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App developer says Android is “designed for piracy,” open-source not good for business

July 26, 2012

A few days ago we learned that Madfinger Games’ zombie-killing first-person shooter game Dead Trigger has been made available as a free download from Google Play. Then the developer explained the decision to go free on Android instead of pricing the game at $0.99: “unbelievably high” piracy was apparently the main reason for doing so.

At the time we reminded you that we don’t condone app piracy here at Android Authority and that developers also need to make money in order to continue creating amazing app and games for our mobile devices

The Dead Trigger Facebook-told tale made one other app developer jot down his thoughts on the matter on his personal blog, and in doing so he basically reached at an unsurprising conclusion, at least for some developers, that “closed is better for business” instead of open-source.

Matt Gemmell said Android, as an ecosystem is designed for piracy, as users are able to bypass the Google Play store easily – without rooting/unlocking their devices – and get pirated copies of paid apps rather than actually buying them:

[How to download pirated apps?] Pretty easy. You search the internet for pirate copies of apps, then copy them onto your (regular, unrooted, non-“jailbroken”) device, and launch them. The system is designed for piracy from the ground up. The existence of piracy isn’t a surprise, but rather an inevitability.

According to Gemmell, while open-source is good in theory, it’s not good for the developers from the business perspective:

People have to get paid. There has to be a revenue stream. You can’t reliably have that revenue stream if the platform itself and the damaged philosophy behind it actively sabotages commerce. If you want a platform to be commercially viable for third-party software developers, you have to lock it down. Just like in real life, closing the door and locking it helps make sure that your money remains yours.

The developer acknowledges that the open-source business model may be lucrative for Google, which is making money from advertising on the Android-based handsets sold by carriers, but that developers will not enjoy the same perks, as they worry for survival: “keeping food on the tablet, and making sure the lights stay on.”

At the end of the day, even though open-source works, in theory, Gemmell argues that “nothing is free,” and that it takes a lot of effort and time to make products whether mobile devices or the apps that make them smart – even though some of these products will be sold for subsidized devices or priced at around a dollar in digital content stores.

Is Gemmell off the mark or is he right?

The closed vs open argument is an “old” one in the post-iPhone smartphone business, and while Google is controlling the most important slice of the smartphone business, when it comes to revenue it’s Apple that makes the most money off its mobile devices. And it’s also Apple that generates more money for developers – to date, $5.5 billion have been paid to iOS app developers by the company.

In late 2011, Eric Schmidt made one of his famous comments that we won’t easily forget. Speaking at LeWeb 2011 in Paris, France he said that in six months from then, therefore in mid-2012, developers will choose Android over iOS as the main developing platform, and port their apps from Android to iOS than the other way, which is how it usually happens.

According to the same Schmidt, Ice Cream Sandwich should have played a major role in reducing fragmentation in the Android ecosystem and help with convincing developers to go Android first. Unfortunately for Google, ICS is still only on over 10% of devices, and various device makers are still preparing to roll out Android 4.0.x updates even though the next-gen OS is already here.

With that in mind, we’re looking forward to hear more from app developers in general. What is the most lucrative ecosystem for you, iOS or Android? Are you creating apps first for iOS and porting them to Android later or the other way around? Do you agree or disagree with what Gemmell said in his lengthy “Closed for Business” piece?