Apple went a step further with their effort to prevent the still pretty popular illegal modifications of the AppStore rankings and updated its iOS Review Guidelines with a new clause just recently, in perfect stealth thanks to the media and developer focus on iOS6 and the iPhone5.
The clause added is the following simple and short clause: “Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected.”
Thanks to PocketGamers report and picked up by Gamasutra and spread through Twitter the news though are gaining serious traction at the time of writing as the implications of the changes are widespread for the majority of us.
AppStore rankings and their validity
The general consensus is that Apple saw need for rules to prevent modification of the AppStore ranking. At this point their main instrumentation for this purpose are the Review Guidelines.
This isn’t Apple first try to solve the problem of ranking modifications.
Back in 2011 Apple tried to solve the problem. Back then Apple banned services utilizing the ‘pay per install’ advertisement model.
The attempt to solve this long standing problem of external modifications to the ranking is a noble target that us indie developers definitely would welcome, as we aren’t among those who can afford the cashes of pile required to modify the rankings unless we sell our souls and a fair share of our revenue to ‘non-publishers’ (a non publisher is a company claiming to be a publisher but offering 0 funding while expecting absolutely unrealistic revenue shares of up to 50% in return for not taking any risk at all. They commonly try to justify that through offering nothing but some fictive multi ten thousand USD in virtual marketing dollars within their own ad networks) for some fictive and unmeasurable marketing impact gain.
For that reason many of us rely on the rankings playing out fairly.
The chance for the new clause is obvious. If it works out the ‘good way’, it would mean that all those ‘marketing dollar’ backed up releases from ‘non-publishers’ could actually get banned which would have a major impact on the top 100 ranking on the games front as a too large percentage of the games in the ranks got there through such patterns.
The backdraft of the new clause
As the noble target might be as a field evening mechanism, it has three serious shortcomings.
- As all guideline clauses, its an at will clause. That means that the reviewer can or can not apply it. This unpredicability can play out against you or in favor of another developer.
As long as failing applications can’t be reported and the review staff has binding baseline review guidelines, this makes the clause troublesome.
- In addition the formulation is open enough that Apple can use it against any application that it considers skewing the ranking.
- The used formulation of “Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion” also could point towards a major push by Apple to become more ‘publisher friendly’ in an attempt to get more or even exclusive high quality games. This would go down a similar route as the rumors some year ago with a ‘VIP $20’ special category on the AppStore meant to protect high investment, high quality iOS games. EDIT: This rumor did not materialize in any action.
I personally and as professional in the mobile indie sector am currently undecided on how to exactly interpret and respond to these changes.
On one end it poses a great chance to all of us if its executed correctly and evens the field.
But it is also a major risk for free 2 play games that intend to integrate PlayHaven and PlacePlay for user engagement and monetization, as they are focused on install ads.
What are your views on the matter? Let us know on twitter.