App stores : a silent hat tip

This post is about the app stores (especially on mobile) playing a quiet but critical role in the gross misconduct, and depreciation of quality games for their audience.


side note : While trying to write this blog the list of apps on the Play store are constantly changing and I have missed a few opportunities to illustrate these problems more clearly. I bet if you just take a gander any time of day or night, you won't be hard pressed to find the exact type of rust in the seams of the stores pages.

“It's ok”

The perceived inaction of the storefronts is a silent hat tip, a passive and encouraging voice to the misguided.

It fuels this systemic problem - a system the store is in control of - 100% control. Whether they like to side step the issue or just ignore it, they are accountable and play a crucial role.

I am aware of course, there are legal issues, extremely slippery slopes with regards to content filtering and so on - but bear with me for a moment.

Let's start with

“What can I do as a consumer when a developer is being slimy”

We as consumers, and as developers actually, have very little say in the matter. If you notice a developer abusing the system - You can try to flag this content as inappropriate.

The problem is, the categories for reporting content are highly limited to legal issues and development issues. Copyright and trademarks. Inappropriate or problematic music. Comments and reviews. Malicious apps. Good categories to have, but what about other, now-default behaviors that are a permanent fixture in the front yard?

Not a single option is offered for the prevelant practices of people trying to ride a coat tail with no shame - which is no longer a few bad eggs, but hundreds and thousands, EVERY TIME.

You can't even flag content from the web page. You need to open the store on your phone. Great assumption : That every single person that would like to flag content has an Android phone in their hand, and the App Store installed.


Onward.

Here is my current frustration. The Flappy Bird successor called "Swing Copters" was released recently (there are many stories about Flappy Bird online, just look it up on a search engine). Long story short - the game went viral and now the developer has released a follow up.

I cannot for the life of me tell you which is the original version of the game on the Android Play store.

Is this not a concern? The image I tweeted (linked later down) contains not only riffs on the app name itself, it contains riffs on the creator name too. This is blatantly terrible behavior and shouldn't be allowed.


I hesitate to call out specific developers, but some of them just need to be linked here to make it clearer. I feel that if I don't link actual people doing this, it tends to sound like one is making it up.


Here are some clever developers. They have tried really hard to shoehorn the name of this new game, into their title. Little success, mind you.

Note the first line of their Description. It mentions not one but both of these games. Even if the game is ~similar~ to Flappy Bird, the misuse is not even trying to be subtle. It's flagrantly showing up in the search results for an entirely new game, because it's a “smart” move.

And more importantly, because it works, because there is no recourse.

This is just from our view, the consumer. What about the creator of Flappy Bird? What recourse does he have? From what I see, absolutely no action to be taken.

Some developers I witnessed first hand, submitting countless reports for a single copy of their game, and only ~eventually~ was it removed. This cost the developer oodles of time, time they could have spent improving their game, engaging with their community, improving the eco system of your life blood. Instead they were running around in circles behind legal forms and terrible online automated systems, because of you, the app stores. You see this as ok.

For many of these search results, I like to play a fun game,

“How many hit titles can you find in one game listing?“

This one hasn't changed the "saga" word out of their icon. I feel that it's likely the game had saga in the title for a while too. But, that's speculation on my part.


Here's another problem.

Apps can have the same name on Google Play, why?

The image in the tweet linked below, has so many games named the same thing. You can visit the Play store at any time and find your own handful of crazyness too.


This one is also great, it has not one but TWO games packed into one download. So clever. They were bold enough to predict that Swing Copters was going to be a "smash hit game" within mere hours of it's release! Weird how that is.

These guys are extra smart. They didn't think that one free copy of the game would be enough, instead, why not just release them as two different applications??

Education

And here is where the app store has a responsibility in my view : A large percentage of consumers just do not know any better. The store is succesfully increasing counters because a lot of the audience isn't necessarily paying attention to things they don't yet know about. It's the store that should be teaching them to be a little more wary of the influx of garbage, provided there is no way to stop it from polluting their front lawn. Which I don't believe.

Below is the install base of this game. Granted, it has changed from a prior name to a new name with an update - to include the new copy of the new game, but more to my point is that this reaches far back, it's not a new problem. I also recognize that people want to play a game that was removed from the store, maybe this is a really great copy of it? I don't know.

Between 1 and 5 million people installed this game. That's a lot of installs.

You know who loves wearing a badge that says "billions of installs this year!!!"? You guessed it - every single app store. Every single conference. Every single time.

These stores just LOVE boasting immense incomprehensible numbers that look the same to consumers, year after year after year. Who actually cares? Judging from searching online : “news sites” and fans. Why these? Because when MY toy is better than YOUR toy what better way to show it than with REAL numbers...woop. Hey consumer, 3 is bigger than 4 so, we are the better option right now.


I don't really care how many total times applications overall were downloaded on a platform, any more. Maybe in the early days of the app stores, but now it feels a little like preaching to the choir. Yes, there are MANY apps this year. Ever more than last year (no kidding!) and even MORE installs.

Gee wiz mister, numbers go upward when they are a sum, you blew my mind just then.

Why a post on App stores?

A friend linked an image to me earlier today of the inevitable spam to flood the store when a high profile, or otherwise good game that might make some money is released on any app store. I tweeted this image (I wish I knew the source of it, I only got it in a direct link form : please let me know if the image is yours and I will attribute accordingly) From this post, from this tweet.


What was a hastily tweeted joke about the state of the eco systems to the store twitter profile, wound up in an opinion piece on Polygon, a rather large website with a good handful of readers.

The article is here. It makes some great points. There are many many articles about THIS ONE GAME alone. There are countless games that cause this sort of behavior, all the time. Threes, another more recent example, a game I played a lot during the development phase for a really long time is also fallen prey to this underbelly of the app stores. You can buy the source code to a clone of these games, with custom themed art for a bunch of dollars, and can publish the games to the store with no consequence. In the case of Threes, someone made an open source inspired game and it got a lot of widespread attention that led to flooded storefronts of not just clones of threes, but clones of the clones of threes and their clones too! It's absurd as it sounds, I am afraid.

For good measure, here is a Flappy Bird riffing on 2048 (the Threes copy). This is found by searching for "Swing Copters" on Google Play store. Yep... Totally different games.

.


If you like, search for "app stores clone" or any terms relating to the influx of shovelware thrown into the mix on an hourly basis. These weird minds run around like a gold rush, in the glimmering hope of catching some falling coins or “fame” in the madness. You won't be disappointed for results.

For you, the consumer

Perhaps spend some time educating yourself, if the app stores aren't doing it, you might have to for now. Learn about these games you play, about the developers behind the games. Maybe seek out the originals? These hand crafted, dripping with love games - these games that were literally created with YOU in mind. Your joy. Your time. Engineered to make you happy.

You might be surprised how many developers out there you will find, desperate to woo you for a brief moment through countless hours of work and focus.


For you, the developers

Really?


For you, the stores

No whining without hopefully helpful suggestions,
I try to keep myself to this, so here are some silly ideas :

  • Allow developers and users alike to report this slimy behavior, and actually spend some time moderating your store front (if you do already, try a little harder? It's hard to believe given the thousands of copies of games literring the pages).
  • If you literally cannot do that, implement ways to mitigate the influx at the very least, so instead of the 1000 fakes and somewhere an original, maybe your consumers will only have to dig through 50, or 10. This is the essence of your job as a store, so make an effort to serve your customers better and respect their time.
  • Stop featuring copies of an original game. Stop rewarding this behavior. Especially, when the original game hasn't even made it to your platform yet, celebrating the copies and clones is just demeaning and says a lot about your platform as a whole.
  • Revoke developer privileges that disrespect your store, your users, and your eco system. If you want a healthy eco system (do you? so hard to tell at times) the only way I can think of is actual consequence. Pull the games, suspend their services. Do SOMETHING. Right now I have heard of literally zero, not even one person being wrapped on the knuckles (I would LOVE to be wrong!)
  • Celebrate the things that do improve your eco system more, like original hand crafted content engineered specifically FOR you and your users. Things created with care and consideration.
  • Build bridges. Reach out to developers that publish work that enriches your platform constantly, as there are MANY, and strive to improve the quality and diversity of your content, for the benefit of your users and therefore your profit margins. Because who are we kidding, this is what you are about, and your behavior is indicative of this, quite often.

Conclusion

In the end, I felt like getting this out there for my own feelings, because as a Android and iOS user I always feel a heavy heart opening up the store page. I just know it's going to be a list of games that are forced out by the bucket load from these types of people out for a quick dime. Rarely, sometimes just maybe, a shining gem sitting for a brief moment glinting atop the garbage piles - only to be plowed under in a matter of hours or days.

I will note that during the writing of this post, several gross looking additions to the search results were added, and they are no longer listed. Many of the ones in the tweeted image, don't appear to be found as results any more. Maybe just maybe they are trying to get a handle on it, but the number of completely unrelated applications, games, calculators, travel guides and other garbage filling the list each minute is just as much of a problem as the ones that are being filtered.


If you really think as a store front that the consumers are content and will just wade through the trash indefinitely, I fear you may not ever reach your potential as a service to the world at large.

Good luck out there, app stores. You can, and have changed entire industries, rocked worlds, changed lives. I hope you remember those times and strive like crazy to be magical again - because wow, how far you have slipped away.

Caption obvious : This is all my weird opinion.