Recently a few documents have surfaced in various places on the Chinese side of the Internet. They confirm what many people in the industry were suspecting: the Apple App Store rankings can be (and are) heavily manipulated by unscrupulous developers who generate tons of artificial downloads and five-star ratings.
The documents that have been uncovered give a price indication of the price it costs to reach the top of the rankings through mass download and rating:
- Top 10 Games category, China: CNY 66,000 (USD 10,600) for one day, CNY 297,000 for one week (USD 48,000)
- Top 10 Productivity category, China: CNY 18,000 (USD 2,900) for one day, CNY 81,000 for one week (USD 13,000)
- Top 10 Entertainment category, China: CNY 12,000 for one day (USD 1,900), CNY 54,000 for one week (USD 8,700)
- Top 10 Books: CNY 9,000 for one day (USD 1,500), CNY 45,000 for one week (USD 7,300)
Staff quoted in the article claim two games in the current Chinese top 10 were able to reach their ranking solely by using their service. As one staff mentioned that “Apple changes their algorithms regularly, but we always manage to change our technology as well”. A few photos from those alleged “rankings farming” facilities have also emerged.
The number one issue that app developers are facing right now either on iOS or Android, is app discovery. With hundreds of apps being released every day, it’s almost impossible for new app to be found by a large amount of users, unless its developer is willing to spend massive amount of money to promote it using traditional ways (mostly in-app advertisement). That makes the store rankings extremely powerful as they tend to be the only place users go to discover new apps by downloading whatever is popular, in what becomes a self-reinforcing mechanism. Therefore it’s no surprise some fly-by-night developers try to abuse the system to catapult their app in the top rankings, hoping it will start to snowball and stay there for a while. The problem is for Apple and Google to solve, by making app recommendation more personal, either through social data (you might like the apps your friends use) or by using some clever suggestion algorithm (if you like this app, you might like that one too – Amazon is pretty good at that).
Original articles in Chinese: