Using Bots For App Store Rankings
In the past few years, I have seen people go under the radar and use bots (fake accounts run by computers to artificially create downloads/ranks and reviews). It behaves very strangely and accounts for seeing apps skyrocket to the top of the chart with no real explanation.
Looking at some of the top apps in the store by Dong Nguyen, I hate to say it, but it looks really similar to bot activity.
Of course, I can't prove this and there are strong cases for lots of different potential growth strategies, but I do want to bring this up to engage a discussion and get industry leaders to weigh in with some analysis so that we can find out how this happened.
It's the first time in the app store that I've ever seen this and, if it turns out that it's just a wildly viral game like Gangnam Style, my hat is off to Mr. Nguyen and I wish him the very best of luck and success.
But….things still look weird.
First – these are the apps in question: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/dong-nguyen/id636374342
Second – check the screenshots below to show his rankings.
Impressive, right? It looks like in December/January the app gods shined their lights down on Dong Nguyen and said “YES YOU ARE WORTHY” and completely changed Apple's algorithm to catapult him to the top of the charts. What a miracle it is!!
Typically, if I ever saw any rank insanity like this I would assume that there was traffic buying going on. This happens all the time and makes sense. This happens to indie developers as well when they release a game that hits.
When you release games in MAY (Shuriken Block) and JUNE (Flappy Birds) that have a non-existant launch, then magically lift off 6 months later, it looks weird. Especially when your other games coincidentally all do so at the exact same time as well.
No cross promotions so the top game isn't directly lifting the other apps. As said in a recent interview, Nguyen claims he did zero promoting of this app and was just really lucky. People just want really simple, stupid apps. Right?
Check the Reviews
Here's another nice little tidbit. Read through the reviews. Check the word count. Do an analysis on how many times the word “glitch” “pipe” “addicting” are used relative to the review length. Also check how many negative reviews give 5 stars.
Here's a quick snapshot from a 3 minute scroll through Flappy Bird's reviews.
I don't think there is any app on the app store that has this many consistently morbid reviews that use the same words over and over and are posted in such regularity. If I am wrong, please let me know and we'll start a petition for Apple to stop approving such life destroying apps.
I Smell Something Fishy
I've seen a lot of shady stuff in the app store and this is textbook. For any of you that don't understand how this works, essentially people will create cloak IP addresses and automate hundreds of thousands of Apple ID accounts on virtual devices that download an app millions of times.
Because chart ranking is primarily driven by download volume, the app goes to the top of the charts. Then it enjoys all the organic volume that that chart position gets. The Apple IDs are then programmed to leave a Review of the app (4 or 5 stars) and can create copy using powerful automated programs.
I am very much against this sort of marketing and I hope that this ends up not being true. One saving grace (if he did, in fact use bots) is knowing that he's using AdMob banners and nothing else to monetize, meaning he left about $1M on the table this past week.
What do you think? Is this guy legit? Leave a comment below…
Update: March 11, 2014
Here is a Rolling Stone interview with Dong and he ended up taking the game down. He was making a ton of money, but apparently the pressure was too much for him. That's a new one.