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[UPDATE] Developer alleges bot-farming company controls the App Store top free charts

Rotten core

Product: App Store | Manufacturer: Apple
App Store iPhone, thumbnail 1
If rumours circling today are to be believed, there are a number of App Store developers who are buying their way to success in Apple's top 25 lists.

An anonymous poster on the Touch Arcade forums, simply known as 'walterkaman', has alleged that a company is offering developers a surefire way to get into the top 25 lists on the App Store - and it involves devious means.

For $5,000, said company will allegedly utilise bots that will download a developer's app over and over again until it has broken into the top 25 charts. At this point, the developer's app will have received sufficient customer exposure to attract downloads from real people.

An unnamed source confirmed to Pocket Gamer earlier that it had also been approached by a company which offered a similar guaranteed placement service to the one outlined above.


The Touch Arcade forum poster alleges that a number of big-name developers are already using the service, including Top Girl dev Crowdstar.

However, later in the forum thread, Crowdstar co-founder Suren Markosian jumped in to defend his company's position.

"We all spend hundreds of thousands if not millions promoting our games every month using legitimate advertising channels such as flurry, chartboost, iAds, etc," Markosian said.

"While I sympathize with the smaller developers who may not have as much funding as we do and feel that we are getting a free ride the fact is we are spending significant marketing dollars to achieve top ratings."


The anonymous poster even alleges that Apple is already aware of the issue, and has banned a developer called Dream Cortex for employing this bot-farming tactic.

Dream Cortex saw its games removed from the App Store last month, and it originally said that it was "not sure what is happening" when questioned by Gamezebo. Pocket Gamer has contacted Dream Cortex regarding the allegations.

Unfortunately, the poster removed the name of the company behind this bot-farming scheme before Pocket Gamer could get to it. However, a quick Google search pulls up a forum post which appears to closely resemble the information given.

Reviewer photo
Mike Rose 6 February 2012
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Feb 2014
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@FullColorGames | 12:07 - 9 February 2014
The GTekna email text below is accurately reproduced. It seems that they have created a "reverse method" of the "free app a day" methods that employs a hook to those that engage it. Complete an action (of downloading an app) and get something ELSE you wanted because of it. But then again, that's no different than any other incentivized app download method that exists in many ad SDKs like Tapjoy, SponsorPay, Supersonic and the rest slew of others. Do something you most likely don't want to do to get something else you do, resulting in the creation of a tsunami for the party you're doing it for. That's not a bot nor a farm, it's incentivized marketing, plain and simple.

I can assure you that Suren Markosian is speaking the truth on how much money they are spending to acquire the users through modern methods of marketing and promotion. They spent an insane amount of money there for awhile and were unavoidable in every app (including ours) and still market heavily to this day, albeit it more targeted now than ever.

What is missing in Suren's statement is how it is started, how it evolved and how it's currently being done and in what order it all occurred in applied methodology. What did they do first? The low hanging fruit method or the top of the tree method. Burst campaigns vs. cherry picking method over time, localized or non-localized targeting? Image or text campaigns. Banners or interstitials. Video or statics? Email or web? Mobile or computer. Facebook + Mobile apps? Cross promotion or pure non-organic. White hat, gray hat or black hat marketing? There are so many variables that go into the BIG picture of how one's success happens that even I could write a 300 page book on it.

You can spend all the money you want in the world by doing incentivized marketing or in traditional marketing, by bait and switch methods, incentivized, buying the downloads, marketing, promoting or doing good old fashioned PR.

It still all comes down to the quality of your app at the beginning and the end of your day that causes it to spread virally in an organic method to reach millions upon millions of "free downloads". The real measuring stick is time which creates revenue over time as much as to what degree you become a brand name. If no one clicks through and downloads you go no where on the charts but can spend a ton of money shooting blanks.

Flappy Birds may have employed nefarious methods to get there, but one thing is for certain, they most CERTAINLY didn't advertise in any traditional method from what anyone can see or tell. What we also know is that EVERYONE that has played it draws an IDENTICAL conclusion. Very frustrating. Very addicting because it is very frustrating. Mission accomplished regardless of how it got to become a house hold name to millions of people around the world.

Well if you want to do it without controversy, virtual device bots or any other method, it seems that no one will tell you how they did it in the traditional advertising non-organic download methods.

Perhaps we can change that, because I am willing to publish the details for those that want to know how it's done.

We have just begun to actively acquire users on a global basis. We have downloads now in 150+ countries and have hit #1 in the card and board category in 39 of those countries as well as #1 in the overall app store of 2 of them along the way in the first 90 days of our official commercial release on November 21, 2013 across our 4 identical apps each with different targets. We believe we have something extra that should have a huge global effect in card gaming, but we also know we have to create awareness to generate downloads just like everyone else does. We aren't doing anything illegal or nefarious that may subject us to losing our developer license despite being seduced by many others to engage in such practices.

We make Full Color® Solitaire on iOS featuring Full Color® Cards. We have 2 versions of the same app, and 2 for each platform of iPhone & iPad. Our games are revolutionary in the fact that I invented the world's first new universal deck of playing cards that now lets you play 13, 16, 19, 22 & 25 cards per suit to create a brand new way to play all your favorite games in new ways that were never before possible until we removed the face cards off of a deck of cards. You can download it on the iTunes App Store free here and check it out for yourself in our trailer:



We have been in a quiet soft launch mode for all intensive purposes to perfect things as we are new kids on the block at app development and if we are going to make mistakes we want to make them on a very small scale first so we don't kill ourselves our our branding efforts. We want to make sure things are as flawless as possible before we seek press from app reviews, promotions, word of mouth, radio, print, internet and television interviews so we don't crash and burn when it's time to truly scale, because if there is anything Angry Birds or Flappy Birds, Temple Run or Subway Surfers has proven, it's true that you can go from 0 to 50 million downloads in just a few weeks if you "get lucky" and the world on a whole discovers your app and people start sharing with friends, press starts talking about you or Alec Baldwin gets kicked off of a plane because he refused to stop playing your game after John Mayer tweeted about it before that!!!

For us, solitaire is the #1 game on the planet, so far as how much time is wasted playing it by people all over the world and it hasn't changed in about 225 years or so until now. I have completely reinvented it and solved the problem of "choice" because there is NO OTHER WAY to play solitaire because it would require a new universal deck of cards, of which none existed until I invented one and now we are off to the races and our statistics are proving that our game play is off the charts with entirely new levels of addiction with those that have already downloaded it.

So how has our launch gone with the "get lucky" or "buy your users" method and everything in between?

Well, in the first 60 days, we acquired over 100K users without even breaking a sweat in paid advertising by testing the waters doing things the traditional method... good old fashioned advertising. In fact, our numbers are so explosive, that we've had to turn DOWN the volume in the ad spend to throttle it so we don't spend too much too fast based on the nature of having a trinity game that people keep playing where we make pennies on every game that accumulate over time.

How do you do acquire users as an independent without relying on serendipity to help you "Get Lucky". Do actual bot farms really exist and if they do, would you really want to use them and subject your app from being removed permanently from the app store? How do you acquire users and as an independent without millions of dollars to spend like the big boys or VC funded companies? No one will REALLY tell you, so you're forced to figure it out on your own. I hope to change that because I intend on going publish with our details over time as it happens for all independents to see and hopefully save themselves some of the agony we have been through along the way.

As an a game inventor and app developer, much more, a first timer at both, I can tell you that from our perspective (after you think you've conquered, "I've got an app that is worthy of an audience" hurdle first and it tests off the charts in focus groups), that in a big picture of cost / expense, what really matters at the end of every day in the world of user acquisition is your click thru rate, your conversion rate and then, your retention rate when employing traditional methods.

Then, how do you monetize that? If you can't make more than you spend and you can't print your money like the US Treasury does, you're doomed. All of it is part of the final equation that justifies your CPI / CPA vs. your income rate to see if you're going to go broke or not playing the game of game acquisition which can bankrupt you pretty fast. Then you have to factor in so many other things like on going support of your app, 3rd Party SDK updates, OS updates and so much more that affects the bottomline. (this BS of not being able to charge for software updates needs to end, because it's killing the indy publisher not to be able to charge for updates and only be able to rely on new users to create new income, but that's entirely other subject).

Further you'd best know precisely what is happening with your costs, user and player data because you also can't believe everything that every app tracking method tells you like analytics SDKs from Flurry, nor can you believe things like daily user counts on Facebook. We would know, as we built our own customized server system to track our data and game play. Our monthly count on Facebook may say 5,000 which we know is absolute BS, because we tracked it from the first 75,000 users we know that are solely from Facebook ads alone despite them saying we only have 5,000 monthly users! Your own analytics are what matters. Our average session time per Flurry and our REAL game time is over 400% off. Why? Session data can be horribly erroneous due to incoming SMS, phone calls, app closes, reopens, ad click through, and so many other variables.

Fortunately for us, the interest in our games of Full Color® Solitaire is SO HIGH, that once people see the picture of the game in an ad, we are seeing a click thru rate that is 10-20x higher as an advertiser than what we are being paid as a publisher. If the industry is seeing 0.25 CTR and we are seeing a 2.5% CTR, we know something magical is going on for us but the real proof of the pudding is the actual real download and conversion from a paid ad. Our conversion rates on a click through an average 64.2% conversion rate over 60 days or daily 52-99% depending on the country, the day and the source of the install from a non-organic click (an ad generate install). That's off the charts from what we know in a paid advertising campaign.

We are getting non-organic downloads on iOS that across all countries in the world, are averaging about 15.2¢ a piece for both iPhone and IPad, which is easily 80-95% less than what you would pay for a "user acquisition' campaign on most major ad networks. Our own internally managed ad campaigns are so successful on our CPC basis, that it's impossible for us to advertise with 99% of the ad networks on a flat CPI or CPA basis because they want from $1.50 to $4.00 for a UA.

If we pay 3¢ for an install in Egypt (which is our average) how many games does someone have to play if we make 1¢ on every video ad delivered there? Gee, we get our money back REALLY FAST! 3 games played. But that's not a full view of the metrics because you have to factor the most expensive country into the mix.

If it's the USA and we paid 28¢ for the install and we earn 2.8¢ for a 19 card set game played from ads, we get it back slower in the CPI vs. the ROI from ad income, because we then we have to factor in how much we make if someone plays a 25 card set which is 3x longer to play allowing us to delivery 3x as many apps, which could then reduce our Cost vs. ROI even more. So we have to find the average across all 8 games in our app and all 5 card sets making 40 games as an average. Each day, every day, all 40 card sets are played by people all over the world now giving us a true global snapshot of an income per game as our KPI which we can then use to plug into the formulas of CPI vs. EBITDA. There is no one stop shop answer to how developers acquire users as we are all different.

Everything becomes a moving metric based on cost to install, country and the ability to generate income back if you're primary business model is advertising in the freemium space.

All of the above goes to prove that if your product is INTERESTING enough, in a non-organic market, and your demographic is WIDE enough, your CTR and conversion rates will be exponentially higher meaning you have to micro-manage your campaigns to make sure don't do what Crowdstar is doing, spending millions to acquire users. If Fashion Story is your game, your market is only female. You've instantly have to change 100% of your method in how you micro manage a campaign vs. a card gaming app that appeals to all ages and genders. Your costs change your metrics change, everything changes. Are you ad based or IAP based for ROI? So much to consider. Why won't anyone give you the details? Sure it's proprietary data, but it's also necessary to have transparency to make the industry better on a whole.

As an independent developer, we are actually preparing to release our FULL ADVERTISING details on precisely how we acquired 100,000 new users in 60 days on a microspend doing it the traditional way of advertising to give other indies a TRUE and HONEST insight on how it's done on a global level and what to expect or not expect.

One thing is for certain, if you don't play by Apple's rules, you will get banned from the app store and explained above. Did Flappy Birds just "Get Lucky" and win the Grammy's of the IOS App Store "App of the Year" award, or did they "game" the system with app bots with downloading schemes with bot farms to juke the system? Only one guy knows, and that's the developer himself. Will his tweet of "pulling the app from the app store in 22 hours" prove to be an even greater "scheme" to get MORE downloads and because he is going to rescind it due to "popular demand" and prove that he is not lucky at all, but in fact a marketing genius? Time will tell. What we do know is that his app sat on the app store 100% DOA for nearly 6 months before it started climbing the charts in November, sputtered, then climbed again in December and got some traction and sputtered again, and then January took "flight" and then "shazam", went into geosynchronous orbit in February? Something is clearly whacked here, but does it matter for him in the end? Why is he taking it down? Will he be banned from the app store because he got caught violating his Apple developer agreement for juking the App Store Stats? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, he succeeded at creating a global brand in just a few months time by shattering every record on the books and left everyone to wonder how to legitimately replicate it for our own purposes!

Regardless of what the answers are for Flappy Birds or for Full Color® Solitaire, we have learned this from mobile apps: We know that consumers love games, they love challenges and they love new product that is entertaining. The mobile industry is so dynamic, the world has grown to be so small, that you can circle the ENTIRE GLOBE in mere milliseconds and thanks to the great press websites like Pocketgamer, they proliferate that news at the speed of light all the more letting the word of mouth compound on itself!

What an exciting time to be a mobile apps game developer isn't it? Flappy Birds, no matter how it "arrived", it is living proof that "90% of success is just showing up!". Without a game on the app store, it's like trying to win the lottery, you can't win if you don't buy a ticket!

Feel free to download our apps and shoot us an email, check out our website at fullcolorsolitaire.com or follow us on Twitter.com/FullColorGames - I'll be happy to load you up with some free credits for more ad free game play if you do!

See you in the game!

David Mahon
Apr 2013
Post count:
Attila Beke | 11:39 - 1 April 2013
For organic reviews and downloads use https://promodispenser.com
Your first campaign is even free!
Users write honest reviews, so if you don't want bad reviews, don't add your crappy app :-P
Jun 2011
Post count:
jitterhitter | 18:07 - 12 February 2012
is it just me or does this sound like its comming from China. that country has the biggest hold on the pirate, illegal, and infriging of games. the Tool battery for the psp, flash carts for the DS and there already extreamly close to finishing a flash cart for the 3 DS as well. im not blamming the country as a whole but seriously theres a problem comming from that direction and because of international laws it just continues.
Feb 2012
Post count:
bantingo | 02:26 - 7 February 2012
Look at all the companies using Gtekna http://freeappparty.com/index.jsp these are some pretty major app companies I see there including Glu, SGN, Disney, Crowdstar, Gameloft, Beeline. It's more like who is not using them?

Feb 2012
Post count:
BouncingCow | 16:54 - 6 February 2012
super jump world used the same for his free version like many other ppl before him, they just didnt got caught :P
Feb 2012
Post count:
honkj | 16:07 - 6 February 2012
uhh, this isn't news... this is how all the top 25 lists are formed from day one, not by bots per say, but by bought advertising, and banner ads... (to cover the fact that the banners are on sites that use people to download those apps) a network of employees and hurds of people paid to download the particular free app....

this has been true from day one... (well in second place after the incentivized apps that advertise other apps to download for points... this used to control the top 25 until apple finally stopped that)

and this will continue to happen until Apple gets the hint that they should have about 100 different categories and list the good apps in that 100 categories at top rather than the most downloaded, it should be the best reviewed by Apple staffers and groups of downloaders that can be trusted alike to weed out fake reviews too...

this would be easy to quash if Apple didn't have a overall "top 25", (why do they think they need that? people should search for a category first, then see a top 25 of that sub sub sub category) and they should use downloads as a measure at all...

they'll figure it out, they always take forever to figure these things out though...
Feb 2012
Post count:
paultag | 15:47 - 6 February 2012
The only thing I'm surprised at here is how long this has taken to become public knowledge. These things have been going on since day one of the App Store. Apple will close the loop and someone will find another way to exploit it and it all starts again.

Puts all us small indie studios at a major disadvantage - especially the ones that can't even afford the $5000
Feb 2012
Post count:
modogo | 14:35 - 6 February 2012
I was approached by GTekna... You be the judge whether this is botting or not. And for the record I have not even responded to that mail!

############# Begin Mail ###############

I came across your website and thought that you may be interested in a promotion service for your app.

Our service promotes a lite/free (including ones with in-app purchase) version of your application and get it into the Top Free 25 within the US app store within three days. Your app can go from unknown to Top 25 in three days with our reliable and economic service. We have worked with many companies and indie developers who can attest to the success they have experienced.

We have a no-gimmick full money back guarantee, so if your app doesn't make to the promised rank, your money is refunded right away.

Your app is promoted through our various ad partners who put banner images on their web sites to promote the application. Most of the downloads are made by regular visitors and some of the larger community web sites give away freebies via a drawing of people who click on the ad banners. Obviously, not all downloads from our promotion are organic, and depending on the app being promoted, the percentage of organic users varies. However, all downloads are made by real people that have valid iTunes accounts.

If this is a service that sounds interesting to you please check out gtekna.com and freeappparty.com for more information and feel free to contact me for any questions.

We can also promote a paid app through our new service, AppTouchPoint.com. Contact us for more detailed information.

Thank you,

Chang-Min Pak

CEO, GTekna Corporation

############# End Mail ###############