This week, the U.S. version of the App Store's games section will receive some much-needed editorial oversight.
Previously, Apple's digital storefront sorted new titles by name and release date. This update, first reported by TechCrunch, replaces the main page's automated lists with curated content hand-picked by real live human beings.
Bring on custom games curation
The App Store has long had a few hand-picked sections to spotlight Games and other apps, but those were often limited to special banners or below-the-fold lists. On the front page of the games section, automated lists were the name of the game — and those lists had unwittingly encouraged some unusual forms of huckstering, such as front-loading game titles with the letter "A" so that they would appear first in line. It's hard to imagine who could be fooled by such transparent attempts to game the system, but regardless, game publishers and developers will have to find more creative ways to get in the good graces of the new and improved App Store.
The two lists that appear right up top – "Best New Apps" and "Best New Games" – feature selections chosen by Apple staffers. If you scroll down, you might see some automated content, such as "Popular Games" or "More Games You Might Like," the latter of which takes a cue from your purchase history. Old categories like "New," "What's Hot," and "All iPhone (Free & Paid)" have gotten the axe.
Which games and apps make the cut on these "Best" lists? This week's offerings do not include any Flappy Bird clones, that's for sure. The roster includes several recognizable releases, from Game of Thrones to Lara Croft: Relic Run to Farmville to Geometry Wars. The titles aren't listed in alphabetical order, nor are they sorted by price, but the games with names that I'd heard before tended towards the top of the list, leaving only a few with names I didn't recognize trending towards the bottom.
Fighting the good indie fight
I'm not worried that anyone will ever miss a release date for the latest in Telltale Games' episodic Game of Thrones adventures, or the latest entry in the Farmville franchise: Fans of those games tend to keep track of when their favorites hit digital shelves. I'm more concerned with how this change to the App Store will affect the pockets of indie developers — especially those who can't afford a powerhouse marketing team and don't have the connections to pull the right strings behind the scenes at App Store HQ.
With dozens of games and a couple hundred apps released on the App Store every single day, it's hard for people to separate the cool titles from the clones. It's even harder to be an indie developer who slaves away on a game for years, only to have it buried and forgotten within a week of its release.
The App Store has gotten crowded, and moving towards digital curation rather than automated lists in the face of climbing content feels like the right choice for big titles and indies alike – but it's one that will also require smaller game companies to focus more on appealing to Apple and its user base directly rather than using tricks to help themselves to the top of an automated list.
Will the App Store editorial team have the chance to give every single entry — small or large — an honest shot? I'm crossing my fingers. Regardless, any decision that prevents uncreative rip-offs from fooling customers and encourages users to buy original games can only be a good one. Let's just hope that the weirder, goofier, and less established indie titles will still find their way into the limelight.