How App Store Rankings Affect Developers and Gamers

Photo via Flickr / Cristiano Betta

An informal petition has been launched among iOS app developers, each stating their views on why Apple should remove its chart system from the App Store. Instapaper creator Marco Arment is one of the many voices pleading for Apple to remove the lists, and his reasoning is incredibly sound.

On his personal blog, Arment examines why Apple should remove top lists, but the major reasons are all generally common sense. App developers compete for the few spots on the App Store’s top paid apps list, as this chart drives consumer downloads under the idea that “if it’s popular, it must be good.” In reality, this hive mind mentality only encourages developers to care less about the actual product they’re selling, and more about undercutting the competition to stay on top of the charts.

“Developers will optimize for whatever factor is being rewarded. The “top” list simply rewards developers for getting as many people as possible to buy or download the app once,” says Arment. “There’s no reason to optimize for longer-term satisfaction or higher engagement after purchase.”

This drive for the top spot hurts consumers who are often fooled by companies that pay to have their app’s popularity artificially inflated through fake downloads, but Quote-Unquote Apps’ John August goes one step further to detail how this practice hurts developers as well.

August’s example sees a developer pricing a $10 app for $1, just to earn that coveted place on the top app charts. “For that reason alone, you might pick that price even though you now have ten times the customers to support,” August says. “By pricing it for the masses, you’re dealing with the masses.”

For all of these reasons, August believes the best-selling charts shouldn’t be available to the public eye. “Charts encourage developers to focus on competitors rather than customers. So get rid of ‘em,” he says. In doing so, developers can get back to what matters over the long term: creating quality apps rather than flooding the store with clones that are downloaded once and never used again.