App Clones Make An Unwelcome Return

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    Mar 9, 2022, 10:18 am2.8k ptsInteresting

    The App Store is one of the most populous software hubs out there. While it might sometimes appear like its only competitor is Google Play, Amazon and Microsoft both offer dedicated stores for their products, too. In fact, if we consider that many developers take a scattergun approach to publishing their apps and games, it's possible to add Sony and Nintendo into the mix, as well.

    Flappy Bird

    Apple's digital bazaar has, until recently, offered much lighter rules on certain app types when compared to Google, which has helped bulk up its offering. Casino and betting apps were the main beneficiary of this openness, as the Play Store didn't accept any real-money casino games in certain countries until 2021. However, Apple did place some unusual restrictions on these apps.

    For one, they couldn't be built in HTML5. This meant that simply stuffing a Windows-based website into an app would no longer serve much of a purpose for casinos. Finding an online casino to play on your phone remains a simple process, though, as operators like Paddy Power continue to offer their apps to iOS users and to desktop owners via Safari, Opera, and other Mac-friendly browsers.

    game player

    Unfortunately, the App Store's attractiveness to developers of all kinds isn't a trait without problems. App clones, that is, nearly identical but unofficial versions of popular apps, have been a bugbear of users for a long time. An article from Macworld in 2014 notes that the puzzle game 2048 was cloned mercilessly, in much the same way as Flappy Bird, which met with more than 800 cloning attempts in the same year.

    Stardew Valley

    Closer to the present, in January, copies of smash-hit word game Wordle were deleted from the App Store, only to resurface again a month later. Ironically, these clones served a purpose, as Wordle owner New York Times hadn't yet bothered to release the game on iOS. Apple ostensibly has a seat reserved for the game - but is it really so unfair to borrow existing ideas to fill a temporary gap in the market?

    While the entire concept of the genre says 'no', clones are problematic almost by definition, even if they aren't violating any rules in particular. App Store clones tend to be low-quality products designed to ride the waves of a trend until it collapses. It's possible to see much the same issue in console gaming, where Stardew Valley created a flood of farming games that all looked (and played) almost exactly the same way.

    Of course, Stardew Valley is also on the App Store, along with a chasing raft of shadows with names like Harvest Town and Tiny Pixel Farm. While it's true that many of these games arose to fill a need (Stardew Valley is a paid-for app on the App Store, while the others listed are free), there's an increasingly blurry line between tribute and outright copying, which is why clones can be hard to recognise and police.

    Overall, clones continue to cause a headache for Apple's quality control department but the issue isn't quite as clear cut as it might first appear.

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