This either pisses me off or makes me laugh, not sure which. People pay other people to auto download their apps to increase their rankings so that other people will see those apps and download them. Make's my head spin.
I have to admit it's not exactly unexpected, though I didn't know this was that prevalent. You'd think Apple would notice all the apps being downloaded from the same IP addresses. I imagine they noticed but didn't really care since the apps were free and in the end the added real sales might have added a bit of profit, and maybe the excitement of these "popular" apps added some device sales.
The real victims of course are all the little developers who never had a chance to compete. My recent app Codewords 2 HD has had 2100 downloads and $54 in in app purchases, all from no advertising and mostly from searches (Codeword puzzles are popular in the UK). I guess if I ponied up $15,000 or whatever the bot herders charge I could be famous and be in a commercial or something.
I doubt it would be worth it for this type of narrow interest application. But it does make me wonder that I would ever have the chance to get a hit, assuming the app was broadly appealing, since there is no way I'd ever do this. I can see the appeal though if you are a big publisher and have pressure to have hit after hit and can afford to drop a few big bills.
I think Apple ignoring the obvious fake downloads pisses me off more than the people who actually took advantage. A five minute script and a little database table and voila, lots of banned developers. Of course given that they are likely the bigger players that can afford (and feel compelled to take advantage) this it wouldn't help the App Store much so ignoring it is good business. Yet it feels hollow to think that only the rich publishers can game the market and get the coveted top 10 rankings.
Sure, lots of people probably don't do this, but now that people are talking, you start to think everyone is in on it but you, and that makes us little developers feel even smaller. When I worked for the game company there was a commercial company that provided a product to cheat in the game which everyone knew about, even though the actual numbers of cheaters were small, the perception was that everyone was cheating but you and every time you died in the game it was because of cheating. This then made people quit the game due to the cheating which was actual fairly minimal (and given my clever anti-cheat about to vanish entirely). A self fulfilling fear.
I always wished Apple would create a top ten of the day which was randomly chosen from apps with small but consistent downloads, as a way to help out the little developers so everyone gets a taste of big downloads but I can see it doesn't really do much for Apple so it's not likely.
Bots for bucks. What is the world coming to.