Apple warns developers against manipulating App Store rankings

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Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is warning iOS developers to avoid services that promise to artificially inflate their App Store rankings, threatening the loss of Apple Developer Program membership for anyone found gaming the system.

A brief statement posted to the News and Announcements for Apple Developers page reads "Once you build a great app, you want everyone to know about it. However, when you promote your app, you should avoid using services that advertise or guarantee top placement in App Store charts. Even if you are not personally engaged in manipulating App Store chart rankings or user reviews, employing services that do so on your behalf may result in the loss of your Apple Developer Program membership."

The Guardian reports that Apple's warning follows after an unnamed developer posted to the Touch Arcade mobile games forum claiming he was contacted by a company charging $5,000 in exchange for a guaranteed Top 25 App Store ranking. "He said he had outsourced someone to build him a bot farm and the bots will automatically download his clients' apps and drive up their rankings," the developer writes. "He even told me that even though I might see my app climb up the app store, they aren't "REAL" at first until it gets to the top and that's when REAL HUMAN players will start seeing my app and play it."

The post went on to accuse iOS game developer CrowdStar of leveraging the bot farm to elevate its App Store standings. CrowdStar co-founder Suren Markosian weighed in to refute the claim, crediting his firm's success to authorized analytics firms like Flurry as well as Apple's own iAd mobile advertising network. "While I sympathize with the smaller developers who may not have as much funding as we do and feel that we are getting a free ride the fact is we are spending significant marketing dollars to achieve top ratings," Markosian states.

Apple's latest warning to developers follows close to a year after it began rejecting iOS applications running incentivized install promotions. Developers once relied on incentivized downloads to vault their applications into the upper rungs of the App Store's bestseller lists, teaming with app monetization and distribution platform partners to create visibility and demand for their newest efforts via promotions within existing iOS favorites. For example, an established iPhone or iPad hit might offer consumers virtual currency and other premiums in exchange for downloading an up-and-coming app promoted by the sponsor.

Apple contends that incentivized apps violate section 3.10 of its App Store Review Guidelines, which states "Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart ranking in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program."

Several weeks after Apple instituted the ban, monetization and distribution platform Tapjoy surveyed close to 500 iOS developers and found that two thirds of respondents credited the pay-per-install model for generating 20 percent of revenues. Some said PPI revenues accounted for more than 60 percent of their earnings. Without options to earn in-game currency by installing or engaging with other apps, consumer complaints spiked, and many developers reported a decline in daily active users as well.

For more:
-read this Guardian article

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Tapjoy: Developer revenues nosedive after Apple bans pay-per-install apps
Apple smacks down incentivized iOS downloads
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