How To Turn iPhone App Pirates Into Customers

Conventional industry logic paints a pirated software download as a lost sale, end of story. But anyone who has ever pirated anything — and if you’re not at least a one-time pirate, prepare to float Enoch-like into the heavens, for you are too pure for this world — knows this isn’t true. Die-hard pirates won’t buy anything, and so can’t be convinced, where as casual pirates are usually caving to the pressures of convenience as well as their own uncertainty over whether or not the software is worth the price.

But implicit to uncertainty is interest. The casual pirate is interested in a piece of software, so why not try to convert them into customers after the crime has already been committed?

The creator of the iPhone app iCombat (a clone of Combat for the Atari) had just that thought. His application suffered from a huge ratio of pirates to legitimate users: nearly 500 percent more people who played his game had pirated it than bought it.

So here’s what he did: he implemented a trick version of the game that caused pirated players to be booted to a webpage when they beat the fifth level. The page contained this sensible message: “Hi if you have been directed to this page it’s because we see that you have a pirated copy. While we are glad you are interested please understand that we want to continue making it better, but to do that we need people to each pay for their copy. If you want to continue using please purchase today.”

A smart move. Turn a pirated copy of a game into a demo and trust people to do the right thing when presented with a personal plea. If only the RIAA would follow suit.

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