What the iOS Store Should Be

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I am a great fan of Apple and the iOS store, and how it opened game development up to the world in a way which console gaming and PC gaming never did, giving normal people access to hundreds of millions of potential customers (along with other movers and shakers such as UNITY). It is a marvelous step in a good direction which makes development for any of the standard game platforms seem positively byzantine by comparison. I know, I’ve developed for them all. 

However,  as it stands now, the Apple iOS store is broken.

Paid installs and worse force apps to the top of the charts, while gems languish in the 300's, lost below the tide-line of public perception. This is not good, and, I think goes against what Apple hopes to achieve.   

The story of what people believe Apple wants vs. what they actually might want are often at odds. 

People imagine Apple wants a software publishing empire. They picture the iOS store as a huge money maker. And indeed, it has made a lot of money, with nearly 10 Billion dollars paid out to developers in just 5 years. Compared to what Apple makes on hardware, the iOS store, monetarily, is a rounding error. The revenue generated from Apps, Music and Movie sales are minuscule compared to the profit generated by the iPhone and iPad.                                                

The beginning and end of the Apple strategy is this: Apple wants to sell devices. That’s it. All else is window dressing, of sorts — they want compelling Apps in the store, and a lot of them, so people buy them and become comfortable in the Apple ecosystem. iTunes, in all its forms, is best to think of as a large ad. It draws people in, and keeps them there. Overall, with the vast expense poured into licensing, servers and such, it doesn’t make much. 

Apple, I would argue, wants a market place where an 18 year old in his dorm room can compete with EA. They don't care where the quality content comes from, only that there is quality content, and the STORY of such a thing — a kid making a million dollar game — is what generates headlines, which is what translates into sales, not EA shipping another million dollar title. But don’t get me wrong, Apple wants EA there as well. They just don’t want EA as badly as EA wants to be there. That’s part of the problem. These companies imagine Apple needs them. Apple does not.  

So, what does Apple need to do fix the store?

To a large degree, they’ve already begun. Certain companies known to manipulate the Apple system have been ejected from the store (with often comedic responses from their CEOs in the news), the use of unique device identifier information has been outlawed. Apple is on a tear to remove the levers with which the paid install industry moves the Top 10. 

Offer walls are in the crosshairs as well. And the “Free App a Day” service has also been under fire.

Soon, I imagine this mecahnical work will be done, leaving a gap of “how do I promote my App?” I would not be suprised if Apple offered a paid way to do this, with a paid ad space on the front page of the iTunes store, but I imagine if they did, it would be limited in aspect. More likely, I imagine, Apple will bring in metrics and such under their own umbrella, allowing developers to integrate tracking software from Apple in their apps and offering up-to-the-moment tracking for everything in the App. Apple, of course, would also use this data. 

But, back to the point of discovery and artificial manipulation of the iOS store. Once all the loopholes such as paid installs, offer walls, etc… are removed, what do I imagine we’ll see?

What I want is a complete meritocracy, where the best, most interesting or most beautiful games and Apps move to the top on their own, without the need of pouring paid installs in to “kick-start” an App, so it doesn’t fall below the magical Top 100 line. I think it’s coming. I think it’s clear Apple wants it, and I think no external party, no matter how big, can stop it.