Apple Appears to be Cracking Down on Incentivized Installs

Apple appears to be on a campaign to ban the practice of pay-per-install, where developers offer their apps in other games and pay for downloads when players install their titles for virtual currency. Developers often use this tactic of paying per download to break into the top of the app store charts. (Update: We also have a story here as of April 20 that covers how developers are dealing with the crackdown.)

Developers began receiving rejection notices for dozens of apps late last week and yesterday, saying that they are prohibited from having offer walls. Apple looks like it is changing the interpretation of clause 3.10 in its developer agreement, which says, “Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart ranking in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program.” It’s uncertain what will happen to the thousands of apps that have already been approved and have offer walls.

The move comes on top of a ranking algorithm change we reported yesterday. It looks like Apple is considering extra factors in addition to downloads for the top free app rankings in the store, possibly including active usage and ranking in a category. Apple did not reply to requests for comment or publicly confirm the changes, but the biggest ad networks serving thousands of developers and gaming companies acknowledged that positions in the free rankings had shifted in a very unusual way last week.

Taken together, these decisions are going to change the business models for thousands of apps which rely on pay-per-install either for revenue or getting new users. Apple clearly wants to fix the perception that its top rankings can be gamed and its approach to managing the app store is converging with that of Google’s.

A developer (with their name redacted) passed on this rejection notice from Apple late last evening:

“We found that your app, or its metadata, includes features or content that can have an excessive influence in the listing order or ranking on the App Store, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines.

Specifically, your application allows users to download other apps in order to receive in-game currency. Please refer to the attached screenshot for further information. This feature can have an excessive influence in the listing order or ranking on the App Store.

If you only have to revise your metadata – including icons and screenshots – and not your binary, your iTunes Connect Application State will still show as Rejected. However, we don’t require a new binary for metadata issues only. Please visit iTunes Connect, Manage Applications, and revise the appropriate metadata values or settings. When you are finished, please return to the Resolution Center and reply to this notice.”

Separately, Tapjoy, which is the very largest of all the networks and reaches 200 million unique users, passed on this statement to us:

“As you may have heard, a number of applications submitted for update have very recently been rejected from the Apple App Store based on the fact that they were running incentivized app installs within their apps. This is something new from Apple and we, along with every partner we’ve talked to, were unaware of this prior to these notices of rejection. Like many application developers, we have reached out directly to Apple and look forward to clarification.

To be clear, there is no new Apple policy that we are aware of. It seems there may be a new interpretation of the existing 3.10 clause, which is a bit surprising, as Tapjoy, AdMob, iAd, Flurry, W3i and others all power various forms of app install advertising. Many of the brands that promote their apps via Tapjoy also do the same on other major ad networks across the mobile advertiser ecosystem, and all of the apps we promote on iOS are Apple-approved. 3.10 reads: