Rank Fixing on the Mac App Store

MacWorld Magazine has an interesting piece of news ( Apple warns developers against gaming App Store rankings )  about how Apple is warning developers about gaming the system on the Mac App Store to improve ranking. I have not engaged in this kind of gaming, but every system has its holes, and the Mac App Store seems to encourage some kind of unethical behavior by nature of how it works.
No system is perfect, and Apple’s Mac App Store brokerage model is no different in this regard.

By being present and bundled with Mac OS X, Apple has guaranteed that any developer with a deep interest in the platform is going to be present, or at least have some sort of strategy to counter competitors that are present. You don’t need to be in the Mac App Store to be a developer for Mac OS X, however you will be severely disadvantaged against competitors that are there and the trends found there.

I’ve been selling Shade 3D on the Mac App Store for a while now. Shade 3D is a sort of sub-version of Shade Basic, the entry level product in the Shade line of 3D modeling, rendering and animation products. A few things I have learned along the way:

  • Price matters. It matters alot. If you do not have an understanding of consumer habits (and that’s what the market is on Mac App Store, consumer) you are at a big disadvantage. You either adapt to consumer focused pricing or you adapt your product FOR  consumer focused pricing. Because of this, traditional pricing may get you bad reviews on Mac App Store.
  • Gaming on Reviews. Review gaming is where the problem lies – Mac App Store promotes low prices. Low prices also make it easy for people purchasing for the sole purpose of writing a bad review. Developers have no input on what reviews show or do not show – there isn’t a provider “talk back” mechanism when, say, someone writes a review that misrepresents your product (it doesn’t have feature X when it actually does).  We’ve had customers come and demand upgrades or other gifts with the threat that they will give a bad review on the Mac App Store if we do not comply. The vendor should always have the option to either challenge or remove a review – base it on what the BBB does if you need a specific model.
  • Default Sorting.  Think of sorting like using Google ranks. Those that appear in the upper part of the page get looked at. Many people do not scroll down. Even more do not look at a second page. No matter how good your product is, default sorting based on price or popularity creates an environment which encourages developers to try to game it, just like SEO specialists do for gaming Google ranking.  Note to Apple: default sorting should always be on New or Updated. Developers that regularly update their products have their customers in mind.

Change the playing field of participation on the Mac App Store and you’ll see less gaming.

2 thoughts on “Rank Fixing on the Mac App Store”

  1. I disagree that “new” and “updated” should be default. That leads to a very poor customer experience where it is in an app developer’s best interest to push out as many tiny “bug fix” builds as possible and force all their users to update every day. (In fact it is in their best interest to introduce new bugs on purpose with every update so they can fix them the next day)

    It also would massively increase Apple’s approval line forcing them to re-approve every single app over and over.

    1. Ryan, I agree that this does open the door for a different kind of gaming – it already happens right now, since each update is a form of engagement.

      Abuse happens because Apple allows it, and approval line slowdowns happen because of allocation of resources. There are fixes for that. Apple could simply meter the number of updates to once a month per application or charge for an update review.

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