Indie Developer Speaks Out Against Piracy

The little tank that could” is an ironic title for an App Store game that has raised questions about Apple’s potential vulnerability to hackers.

Within five days of releasing the game to the App Store on July 21, creator Bram Stolk garnered 45 sales. “That was disheartening,” Stolk wrote on his blog. Despite weak sales, Stolk noticed the online leaderboard in his game reported 1,114 players. But if only 45 sales were made for a paid app, how could 1,114 people possibly be posting scores on the game’s leaderboard?

Stolk’s only answer was piracy via torrenting. A quick search revealed multiple listings of the game for download on various sites. In an e-mail to us, Stolk said he thinks his game was cracked by an individual named “Hexhammer,” who has allegedly cracked other iPhone titles such as California Gold Rush and Ferrari GT Evolution, to name a few.

Cracking is a method of breaking software copyright protection, enabling users to bypass license limitations and freely distribute otherwise protected software. It dates back to the early 80s when computer games, such as those for the Commodore 64, introduced copyright protection to circumvent unauthorized use on other computers. It’s a tradition among hackers and is considered a highly valued skill.

Cracking can’t be easily controlled by developers on the iPhone, though. When asked who creates the copyright protection scheme for his applications: “I rely on Apple for that,” Stolk said.

Despite the reliance on Apple, developers do have some tricks up their sleeves for enhancing their software’s ability to prevent cracking, according to Stolk. “I got some pointers from another developer… on how you can make it a little more secure,” he said. “Apparently it takes zero skill to break the default protection. With some extra code, you can at least force the crackers to examine the code and take out the added tests.” Stolk believes the additional security code will be implemented in a future patch, but has concerns over how to approach detected pirates.

“Do you disable the leaderboard for pirates? Do you make the app stop for pirates?” Stolk said. “Maybe a pop up would be the way to go, asking them to purchase if they like the game.”

When asked whether this will influence Stolk’s future plans to develop applications for the App Store, he said, “Well… it takes away a lot of the motivation. It would not be so bad if it was selling decently. Today I had four sales. I really thought the game had potential.”

[From the Bram in Canada blog]

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