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Why Apple's tight App Store management is a good thing

We speak with iOS developers about Apple clamping down on third-party app promotion

A little over a week ago, the folks at discovered an interesting new clause in Apple's App Review Guidelines, which could indicate Apple's intent to restrict any app that promotes titles from a different developer. It's likely that Apple is simply targeting app promotion services, and not game developers themselves, but depending on if/how Apple enforces the new clause, some game makers could have a hard time getting the promotion they need in the App Store.

Interestingly, the developers GamesIndustry International chatted with were either not worried about it or were even in favor of Apple's continual management of the App Store.

"Apple has done business this way since the 1970s. Their business model is to lock people into tightly controlled, proprietary ecosystems. They use openness only to the point that it benefits them, then increasingly clamp down with further controls. We shouldn't be surprised by it. This frankly Draconian approach is also why they provide products and ecosystems that are generally superior to their competition. They take control; sometimes it is to our benefit and sometimes it isn't. This is just the latest example of shifting toward a greater degree of control now that their business model is established and predominant," explained Dirk Knemeyer, Founder & Chairman, Involution Studios.

"I don't think it's cause for great concern," added Ernest Woo, CEO, Woo Games. "We're still planning to ship ErnCon with Flurry, Tapjoy, and Chartboost integrated for cross-promotion opportunities. If Apple clamps down on use of such SDKs for cross-promotion then us app developers will just have to get creative!"

William Volk, CCO of PlayScreen, isn't worried about the app promotion services clamp down as much as the overhaul of the App Store itself. Similar to when Microsoft revamped the dashboard and it became harder to find indie games, the new App Store design doesn't play nice with giving categories prominence.

"The bigger issue is that categories are now buried in the new App Store, so that even if you did 'buy' placement into a sub category of games, it's not going to matter as much as it used to. It takes far more clicks to even get to a category -- and when you get there, you'll see ONE app instead of 25," Volk lamented. "Ad options are likely to be limited to more conventional advertising, such as iAds, interstitials and video."

"My opinion is that management of the app store is a good thing in the long run. This is the biggest reason why apps are so much more successful in the Apple App Store than on Android"

Dave Castelnuovo

The situation is perhaps best summed up by Dave Castelnuovo, co-founder of Bolt Creative. Castelnuovo understands the concerns from both Apple's perspective and from developers. Apple wants to be able to maintain the integrity of its App Store, but developers would like to have a chance at least of some promotion. In the end, Castelnuovo sees the App Store management as a positive that game makers should welcome.

Here's his full response:

"From reading the clause, it's clear to me, that Apple only has an issue with apps that look like an 'app store' - apps that have lists of other apps where their sole goal is to make money through the affiliate program or in promoting apps for money. It doesn't apply to a non-promotional app that is just promoting another app through their news feed. Otherwise they would have to ban all mobile advertising."

"This is a tough issue to comment on. Each side has a valid point and taken to extremes, both sides can be bad for the ecosystem."

"Apple is mainly concerned with the integrity of their app rankings. They want the top spots to go to the apps that are most deserving, the ones that users actually enjoy. If it looks like the rank lists are getting stagnant and it would be a better service to users to shake things up, they want the ability, through features and ranking algorithms, to make it so users find more value in the listings."

"App promotion services can interfere with these efforts. Not always, most of the time they make such a minimal impact that it really doesn't matter, but every now and then a service comes along that has the power to radically shape the rank lists outside of Apple's control. Tapjoy was the first example of this and I agree that services like Tapjoy, which allow developers to buy their way into the top of these lists, is a disservice to consumers. Nowadays, with the whole freemium promotion craziness, I think that these apps, as a whole, are starting to make an impact that Apple can't manage."

"On the other side, you have developers with legitimate concerns about discoverability and getting their app out to the masses. If you take away their ability to effectively market and promote themselves, then they are at the mercy of Apple. They can't get sales unless they appear on a rank list, and they can't appear on a rank list unless Apple features them."

"Despite these two extremes, I think there is middle ground between the two. If Apple completely shuts down all promotion, it's bad for the ecosystem. If App portals get so powerful that they sway the rankings in favor of the companies that pay the most, it's bad for the ecosystem. But somewhere in the middle there is the right balance, I think Apple knows this but they are trying to publish a clause that they can use against the outliers that overly game the system. If you are an app that just grabs data from the app store and repackages it in a slightly different format, then you are probably hosed. If you have a really powerful promotion app that people can use to buy their way to the top, then you are also probably hosed. However, if you are an app portal that has some kind of added value, that provides a service that the app store doesn't provide and in general enhances the ecosystem, it's probably going to be a rough couple months of uncertainty and maybe a couple rejections, but I'm sure the rule will eventually be clarified and there will be a way to keep publishing your app."

"And by the way, sometimes Apple posts these clauses as a warning to developers but doesn't enforce it unless it continues to get out of hand."

"At the end of the day, if you have a business strategy that revolves around creating a discoverability portal or promotion service, you have to know what you are getting yourself into. Apple has and will change the playing field whenever they feel it best serves their interests. Look at OpenFeint, Plus+, and Tapjoy. Make money while you can, but just know that Apple can (and should if it hurts consumers) shut down your business model at any moment."

"My opinion is that management of the app store is a good thing in the long run. This is the biggest reason why apps are so much more successful in the Apple App Store than on Android."

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Latest comments (3)

Michael Scandizzo Partner, Inert Soap9 years ago
Pardon me, but I don't see Apple's concern over the integrity of the rankings. The largest local developers have weekly meetings with App Store representatives, planning for featured apps long before they have been released, much less earned a top spot. Meanwhile, most developers aren't even permitted to send an email to the same department, or speak to them during WWDC events. Look at release dates compared to app ranking and featured date, and you will find that many top apps are featured immediately upon release, and then reach top rankings. Sometimes you'll even find featured apps that are poorly rated. Featuring an app is in fact a manipulation of the rankings, one not based on cross promotion but on the independent opinion of a nameless executive.

While Apple banned the practice of paid installs through Tapjoy due to it being a way of affecting rankings, they stand by and permit the largest publishers to dump their apps every Christmas, dominating the charts by making $9 apps suddenly $.99. Their apps become popular by being underpriced rather than the best on the charts. When Samsung does this with memory chips, governments get involved proclaiming the practice illegal. Apple, meanwhile does nothing. All the while the visibility of categories has gone down, and the prominence of Featured has gone up.

Apple's practices are arbitrary, collusive, and secretive. Apps can top the charts through other methods, but are ignored in "What's Hot". I'm glad that a few people interviewed are pleased with the system, but as a small time developer with 4 to 5 star applications, I'm afraid my business may fold by the end of the year due to lack of visibility. Apple's favoritism and constantly changing rules galls me, and I'm baffled that no one else agrees.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development9 years ago
I'm fine with it too. But please, PLEASE, P-U-R-L-E-A-S-E throw developers this one crumb:

A button to check that states "We have changed nothing that would've affected our original submission's pass, and on pain of death and a banned trading account that I'm not lying, release my friggin update right now."
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
Visibility (or discoverability) is the biggest app problem. Not helped that most game journalists are totally ignoring the most exciting and innovative games that have appeared for years.
The answer is to work out for yourself effective mechanics to reach potential customers.
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