Monument Valley developer sheds light on recent Android “piracy” controversy

by: Jimmy WestenbergJanuary 7, 2015

Monumental Valley

Monument Valley has been all over the place lately. It recently made our list as one of the best designed Android games of 2014, as well as Google’s list of 102 best games of the year. It has especially been talked about thanks to the developer’s decision to charge a (relatively) high price for the game, at a time when premium titles are especially popular. Whether you think the game is too expensive or not, I think we can all agree that this game is beautifully done. On Monday, developer Ustwo took to Twitter and has caused quite a commotion ever since. The tweet reads:

At first time hearing this statistic, you’re likely thinking, “There’s no way that can be right!” If you are, you’re not alone. Not only did it get the Twitterverse riled up because of this tweet, it also irked a ton of people over on Reddit. In response to the backlash of the Internet, Monument Valley producer Dan Gray sat down for an interview with Re/code to clear the air on a few things.

monument valley

Gray explained that a few things have been misconstrued with his statistic. First, a portion of the 95% of unpaid Android apps go to installs on multiple devices. So, if a user buys the game on their phone and installs it on their tablet, their statistic would fall in the 95% range.

Some Redditors pointed out that Monument Valley has been briefly made free for download on Amazon’s Appstore. By Ustwo’s Dan Gray says the 400,000 free downloads from Amazon were not included in the 95 percent statistic.

Gray explained that Ustwo has no deep insight in the installation statistics, so it can’t tell what proportions of the non-paid installations are piracy or simply people running the legitimately bought game on multiple devices.

To further muddy up the data, when asked why there’s such a big difference in numbers between Android and iOS, Gray explains:

It probably comes down to how tech-savvy the user actually is, and probably region, as well. When you compare the most affluent regions, obviously that kind of slants it toward developing markets and Android devices, where people are less inclined to spend $4 on a game. Let’s say you take U.S. only: Those paid rates for Android and iOS are actually considerably closer. They’re closer than five and 40 percent.

So, could the developer have been a tad more clear on the statistics? Sure. But the tweet is completely factual, and nobody should blame them for that. Since these statistics aren’t region specific and because we don’t have exact numbers, it’s tough to tell how many Android or iOS users are actually pirating the game.

Ustwo says it’s not particularly bothered by piracy, regardless of how high it is. Said Gray:

The best way I like to think about it is, the majority of those users probably wouldn’t have bought the game anyway. So it’s not like we’re losing revenue. And, of course, I’m sure some of those users have recommended the game to friends who maybe aren’t as tech-savvy as they are. It’s essentially free marketing. When I say we’re not complaining about that ratio, that kind of ratio was expected before we made the game and it’s not that surprising now that we’ve released the game. You just roll with the punches.

There’s much more to Dan Gray’s interview over at Re/code, and I definitely recommend you take a look for some more insight. Also, if you have yet to download Monument Valley, you should definitely do that, too.

Of course, there are successful paid and successful free games out there, but do you think, as a developer, all of this is worth the hassle of not knowing real numbers? What are your thoughts on free vs. paid apps? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

  • xtremevicky

    Dont like Freemium model yet.

    Paid for Monument valley and have installed it on 4 devices that I have used this year. So I am 75% pirate according to them :P

    • bolski

      BTW, I know you’re being sarcastic, but it does seem to imply in the article that they don’t like that once you pay for an app on Google Play, it can be on any device you log in under with your Google account.

      Same goes for iOS though. My daughter has both an iPad mini and an iPhone and once she’s purchased an app on either the tablet or phone, it can be installed on the other device without purchasing again. They don’t seem to complain about that on iOS. Only on android.

      Pfft. Maybe I just won’t buy from them anymore. And no, I won’t pirate it either.

      • Trina Morgan

        If they don’t like it being installed on multiple devices, then say that. Don’t call it piracy.

      • tralalalalalala50

        They aren’t complaining. Either android users own 5x as many phones and download the app in every device they own, or there is more piracy.

    • JosephHindy

      They didn’t say it was piracy, they simply stated that only 5% of players actually paid for it. The original statement did not use the word “pirate” or “piracy” at all.

      • Ruben

        But he did pay for it! I’ve got a special Google account for the whole family everyone logs in on that account on their phone or tablet and everyone can access all paid apps altogether we purchased over a hundred apps and probably installed those apps over a thousand times. Action Launcher for example, bought it once and used it 21 times.

  • bat0nas

    Got it 4free from Amazon and paid for DLC.
    I’m half pirate :D

    Personally I don’t think Apple users pirate much. Jailberaking the device, keeping it up to date (latest OS), finding installation files etc. require both – time and competence. Pirating on Android is sooo easy compared.

    Android even has a “Pirate” button in the settings :D It’s called “allow installation from unknown sources” or smth like that.

    • MasterMuffin

      Exactly. You don’t need root to pirate, but you need jailbreak to pirate. More poorer users and pirating made much, much easier → more pirates

    • Kevin Bartolome

      That “pirate” button made you install Amazon Appstore on your phone, anyway.

    • Love the “Pirate button” bit. It’s completely true!

  • Aditya Bhatt

    But 5% of Android users does make a big figure.

    • JosephHindy

      No, 5% of the Android users that play this game actually paid for it. Say 100k people play the game, that would mean 5k actually bought it. Not 5% of the overall Android user base.

      • Aditya Bhatt

        Oh yes you are right! They should go for ad based revenue as pirating in Android is a child’s play.

        • tralalalalalala50

          But there are ad blockers on android, so there is actually no great way to make money on android as a random developer, that’s why developers are still iOS 1st and android as an afterthought (because they have found that if they release on android, even if they make no money, more people on iOS download the app and they make more money from that).

  • Guest123

    1b Android users 5% is 50m and if the game cost $2, they earn $100m so far :O

    • Aditya Bhatt

      Noo just 5% of the total people who have Monument Valley installed!

      • Guest123

        Ops lol was just kidding on that haha. Pretty sure there are no 1b Android users too, devices yeah.

  • bolski

    This is why Twitter is bad in this respect. not enough room to tweet and what the meaning of the tweet was gets lost. Still, I’m sure there are plenty of iOS users with multiple devices. Heck, I know families that have both an iPhone and an iPad. So, I’m not so sure about that stat. Seems more like android bashing than anything else.

    I purchased my copy. I buy my software if it’s worth it. And now with Google extending the refund time to about 2 hours, you have enough time to download and try out an app to determine if it’s worth keeping.

    Oh, and just because an Android device is rooted, the majority of users that do that are doing so NOT to pirate, but to have even more control over what is installed and what isn’t (removing bloatware), flashing custom ROMs, enhancements, etc.

    • JD

      It was definitely developer misunderstanding of Google’s vague metrics initially. (which is understandable). However, it was also clear that he was trying to bash Android with that misinformation in mind. Without understand that installing on multiple devices, or even reinstalling after a factory reset, new rom, etc, all increased that ‘piracy’ number.

      Even with twitter’s limited room, he did try to do some damage control saying he didn’t use the word “piracy” after so many users corrected him…even though the tweet below clearly used that word. As long as he gets it now then no worries because starting flame wars is rather pointless in this era of smartphones. It’s not 2009 anymore.

      • rogue3

        It’s not the first time he’s gotten down on Android. There was another expansion that he did in partnership with Apple for a charity. He said he wasn’t going to port it to Android because that percentage of users was too low to make it worth his time. For whatever reason, I think he just doesn’t like Android/Android users.

        I got the app free through Amazon, then paid for the first expansion pack. When I heard there was another I was excited and had my money ready. Too bad for him that he won’t get it.

    • MasterMuffin

      You don’t need root to pirate though

  • Rasta Unlock

    Fun fact, owning 4 android devices(1+ and 3 bb10) in the house, each has around 50-150 apps installed. Never paid a single cent for an app or game. Neither iap. Why? Neither paypal nor credit card supported as a payment method. So, yea their math is probably correct.

    • JD

      You can use PayPal to buy apps, games,music, etc but not physical content like accessories or devices: see there if your country isn’t listed perhaps that’s why.
      As an alternative, most retailers sell google play giftcards so you can buy those too if you really wanted to buy something.

  • I paid for it….2 phones ago. So I guess I’m pirating?? It is a shame tho because I know there are people out there that actually download the game illegally. It’s no wonder why they charge 4 bucks and/or put the in-app purchases in a game to make money.

  • Bob

    Android, piracy galore

    If it wasnt free, it would be pirated instead. Google chose a weird market to cater to. No wonder they arent making any money of android

    • Seth Forbus

      Do you have any idea what you are talking about? Android is FREE. Google didn’t intend to make money on the OPERATING SYSTEM. They make money by you using their services. Advertising revenue. Your comment seriously gave me cancer. I’ve never pirated an Android app. I buy the app once, then I get it as a download on my Galaxy Note 4, Ouya, Nexus 7, and Nvidia shield. These numbers are so skewed.

  • hzd

    Why don’t they just implement a key system, where you get a key that’s unique to your device when you purchase the app and it allows it to be installed on up to 4 devices that Google play account is linked to your gmail address.

    This way people can install it on mutipul devices easily and then when you login to the game they can know how many installs pass the correct key and which ones bypass it and block them from using it, this way people who pirate it can be dealt with as they install the app a pirated way, sure they will try and by pass the key but at least they would have more control over their installs.

    • Terrible idea. Have had apps in the past that use a key system, and I, like many Android users, flash ROM updates daily/weekly…
      So if the key isn’t saved during an app backup you will quickly run out of keys… What then? Constantly ask for new ones?

      • hzd

        If your flashing new ROMs then you can use an app like Titanium back up or better yet learn to flash a ROM via recovery and wipe System and cashes and not data.

        You only need to clear System and caches anyway to flash an incremental update of the same ROM, if your flashing lots of ROMs any you should be backing up apps anyway to save keep pulling down your apps every reinstall.

        Also people who flash ROMs is a much smaller percentage than people who just use their Stock ROM

        Flashers are a minority and should know better about backing stuff up

        • Thanks Captain Obvious…

          I did mention that keys usually don’t get saved during an app backup… There I said it… BACKUP… should have given you a hint that titanium backup comes into play.

          Sometimes it is good to do a full wipe, and THAT’S when the issue falls into play.

          Hate it when people assume someone isn’t clued up about flashing/recovery/backup by one post…

          • JosephHindy

            Maybe you shouldn’t be flashing a new ROM every 4 days? You have to remember that the ROM community, while very loud, is actually quite small comparatively speaking. A staggering majority of people don’t ROM.

          • Every 4 days? I flash daily :P
            But I’m not moaning myself as I don’t have the issues myself, was just speculating.

            But very good point, the ROM community is a drop in the ocean.

          • JosephHindy

            I remember Google Play Music tried something a while back that made ROM users angry where you couldn’t deauthorize more than 10 devices a year. What sucks for Google is most bloggers are root users and, thus, when we all complained about it, it made the issue sound worse than it really was.

          • Seth Forbus

            I work in I.T. almost all my friends and co-workers root.

          • JosephHindy

            That’s still a very small data set. You work in IT (e.g. full of tech nerds) and they all root (an activity indicative of tech nerds). All you can say for certain is that your tech nerd friends are normal :P

          • derp hurr-durr


            Screw those ROM users because….?

          • JosephHindy

            Because there are only a few thousand of you. It’s easier to assimilate them to the whole rather than assimilate 99.9% of those who don’t do what ROM users do.

          • hzd

            That’s what app data is for, but anyway you appear to know all this so I can’t see why your so narked.

            Doing a full wipe is recommended when changing ROMs, if your flashing the same ROM with updates and patches your pushing new files into the system partition so in theory you can keep your data and system and flash over if you’d like but your better off wiping system and caches and flash the newer build and let it re compile the caches on first boot.

            And regardless it was not aimed at you, it was more general to people who flash and don’t know so much as others.

            Have a nice day

    • Jeffrey Heesch

      That sounds horrible. Not only would it do nothing to stop piracy, it would just create roadblocks and an overall bad user experience for the people who actually paid for it.

  • Marty

    Jeeeze…there’s some real cheapskates out there. Why pirate? Don’t those pirates know they are a cancer that can kill the system?

  • fcjan

    well next time don’t make game that cost 3.77$ for 30min of gameplay then release few more levels and charge users again.. got Monument Valley for free from Amazon, finished it in about 15 minutes, laughed when promped to buy more levels and uninstalled it.. it looked cool, I guess, but I still don’t understand all the praise, it’s nothing more then very simple puzzle game with nice visuals, 0.99$ MAX

  • DonPorazzo

    I wonder how much money they did on iOS Monument Valley, and how much money they did on Android Monument Volley.

    • JosephHindy

      The answer to that question is probably why game devs go for iOS first…and why iOS makes more money in the app game than Android does.

  • if i had some play store credits i will buy it but im from chile and i have 16 yrs old
    1 i dont have a credit card for playstore money
    2in my country dont sell giftcards of playstore :(

    • ninux

      Ask for a prepaid debit card on your birthday or christmas, then enter your data and the card’s data, and you can now buy apps and games, that’s how I started buying apps when my country didn’t have playstore giftcards.

    • StormyEarth

      you don’t look 16. you look like a 25 years old premium slut who charge thousands of dollars for one night.

      • Natasha Nice

        i m a disqus profile im actually using my account like a woman who gots money for sleep with good boys ;D because i can got more likes

        • StormyEarth

          but you are still a slut right? :3

          • Natasha Nice

            no, im a young boy men (really)

  • John Johnson


    5% installs on Android Paid for. 94.9% installs on Android free through Amazon?

    (“Paid for” could also have wiggle room – they could say they meant “full price” and be excluding all holiday sales as a result to bolster the “zOMG! Piracy!” line…not to mention the “bought it one one device, installed it on another” mentioned in the article – completely legit and not at all “piracy”.)

    I have MV installed on 4 devices. Obviously, I paid for it once. That’s 3 installs “not paid for”. The tweet is meaningless.

    Tweets suck for this type of stuff. Great for sensational claims you don’t have to back up, but utterly useless to form any kind of basis for a rational and reasoned discussion on the topic. My general rule of thumb: If tweeted: ignored.

  • That Guy

    I wonder if humble mobile bundle sales and and downloads were factored in… That is where I got my copy from granted it was a discounted price. I have a feeling that it would show up as not being paid for but I don’t know.

  • Android Developer

    Aren’t free apps on Amazon actually being paid by Amazon?
    Also, I think there is a way to check correctly the statistics, and I also think that 40% for IOS is also weird . This means that 60% have a pirated version of it, on a closed OS?
    Doesn’t purchasing on IOS work the same? If you purchase an app via your iPhone, doesn’t it mean you can install it on the iPad for free?

  • Aces

    In my experience, everyone I know who has bought an I-whatever only did so because it’s trending and they had the money to do so. So of course apple users would spend more on games! They’re like the people who buy a bugatti veyron and tune it even more; no brains and too much cash

  • Jeffrey Heesch

    Am I the only one shaking his head at the thought of $4 being too expensive?

    Anyway, there are a few reasons I can think of for why there’s such a big difference. One is that Android has a large community of ROM flashers. Every time you do that, you have to reinstall Monument Valley. With iOS, there’s none of that, so no iOS user is going to be wiping their data all the time. Two is that Android has a huge presence in a number of countries where paid applications still can’t be sold, so anyone who wants Monument Valley in those places can only have it through piracy. I’m sure many if not most of them would be happy to pay for it if they could.

    • Hisham

      I’d pay $10 for it if i have to because it worth it.

  • Hisham

    honestly i paid the $4 then paid the $2 for the extra levels & i’d pay $10 for it if i have to, i played a lot of games & paid for a lot, this game worth every penny not because it was “great graphics” but because it was a new great idea (not completely) but still, i purchased Leo’s fortune & it’s wayyy better in graphics than this one, but i enjoyed monument valley so much & i wish if i can format my brain so i can play it again & again.

  • Seth Forbus

    These statistics piss me off. The statistics are quite muddy. Either way, I paid for the game, but I wish I wouldn’t have purchased it. I’m disappointing to have supported a dev sending out misleading information to the public.

  • kyle

    They are trying to shame users into paying for the game, and they have a right to do so. The sales figures on the game are dismal for being a top 10 paid app at 100k installs. At least half of users will get it from black mart sadly. They would gain more downloads if they lower the price temporarily I think, piracy can spread the popularity of a game, but its a double edged blade. Don’t expect that every pirate would pay for the game if they couldn’t pirate it but rather that the more people that play it may tell a friend to try the game. Android users are very reluctant to spend money, just look at the ratio of installs between the top paid games in the Top Free Games. I am a game developer myself. My top game is called Eat Dirt Hillclimb and it has 10k installs to put it in perspective

  • herb warren

    MV is worth the $4 I paid for it. Great graphics and game play.