Report: Apple bans app incentives, cripples freemium games

Apr 19, 2011
Games

It appears Apple has changed the rules of the iTunes App Store once again. A report from Pocket Gamer claims that Apple has begun rejecting freemium games as they get pulled from the App Store for updates. The reason for the apps getting rejected, according to the report, are “that they offer virtual currency in […]

It appears Apple has changed the rules of the iTunes App Store once again.

A report from Pocket Gamer claims that Apple has begun rejecting freemium games as they get pulled from the App Store for updates. The reason for the apps getting rejected, according to the report, are “that they offer virtual currency in exchange for downloads of apps.”

If you’ve played a game that’s “freemium” — that is, one that’s free to download and includes a number in in-app purchases for in-game items to advance your progress — then you’ve probably seen this in action. It’s called app incentivisation, and it works by encouraging players to download new games by offering them virtual currency in the games they’re already playing.

Virtual currency is a big deal in freemium games. The games are free, and the currency found within them is key to doing a lot of things during the course of play — and generally, players have less currency than they need to do most of the things they want to do, which leads to a lot of waiting. That’s where the “premium” half of the word “freemium” comes in, as the game developer allows users to pay real money for the game’s fake money and continue through the game.

But Apple, apparently, is not having any of it. Some popular freemium games have already gotten the ax. One great title among them is Mega Jump, a game that’s received 13.5 million downloads and was pulled temporarily for a bug fix. When the game was resubmitted, Apple kicked it back over the in-game currency incentives.

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Among freemium games, there are advertising networks that build incentives into games to help other games get exposure. Tapjoy is one, which gives away in-game currency in exchange for getting users to download new apps — usually, at a discounted rate over if the player were to just buy the currency outright. It’s used by Glu Mobile, a huge player in freemium games, among others, and Tapjoy’s business is reportedly something like $35 million per month.

That’s a huge amount of business to suddenly cut out of the App Store with no warning, and that’s not to mention the fact that game developers across the App Store are going to be mighty annoyed when they find out the advertising network they paid into is suddenly no longer allowed, or that their games are suddenly banned.

Tapjoy claims that app download incentives are “the largest and most effective channel for app installs” in the App Store. That might be a tall claim, but the new rules are certainly going to have a big effect. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a precursor to Apple rolling out an incentive system of its own or demanding additional control — either way, be careful about updating your favorite freemium games for the time being.

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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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