This afternoon Apple updated their rules for how screenshots work on the App Store. As of today, screenshots for apps will be locked when the app or game is actually approved, and can't be changed aside from actually submitting an update for said game or app which must go through the whole approval process again.

At first blush, you might find yourself saying, "Wait what?" - Especially as there are plenty of legitimate uses for swapping around screenshots ranging from heavily promoting a potential price drop, adding review scores, or a bazillion other things. Unfortunately this exact functionality is (or, more accurately, was) a fabulous tool for nefarious developers releasing the various scam apps that people love making noise about.

The trick worked a little like this- You'd submit some seemingly innocuous incredibly basic game to Apple for approval. It'd inevitably get approved, at which point you'd change the name, description, and screenshots. Pair this with flipping out some cash to the various shady chart boosting and fake review posting services out there and you'd be in business. The most famous scam app I can think of was the release of "Pokemon Yellow" which was particularly fascinating to watch as people seemed to be buying it aware that it was not actually Pokemon Yellow with the vague hope that it'd get updated and actually work.

There's some great arguments on both sides debating whether this is a good or bad move for Apple, but if it leads to less people getting scammed it's probably a win overall- At least for the average consumer.

  • regkilla

    This is good. Scammers stay out the AppStore!

  • http://twitter.com/sstaver Stephen Staver

    Why wasn't this a rule to begin with? A developer should have their screenshots in line from the start. I don't want to see crappy screenshots advertising a price drop or other apps, so this is nothing but a win.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Seems like one of things that no one even imagined would ever be an issue... Then, well. Pokemon Yellow, and the near-monthly "Minecraft" scam app that seems to rocket up the charts.

    • MidianGTX

      The truth is sometimes they just don't consider how important screenshots can be or fail to do their research. I can't tell you how many times I've posted recommending a developer places the in-game screen first instead of fourth and moves that dull title screen to the back.

  • http://twitter.com/alexkunzelmann Alex Kunzelmann

    About time!

    Now, they need to lock the screenshots to precisely that. Screenshots of the app. Not collages, not mockups - just screenshots. And if your game doesn't support iPhone 5, they shouldn't be allowed to post iPhone 5 sized images (generally collages).

    • Maniacfive

      Agree kinda. although I don't actually mind the collages, if they're a mix. Especially for iPad apps. Give me a few in game screenshots, and if they want to throw in a collage indicating different zones or units or whatever. That's cool, I can get plenty enough of an idea of a games graphically quality from two or three screenshots and then check variety in a collage.

    • JPhilipp

      Photos can be incredibly useful though for apps with novel or more exotic use concepts. For instance, I've been doing a bunch of 2-player-1-tablet games* when there weren't many in the store quite some time ago, and always made sure the first photo would show two people playing on the same iPad. The rest of the pics were straight screenshots (I don't really like text overlays for screenshots).

      *Siege Towers For Two became the most popular by (free) downloads. Free the Fobbles is another one.

      Edit: Looking at those specific pics I'm realizing the first photo doesn't really make it clear it's the hands of two different people. Duh.

  • http://www.stingergames.com/ Blaine Hodge

    A bit of inconvenience for dev's, but I think it's a solid idea to cut out the scam nonesense.

    The only fallout I can see is update review times increase a nudge due to developers having to submit for review when all they want is to update a screenshot. More submissions in the queue.

  • ImJPaul

    Perfect instance of the pros greatly outweighing the cons. Apple Newbies getting ripped off in the AppStore or people transitioning from free only to buying a paid app will greatly benefit from this. I'm sure if either of those people bought their first app they'd be very put off about paying for another app. What makes the AppStore glorious is that we don't have all the garbage that Android does. Unfortunately, it's not always quality but you should always get what you paid for.

    • JPhilipp

      I wonder though if there could be a best-of-both-worlds approach by allowing more leeway for developers who have a good track record (of ratings, for instance... provided those in themselves aren't scammed :) ).

    • Cheeseball

      It's true that the Google Play store has a ton of crap, but at least there are some apps that shine out, particularly emulators, which Apple doesn't want even though they allowed a certain degree of integrated file management through iTunes.

    • kaleys

      Agreed. Promotions can be run on social networking sites.

  • TocoGamescom

    Was funny how many fake games with AAA console games names appeared on the App Store just before the shutdown and sad that so many people purchased them.

  • ndre

    Seems definitely a good thing. I've seen screenshots celebrating particular promotions, but seems a marginal thing to me. After all, the main point of promotions is pointing out a particular app.. if you see its screenshot in the app store you already reached it. In most cases, screenshots have to be updated if you have new stuff to show, and you also have to update the app for that.

  • xStatiCa

    3 thumbs up. Anyone got a thumb I can borrow? I am so glad they did this. There have been 2 apps in the past month that tempted me but further research proved that they were fake.

  • http://twitter.com/Zeital Zhai

    It does seem like this would work. But I still maintain the thought that apple should have a better screening process in the 1st place. And I agree with an easier comment about people who have a good track record get the ability they change screenshots (like every 3-6 mths maybe)

  • tunaW

    I will miss reading about price drops in the description. Sometimes it will tell us how long a sale will last (ex . Bar Oasis 1 & 2) or if an app has gone completely freemium and whether they have given early adopters any bonuses.

    This new policy might discourage apps from going free. If an app goes free in partnership with FAAD, App-o-day, TouchArcade Free Play, etc., how will people know if publishers cannot change the description?

    I would prefer that Apple give refunds to anyone who has been duped by a scam. I believe they already do this but they should clearly state this on their website.

  • http://www.wildfactor.net/Rhythm_Game wildfactor - Rhythm games Dev

    First: developper can't modify the name of an app like a screenshot.
    He always need to submit an update.
    So if you have a pokemon/spiderman/etc.. named app, it has been validated by Apple.
    It's good Apple take action again crap, but it punish legitimate developper for the bad behave of spammer.
    Maybe they should have made a process to validate a screenshot change.
    Now developper will probably do "fake" update juste to change their screenshot.

    • LovecraftFullOfEels

      Exactly. Developers will be overloading the approval process with minor updates, leading to even longer approval times.

  • Kafu

    It seems I'm the only one that think this is a very stupid thing that limits all safe usages (that are 99.9% of cases!!) to reduce a problem that -anyway- is fraudulent and requires the ban (and a denunciation) of the author?
    For example, past year we changed some screenshots after release because we promoted the usage of retina graphics when the game was running in compatibility mode on iPad; when iPad 3 was presented, this information was misleading and we fixed it.
    Changing screenshots is like changing an advertisement: you change them mainly to improve communication to users, not to lie.

    • http://iqsoup.com/ iqSoup

      Agreed. I have bought hundreds of iOS apps over the years and I've never been "scammed" by a screen shot. The scam apps are typically easy to avoid--for example don't download something if it has 1000 one star ratings. For every screenshot change made to scam consumers there are thousands of changes made for legitimate purposes by real developers.

  • LovecraftFullOfEels

    Hey thanks Apple for giving developers time to adjust to the new rule... oh wait. You didn't.

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    It's a good move. Apple's app quality is what sets it apart on the market, nothing else comes close. This just cements it further, so I don't mind if devs have to go through a little more trouble to update apps. Especially if it means they'll think twice about releasing unpolished apps, because they know they can update it easily next month.

  • gtadem

    They need to take the next step and require videos to show actual Gameplay