By Yang Wang (guest columnist, text posted and edited by Gina Smith)
They call it Shuabang. And it’s one of the most troubling gangs of system gamers facing mobile game developers in China today.
Shuabang is the practice of using what I consider to be ultra shady methods to hype up apps to the top of the Apple App Store rankings. That’s why a group of top independent mobile game developers and mobile game companies in China are banding together to form United Mobile Games.
They say it will help expose and fight Shuabang — and enable indie developers to get more exposure for their games while doing it.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
A closer look at Shuabang reveals it has spawned an entire industry of people who specialize in hyping Apple iOS games. Android, because of its fragmented market is not as vulnerable to ratings hype schemes. But the situation is particularly dire in the Apple iOS arena. Shuabang practitioners allegedly have created millions of phantom Apple iTunes accounts — in China you don’t need a credit card number to start an account.
Shuabang adherents have the labor force, expertise and necessary software to get the job done. What makes matters worse, app makers go along with it in spades. Some consider Shuabang to be a corrupt way of marketing, sure, but it’s a necessarily corrupt one, they think. And the scheme evolves over time. Almost as soon as Apple adjusts its algorithm, Shuabang experts offer new downloads, ratings or whatever measurements required to fudge the numbers. Shuabang is a sport, and it isn’t a cheap one.
No wonder it’s getting push back. Faced with rising legitimate advertising costs and Shuabang fees that start at $1,500 to get into a top 100 list — a top 10 listing costs as much as $10,000 per day — 10 top notch independent mobile game developers and five CEOs of top mobile game companies are banding together to cross-promote their titles. That’s United Mobile Games.
Helping budget-minded indie developers market their games more efficiently and at a lower cost than traditional advertising will also help developers resist the temptation to game the ratings system with Shuabang, says Neo Zhang, founder of and CEO of Guohe MIX, a cross promotion platform for mobile games that created the United Mobile Games consortium.
It’s a group made up of some of the best mobile game teams. The point is to attract indie developers and get them to combine their resources and promote within each other’s games. Game developers need a deeper understand of how Shuabang-aligned companies game the system.
Shuabang works like this: You pay up — the fee lets the company hire and subcontract 150 to 200 agents who log on using the Shuabang company’s millions of iTunes accounts to download and review the apps as often as is needed to fulfill the order. If they fail to deliver — be it downloads, the desired ranking or the period over which the ranking is maintained — the customer’s money is refunded.
No questions asked.
Shuabang companies even have a choice of different styles for how they will game the system. Shuabang methods include: jacking up ratings all at once within a couple of hours, doing it on a Friday to maximize exposure during the weeks or spreading it out over a month, yanking ratings up whenever they slip. In China, few options remained for those who didn’t want to participate in rating gaming via Shuabang until now.
Bootstrapped developers had few choices — they should succumb to Shuabang or ignore it completely in a ratings environment increasingly distorted by marketing hype as opposed to product quality. In the interest of keeping a healthy market going to for independent developers, as it was with the guilds in the Middle Ages, a union of trusting app developers creates a better climate for legitimate app promotion, recognition and growth.
Author bio: Yang Wang is a guest commentator for aNewDomain.net. He has previously written about Shuabang and United Mobile Games. Yang Wang is author and translator of seven books translated widely in such Asian regions as Taiwan and in South Korea. Based in Beijing, he is a contributor at The Beijing News.