The mobile app stores are dealing with the app cloning problem at last, it seems. Earlier this week, “Flappy Bird” creator Dong Nguyen released the sequel to his insanely popular, but frustrating game, which had once led to dozens upon dozens clones from developers hoping to cash in on the trend. With Nguyen’s new game, “Swing Copters,” the cloners quickly returned, soon filling the app stores with similarly named titles – in Google Play’s case, some games even claimed to be developed by Nguyen himself, but were actually rip-offs.
And then something interesting happened: the clones disappeared.
“Swing Copters,” in case you missed it, is very much inspired by the original “Flappy Bird.” That is, it’s a simply designed, addictive, but unexpectedly difficult game which this time involves navigating a helicopter-man through gates blocked by swinging hammers, instead of navigating a small bird up and down in between Super Mario-esque green pipes.
As of the time of writing, “Swing Copters” is the #5 free app on the iTunes App Store. (It’s not well-ranked on Google Play, at #191 in the “Arcade” section.)
Like “Flappy Bird,” the new game was also easy to clone. And since doing so has been a successful endeavor for many developers in recent months, quite a few imitation apps were launched this week.
Cloning has become a problem as of late on all the app stores. In fact, the “Flappy Bird” situation became so bad at one point that the app stores even began rejecting some games that used “Flappy” in their titles. Even the Pebble smartwatch app store hosted a “Flappy Bird” clone.
And the cloning problem – or “fast follow” as it’s known in developer-speak – hasn’t just affected the silly, viral apps like “Flappy Bird,” which sort of fall into the so-good-they’re-bad group, it has also caused problems for more serious app developers who spent time and put thought into their original titles only to see them ripped off in a matter of days. For example, the popular and thoughtfully designed game “Threes,” a paid app, was copied by clones like “1024,” “2048,” and others, which offered users a free version, eating away at potential “Threes” downloads and revenue.
One could even argue that Facebook itself is a fan of the fast follow, having heavily borrowed concepts popularized by competing social apps when releasing its own versions, like the Taptalk-inspired Bolt and Slingshot apps, the Flipboard-inspired Facebook Paper, and many more.
But now it looks like the app stores are trying to do something about the cloning problem. Just look at iTunes, right now, for instance:
A search for “Swing Copters” delivers the original title in spot #1, and while the store isn’t totally clone-less (three other results in the top five are clones), it’s arguably better than it’s been in days past. We’re working to confirm whether or not Apple is actively reject “Swing Copters” clones before they go live, or whether they’re getting pulled after the fact, but it’s clear that some sort of action has been taken. There’s simply no way developers only submitted their dozens upon dozens of clones to Google Play. [UPDATE: We're hearing the clones are being caught and rejected during the Apple review process.]
Meanwhile, Google Play has also been cleaned up.
Though it usually fares worse in cloning situations because of its more open app publishing policies, it appears that Google has actually stepped in and swept its store of clones. Hundreds of clones have been pulled from Google Play, which before had pushed the official version out of the top 50 entirely. (Google doesn’t comment on individual apps).
“Swing Copters: Attack Of The Clones” pic.twitter.com/NzA5v3Bujp
— Loris Guignard (@loris) August 22, 2014
Now the store looks like this:
Not perfect, but certainly not as bad as before.
There is, however, some weirdness still going on. This is not the “Swing Copters,” for instance:
Gaming site Polygon noticed how badly “Swing Copters” was being cloned on Google Play this week, and argued that the platform makers themselves didn’t care about the problem because “they get paid regardless,” and most users don’t deal with the hassles of trying to request refunds.
But apparently, the platform makers are taking a stand against app cloning – at least in high-profile cases like this. Perhaps they know that a quality app store – one where users aren’t scammed and tricked – is something that matters after all.