Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Ian Harper of Hungry Shark developer Future Games of London claimed that larger, more profitable publishers were effectively "buying their way up the charts" by making use of Cost Per Install marketing programs.
"Any developer who hasn't already had a hit on the App Store faces that challenge: 'can I get anybody to play it in the first place?'" said Harper. "Lots of big social media games companies are coming into iPhone and buying huge numbers of CPI [Cost Per Install] installs and advertising, essentially buying their way up the charts, which really kind of crowds out the space for other people quite a lot. That's been getting progressively worse in the last year, to the point where now it's very, very difficult to get an app seen at all."
Cost Per Install is a marketing method where app developers partner with a larger publisher who will promote their title, perhaps in other apps, and then only pay when a user installs (or, in some cases, runs) their app as a result of discovering it via the large publisher's marketing. A good example is games which use an in-game network providing details of other available apps, or when social game publishers offer users virtual currency in exchange for trying out other apps.
Future Games of London offers its own promotional network that works in a similar manner, though Harper believes that his studio's status as an independent publisher will give other developers more peace of mind than having to enter into a potentially restrictive contract with larger publishers like Chillingo.
"It's really an alternative to going cap in hand to Chillingo or one of the other big publishers and doing some terrible deal with them, potentially having to give up your IP or something like that. So this is just to give people an alternative," explained Harper. "We don't guarantee to publish anything that anybody sends us -- we're very much cherry-picking what we want to promote and that's really because we don't want to promote apps from within our own games that we don't think are that good."
The only trouble with this system is that it potentially skews the charts in favor of those who have the money to pay the "big names" for Cost Per Install promotion, while small-scale titles with small budgets may go unnoticed. But it was ever thus in other sectors of the industry -- big publishers and their partners can throw their marketing weight around, while smaller independent titles have to rely on word of mouth (and press) to get noticed. At least alongside these marketing practices, Apple generally does a pretty good job of highlighting interesting new -- and not necessarily big-name -- games and apps via the App Store interface itself.