If you’re one of the many, many people who downloaded smartphone smash Flappy Bird only to find yourself decidedly underwhelmed and wondering why it was getting quite so much praise and press, you’re not alone. And while the aforementioned game may well have made it to the top of the charts due entirely to word of mouth and its strangely addictive, if simplistic, gameplay, you wouldn’t be considered completely crazy for wondering whether some games got to the top Google Play and the App Store’s popular downloads lists by some other means.

Case in point, this viral image doing the rounds online today, which purportedly shows a Chinese employee of a firm which makes its living boosting apps’ stats.

As you can see, the “employee” sits in front of a rack of maybe 100 or so smartphones, and, from the looks of it, there’s someone else doing the exact same thing across from her. A select number of tech sites and the more tabloid-y members of the online news media claim the image is depicting the employee downloading, deleting, then downloading again, the same app ad infinitum to boost the app’s rank in whichever online marketplace, thus encouraging legitimate downloads.

It’s unclear if the photo is real or not. If such a shady marketing company exists, after all, it would be insane for them to let employees take their personal phones and cameras into the diabolical stat grinding chamber. But there are a few things to keep in mind that increase the image’s credibility:

1) Breaking the top 10 of your genre or, even better, all app sales, for even a day or two, earns you a coveted place on the top page of an app marketplace and is possibly the best advertising an app can possibly get. Remember that at least one of the three mobile games that put an ad out during the Super Bowl this year still couldn’t break into the top 10, even after spending millions on the TV spot. Put it that way, and paying some shady marketing company a hundred thousand or so to get your app on the top page – for a captive audience that is specifically there to download apps, mind you – makes a lot more sense. Here’s a photo alleging what one of these shady Chinese rank-boosting companies charges:

Apparently the top ten is a steal at 70,000 yuan.


2) While the image depicts what seems like an incredibly low-tech solution (not to mention the overhead of buying all those phones), manipulating download and/or sales stats is commonly practiced enough in the industry that both Apple and Google keep a pretty close eye out for it.

On the other hand, Apple and Google are both mum on exactly how app rankings are calculated, but whether or not the image is a fake probably comes down to whether the app ranking algorithms measure total downloads – in which case it’s probably real – or whether they measure unique downloads (only one download counts per device), which would leave these employees a few hundred thousand phones short of even making a dent on an app’s ranking.

Source: Byokan Sunday
Feature photo: Weibo, Inset: new.mydrivers