iPhone app dev says piracy doubled his sales

A software developer says piracy more than doubled sales of his iPhone game, pushing the title up Apple's App Store rankings.

Daniel Amitay says the 99-cent title, Punch 'Em, which lets users fight each other through their phones' cameras, was his first foray into creating a paid-for application, so he decided to write a blog on the effect that the Christmas season had on sales.

What Amitay discovered when he looked at his figures was altogether more surprising: sales had gone up - but it wasn't the festive season he had to thank for it. It was pirates.

On his blog, Amitay analysed two 17-day periods, from 4th-20th December; and from 30th December to 15th January, charting both the levels of sales and of piracy.

During the first period, sales figures were fairly flat, and slightly higher than the level of piracy. But when the stats pick up on 30th December, piracy is 39 times higher than in the previous stretch - the result, says Amitay, of a "huge pirating push" just before Christmas.

But, as well as a massive increase in illegal copying, Amitay also noticed that sales of the game had more than doubled.

The rise in sales, he says, cannot be attributed to Christmas, as the effect of the holiday period only lasts for a few days and it doesn't alter Apple's rankings, because all vendors benefit from a similar lift.

Although Amitay still regards piracy as theft, he concedes that it provided a boom in sales he had previously failed to achieve.

"Throughout Punch 'Em!'s paid lifetime, I couldn't raise its sales count in the long term," the developer said on his blog. "So if thousands of users end up pirating my app, but hundreds buy it as a result of hearing about it from their pirate buddies, why should I cry?"

It's an unusual line from someone in the games industry - particularly an indie developer - but Amitay reluctantly admits that piracy is good for business.

Amitay says he even went as far as removing a line that he'd included in the code of an earlier version of the game, which detected if the copy had been cracked, and shut itself down.

This prevented piracy - but it also prevented the game from being passed on to potential new converts.

"My app quit almost immediately," he says. "So why share it at all?"

"The alternative for me is no pirates, but fewer sales," he says. "Bottom line: people stealing my app has increased my sales."