Apple's App Store (and many other digital storefronts, to be fair) hasn't always had the greatest reputation when it comes to quality control. Sometimes it's not really Apple's fault, like in the case of one company cloning a popular game with enough tweaks to make it not an exact copy and releasing it to the App Store. In those cases I don't expect Apple to be fully aware of every game concept ever invented, and generally the more egregious clones get publicly shamed by the community as a form of punishment. Not that that prevents the cloners from becoming rich in the meantime, but I digress. However, oftentimes there are situations where I blame Apple completely.

One of the most famous examples of what I'm talking about is when a fraudulent Pokemon Yellow was released on iOS. The game literally did not function past the title screen, and obviously used art assets illegally. It wasn't until it had reached the #2 overall position in the App Store charts that Apple finally pulled it from the store. Even before the explosion of popularity brought on by Pokemon Go [Free], the Pokemon name and Pikachu in particular (who was featured prominently in the fake app's icon) are among the most well-known brands around. Even if you didn't watch or play Pokemon in any fashion, chances are you've at least HEARD of Pokemon and would recognize that iconic yellow rabbit/cat/squirrel creature, no? So how exactly did that Pokemon Yellow get by Apple in the first place, and how did it manage to stick around long enough to nearly top the paid charts?

Well, that was more than 5 years ago, and surely things have improved since then, right? Not exactly. Over the course of the past several months or more, I've noticed a disturbing new scam app trend on the App Store. Developers (or sorry, "developers" I mean) have been yanking the screenshots from some of the most popular Steam games and attaching them to games they upload on the App Store with names that are identical or very close to those same popular games. The screenshots look legit, the names sound familiar, but once you've actually paid for and downloaded the game, what you get is far from what you were promised by the page in the App Store. Recently, this practice was on display in hilarious fashion thanks to the tweeting of Cabel Sasser, co-founder of Panic, Inc. who published Campo Santo's critically acclaimed video game Firewatch last year. This is Cabel playing through the awful clone New Firewatch which arrived on iOS a few weeks ago and has since been pulled.

Of course having someone who is actually involved with the real Firewatch was helpful in getting the fake New Firewatch pulled off of the App Store, but what about all the others? A similar thing happened in January of last year when the dubious Minecraft 2 arrived in the App Store looking all official and tricking many people into downloading it thinking it was an actual sequel to Mojang and Microsoft's mega hit. Again, the attention that was brought to the clone also led to its fairly swift removal, but how the heck does something like that get through in the first place? Is it really possible there are people working in Apple's approval department that haven't heard of Minecraft?

And of course, there are plenty more examples. Back in December Carter had to issue a PSA warning that all versions of Totally Accurate Battle Simulator (aka T.A.B.S., an upcoming game from developer Landfall that's in alpha but has created a huge amount of buzz for its silly physics and hilarious YouTube videos) on the App Store were in fact fakes. In February, a scam version of another promising upcoming indie game called Astroneer was uploaded to the App Store and we had to issue another warning not to download it. The same "developer" who uploaded Astroneer had also uploaded a bogus version of Rust a few weeks prior, which is yet another popular PC indie game. The comments on our Astroneer post were filled with readers who had come across many more bogus apps that ripped off even more beloved indie hits like ARK: Survival Evolved, Hello Neighbor, Pit People, Undertale, Superhot, and more. It's an epidemic I tells ya!

To Apple's credit, we've heard they are very good about refunding those who have purchased any of these scams, and once they're notified of an offending scam they're pretty quick to take them down. But it seems like it shouldn't have to get to that point, right? Like these shouldn't even be making it in the App Store in the first place. Out of curiosity, I decided to take note of whenever I'd see a game title that was trying to ape a familiar PC indie game when I'd scroll through the Appshopper new games feed, and just in the last week alone, this is what I've come up with.

CLUSTERTRUCK!

Gang Arena Battle

The Neighbor - Horror House Edition

New Night In The Woods

HARRY’S MOD - STEALTH HORROR HOUSE

Hi Neighbor - A Stealth Horror Game

Night In The Woods!

THE NEIGHBOR: House Of Mystery

Gang Battle - Arena Fall Flat

THE NEIGHBOR : HORROR MISTERY HOUSE EDITION.

PRO DEEP-SEA FISH FEED SIMULATOR

NEW PAINT THE TOWN RED

THE AMAZING FROG SIMULATOR

Survival Stealth Horror - The neighbors House

THE NEIGHBOR - STEALTH HOUSE OF MISTERY

THE BIGFOOT FINDERS SIMULATOR

THE FINDING BIGFOOT SURVIVAL

FULL STUPID BEASTS WAR

BEST FISH & GROW SIM 2017!

H1Z1: KING OF THE BATTLE

KILLING FLOOR HORROR

GROW UNDERSEA BATTLE

NEW RAFT SURVIVAL 2017

Yeah…

Keep in mind, this was just my own cursory observation and I've not actually downloaded the above titles to see if they are in fact some sort of broken scam version of those popular desktop titles. But the M.O. is almost identical throughout: Very good looking screenshots, a paid game between $2.99-4.99 with no IAP, a description that is almost always copied verbatim from the Steam page even so far as to not changing the actual title to whatever the scam app is calling itself. This is just after a week, and I'm positive I missed a few while scanning the lists. What really sucks is when these scams fly under the radar and are able to stay in the App Store for weeks and even months, suckering in more and more people along the way. People who may or may not know how to ask for refunds, or even that they were scammed at all.

This really feels like something Apple needs to nip in the bud themselves, before these "games" even get a chance to be released. I think that they get such an obnoxious amount of app submissions on a daily basis that they've come to almost entirely rely on an automated process, one that is failing to catch these otherwise blatant scams. And this is just this specific type of scam, don't even get me started on how many new games I see released that have simply ripped the sprites from popular arcade games from the '80s and '90s (think Final Fight, Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Contra) and simply dropped them into a stock beat 'em up engine and released them as separate paid apps several dozen times over. That's a whole other ball of wax, friends.

The bottom line is that something needs to be done, and I don't envy Apple's position as being the one to try and figure it out. But the App Store already has a spotty reputation over the years, and lately it seems like it's gotten even more out of control. Hide yo kids, hide yo wife, and definitely hide yo unreleased indie game projects before someone makes a terrible mobile version of it.

  • justcallmedewey

    Not like Apple will do anything as long as they can make money off it

    • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

      Apple often drops money makers from the App Store for breaking rules. And a bad user experience in the end loses Apple money, which they know.

    • Mr_ C_

      This is a terrible comment. Apple actively removes the stuff, much faster than google play. They have no need for a few thousand dollars from people who were ripped off. They'd much rather have a good reputation. That's just common business sense.

  • RB

    There's no excuse for this. When a dev sets up a new app in the App Store, and the game title uses known keywords there is a warning that appears stating that the name may be infringing an existing trademark/app. So there is already a mechanism for flagging submissions. There is already an approval process. Why games with established known names slip through is a bigger question.

    Also, you would think a developer could lose their account over this, and yet you state multiple scam apps have been released by the same developer? Google has a 3 strikes policy. I was under the impression Apple was even stricter.

    • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

      This is on Apple for sure.

      I really think the only solution, though, is an easy way for users to flag and explain scams. Automatic keyword warnings won't detect trademarks from non-iOS games, nor names intentionally altered to avoid detection. And Apple can't limit reviewer hires to those who stay immersed in the latest indie releases and upcoming alphas for both consoles and PCs worldwide.

      (I certainly never heard of most of those examples. And that Firewatch could appear functional depending what you did in a brief test.)

      So, crowdsourcing is the only way, I think. And as you say, don't allow repeat offenders. (Except it's a piece of cake to make a new developer account with a new name, if a scam pays enough to be worth repeating.

      And of course if a game doesn't launch at all, that should be caught.

      • RB

        Yes, user flagging might help. The argument against that is usually that competitors could flag each other's products... (There's always a wrinkle, isn't there.)

        Where I think your argument about devs making new accounts falters is saying it's easy. It costs a yearly fee, which might not matter as you said, but in order to receive payments for paid apps, Apple requires business registration information including what they call a DUNS number, as well as bank info for payment deposits. I think an actual human also called me on the phone when I created my account. I can't imagine a dev actually also registering new businesses with their local government body, getting a new tax number, new bank account, etc. At some point there is going to be duplication of business information, bank account numbers, etc that an automated system could easily flag. Then a human could check the history tagged to that info.

      • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

        They'll eventually fail to make a new account, but I fear that will go on (in some countries) for more cycles than we like. Money finds a way, and criminal groups can have at least as many bank accounts as the people they employ for their identities. The bigger the scam operation, the harder to stamp out.

        Flagging can work with the usual safety measures I think: 1) it's not automatic, it goes to review by humans and 2) accounts that repeatedly flag falsely can get ignored. Remember that competitors already have a way to flag each other's products: just claim a trademark violation, and the burden is on the accused to take it to court. Case in point: StoneLoops of Jurassica.

  • sadikyo

    Completely agree that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. I understand issues will occur but what is the process for fixing? For example, look up Terraria 2 in the app store - it is exactly what you are talking about here. It seems people have brought it to Apple's attention but it is still there?

  • Pedro Rama da Silva

    Playing devils advocate here, Apple is notbhere to judge without formal complaint. Sure they fitler a lot, but heck I dont expect Apple to poloce the app store for copyright infringement. Whoever has had their rights damaged has to complain and then let Apple decide. Another thing is customer awareness. Who in their right mind buys off something shady? Well tough on them I say. One of the biggest rip offs i have seen is "game guides", which apparently means an app has a deceivingly equal name to a AAA game but then you go and it is just a game guide,which you have to pay for but sometimes is copied from a freely available one,namely on gamefaqs.

    • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

      Agree on those useless game guides!

  • DTK

    Nice, good work!

    Even if Apple has to refund the money to some people, Apple still deserves to all those who do not claim a refund.
    The Appstore is totally contaminated in the area of ​​the Games. At least in Germany. All this with these cheap gambling games, such as "one-armed bandit" and "three-in-a-row games", of course also the whole pile of copies (everything in many annoying colors).
    But the whole Appstore Interface is also overtaken!
    Earlier than there were a few hundred apps, this was perhaps enough. But now something should change!
    But apps that offer good search criteria are suppressed by Apple! Why? Because Apple earned a lot of money through this bad system.
    Steve Jobs would turn around in his grave if he knew what the appstore was looking like!

    • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

      I've never experienced the situation, but it's my understanding that if an app reaches the point of actually getting pulled after launch, it's not just those who ask who get a refund: ALL users get one automatically, and the developer doesn't receive the money. So, as long as a new solution pulls more apps that deserve it, refunds should be taken care of.

      • j238

        Hope that's true.
        On there other hand, when a widespread credit card fraud becomes known, only the people requesting refunds will get one. %$## banks.

  • Stormourner of the Nature

    *cracks my knuckles* I wanna send the scammers to hell >:(

  • Stormourner of the Nature

    someone better call Jim Sterling

  • madreviewer

    Who downloaded games without looking at the publisher name?
    My rule is
    If it's not a company name but someone's name it most likely will be a fake- at this point I will do my research.
    I am not as upset as I should be because this carelessness can cause apple to accidentally upload a GBA4iOS emulator in the AppStore

    • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

      Yes, the company name can be a good red flag to look for if you already know Firewatch (or whatever example) is a known property from a known publisher. But many of the downloaders probably don't know that, and lots of good indie games are made by just one person, with no company name. And then you have people who COULD know better, but don't think to check the publisher name, just expecting the App Store to deliver what it says. There will always be those people, and then the app climbs the charts... adding an appearance of popularity and legitimacy to fool even more people.

  • yogg sarons cousin

    I never ever download an app with a Chinese Dev name , and I almost never with a Russian name to

    • Stormourner of the Nature

      even with an english developer name

    • CarlRJ

      Truth be told, I basically never search or browse on the App Store, always come in from external links from legit review sites - for games that's mostly TouchArcade and PocketTactics (though sadly the latter doesn't have its former glory). But it's a shame that Apple's less wary / more trusting customers get, hmm, not exactly thrown to the wolves, but given very little in the way of safety net. If your company positions itself as "we make computers/smarphones easy and joyful for _normal_ (non-gamer/non-programmer) people to use", those normal people shouldn't need an education on what to _absolutely not buy_ in your own company-run store.

  • InTheAir

    I've just come to understand that the majority of people who get games through the app store than me, which I totally understand. It's just so disappointing to see that market be exploited with legitimate scams.

  • dancj

    It's a problem, but last time I tried Android it was way worse. Looking for apps that I know exist on the Play Store, the search results bring back loads of rip-off apps and it's really hard to find the genuine one. I've never had that issue on Apple's App Store.

  • korossyl

    But whenever one of those stealth emulator apps gets on the store, you can bet it'll be gone in about 72 hours...!

  • Stormourner of the Nature

    here's a true reason for seeing too many scams on Apple app store: not all the Apple staffs are expert on games

    • dancj

      True. That list of games from the last week didn't contain a single name I recognised, so I certainly wouldn't have realised.

      • Stormourner of the Nature

        I just wish the Apple staffs would at least look through the apps before approving, I do have to drag myself to California to speak to the CEO

  • http://www.risinghigh.net Kevin Wolstenholme

    We've had well over 100 cloned and stolen copies of our games taken down, only for the very same developer to upload them a few days later. I can assure you within 10 minutes I can find you dozens of stolen games and although Apple will remove them after a few weeks, the developers account remains. Why after being proven scammers ( on multiple occasions, not just 1 "innocent naive mistake" ) their accounts are not banned is beyond me. The criminals know there are no repercussions, and so it continues - It'll never be beaten, but at least hit them with 100 bucks for a new account and the inconvenience once they're found.

    Great article Jared and thanks for raising this issue - I usually avoid surfing the store now, as within 5 minutes I see our games staring back at us - That'a why TA is the best curation there is!

    • AH Game

      this! "their accounts are not banned is beyond me. The criminals know there are no repercussions, and so it continues - It'll never be beaten, but at least hit them with 100 bucks for a new account and the inconvenience once they're found." go apple!!!

    • ackmondual

      2 reasons I can think of:
      1) free money for Apple. Apple continues getting money from those scammers from their 30% cut of sales, as well as the $99 a year developer's fee. You'd think Apple would want to fix this as a long term fix. However, they may have info that doing what they're doing now yields maximum profits

      2) If there are cases where legit devs get banned (e.g., what if the scammers falsely go after the legit developers?), then reinstating those devs, or losing them due to frustration can also be very bad.

  • darkfyra

    I recently seen lots of "games" with stolen assets(mostly WOW)(it's one of those games where you collect units,it's automated and you mostly look at the game playing itself) and a chinese app with screen and artworks stolen from Diablo 3.Also I don't know if we should be fine with all the clones cropping up all over the freaking places that I call the Gameloft problem.Generic games mostly hack and slash or mmos with no care at all for the story,basic gameplay,automated combat and quest that always announce that they are the best or the revolution but are always the same crap.Also all those generic rpgs flooding the rpg tags and always full of ads and even iap in the premium version.We really need a quality control because I'm always sad when I see some of those craps on top or best reviewed and actual amazing games never get any love(exemple Asobimo mmo release vs Order and Chaos(that sound a bit too Warhammer like....so how did that even pass and the artstyle is ripped out from WOW so how this company has not been striked down yet)

  • boydstr

    I am not a long time user of the IPhone some 2 years but my experience with the lack of positive costumer support with game related issues but I think that unclear legislation about costumer rights why is there a difference when for example you buy a cd and when you want to play it you see there is a big scratch on it I think that you go back to the store to ask for another cd or a refund so why is this so different when buying in the AppStore when I bought BioShock in the AppStore and after some months the game stopped working I contacted Apple for a refund and they saying to me that it was not their fault and they bring a platform where developers could sell their games so I contacted the gays that made the mobile version and you can guess....they saying that the game stops working because the iOS update so the costumer is loosing his money it is a feeling of total
    disrespect for the costumer and this is something that I can't take.

  • DemoEvolved

    Frankly they should just pay TouchArcade a weekly $$$ to provide a list of scams they come across in the natural course of doing their jobs. Win/win/win TouchArcade/Apple/Customer

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I actually have a really funny story about that I'll have to share sometime when I'm no longer connected to any of this and no one cares anymore.

  • ETC37

    I think a large part of the problem is that these scam developers are mostly ripping off early-access indie games that really only have any popularity because of YouTube.
    Unless Apple has die-hard gamers who also follow YouTube on its approval team, then I don't see this problem getting solved anytime soon.

  • Beth

    Thank You! I'm not the only one this is annoying to death. I send Apple so many emails reporting these fraudulent apps. Doubt it makes a difference but ....I can't always find the real developers info to send them a message....
    At one time Every single title from Ninja Kiwi was being ripped off by some idiot ....Really now who approves this? Apple must be hiring people who live under rocks and no jack about games.
    A few weeks ago I saw Terraria 2 floating around...Seriously do these morons approving this junk not have google!
    The AppStore is so huge yet, managed so poorly!

  • http://javatune.co drunk_vader

    How about false advertising? I've seen an action RPG with a promo video and screenshots taken directly from WarCraft 3 and was advertised as such (skill icons, game asssets directly taken from W3) - but upon opening the game it was completely different. The good news is, it didn't cost a thing to download.

    • Stormourner of the Nature

      ah yes those pathetic ads that uses things from other games, there's this arabic game that uses a video and a screenshot from the game Lord Mobile

  • j238

    I was a little lazy once & counted on Apple to do some of my app testing for me. Why take the time to test for obvious bugs when I knew Apple would be doing that anyway?
    One version got an approval almost instantly. A few days later, I found it did not work at all in a common scenario. Obviously, the approver did no work at all.
    Fortunately, no one posted a negative review.

  • Mr_ C_

    Craft Royale is my personal favourite.

    My 4-year old son plays it. He loves it. He can't tell it's a blatant Clash Royale ripoff.. he thinks he's playing basically the same game, but I rest assured that he isn't messing with my trophies (again).

    See .. ripoff games can come in handy 😉

  • DTK

    Original: „DROP NOT!“ von Oddrok Oy
    https://appsto.re/de/0jzaib.i

    Copy: „Drop Not Poke Monster“ von Suphin Yana
    https://appsto.re/de/oascjb.i

  • DanKetch

    When I worked at a video store we'd always get one copy of Blatant Rip-off movie a few weeks before the actual big title came out like "Transmorphers".