Yesterday we posted a highly speculative article regarding Apple potentially changing the App Store charting algorithms to put less weight on the sheer number of downloads an app has, and instead potentially prioritize other metrics that better represent what people are actually using rather than downloading and deleting for bonus credits in freemium games/apps. Well, quite a bit has happened since then, and according to our Xoom-using friends at Apple has started actively rejecting updates to apps that offer any kind of virtual currency in exchange for downloading another app.

It all comes down to the gloriously vague phrasing of 3.10 from the iOS developer program license agreement which all developers need to agree to in order to be listed on the App Store:

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.

Where, err, "things" get real is when you consider that the companies behind these pay per install programs have since turned into multi-million dollar businesses, many fueled with scary amounts of investor cash. Tapjoy in particular, which is the largest pay per install outfit is funded to the tune of $40 million dollars. However, Apple clearly isn't happy that these companies are gaming their charts, while making millions doing it, and as the keeper of the App Store walled garden it's totally within their rights to pull the plug.

What this will do to the freemium game market as a whole is hard to predict. If our assumptions yesterday about the new algorithm are true, and Apple sticks to their guns rejecting games that include any kind of pay per install service, many developers are going to need to substantially alter not only how they develop and market their games, but potentially also how they do business as a whole in the free to play sector.


  • Anonymous

    I'm sure there are going to be a lot of small development teams that are outraged by this, but as a gamer I'm glad Tapjoy aren't able to tempt me into downloading boring and pointless apps I don't really want anymore.

    • Sumiguchi

      I'd say most small development teams will be overjoyed by this. Tapjoy is not by any means "small".

      • Anonymous

        I'm not too sure what you're getting at... the dev teams I suggested might be outraged are the ones that have difficulty getting exposure and probably look to companies like Tapjoy to help raise awareness.

  • Diffusion8r


    I am glad. The App Store is a hard enough environment for both devs and users.

  • drunknbass

    So i guess they(Apple) can tell me what to eat, how to chew, and how much to enjoy it in the process?

    • Anonymous

      No, but they can tell developers how they are allowed to profit off the service Apple provides.

      This should allow higher quality apps to rise up. If i wanted junk free apps, I could always buy an Android phone.

      • Anonymous

        ^ this. Get rid of these ad-inducing (cr)apps, thanks Apple.

      • Scott Colbert

        You obviously haven't tried any of the Android apps fanboy.

      • Theorioles33

        I have and they are not as high quality as the app store.

      • Riles

        What does that even mean? I'm surprised you weren't able to work "fragmentation" into your post.

    • Adams Immersive

      Not at all: Apple’s not stopping you from installing apps you don’t want. That consumer option remains unchanged. This is a limitation on what developers can do TO you, and how they can game the rankings, bypassing actual user opinion via artificially-boosted download stats.

      • drunknbass

        i didnt think tapjoy was scamming anyone or the developer/publisher who decide to participate in this kind of monetization. If i say ill give you 50 X for downloading app Y, there is really nothing scammy going on. Its not gaming a system, but it IS trying to get some kind of exposure to that app you just downloaded. Obviously the person in charge of marketing that app thought the conversion % was high enough that it was worth it to them to have people download their app to earn some credit in some random game. The isnt any david blain shit going on, nobody is going to teleport an airplane. The download numbers from these kinds of campaigns dont have that much effect in the grand scheme of things, and the intent is just exposure of the app, not "tricking users into downloading it".

        This is another blow to other ad networks that are moving to other ways of monetization. oh you want to cross sell, use iAd and for that 😉

      • Anonymous

        It is gaming the system as they are getting users to download apps (thereby driving its rank in appstore charts) which they dont want.

        Advertising an app is fine. So is rewarding the users with some in-game credits for checking out the advertised app. What isnt fine is rewarding them based on the fact if they downloaded it or not.

    • Adams Immersive

      Not at all: Apple’s not stopping you from installing apps you don’t want. That consumer option remains unchanged. This is a limitation on what developers can do TO you, and how they can game the rankings, bypassing actual user opinion via artificially-boosted download stats.

  • Aoeu

    Good, but why is that battery app still in top 100. That app should be band! so many fake review it's almost funny.

  • Tim Lord Gek Jordan

    As I hate games abusing the whole expendable IAPs aspect and only would get my credits via the cheesy TapJoy option, I'm actually okay with this.

    Without the cute little TapJoy loophole I hope it will put a serious crink in the sales of those Freemium games entirely based on their IAP upsells.

  • Kinl

    As a dev I'm all for this 100%... All I want is to make great games that I hope people enjoy and of course buy so I can keep doing it, the problem with the AppStore is that its blatantly obvious that the chart system is played and played by many, I'm happy this particular trick isn't exploitable any more..

  • Robotron2084


    Freemium needs to die anyway, along with certain IAP implementations. To hell with all of it. Make a good game, ask a fair price - simple and upfront. Stop the BS.

    Some of these devs are just parasites looking to squeeze money from people by essentially tricking kids. They're the vermin of the app store, and should be squashed.

    • Anonymous

      "Make a good game, ask a fair price - simple and upfront."

      The problem isn't so much about making a good game. It isn't so much about asking a fair price. It's also about letting the world know that you have done so.

      That's the tricky part.

    • Junkie

      Pay a fair price and then nobody will make freemium apps. Until people are not willing to pay more than 99 cents for a game which took a year development, devs are forced to find other methods.

      Sorry, but you (the cheap ass users) brought all of these on yourself. Don't cry now about it.

  • Sheriff

    ... What is "TopJoy"?

    So from what I gather, all the "top paid/free" apps are actually padded? I guess this'll be better, easier to tell which games are actually good/popular...

  • Anonymous

    "...many developers are going to need to substantially alter not only how they develop and market their games, but potentially also how they do business as a whole in the free to play sector."

    In other words: they are going to have to make games people actually want to play and maybe even pay for?


    • Eli Hodapp

      Not necessarily pay for, but actually want to play. Believe it or not, free to play isn't -all- evil. Check out League of Legends on the PC for a fantastic example of how you can have an amazingly fun hardcore gamer friendly freemium game. Sadly, that kind of game hasn't caught on yet on the App Store and instead everyone's outlook on free to play is based on ngmoco's We Rule reskins.

      • SMP

        Yeah, league of legends and other free to play games are great examples. For PC games in like those in parrticular, Microtransaction based games are practical to have as an alternate means to fund the game, especially from niche audiences like the DOTA fan, otherwise they just wouldn't sell as a normal priced game, that a sizable percentage would probably just pirate anyway. And contrary to what you said, there are one or two games like that on the app store, really as long as I don't have to buy it, I'm fine with it.

      • Anonymous

        Oh, I know there are good F2P games out there. LotRO did a good job of it, a lot of free content, letting you earn credits for achievements in-game, having fairly frequent sales. On the iOS side, I had some good fun with Eliminate.

        The point is, games should be able to stand on their own. Every developer needs to make money somehow, and the 'best' way for everyone involved, IMO, is making a game that's fun enough that those who are really devoted don't mind throwing a little money your way and those that aren't can play without feeling left out.

        Ads and forced downloads distract from the game, and if Apple's finding it's impacting the ranking system, even more reason to get rid of it.

      • tofusoup

        Yes LOL is a great game but not all indies can achieve this. It hasn't caught on because games like LOL are not that easy to make.

  • Andrzej Raczynski

    good move in my eyes. can't say i personally ever gave a squirt about a game's ranking on any charts though.

    i still consider IAP to be a disease as well though.

    i much prefer the way "The Quest" does it, each expansion is its own separate purchase that i can then roll into the main game (through their in game menu option) and then 'delete' the download. AFTER i have it backed up in iTunes and don't have to worry about it or the developer disappearing and me losing my purchase.

    • SMP

      I have no problem with in app purchasing or ads with incentives. If it funds the developer/company by giving an added means of revenue, then that's perfectly fine. It would only be a problem if the only way to properly experience a game was through these microtransactions, which would be a problem, but otherwise, you don't have to spend money on it, just ignore it.

  • RegularStormy

    Interesting... since the app store's #1 app (Air Penguin) uses TapJoy... is it going to get pulled?

  • mrtz


    It's vital to the digital ecosystem that app ranks are measured by quality.

    This whole "pay-per-install-business" should be completely banned from the appstore as it means that apps aren't ranked by quality but by how much money the publisher has (to buy installs).
    Pay-Per-Install, in fact, means, a disadvantage to the user (because there are only rich-publishers-games in the charts instead of high-quality-ones), and a disadvantage to indie-devs (because they often don't have 20.000$ to throw in a Pay-Per-Install-Service for being visible in the charts).

    So, again: Thank you Apple.

  • Jay

    I tried a few of those pay-per-install apps and all the apps they linked to were crap.

    I'm glad Apple is doing something about it.

  • Anonymous

    I think it's horrible. Apple should just change their algorithm but not disallow it fully. Many iOS users do not want to pay for any apps (or are unable to do so, no credit card etc.) this allows them to get free content, and allows the dev to get paid to fuel more content & new games. It's really a win-win for the dev & customer.

    • Eli Hodapp

      It's not really win/win at all. To the consumer most of the apps they're being pushed in to downloading are largely irrelevant, not something they're interested in, and likely immediately deleted once they get whatever bonus incentivized them into downloading it in the first place. I'm not sure it's a win for the developers either once you remove charting from the equation because the people being driven to download their games aren't downloading them because of the typical interest-based advertising model, they're just downloading because you're bribing them.

      That's not how you build a faithful player base, or really build anything but a community of people who only want whatever you're giving away for free... Which likely aren't the kind of people who would ever pay for anything to support your game.

      • SMP

        For in app transaction based games, isn't the idea to have enough players willing to purchase apps and in game content? Because people are willing to shell out cash, anywhere from $20-100, possibly even more, its just a matter of having a percentage of players that are willing to purchase crap for virtual crap. It's safe to say that 99.9% of all apps on the app store are crap, just horrible, horrible, garbage, mountains of it. And in the freemium game "Gun Bros", those were the only apps that I saw, there were few exceptions. So, it wasn't something I saw as an issue so far in that game, though it's a case by case basis.

      • mrtz

        Thank you Eli, that's exactly my opinion, too!
        PPI aren't a win for customers as the app chart ranks are measured by the money big publishers pump in rather than being measured by quality and relevance of the apps.
        Further, PPI aren't a win for all those innovative indie devs because they can't afford tens of thousands of money for it.

  • Kyle

    I agree with this completely. Its better for developers for third-party companies NOT to rule the market so that they can focus instead on more legit tactics.

    Not that its entirely the same, but some of these free app a day services charge an incredible amount of money to advertise a developers' app while it's free for that day. That's a lot of revenue opportunity lost for a developer and a guaranteed win for the third party company.

    The fact is - We'd be better off if in general there were less marketing driven companies in the App Store market and more product driven ones. Period.

  • mike amerson

    I've had a flurry of pay-per-install companies contacting me a lot lately. I'm glad to have read this, I always thought it was a bit shady. There are honest means to promote games and especially the old fashioned way, by earning it. 🙂

  • Bennehftw

    =[ so like in killer apps how you get a free gift card for downloading apps is going to get deleted?

    Gah I'm like 20k away from a 15 dollar gift card lol. well guess Its pointless to keep going. Any idea when this thing is going to drop?

  • Sambo110

    Anything to stop all those annoying apps where you need to buy in game weapons, it's pathetic. A game should be complete, and then DLC should add extra, unneeded things. EG, League of Legends with the extra characters, Portal 2 with extra skins etc, not weapons which actually change the game, unless they are possible to earn in game too.

  • HisDivineOrder

    Shouldn't this lead to apps going $1 a lot more again? If ads and sneaky practices begin to shove out the freemium model, I think we'll get a lot more cheaper apps to help boost their numbers again. If so, fine by me. I despise freemium. I'd rather pay $1.

  • Shadow Era

    According to TA, Shadow Era is "a fantastic representation of what freemium games should be." And like most freemium games we have been getting a significant revenue stream from TapJoy's offers, and have also done some paid installs ourselves. It will be painful to lose that revenue stream, and harder on our users when they have less options for earning free virtual currency. A lot of people are not able or willing to spend money on a mobile game...

    I'm not sure that this change will really affect the top charts, since the companies that are spending tons of money on paid installs will switch to other advertising, such as iAd which is what Apple is hoping for...

  • Joe

    As I understand it, this is not going to eliminate in-app purchases, nor is it intended to.  This is specifically focused on apps that offer additional content in exchange for downloading a separate app.  And the problem is not with promoting an app, nor is it with offering additional in-game content for an additional cost or action.  The problem is very specific to rewarding players to install an app so that said app benefits with a higher rating in the sales charts.  And that is a problem, in Apple's eyes, because it's a disingenuous manipulation of their charts.  As Hodapp said, it's akin to bribery.  You are being offered a reward in exchange for your assistance in inflating the download numbers to push a game up the charts.  Advertising a game is fine.  Putting a game on sale is fine.  But it's the quid pro quo that makes this a shady practice.  
    Think of a political election.  You can put up a sign to promote a candidate.  You can ask someone to vote for a candidate.  What you can't do is pay someone to vote for that candidate.  Currently, in the realm of the App Store charts, one download is basically a vote. The system that Apple is confronting here is the provision of a reward in exchange for that vote.
    I would tend to agree that the practice is unseemly, and it does appear to violate the terms of service quoted above.

  • GameArtcues

    So Apple rejects new Tapjoy games, but what will happen to the games, that have Tappjoy installed already...if they are allowed to use Tapjoy furthermore, than they will have a really big advantage!

    • Jared S

      I talked to a dev yesterday who had a game update in review yesterday that included tap joy. He emailed me back to let me know the update was passed.

      • artcue

        very interesting indeed....pocketgamer wrote today, that apple has rejected a few apps that had tapjoy and wanted to update the game....

  • E_Domina

    no fame=mega gain (in ios downloading terms)

  • Nick Defelice

    Tapjoy from what I can see isn't doing anything wrong. When they put games/apps up for download in exchange for virtual currency it doesn't say I *have* to leave a review in order to be credited. I really doubt these freebie crap games/apps get much credit just from tapjoy having people download them and them possibly climbing the ranks.

    • Jared S

      The main point is the app you have to download is paying to be part of the promotion, and the app hosting the ad is making money for it. It can make you climb the charts if you have a big budget. This is a pretty interesting debate.

  • Mike

    Everyone has this argument upside down...the fundamental problem is that a download counts as a "vote" in the appstore; the appstore ranking algorithm is where the problem actually resides. I'm happy to pay someone to try my game (some people like it, and stay most don't,take their in-game currency and split.) In this case no one gets hurt. The problem with everyone's logic here is that apple's ranking algorithm is sacrosanct, and that to "game it" is tantamount to cheating. To understand my point, imagine if Apple has every PPI (pay-per-install) provider report which installs were incentivized vs. which were "organic", and then Apple can ignore the incentivized installs in their appstore ranking calc..problem solved!

    As a very small company that has seen tremendous success and growth from using Tapjoy (with a 3.5 appstore ranking and thousands of happy, repeat DAUs) I find Apple's decision misguided and uninformed. I expect this will resolve with 1) Apple operating their own offer system or taking a cut of PPI providers revenue, and 2) Apple discounting incentivized installs in their Appstore ranking algorithm.