Getting on the top charts of the App Store is a great way to boost a developer’s download/revenue numbers, so there have naturally been attempts by shady developers to game these rankings.
A new way to game this system has emerged, which includes pricing apps at unbelievably high prices, then buying a few copies to push it into the top grossing charts, and then dropping its price to $.99 or $1.99 to let people actually buy it.
TUAW found an app called “The Fleas” that is priced $999.99, but has seen frequent price fluctuations to $.99 or $1.99, that likely coincide with the time the game hit the top grossing charts.
From TUAW’s report:
The developer, or whoever is orchestrating the scam, wires a massive amount of money — [the developer] Grachov used $10,000 as an example — to a second party. That individual then purchases 10 copies of the app, exhausting the available funds and indirectly paying $7,000 of the original deposit back to the developer. Apple takes their 30% as usual.
The App Store sees $10,000 worth of money changing hands over the app and, as Grachov says, “like magic” the app appears on the Top [grossing] apps list. How close do you get to the no. 1 spot, for what is essentially a $3,000 App Store bribe? Anywhere from no. 18 to no. 13, according to Grachov.
So for an investment of $3000, the developer gets to be featured in an otherwise organically generated list, which could give him or her access to hundreds of thousands of eyeballs.
The game itself doesn’t seem to be particularly impressive, going by its reviews, but it does have a rating of 4 stars on the US App Store.
Price fluctuations of The Fleas iOS game
Apple had infamously kicked out AppGratis from the App Store over allegations of gaming App Store rankings, and it remains to be seen if the company tweaks it algorithm to combat this new “gaming” technique.