New copy protection for Android released

Posted by Dan Mousavi On July - 28 - 2010

We early adopters know all to well about all the good stuff the Android market provides, at the moment everyone has the possibility to to buy an app for 24 hrs., back it up and then return the installed version. While this is fine and dandy for indie developers, who update their game frequently and have some sort of copy protection through that, it is a major drawback for the big players in the industry, that polish their games a lot further and release them as a one shot (a good example would be Gameloft, who deliver high quality games, but don’t update them very often).

With the success of Android as a plattform, copy protection becomes more important and now Google reacted and announced the release of a licensing service for applications in the Android Market, that is available now. This means essentially, that apps need to get online activated and can be restricted to a single device. If not, there are a lot of different ways to counter the behavior of the application, you could for example give the player the full game for three startups and then turn it back into a demo version, or you could let him play for a specific amount of time, until the protection kicks in. For more information about how you can use it, check out the Developer Guide.

The upside to this story is obviously, that it will attract more high class developers, when they feel their intellectual property is secure on the plattform, further adaptation of the plattform will happen.
The downside isn’t quite as obvious to the community, but in the future it will boil down to the developers, how far this will hinder our enjoyment of our bought apps.
If some implement this mechanic unresponsibly, it will make the app unusable in some instances.

For example if the game requires a new license every time the game is started, you won’t be able to launch it anymore in the subway, which is usually where I play when I’m travelling around my city.
Or if the game cripples Android’s ubiquity by restricting the install to one device, then you won’t be able to take your games with you, when you change your phone. That could be really bad and would backfire for any developer who’ll use it.

As a upcoming developer I really appreciate the ways in which Google allows me to implement the license, but as a user I’m afraid of unusable apps because of the lack of an online connection. When I’m underground I usually play games, because I cannot read something on the net, or stream radio music. If I cannot play my favorite game, because I cannot connect to the net, it will have a backlash from the users. I would have preferred a more closed system with fixed rules like Xbox Live, where you know that you can take the games with you, as long as you don’t change your gamertag and just resign your games with the new console for offline play.

But Google did it in a Google way, giving the power to the developer is in line with everything else they did with Android and Chrome OS. Now the development community needs to do it right and remember the famous Ben Parker quote: “With great power comes great responsibility”.

If you want to read more about the new Android licensing service, check out the Google Development Blog.