t like ads. Very hopefully, this will work for us and we can use the proceeds to fund future games.”

The ad revenue is being generated through AdMob, after the company approached James and Connie with their solution. AdMob is currently offering a promotion to around 200 iPhone software developers and giving them $5,000 worth of free advertising. “The folks at AdMob were awesome,” James explained. “They got us into the promotion and we’re now utilizing all of the tools they have available, such as in-game banners, click through reporting and detection to see if someone buys your game after clicking on one of your ads.”

James also took the opportunity to tell the game’s cracker, most_uniQue, about the new, free ad-supported version. He responded saying, “People love to hate me, but that just means they don’t understand. I’m glad you try to work things out properly and I hope you get good revenue from your ads. But the thing we all would like to know is this – did this adventure boost the sale of Whack ’em All?”

Good point. Before Whack ‘em All was reported pirated, the game was getting around 10 sales each day. Now, with all the extra publicity, sales are up to 20 a day, a nice 100% increase. Piracy might be viewed as a bad thing by some, but it sure beats obscurity it seems, and with extra revenue coming in from the ad-supported version, things seem to be looking up.

Additionally, a TorrentFreak reader suggested that the developer should put up a ‘donate’ button on the site so that pirates could still show their appreciation. It’s not a huge amount, but in just a few days people donated more than $75.

most_uniQue told James that he hopes that Apple learns from this situation and allows people to try before they buy, noting that he wouldn’t be surprised if Apple contacted him at some point, while hoping it’s to thank everyone for bringing the issue to their attention.

Hopefully it’s not, “most_uniQue: Wanted dead or alive’,” he joked.

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