Don’t Watch to Win: Apple Enforces “Unacceptable Behavior” Guidelines

January 31, 2019

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Apple sets several guidelines for acceptable app practices. Failure to follow them can result in an app being removed from the store, but apps still often try to work around them. Recently, Apple has begun targeting apps that violate certain guidelines. Apps that require users to watch videos, download other apps or tap on ads in exchange for compensation as a primary feature are at risk of removal.

Unacceptable Behavior

The specific behavior Apple is cracking down on is called out in section 3.2.2 of its guidelines. Specifically:

(vi) Apps should allow a user to get what they’ve paid for without performing additional tasks, such as posting on social media, uploading contacts, checking in to the app a certain number of times, etc. Apps should not require users to rate the app, review the app, watch videos, download other apps, tap on advertisements, or take other similar actions in order to access functionality, content, use the app, or receive monetary or other compensation.”

That is to say: an app should not require users to do any of the above to advance or earn real / digital rewards. If an app does not let you receive coins or other in-app currency without first watching a video, leaving a review or anything else, it is in violation.

It is possible to incentivize users to watch videos for small rewards, but it cannot be the only way for them to receive it. For instance, if a mobile game provides a small amount of daily in-game currency for watching a video, that is acceptable as long as users can choose to skip the video, not watch in the first place or receive the in-game currency in other ways. If, however, users can only receive the currency by watching those videos, it would be a violation.

Impacted Apps

The apps mostly impacted by this crackdown are apps offering “real cash prizes,” such as casino apps. These apps use advertisements, especially video ads, to earn revenue. In order for users to receive in-game coins so they can play, they must first watch the videos. While it is an attempt to work around gambling laws by not having users spend their own money, it is still a violation of the App Store guidelines.

For instance, the app “Lucky Day” is categorized as a sweepstakes game. Users can redeem credits to play scratchers, slots and raffle games for a chance to win the jackpot. In order to receive credits, they have to watch ads, leading users to post reviews stating:

“You essentially have to watch a solid 35 seconds of ad per two scratchers which you never win enough to cash in. That’s not even counting the pop up ads that you also have to exit out of.”

“It seems like there are more and more ads to watch for less points.”

“You need 10$ or more to cash out AND the Ads go for days!! You scratch one, you have to watch ads to continue.”

The advertisement requirement put the app in violation of Apple’s guidelines, resulting in “Lucky Day” being removed from the App Store.

Similarly, the app “Prize Wheel” lets users spin a virtual wheel to be entered into sweepstakes for prizes. While it does offer one free spin every few hours, users can only get bonus spins by watching video advertisements; every ad users watch is another entry.

“I will get a minute of free spins and then I’ll immediately get a 30 second ad that will waste most of the time,” states one review. “The pop-ups have gotten actually crazy, I’m just trying to win something and then I’m on the App Store and I’m not even sure what happened.”

“Prize Wheel” also requires users to install other apps to get extra entries. As the ads and download requirements are in violation of the App Store guidelines, it has also been removed.

How to Avoid Being Impacted

It’s important that apps follow the App Store guidelines closely, especially regarding requiring users to watch videos, click ads or download other apps. The videos and ads cannot be the only or primary source of accessing content, nor can they be required for users to use the app.

In the cases of some apps that were removed, they managed to be restored to the App Store after removing the video advertisements altogether. Apps that continue to use video ads should not require users to view them to use the app.

If the videos are entirely optional and provide content the users would be able to receive normally even without viewing them, they may be allowed to pass. Several mobile games use this strategy, as the videos are a small side feature not related to the app’s functionality, and many apps use skippable video ads that can be removed via in-app purchase to the full version.

When an app is removed from the App Store, its App Store Optimization suffers significantly. The loss of keyword indexation and rankings can take time to recover and other apps that were not removed continue to reach new users in its absence.

Apps that want to avoid removal should ensure their video and advertisement content is inobtrusive and not required for the app to function. Forcing users to watch ads, download other apps, leave reviews or take similar actions may soon find themselves taken off the App Store and the damage to their optimization will take time to recover.

Want more information regarding App Store Optimization? Contact Gummicube and we’ll help get your strategy started.

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