While some are still trying to come to terms with just how Flappy Bird got to the top of the App Store charts, another game has come along that will make you wonder just what the hell is going on.
Right now, the #2 paid app (#1 paid game) on Apple's App Store is a game called Red Bouncing Ball Spikes.
It is, for want of a more eloquent term, a piece of shit.
Built using a $10 template available from Game Salad, a service for people who want some help making mobile games, it's poorly-rendered, breaks on some phones and lacks Game Center support. It lies about its length, promising "over 100 different long levels", while actually delivering around 30. Its first update had to add a menu button, because the original release forgot to.
When Flappy Bird first came out of nowhere, it was accused of having used bots to inflate its download count, propelling it up the charts (and thus in front of more eyeballs, making more money).
The fact so many are enjoying Flappy Bird - and that despite its creative borrowings, it's at least relatively polished - has relegated that theory to the background, as has the fact it's a free game.
But Red Bouncing Ball Spikes is a $0.99 download.
So just who is downloading this crap, and where is the money coming from? The developer - listed as Louis Leidenfrost - has no other presence on the App Store. This game has had no marketing. It's not on Game Center. "Louis" has no contact info listed, and his support section redirects to the fake URL twiiterr.co.
User reviews are just as fishy. While it has an overall rating of three stars, that's mostly split between 1-star reviews warning people away and suspicious five-star ratings.
Red Bouncing Ball Spike's App Store webpage, for example, only shows three full reviews from people like "ilovethisapp193903", who proclaim:
This game is the best game of 2014 in my opinion, it brings simplicity to a good place. It is very fun, engaging, and I can't stop playing. please make more apps! Fantastic job! 5 stars! I recommend this to all people. Best 99 cents I've ever spent.
It may not sound like a big deal, but for people making mobile games for a living, it is. The App Store is the only visibility these games get. It's Gamestop, Amazon, eBay and Walmart rolled into one. Games at the top of the charts enjoy a snowball effect; they're the games people see when they visit the store, so they're ones that are downloaded the most.
I'm not sure what we're looking at here. It could be fraud. It could be performance art. It could be trolling. It could be all three at once. Whichever it is, it's starting to look possible that people have found a real, effective way to game Apple's (and Google's) App Store charts for financial gain, something both companies are going to need to take a look at.