A recent report from Bloomberg claims that Apple is investigating adding paid search to the App Store. Upon reading the article, I must admit that my immediate reaction was one of concern. When I imagine an App Store with paid search results, I see a storefront that further entrenches the dominance of top grossing developers while making the platform less attractive to new entrants and small-to-mid level game developers.
My fear is that this will be a net negative for game developers and cause a number of unintended consequences. The difference between paid search in the browser and paid search in the App Store is that Apple already takes a 30% cut of all app revenue generated on their platform. So, if increasing revenue is their goal, their time would be better spent figuring out how to organically get more players into games and apps where they have a predisposition to have a lot of fun and spend a lot of money.
Paid search makes perfect sense to me on the web. Let's take an example of me looking to buy some new t-shirts from the desktop browser.
If I search for "gap mens shirts" in my browser, the top result is a sponsored widget from Gap showing me shirts. On the search, Google provided a service to me for free and recieves $0 regardless of if I go on a $1,000 shopping spree on Gap or choose to spend $50 in J Crew instead. So by allowing for a sponsored spot on this search result, Google can make money on the search if I click the sponsored links. Paid search allows Google to generate revenue on my intention to purchase and forces Gap to defend their search term.
On the flip side, if I search Clash Royale on the App Store, what does Apple gain by forcing Supercell to spend money defending their search term? If I install CR, Apple gets 30% of any money I spend in my lifetime in the game. I suppose they could end up making a nice profit on the fight between Supercell and MZ to dominate all sponsored search results, but to what end? The already rich will reinvest a large chunk of their profits back into the paid search, further fortifying their position on top, while the App Store becomes a less and less attractive platform for game developers to think about investing their time and energy into. Meanwhile, VR, bots, and the world's next "next new thing" become more and more attractive.
This is my fear. I think that if Apple wants to secure a portion of UA budgets for themselves instead of giving it over to marketing networks, they should design a new product within the App Store that first creates new opportunities for developers to increase their organic reach, and then has a way to promote naturally built into it. First deliver delight and value to your users, then build in a way for developers to promote their games and apps within that framework.
Interested in my latest thoughts on the mobile and free-to-play games industry? Follow me as @FamousAspect on Twitter.