Trying to break into any market can be difficult, especially with Indie games. There are times when abuse can happen, such as when Microsoft changed their XBox Live Indie games rating system because of abuse by users. Today, we are hearing about a new kind of abuse on the iOS platform, via Game Politics. The accusation is that smaller iOS developers are being driven out of the Apple app store charts because larger developers are buying their way to the top.
The developer making this claim is Future Games of London, who have brought Hungry Shark to market via the iOS platform. MD Ian Harper at Future Games had this to say:
“Any developer who hasn’t already had a hit on the app store faces that challenge, ‘can I get anybody to play it in the first place?’ I think if you can get people to see you’re in with a fighting chance, but the issue nowadays is lots of big social media games companies are coming into iPhone and buying huge numbers of CPI [cost-per-install] installs and advertising, essentially buying their way up the charts, which really kind of crowds out the space for other people quite a lot.”
The developer has also launched The Future Games Network a new in-app promotion tool to help share their apps and also other indie developers as well. Harper had this to say about it:
“We’re independent developers, we like the idea of general moral helpfulness – we’ve done quite well on the App Store and we’d like to see other independent developers doing quite well too, so we’d like to help them. It’s really an alternative to going cap in hand to Chillingo or one of the other big publishers and doing some terrible deal with them where you end up with quite a restrictive contract, potentially having to give up your IP or something like that. So this is just to give people an alternative.”
This doesn’t mean that every game will get a fair shake either, Harper went on to say this:
“We don’t guarantee to publish anything that anybody sends us – we’re very much cherry-picking what we want to promote and that’s really because we don’t want to promote apps from within our own games that we don’t think are that good. There’s not much too point in doing that.”
Analysis: Things have been difficult the past few days for Apple. With Gaming Bus reporting on the passing of Steve Jobs, this kind of news could not have come at a worse time for the company. I have no reason to doubt Future Games of London’s claims of abuse. What I do find troubling is that they are using this to help catapult their own in-app tool that they control, into the spotlight. Their own system has its potential to be abused, especially if they don’t like a game because it directly competes with their own.
What I think Future Games of London should be doing is putting forth a solution to Apple that will help change and ensure fairness for these new developers, rather then presenting this in-app out there to promote their business. I’ll take their claim of abuse by established publishers with a grain of salt until I see some numbers and sale facts to back it up, but if this is indeed happening as they say it is, Apple, you need to wake up and make a change just like Microsoft had to with XBL. Now, I am not saying every system is going to be perfect, but if companies can use money to make their way to the top of the chart, then that is an unfair and a monopolistic system that needs to be changed ASAP.