Ask a Dev: Does Piracy Piss You Off?
As the subject has resurfaced recently I was wondering what an Android app developer had to say about piracy, the Chandroid guys (Onymous Heroes) particularly because I love that app (fantastic imageboard frontend) and so do, disproportionately, the type of people who love to pirate anything. I looked up how to contact them, along the way stumbling across ways to pirate a recent release of their application, and peppered them with questions, some of which were good. They sho’nuff indulged me and spent at least twenty five minutes fielding my questions with good OC which you ought to read (tl;dr? piracy sucks, Android being no safe haven; but hey, cost of doing business, amirite?). Though there are some Android specific things, the gist of the article applies to every platform..
Me: First off, thank you for Chandroid. Favorite app. I’d pay $50 for it if I had to and was less broke. Anyway I’m the guy from mobilitydigest.com who wrote this Chandroid review, want to do a thing on phone software piracy, figured you’d have a thing or two to say. Are you aware of this (hyperlinked to a piracy page)? Your reaction? What goes through your head, seeing that guy who put up Chandroid on this thing got “25 WRZ$” for his work? What do you make of his “support the devs” sig? If you could somehow pull his docs, would you? Are there many other sources like this?
Onymous Team: Hi Doug, Yeah, we remember you, thanks for the article! And congrats again on getting married! Yes, piracy is a serious problem on Android. Ultimately, it’s one of many things that developers have to look at to decide if it is worth it or not to get into the Android Market. We did our analysis, felt we had a good plan, had an idea for an app that we were passionate about making into a reality on a platform that we loved, and took the plunge. We won’t go into very detailed specifics as there’s no point in giving these pirates more insight into how things work or what our exact strategy is, but we’re happy to talk about the generics as well as our outlook on the situation.
Were you aware of this, that your work, the very latest version, is being pirated as fast as you update the thing? Literally a couple hours behind you? If so, by what means did you know it was being pirated, this one operation or any other sources you know of?
We are aware of this and multiple other sources. It’s really not that hard to find, just use Google. Also, you’re wrong, this isn’t the very latest version. We actually just pushed an update (bug fix patch) so the pirates are one version behind (at least as of when we are writing this).
When you see that page behind that URL, your reaction? What goes through your head, seeing that the guy who put up Chandroid on this thing got “25 WRZ$” for his work for him to spend on other things on that website? What do you make of this guy’s “support the devs” sig? Do you have any personal rage to aim at these individuals?
We ask ourselves WHY someone would actually want to pirate Chandroid as opposed to buying it legitimately for $3. Ethics aside, pirating an app like Chandroid from a small dev studio like us is a complete pain in the ass and is actually much more expensive than paying for it. This doesn’t sound intuitively obvious, but read on.
You’ve probably heard of the philosophy of thinking about piracy as simply being another business competitor; ie, you can beat piracy the same way you beat any other competitor by delivering better quality at a lower price point and marketing it enough so that people know about what you have. This is a philosophy that we personally believe very strongly in, and we feel that this is really the correct solution forward. Rather than using draconian DRM measures that treat your legitimate customers as criminals, we believe in showing the value of being a legitmate customer to encourage pirates to buy our app.
Pirating Chandroid is inherently a bad idea because you won’t get any updates. The purpose of the app is to act as a highly efficient frontend for various imageboard sites. And the one constant about imageboard sites is that they are NOT constant. Instead, they, like most websites, can and do change over time. This means that a version of Chandroid that ran a few weeks ago is probably completely broken if you tried to run it against today’s version of the imageboards. Since Chandroid supports multiple image boards (4chan, 7chan, 420chan, etc), it means that if ANY of these boards change, if you don’t have the latest update which addresses that change, then lol, no lurking for you. Even assuming that the average user only cares about one or two chans, this fact alone would probably require monthly updates at the very least.
To add to that, consider our dev studio’s situation and overall genetic makeup of our members. We are a VERY small engineering team (and most of us have to have other jobs as this does not pay nearly enough) who are trying to turn a project that we are all passionate about into a real, self sufficient business. We managed to get a lucky break by having IDEAL Group buy us out and give us some initial funding + ongoing contract work to stay afloat since the Android Market doesn’t seem to have nearly the returns that the Apple App Store has. Obviously, we hope this will change over time since we are betting big on Android, and our month over month growth seems to indicate that we could eventually have a real, sustainable app business.
Anyways, because we are such a small studio, we lack several things that a larger publisher would have, such as an arsenal of phones to test against. Instead, we have to rely on asking the nice folks at IDEAL Group to test our apps for us when we have a device specific problem. This works, but it is slow, so the result is that our testing is largely restricted to the phones that our individual team members have. Given the various flavors of Android, it is almost inevitable that we will occasionally hit a glitch with a particular model which we were not able to test against. If we were a bunch of programmers doing this just to cash a pay check, we’d log it in a bug database, and deal with it at some point in the future (if at all). But this is our baby, so we care about it – A LOT. If we get a bug report, we investigate it and try to respond ASAP with a fix. Guess what? Turns out that if you respond to each problem and try to fix it ASAP rather than stick to a predetermined release calendar, you end up doing a lot more releases.
We mentioned that we are passionate about our products. We’re building what *we* want to use (and do use) on a daily basis. This means that the moment one of us goes “gee, wouldn’t it be nice if Chandroid could also do X”, that X gets put onto the our TODO list of features. When you add up these features + feature requests from our customers, you end up with a lot of features going in. Since we want to make sure new features don’t break or degrade Chandroid, we like to trickle these features out as we complete them rather than do one big push. Lots of features trickling out one at a time == lots of releases.
When you take all of that into account, you end up with a product that receives a minimum of one update per week, and sometimes more if there are important bug fixes. Note that ANYTHING which can trigger a FC is considered “important” in our book, which is why there can be multiple releases per week (and very, very few FC’s actually experienced by users relative to other apps of similar complexity with a similar sized userbase).
This is an area where we have to give Google credit – they implemented an auto update checkbox. This is probably the best thing EVER for our loyal users as they can check that box and never worry about whether or not Chandroid is up to date.
Our app is fairly complex and has a rich set of addons. We decided on making a set of addons rather than building them all into the app because many Android devices are severely space constrained + not everyone wants every whiz bang feature. In addition, we felt that some addons could have standalone value (ie, MemeMaker) and could thus help advertise our app. A side effect of this is that we have to coordinate a bunch of different apps and make sure they all work seamlessly together. That + making sure there are no force closes + changes to the various chans means that there will very often be updates which we deem “critical”. As a result, at times we may try to enforce that all our users are on the same version of Chandroid to avoid unexpected interactions between programs and the generally poor user experience that would result from such cases.
Now, back to the piracy thing. Let’s do a bit of math shall we?
First, let’s weight the deck in FAVOR of piracy. So let’s suppose we are dealing with an individual who is earning minimum wage. According to this government website, the places with the lowest minimum wage are Wyoming and Georgia – these states pay below the federal minimum wage at a miserly $5.15 per hour. Let’s also suppose that this pirate ONLY cares about 4chan and that it had been a slow couple of months so that there was only one mandatory update per month.
Mr. (or Ms.) Pirate has to first find a pirated version of Chandroid that works. Let us assume this activity takes a mere 15 minutes because he already knows where to look and happens to have an account there. As time goes by, he falls further and further behind on updates, and so he is missing out on features/small improvements. And finally, there is a serious change to 4chan, the older version of Chandroid is completely broken, and thus we deem that the update is critical. Now at that point, he has to upgrade Chandroid. But he can’t get it from Android Market. So now, he has to go and hunt for the APK again. This time, he finds the APK, but it’s on a different site that he didn’t have an account on. So he has to register for an account, wait for the confirmation email to show up, click on it, download the apk – the update process takes him 25 minutes to do.
And a month later, the process repeats. Same thing the month after that. You get the idea.
He makes $5.15 an hour. This means his time is worth approximately 8 and a half cents per minute. In just the first month, to illegally acquire Chandroid, he spent 40 minutes in those two download attempts. 40 minutes * $0.085 per minute = $3.40! Chandroid costs a mere $2.99; so piracy actually cost this guy $0.41 MORE than going legit! Not to mention that once you buy it legit, you get all the updates for free WITHOUT spending any time to search for it. So this price difference grows VERY fast.
Now, if you take a step back, you will realize just how heavily we weighted the deck to make piracy even sound like it had a competitive price to going legit. If he can afford a smartphone, we highly doubt he is making only $5.15 per hour. This means that his time MUST be worth more than 8.5 cents per minute. We also doubt that there would be only one instance of an update being deemed critical per month. So he must also search the various piracy sites more often. And finally, we’d like to believe that people would like to use Chandroid for more than just one month. In addition, he also got a worse user experience overall because he didn’t get the benefit of all the minor speed tweaks, etc.
So this brings us back to our original question: why would ANYONE pirate Chandroid? Even if we cynically assume that the entire population is made up of people with absolutely no morals or respect (which we don’t), the economics simply do not make any sense.
The only logical conclusion that we can come to has been that as much as we love Android and Google, it is Google that is at fault here. Google had a very slow launch process in getting paid Android Market outside of the US. Additionally, Android Market relies on Google Checkout which requires a credit card. In Europe and many other places in the world, credit cards are not as ubiquitous or as easy to get as in the US. The result is that there are people who are either unable to buy Chandroid legitimately because they don’t have paid Market in their region or because a credit card would be prohibitively difficult/expensive to obtain. In those cases, the equation changes. Suddenly, Chandroid doesn’t just cost the $2.99 that we’re charging; it costs that + the price of getting a credit card or that + infinite because there is no paid Market. :-/
We have heard the industry rumors about Paypal integration and carrier billing. If Google can actually pull those two off GLOBALLY and make Market available EVERYWHERE, then we think that would do quite a bit to dampen piracy and help all developers trying to sell content.
Why is your most recent version being pirated when (at least this is the impression I had been under) google has offered strong measures for developers to use to combat piracy? Too long / don’t want to code it in, don’t think it’s worth your time in terms of money it might help you keep, you don’t want to curb the proliferation of your software even if a lot of it is pirated, don’t want to sell software that phones home, … what?
Google has only provided two measures, both of which seem insufficient and flawed to us.
The first was the “copy protection” checkbox. If checked, this would put your application into a special directory on the Android device. Most apps get installed under /data/app. If you had this checked, it would be put under /data/app-private. The significance here is that /data/app-private is only readable by the system, so you wouldn’t be able to copy the app off. Unfortunately, this does not stop someone who has root access. And once the APK is copied out, anyone can install it since Android allows for easy side-loading of apps (which is actually a feature we LOVE about Android, so we don’t really want to fault Android on that – users SHOULD have this ability even if it means some of them can abuse it for illegal purposes). This seems to have failed so badly that Google is actually deprecating this checkbox and replacing it with their second mechanism.
The second mechanism is Market licensing checks. This was introduced late in the game and from what we have seen of it, has several holes in it. First off, there is the issue of making sure you don’t block real users from using your app. We have seen several hiccups in Market where transactions would not go through, users would have downloads that got stuck, stats would be messed up, etc. We’re very afraid of a similar hiccup locking out our real users; to us, it is simply unacceptable to punish honest users because of the actions of dishonest pirates. In addition, if you do a detailed look around any of these piracy sites, you will see *cracked* versions of apps. This means that the developers put the check in, and it was then hacked out by the pirates. So it’s questionable just how secure this check really is.
I won’t post this but, j/w, what what are they doing, the [one crude piracy trick]? Do you have no countermeasures? Does it require at least one guy to have bought your software or are they somehow stealing it by other means? Ever consider a DCMA takedown thing or is that lame or is that a whack a mole waste of time?
See the above. Anyone can copy any Android app using adb and a little bit of Android know-how. DMCA takedown is a complete waste of time in most cases. Most of these places take around a week or so to respond (if they respond at all – hosts outside of the US often do NOT respond).
Given that your software is pretty much for the crowd of people on the internet more likely than any other group I can think of to pirate software, does that make you less pissed if you are pissed at all?
We knew the risks when we made the app. We made it anyway because we wanted to use it. We’re selling it because we want to become a real dev studio and quit our day jobs so that we can focus on mobile development 100%.
Presuming it pisses you off, what would you fantasize about doing to people who steal your software? What would you fantasize about doing to people who enable other people to steal your software?
We are pissed. But more than pissed, we’re curious.
The people who are doing this are obviously intelligent. So this means they should be able to do simple math. And simple math shows that they’re paying a highly inflated price by pirating Chandroid rather than just buying it legitimately (and this price goes up EACH MONTH as they have to spend time to hunt for a new version when new versions are completely free to customers who have paid the one time $2.99 price), so we’d like to know why and if our theory about Google Market being hard/impossible to use for some people in some regions is really the reason behind this or not.
If we are wrong about this and there are no other factors, then it means they are OK with paying more per month to get less, and are actually going out of their way to do so. If that does turn out to be the case, then we’d like to ask if any of them would be interested in renting a car from us for a year or more, where the rental fee per month would be the cost of buying the car outright and at the end, we would still own the car in its entirety. If so, we’ll drop doing software and go into the car rental business. ;p
What do you think makes these people tick, a desire to be the hero of their world of phone software pirates? Some sort of personality disorder?
For the original posters, we think it is the desire to gain attention and be the “hero”; basically they’re just attention whores.
Like we said earlier, in a way, they are simply “selling” a competing product. Our advantage here is that we have a better product (always up to date) at a much lower cost (updates are free and don’t involve any time spent on searching for it).
Attention whores go away when everyone ignores them. Right now, there is an audience for them because of the barriers to acquiring Chandroid legally. We hope that Google will move quickly to remove those barriers and make things better for everyone.
Anyways, hope this helps! -Onymous Team
I like their point of view and are very appreciative of the time they took. I presume that most people looking for cracked software do it at night so it’s no out of pocket loss to them (so they’d argue). Putting that aside (and I did just post an article the other day calling pirates ‘dicks’ so I’m with them here) I wonder why not go ad based? It’s the Android model whether anyone likes it or not. Or maybe two versions – $3 ad free, free for ads. There’s no point in pirating a ‘free’ app of course and from the Angry Birds experiment it seems like there’s still plenty of revenue to make with that model. The one advantage is that payments continue to come in over time and it’s not just a one time thing. Of course, that also takes time. Curious on their thoughts though.
The idea that it costs more to pirate is bollocks.
Lots of people (and the people more inclined to pirate) have spare time when they might well be reading sites like this. When they’re doing that, earnings is $0, so pirating (at say $2.99 per 15 mins) is a pretty good rise.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m morally opposed to software piracy, and as a small scale developer my self, I loathe those that do it to indy/small software houses, as they’re the people that really can’t afford it.
Providing a better service is about the only way you can combat it, no matter how much protection you build in, someone will work out how to get around it (they’ll probably do it as a challenge rather than they hate you though), and you’re better off just investing that time on developing better software.
There will always be software piracy, you just have to calculate whether it’s worth releasing at all.
@DavidK: I agree with you, the “freemium” model seems to work well, and from what I’ve seen of other peoples numbers, works out at about the same cost/use. Though, if people are willing to pay to get rid of ads, they’re willing to pirate to get rid of ads.
David: For these guys in particular, their software needs the screen real estate for the images (it’s an imageboard front end). In the spirit of openness, AdFree, AdBlock for mobile software, is right on the market (though it needs root at least) and their audience is especially inclined to use it and those which don’t have trained their eyes not to spend time considering whether something advertised is worth pursuing with a click.
Hope some more good comments pile in, maybe we’ll hear more from these guys and any other development tuning in.
Yet another development house that laments about testing apps on Android. I’ve had to do it, too, and it’s not fun. That’s the one thing that’s better about developing for iPhone and WP7 – great standardization.
As for piracy, l3v5y is correct – it will always be there – but it’s not about calculating whether it’s worth releasing an app at all. It’s about providing something that consumers will find useful. Most people don’t pirate. If your app/game is good, then even though some may pirate it, most will pay for it. After all, it’s not as if Microsoft could decide to just not release the next version of Windows because it would be pirated…
damn, you got one hell of a response from them. i havent had a chance to read through it, but good work
Thinking out loud here. I sympathise with the developer but unfortunately I still pirate. Onymous’s reasoning is admirable and there is some truth to it, but it’s not that simple. Truth be told, I don’t pirate nearly as much now as I did when I was a kid. Why? Probably because I have money now and because Dad never thought buying something was justified if you couldn’t run around with it and kick it through the goals (physically). I agree that it is wrong, but there’s something about software that just feels like it’s not very wrong. Look at the physical “book” that requires an idea and the printing press. Expensive to set up for, finite in number and difficult to replicate, so you pay money for them. But then software, I don’t know … I know it starts with an idea and takes time to implement in code but after that there’s no limit to the number of copies that you are allowed to sell which I find difficult to reconcile. Anyway, I rarely do it anymore because I can afford to pay and I like to appreciate the hard work. I am also still upset to this day that the Commodore Amiga died, most likely as a result of software piracy (which I contributed to as a kid) but I still reckon there are positives to piracy. Like as a kid I enjoyed the Amiga although we could never have afforded to pay 1% of the games we pirated. We use software (purchased copies) in our businesses today because we became so familiar with them through piracy as kids, ask Bill Gates if piracy is that bad, search “piracy good for business”. WP7 rocks anyway.
@Arktronic thanks for your insight here. This is something I’ve mentioned in the past and would like to point out once again. Developing a piece of software for an OS that is ever changing and has so many dozens of versions and possible hardware configurations must be a mind-numbingly frustrating experience.
norcal: I know, right? I thought I would end up emailing at least several developers to get enough material to make this article, but one email to these guys and bam, a potential record setter in comprehensiveness and insight to avoid the word length and definitely a record for a really long post to keep people reading through it to lay down some comment volume without my having even to lace it up with girly pictures — not that there’s anything wrong with that. And it’s from the guys who are behind this Chandroid software which I treasure more than any other application on my phone.
One thing that sets their flagship application apart from most others is that they are both prolific in updating the software and in that those updates pack features you actually notice and like.
After running the numbers I’m pretty curious what he/they mean by “a small studio like us,” how big an outfit they are and how much of a day job this is for them. Judging by the download numbers alone of this and their other paid software, it can’t be easy for developers of their nature to get by just letting this software ride while making regular updates.
You’ve got developers just handing their stuff out for free, you’ve got developers charging for software (some with a free version with ads), developers who pack in ads and just make a free version and developers who make a free version and an identical (no ads, not crippled) “donate” version. When the software’s good, even if I don’t use it much, I often hit the donation version (like a Locale shake condition plugin and a Google Voice callback app that completes the circle of free voip dialing which I paid for after I stopped needing it). I wonder how effective the donation model is. Guess the only way to find out is to do a poll on it…
Hey Onymous Team, how about chiming in again fellas?
Android users, here’s the market link for Chandroid (link only for android browser).
There are numerous roadblocks to us making an ad-based version. The more serious ones are:
1. It’s trivial to block ads by using an ad blocker on rooted devices. Androids are VERY easy to root; as far as we know, ALL Android devices have been rooted.
2. Like Doug mentioned, having an ad would take up screen real estate and lead to a poorer user experience. Even worse, than the screen real estate problem, ads come from online and thus take up bandwidth. For an inherently online app like Chandroid where we do our best to optimize for speed and more speed, downloading online ads would slow down performance and eat precious CPU cycles (we do 100% of the parsing ourselves, which is why Chandroid can outperform the standard browser – there is ALOT of optimizations in there). The idea that “if you pay, you will get more screen space” is so obvious that it doesn’t need explaining; explaining how running an extra thread that takes up processor and bandwidth and thus if you pay you will get an experience that is overall faster is a much harder sell. And since the speed factor is so variable given 4chan’s speed, what the ISP is giving you at any given time, your reception, etc. the most we can promise is an overall average improvement, not a hard number of X seconds shaved off. So then it’s a REALLY hard sell.
3. Versioning. It’s painful to do two versions. Potentially solveable with some fancy build scripting, but this is a nontrivial problem.
4. Ads quality. We’ve seen a few rather scary ads on some Android apps (won’t name names). These ads are “scary” in the sense that if you click through, they point at an apk from a nonmarket source. In one case, the apk that came up was something like “xxx hot bikini girls” and requested every known permission on the phone! Obvious virus is obvious, but we have moral objections to knowingly serve dangerous content. So we’re still investigating what (if any) solutions exist for us to self censor ads that we know/discover to be bad.
5. Time. Until we have a clear strategy to address the above issues, it’s a very risky gamble for us to invest time (which we have very little of to spare) into something which might not be launchable.
This isn’t to say we won’t do anything with ads, just that we won’t be doing it to Chandroid in the near future. We’re actively looking at addressing all of these issues, but as with many things, it takes a few tries before you get it right. So we’ll probably experiment with something lower profile, discover how to solve these obvious problems as well as some of the subtler non-obvious pitfalls and then take those lessons and see if they can be applied to Chandroid at a later date.
They might be sitting at $0 per hour when they are pirating, but this logic would assume there is no value to just chilling and enjoying something FUN rather than searching through various forums. Put another way, what if we paid you $1 per hour to search for all pirated versions of Chandroid and send in DMCA notices (which may or may not be respected)? $1 per hour is >$0 (and if you look at percentage increase, going from 0 to 1 is an infinite increase, kinda hard to beat), so why wouldn’t you take the job? If your answer is something along the lines of “it’s not a fun job”, “I’d feel like I didn’t accomplish anything more than running in place”, “my free time is more valuable to me than that”, etc. then those are the same types of answers we mean when we claim that piracy is more expensive.
Even if we sweetened the deal and said we’d pay you $12 an hour ($3 per 15 min), you probably would NOT spend all of your available time doing this job. There comes a tipping point where people simply NEED to have time off; that’s why overtime pay is more than regular pay.
Note that we’d be alot more inclined to agree with your comment in the world of shrink wrapped software that cost more than $50 and is updated less than once a month. In those cases, absolutely, the idea that piracy could cost more than going legit is “bollocks”. But at $2.99 and weekly updates, it’s a different ball game.
The bottom line is that if these pirates find it fun to do forum searches constantly as opposed to spending that time enjoying these products and have no respect/value for their own time, then we’d actually feel sorry for their sad existence.
@Arktronic and @Chris Leiter
Agreed that it’s extraordinarily painful. But we still have a soft spot in our hearts for Android. We love the choice and power it gives users. While it’s not 100% open (carrier crapware, rooting still requires a hack and cannot be directly enabled, etc.), it’s definitely much more open and empowering for end users than the competition.
Part of that empowerment comes from user choice. You want a large screen for watching movies and gaming? There’s an Android for that. You want a tiny little Android that fits in your tiny little purse? There’s an Android for that. You want a keyboard because you text 24/7? There’s an Android for that. You want a slimmed down Android that looks super sleek? There’s an Android for that. You hate Carrier X and would prefer to go with Carrier Y? There’s an Android for that. Unfortunately, this is a double edged sword as then you hit the problem of needing to test against all these devices.
All of that having been said, we actually feel that Android fragmentation has been focusing on the WRONG issue. By and large, the Android SDK level APIs are fairly stable and work correctly across devices. We’ve only hit ONE instance of a customer complaining about a crash, which after we traced it, appears to have been caused by Motorola not fully upgrading their Backflip (was missing an API call that was supposed to be there on 2.1). Even that problem was solveable by using reflection (which we needed to do anyways for compatibility with 1.5 devices).
The biggest issue is all the non-SDK stuff that utilizes the Intents system. For example, what confidence can a dev have that the gallery app will behave as expected? Since the different branded versions of Android use different gallery apps, this is a non trivial problem. We’ve even discovered Intent differences between stock Android’s own gallery in Donut vs newer releases (Android switched from an inhouse solution to an acquired 3rd party solution from CoolIris). This is an EXTREMELY hard (potentially unsolvable) problem.
On the one hand, you want to use Intents as much as possible so your app integrates cleanly with the system and presents users with interfaces they are already familiar with. On the other, you want to make sure your app runs stably because a crash in the other app still reflects poorly on your app. We’ve found users cannot differentiate when the app we called has crashed vs when we are crashing on our own. As far as the user was concerned, they were trying to use our app and something went wrong, therefore we are at fault. Period. So there have been cases where we actually had to copy-pasta code from stock Android into our codebase just because one or two phones failed to implement their branded version of the same thing correctly.
We agree with your general sentiment, but there are a few parts of it where we might have to just agree to disagree. 😉
1. “there’s no limit to the number of copies that you are allowed to sell” is false. Ever try to run an old DOS game? How well does that work outside of a DOS vm? If there were Amiga games on the store shelves next to the PS3 games, selling for the same price as when they first came out, how many people would buy them? If 4chan makes a massive change next week and we don’t do any updates, how many people will keep buying Chandroid?
In all of these cases, the answer is that for any of these products to sell, they need to keep up with the times. The old DOS game needs to switch to modern APIs (and probably implement some kind of rate limit so that the game doesn’t run faster than the blink of an eye). Those Amiga games need a serious overhaul of their graphics, sound, and probably storyline (or else you need to bundle several of them together, port it to a newer platform, and sell it as a pack of games for nostalgia value). And we need to keep Chandroid up to date and in sync with whatever the chans are doing so that it continues to deliver excellent usability and value to our loyal customers.
All of these above actions take developer time (and thus $$$). So there IS maintenance cost associated with software if it is to continue selling.
Also, keep in mind that there is more than just maintenance costs (especially for mobile apps with frequent updates such as Chandroid) – there are also costs for expansion and enhancement. We are committed to doing more than just keeping Chandroid running, we want to make sure it runs BETTER. We hope that this will improve the value proposition so that someone who hasn’t bought Chandroid will decide to buy it, plus we wanted to give back something to our early adopters by giving them some free added value. These early adopters definitely deserve to get some perks since they were the ones who bought it first, gave good feedback, and helped increase our popularity through word of mouth. So that’s all well and good, but at the end of the day, that does mean we have more expenses and are nowhere close to being able to just sit on what we’ve done.
2. “We use software (purchased copies) in our businesses today because we became so familiar with them through piracy as kids”. We’d change that statement to be: “we use purchased copies in our businesses today because businesses are large entities that Microsoft can easily sue out of existence and have alot more to lose than individuals + are much easier to chase down”.
Points that we wholeheartedly agree with you on:
“Anyway, I rarely do it anymore because I can afford to pay and I like to appreciate the hard work.” – Exactly. THANK YOU! This is what we hope most people who pirate Chandroid will come to think and feel.
And “I am also still upset to this day that the Commodore Amiga died, most likely as a result of software piracy” – yeah, so despite any positives, it CAN still be deadly to some. And for small indie developers, it’s significantly harder to absorb these costs.
Sorry, but we don’t give out our internal structure, including number of members. We will say though that we are a very small team and that our earnings at this point amount to some extra income but nowhere near enough to support us/our families and be considered a “day job”.
No clue how well the donate model works, but we probably won’t experiment with that any time soon. Ironically, we’ve seen donate apps pirated, even when the dev has an identical, no ads, all features FREE version. Not sure what the purpose of pirating it is aside to have a version of the app that says “look at me, I donated!”. That’s kind of like going to a cancer benefit, swiping a bumper sticker that says “I’m helping to put an end to cancer” without donating a single penny, and then proudly pasting that on your car. Really just sad more than anything else when you think about it.
That’s some insightful expert-witness shit right there, thanks for fielding all these questions. I’ve got one more if you’re in the mood, though you may understandably be out of steam…
If you could mix and match traits from all the mobile platforms to form the ideal platform you wish you and developers like you could code for in order to try to make a living, where would you go with that?
And a Chandroid-specific question if you don’t mind, when you open a thread that’s nothing but images and you want to get as much as you can downloaded before you hit the subway and lose your signal, how fast can you slide down the thread to queue up images to download, do you have to scroll no faster than the thing downloads (otherwise it skips images? Is it a function of how fast you’re downloading the images?)… How many images does it buffer and grab down below of what’s visible on the screen and above? Is it a byte limit, image limit or post limit? Is the reason it doesn’t just plow through a thread on its own, all the way down and without stopping, because you want to go easy on the bandwidth of the chans you attach this to? Bandwidth diplomacy?
Were you to code it for the iPhone and Windows Phone, and I guess Blackberry too to be even more hypothetical, do you think it’s extremely likely that either or both of their respective market/app store people would reject you even though you’re just providing the conduit to these boards and you’re otherwise not associated with them? Let’s say someone else ripped you off and got something in to the App Store or wherever, a paid version of what is essentially your software, what if anything would you do?
Feature request, same subway situation: when I lose my signal but I’m in a thread which I did not archive but loaded a fair amount of content, I have to be careful not to jump out of the thread or run enough other applications that Chandroid closes otherwise if I try to get back in it assumes the thread 404ed and the board as well. Would be nice if it could somehow preserve whatever is most recently in the cache for better offline activity and not assume things are 404ing because the signal’s gone.
Okay I’ll stop.
@Arktronic: That’s the level of calculation I mean, if it’s going to make money/make consumers happy, it’s worth releasing, even if it’s pirating. It’s still a bloody pain though!
@Onymous Heroes: Thanks for your reply.
Whilst I probably wouldn’t take you up on your offer of $1 per hour to sit and search for pirate apps (I’m more interested in hacking WP7 for free), at $12 it’s more tempting.
Thing is, it’s a surprisingly brainless task to pirate an app (if it’s been cracked) and the perceived cost of time spent searching a forum is sometimes lower than the perceived cost of paying for an app. If your choice is 5-10 minutes of an evening finding an app, or $3, I’d probably side with the people that just download a cracked version.
I appreciate that you pump out large numbers of updates (I know how hard it is to make each update worthwhile whilst releasing that frequently), but even at 2-3 updates a week, it’s still not a huge amount of time or brain power. (The type of person that pirates apps probably does spend a considerable amount of time on the net browsing forums etc, so it’s nothing they wouldn’t normally do).
What I think would be interesting is finding out how many users of apps have pirated ones, rather than licensed ones. That’s an impossible thing to find out accurately, but I have a suspicion that piracy is not particularly common, and doesn’t massively effect the money making ability of most apps.
Most Android uses haven’t rooted their device, and have no idea that “root” is anything other than a bit of a plant. They won’t bother to pirate apps, it’s not worth it in their mind.
The ideal mobile platform would have the openess/hackability of Android, the elegance/robustness/consistency of iPhone, and a visual design tool that can rival Visual Studio for Windows Phone 7.
That having been said, we feel Android has the best shot at achieving that status, given another 2 years or so to mature. The openess/hackability is such a core part of that platform’s DNA (not to mention Google’s DNA) that we can’t really see it ever going away. The new stuff released about Honeycomb at CES definitely shows the UI is catching up in terms of elegance. We hope that user demand for a system that just works reliably and consistently will be heard loud and clear by Google. And we hope that developers will continue to push Android to improve its tooling support.
As we mentioned before, the worst part of fragmentation is not knowing which parts of the built in apps can be relied upon when calling them via the Intents mechanism. In the best case scenario, Google decrees a standardized set of Intents for Honeycomb (including what their inputs and outputs are) and as part of their definition of being “Android compatible”, manufacturers have to support those Intents in the EXACT same way as stock Android. In the worst case scenario, Google does NOTHING and developers will end up duplicating code from stock Android as they learn which apps could change/are unreliable across platforms. Note that even in this worst case, the problem will still go away and users will get a better overall experience since developers will eventually learn what is guaranteed to work and what isn’t. We know that we have certainly learned quite a bit since when we first started about which Intents can always be used, which can’t be used at all, and which have to be put through a few extra checks before we can decide whether to use the Intent or our own workaround version. This experience has greatly contributed to improving the stability of Chandroid.
Regarding your Chandroid question, if you have both pre-caching options enabled, you WILL effectively be downloading as many images as you can. Scrolling does not actually help it download, although you may perceive it as being helpful. The way our algorithm works is that if precaching is enabled, we WILL attempt to fetch all images in that thread. However, if you scroll to something, we will prioritize that image before the other images that you aren’t viewing. So it’s really just order of downloads, not how many get downloaded. If you never scrolled and just waited, eventually everything would still download.
And we are working on your feature request. 🙂 The plan is to have full thread watching where you can mark a thread as something that you are interested in. Chandroid will then periodically refresh that thread for you until you stop it (or until that thread is dead). Think of it as similar to thread archiving, except in a more continuous (and temporary) way. So it would be resilient to connection loss as you can always view what has already been downloaded.
If we built on other platforms, we’re not sure what the rejection scenario would be. As we have always maintained, we are simply a browser and there is lots of SFW content on 4chan. If you point your browser at something NSFW, then that’s your business, not ours, and if an app store wants to remove our app, then perhaps they should also remove their default web browser. Also, fwiw, we do know that iPhone actually has a similar app released about a week or so after our app, so we don’t think rejection would be likely; after all, given Apple’s reputation for banning apps, if Apple let something like this through, then it’s a pretty good precedent that it’s OK.
We’re not sure what we’d do if another developer ripped us off on a different platform. In most cases (such as the iPhone case), we’d probably treat it as a compliment; after all, imitation is the best form of flattery. It’d also mean that we are onto something and that other developers agree that users are interested in, and will probably pay, for a better, more streamlined imageboard experience.
We’d obviously be less happy about a total clone, but we can’t see that happening very easily, especially if we’re talking about ports to other platforms. Keep in mind that for other platforms, a significant amount of rewriting would be needed and to make a good app, you’d need to follow the conventions of that platform as much as possible. That’s why a good iPhone UI styled app would look out of place on Android and be perceived as a “bad app” and vice versa. Case in point, ever see an Android app that went full screen and put on an iPhone styled back button? There’s nothing stopping a dev from doing that, but that would be completely wtfing to an Android user as Android has a back button and users aren’t used to pressing an onscreen back button. Aside: this is actually a pet peeve of ours with several games that were ported from iPhone; they’re wasting screen space with buttons that already exist on Android, and sometimes the buttons that exist don’t even work in their app!
We’re definitely interested in porting Chandroid to other platforms, although development costs become a signficant issue there so we haven’t established any timeline for doing this. We’ve been developing on our personal phones and testing on phones from friends and family (+ asking IDEAL for alot of spot testing help). These are our ACTUAL phones, not devices dedicated for development purposes. So we’d have to go out and buy additional phone contracts (or more likely, go contractless and pay the full amount) when we decide to start building for these other platforms. :-/ Note that if we ported it, we’d follow our own advice and actually change up the UI to conform with what makes sense for that platform. Given that + the fact that the other platforms do not use Android Java, doing a port is closer to doing a rewrite since the only real advantages we’d have would be experience with how the chans work, what features to implement, and what programming abstractions to use.
You hit the nail on the head when you said “the perceived cost of time spent searching a forum is sometimes lower than the perceived cost of paying for an app”. That is precisely the reason why we believe the people who can buy Chandroid legitimately, yet choose to pirate Chandroid do so. They *perceive* that they are saving money, when if they actually went through the breakdown of time spent, they’re not.
And yeah, they might be browsing these forums anyway, but even then, to pirate Chandroid means clicking on the rapidshare/megaupload/whatever link, waiting XX seconds, solving a captcha, hitting download, unzipping it to sd card, and then opening it up in an app installer. It’s trivial when you just have to do it once or twice, but when you have to do it repeatedly, it becomes a chore. Plus you NEVER know when you’ll need the update; if it happens when you’re away from your PC, then lol, you won’t have the instant gratification of being able to lurk at that moment in time. Yeah, maybe it’s not that big a deal, but it’s still an annoyance and these annoyances add up over time. For a $50+ app, maybe they’ll never add up to convincing someone to go legit, but we think that at a mere $2.99, the conveniences that come with buying the app are quite compelling.
We have to disagree though with your statement that Android piracy is not a big problem. It’s a huge problem. We’ve tried to carefully track how much piracy there is for our app, and given the number of forum posts, the post views those receive, the download counts where available, etc. + seeing all the other apps that have been posted out there, we believe the number of people who run pirated apps is a significant proportion of the Android population.
Keep in mind that you need root to copy an app that you have bought off your phone and post it to the various piracy forums. However, to be on the RECEIVING end, you just need the APK file and rooting is NOT needed. This is because Android has support for sideloading apps by DEFAULT. There are many legitimate reasons for having sideloading, including but not limited to: 1. regression tracking where you can easily switch between different versions of your app to track down when something broke, 2. emailing your app to yourself or a colleague so that you/they can load it onto another phone since you got mugged and your phone was stolen right before an important demo, 3. lowering the technical competency bar for your beta testers so that you can just send them a pre-release apk and it will work for them. All 3 are real life scenarios, and as a result, we actually put out a free APK installer on Market during the Froyo timeframe when a previously existing app installer that we had been using stopped working due to Froyo compatibility issues.
Despite the fact that sideloading has greatly increased piracy and hurt us as a company trying to sell apps, we stand by and applaud Google’s decision to have sideloading support on the Android. And yes, we do realize the irony that some pirates who steal Chandroid are installing it on their phones using our Onymous App Installer. Talk about biting the hand that feeds… :-/
Like most things, piracy on Android is a continuum. There are few people who have NEVER pirated an app and few that pirate ALL apps. We strongly believe that most people buy a few apps and pirate a few apps.
We realize and accept that there is some fraction of the population which will not buy, no matter what. But what we hope is that we can convince that group in the middle to move our app out of their pirated column and into their bought column by providing a great experience with excellent service for a fair price.
Have you considered using a server-side solution to do all of the screen-scraping? The benefits would include:
1. Easy updates
2. Ability to charge users more directly (PayPal or something) while making the app free in the Market
3. Much easier creation of ports to other platforms
4. Excellent piracy protection (since only authorized users can access your servers)
Naturally, the biggest negative would be server costs associated with downloading/uploading all that imageboard content, so it may not be financially sound in the end, but it’s still something to consider, IMO.