Monetizing apps in the iOS environment means playing by Apple's rules, and occasionally adapting to changes in how those rules are enforced. Sometimes those changes can impact the way ads are served and tracked, as happened back in February when Apple (briefly) put a barbed wire fence around the use its Identifier For Advertising for attribution purposes.
Now it appears App Store moderators are homing in on another piece of the app revenue value chain. Late last week Apple began a new crackdown on some apps that incentivize or reward users to engage in a range of activities, some of them geared to advertising.
Moderators began rejecting some apps that give mobile game players virtual currency or additional game play in exchange for watching video "app trailers" or for sharing an app or app-related content on a social network.
So far, the enforcement changes appear to affect a small numbers of apps, including apps represented by AdColony, Vungle and AppLovin.
Rewards are commonly used by app developers and their monetization partners – firms including Flurry, Fiksu and sponsorpay – to drive new installs in the highly competitive app marketing space. King.com, publisher of Candy Crush Saga, spent $377 million in 2013 to promote its apps, in part through incentives-based promotion. According to a source, Supercell Games spent upwards of $1 million with a single partner in a recent month, and it works with more than 100 monetization partners globally.
"You play a game, you die, and when you die, the game offers you more lives in return for sharing to Facebook. You have a chance to watch an ad to get more gameplay," said one source in the app monetization space who is unhappy with the change. "Users really like these offers because they get to play more games. Developers like them because they generate more money. Advertisers like them because they offer new ways to get app installs."
Owning 'App Discovery'
The change comes as Apple heightens focus on user discovery of mobile apps. At its World Wide Developers Conference last week, the company added some search and discovery features while shrinking the "Top Charts" lists that have historically been crucial to app distribution strategies.
The crackdown on incentives may be intended to prevent app shares from gaming the App Store rankings, said HasOffers CEO Peter Hamilton.
"The rejection notices seem to be most focused on the idea that incentivized advertising can drive large volumes of app downloads, which could be used to impact rankings in the App Store," Hamilton said. "However not all rewards and incentives for ads in apps are designed for that purpose."
Another source also expressed concern Apple is trying to "own app discovery" to the detriment of its app developers and intermediaries.
Below is a selection of language Apple sent to app owners, obtained by AdExchanger:
"Going forward, it is appropriate to remove any form of incentivized rating, or ad viewing, etc."
"Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected, unless designed for a specific approved need (e.g. health management, aviation, accessibility, etc.) or to provide significant added value for a targeted group of customers."
"Your app, or its metadata, includes features or content that can have an excessive influence in the listing order or ranking on the App Store, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines."
One of Apple's rejection notices even called into question the permissibility of the ubiquitous App Install ads format, a big revenue driver for Facebook and an area of significant investment for Twitter and others. The notice read, "Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected, unless designed for a specific approved need (e.g. health management, aviation, accessibility, etc.) or to provide significant added value for a targeted group of customers."
Apple has yet to issue a statement about the enforcement actions beyond the rejection notices sent to developers, and did not reply to a media request for comment.
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