Miguel Sanchez-Grice, creator of the iCombat app (a remake of the old Atari game), sent us these stats on piracy of his app after writing a blog post about the same thing, and I find them fascinating. Instead of building DRM into his app, he just detected if the player was using a copy that wasn't from the App Store, and then forwarded them onto a web page that he could track. It seems like he equates unique visitors to his Pinch Media site as users (though he doesn't go into detail about exactly where those "Pinch Media New Uniques" numbers come from), and then subtracts legit app sales from those numbers to get the number of pirates. And while he says the numbers are lower than he expected, they seem pretty high to me: there is a substantial number of people out there using cracked apps.
Maybe this is strange to my point of view because I used to use hacked and cracked apps -- when I was in college and didn't have $50 to my name, much less to spend on the latest and greatest games (not to mention a line in to a fat campus Internet connection), warez was where I went. But nowadays I've got the money to do right by developers, and especially as cheap as things are in the App Store, piracy doesn't really seem like a viable route. But apparently for quite a few people, it is.
Miguel isn't that angry -- he believes that hackers are a bigger help (people tweeted a lot about playing the cracked app) than a hurt (he definitely doesn't equate all of those hacker numbers to lost sales). And he says that hackers are often early adopters -- look how many hackers jumped on the app right away, and then those numbers tailed off later on. But he does say is that the best solution is to create a lite version for apps detected as hacked, and then push for the upsell. In fact, he even tells us that one of his hackers has become a big evangelist for the app, creating demo videos and contests. Hackers and crackers are the folks who are most interested in getting to your app early and fast, and If you can convince them that it's worth it to pay the buck, or even just spread the word, they could serve you pretty well as a developer.