The Dark Side of the iTunes App Store

Astroturfing is the single reason why I do not bother looking at ratings a particular app has on the iTunes App Store. Even though Apple has apparently banned users who obtained a particular app using a promo code from making comments, I have this niggling suspicion that there are still ways for people to manipulate the ratings.

True enough, a couple of months ago I received an introductory e-mail from a China-based mobile games publication company. According to these folks, these guys are contractors who would make any games you would like for a fee, and then using their vast network of “reviewers” to push the app up the App Store charts.

Interesting isn’t it? Then there’s the App Store’s version of the Clone Wars. While not as epic as George Lucas’ vision unfurling on the big and small screens, this has the effect on the livelihood of decent game developers, particular indie ones as their games get copied, sometimes lock, stock, and freaking barrel.

In the case of Big Pixel Studios, their game Meow Meow Happy Fight had some artwork elements copied by A Pew Pew Land 2, a game by developers Mobile Force. While the following example isn’t a case of a direct copy, I know of a game that replaces the birds/pigs combination in Angry Birds with frogs/birds, and you’ll find plenty of these on the iTunes App Store.

Like the lyrics from that Cat Stevens song out there, it’s certainly a wild App Store we have here. The situation is not yet a cause for fire alarms, but Apple and the App Store’s community of users would need to do something to keep this in check, lest it becomes a graveyard for shovelware, much like what happened to Nintendo’s GameBoy library.

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