Apple went a step further with their effort to prevent the still pretty popular illegal modifications of the AppStore rankings and updated it AppStore 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 another round of rules to keep control over the validity of the AppStore ranking and their main instrumentation for this purpose is the Review Guidelines.
This isn't Apple first try to solve the problem of ranking modifications.
Already in 2011 Apple tackled the problem, using a much more aggressive approach back then by flat out banning 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 we can't denounce' other applications failing to comply to them or Apple finally gets a competent, consistent, well trained review staff, this on its own already makes the clause troublesome.
- The formulation is open enough to allow Apple and its review staff to respond to anything they subjectively consider a modification of ranking, which makes the ad based F2P model risky as we have normally little to no control over the served ads.
- 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 from being 'trash flood drawn'.
A push towards publishers and a potential exclusivity especially at the time would make perfect sense as Apple is in some serious need to gain traction, optimally exclusive, with the iPhone5 before the next generation of Android 4.1 devices land basing on the new Qualcomm ARM A15 but especially basing on Samsungs A15 based Exynos5 architecture backed by Samsungs own AppStore land which will melt away any virtual benchmark gain Apple achieved with their iPhone5 and A6 core.
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 on the other side it also poses a major risk to me at least as I planned to integrate PlayHaven and PlacePlay for user engagement and monetization, yet the way they offer focused advertisement, especially PlayHaven, makes my efforts a pretty good target for the new clause.
As such I see myself in the position where I'm forced to wait and see how it plays out in reality before assessing the situation and true risk of the clause.
What are your views on the matter?