The four top-grossing apps in the iPhone App Store are:
- Texas Poker
- Zynga Poker
- Tap Zoo
All four are free. The money they make comes from in-app purchases. In all four, those purchase aren’t things like unlocking the full game, getting more levels, new features, or anything else you get to keep. These apps all sell virtual currency to be used in the game.
To say I’m not a fan of this model would be an understatement; to say I consider it despicably exploitative would be harsh but accurate. That said, what they’re doing is a legal way to go about business and I don’t think Apple should completely filter out such apps. But, there’s a but…
The App Store originally launched with two categories in the Top 25 list: Top Paid and Top Free. It did not take long for app prices to plummet to 99c, and the community started grumbling about devaluation, races to the bottom, and shovelware. Apple introduced the Top Grossing list almost certainly in order to combat this perception. An excellent app that sells for $6.99 could show up in this exclusive list even if it sold a fifth of the copies a 99c app did.
Then Apple added in-app purchases and decided to include those when calculating apps’ earnings for the Top Grossing list. The result? The list is completely dominated by fake-money compulsion engines. The very fact that these are the top grossing apps signals just how good they are at vacuuming money out of pockets. “Games” of this sort make me embarrassed for games as a medium. You can buy a $99.99 dose of fake money in Texas Poker (with no possibility of, uh, winning any money back.) For shame.
You will not see Apple promote these apps; they know very well what the score is. So if Apple wants the Top Grossing list to be at all useful, they’ll change how it’s calculated.
APRIL 2014 UPDATE: My suggestion that Apple should exclude or minimize the effect of IAP gross in the Top Grossing list wasn’t well thought out. While more than 90% of apps on that list sell virtual currencies (rather than downloadable content or some other finite good) it would still be a fussy and possibly unfair calculation. My current thinking is that Apple should simply remove the Top Grossing list completely, and downplay the Top lists overall in favor of editorial picks.