Apple’s rules force app distributors to evolve new methods

Jul 11, 2011
Tech

Back in April, Apple banned an app distribution technique that had a significant impact on the freemium game market and developers trying to get their games noticed. It’s called incentivized app distribution, and it works by inserting app downloads as ads into other games. For example, with the incentivized system, you could see an ad […]

Back in April, Apple banned an app distribution technique that had a significant impact on the freemium game market and developers trying to get their games noticed.

It’s called incentivized app distribution, and it works by inserting app downloads as ads into other games. For example, with the incentivized system, you could see an ad while playing FarmVille to download Mafia Wars (both are Zynga games, but this is just a “for instance”). In exchange for downloading Mafia Wars, you might receive the premium money in FarmVille that you’d otherwise have to pay for – making your FarmVille experience a little better, while getting you to download another game in which you might spend money while playing.

This advertising model had a lot of companies behind it that made money by setting up the ads and collecting a fee from the developers who wanted their apps featured. But Apple put the kibosh to that form of app distribution because it was creating problems for its iTunes App Store charts, apparently by allowing developers to artificially inflate the number of downloads their apps were receiving by offering incentives for the downloads. That caused Apple to see high download numbers for apps without those numbers necessarily reflecting that the app was good or that people liked it – just that people liked receiving some incentive in another app or game they used regularly.

Because of the ban, those advertising companies that used incentivized installation have been forced to come up with a new way to make money and get apps noticed. because despite the ban, developers still often need help getting their apps in front of players, especially as the App Store pushes close to half a million apps on offer.

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According to a story from GigaOM, W3i, a company that formerly specialized in pushing incentivized app installations before the ban, is working on a new form of getting apps in front of viewers. It’s a system that places an ad in other apps, offering a “free app” download for 24 hours. Instead of being an incentive system, the app is free for a limited time, but is still distributed by using another app or when playing another game.

W3i’s new system only offers the apps for a short period and works the ad in at a specific moment to make sure it doesn’t take away from the game that’s being played. That moment might be when an achievement is earned or when the app is started up, for example. It’s up to developers and publishers as to when they want their ads to appear in other apps.

So how does W3i’s new system dodge the ban Apple put on incentivized installs? Here’s a quote from GigaOM explaining:

“W3i believes the new ad product won’t run afoul of Apple’s ban on incentivized installs because it is basically a banner ad for an app that is on sale. Incentivized installs, which allowed a user to download an app in exchange for virtual currency or goods, was targeted by Apple for apparently gaming the App Store rankings, boosting apps that paid for those ad campaigns.”

It’s a pretty sound theory, especially since plenty of apps go free or reduce their prices at key times (Electronic Arts does its best to take over the App Store charts with massive sales during every holiday), and there are several apps that exist only to offer other apps for free. Since W3i’s plan is just to make an ad like any other in an app, it should fall well within Apple’s guidelines.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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