Exclusive: Gameloft’s App Store Exploit

on July 11, 2012 8:45 PM

As long as there’s a vulnerable system in place, there will always be people who wish to capitalize on it. According to a former Gameloft employee, that appears (or at least appeared) to be the case at the company. The French mobile games developer and publisher, founded by Ubisoft co-founder Michel Guillemot, is a publicly traded company that is currently near the top of the mobile gaming totem poll. Somewhere along the way though, it seems that the publisher implemented some less than genuine, perhaps even sleazy practices, in order to have their games attain that level of success.

A close source, who worked for Gameloft in 2010, provided a detailed account about his time with the company.  According to him, the publisher “would use iTunes gift cards to create new iTunes accounts, and buy their own games on launch day so that their titles would rise to the top of the top of the bestseller list.”

He estimated that for one game, he “made over five hundred purchases,” and that there were four other people that he knew of “doing the same thing, on the same day.”

It was a practice that was not only deemed OK by management, but actually done out in the open.

He stated that during his tenure with the company, whenever a title was released, “whoever was free” — out of the four employees that worked in his department (who were the spares) plus three more in another department —  would be asked participate in the app purchases.

This added up to around 2500 purchases done on launch day by Gameloft employees and interns.

When these purchases were done quickly enough, it would help to propel the title to the top of the sales charts and then gain traction from would be app buyers who were under the assumption that the latest “Asphalt” or “Modern Combat” title was in-fact a hot item.

He claims that at the time — because of what was going on at his place of employment and noticing similar trends from the competition — that other major players in the mobile gaming space may have participated in the cheat-your-way-to-the-top scam. For obvious reasons, he could not confirm anything outside of Gameloft’s walls.

This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard of some grey area practices taking place within the confines of the iOS app store. Coincidentally, the same year that our source was gaming the system (pun intended) at Gameloft, Public Relations company Reverb Communications was under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for their role in alleged app review tampering.

While we’re still unsure which one is worse on the moral meter, now that our source has come forward with this information and considering that Gameloft is a publicly traded company, we wouldn’t be surprised if the FTC decided to conduct further investigations into the matter, at least for the sake of competition.

Here’s the million dollar question: Is Apple — who takes a 30% cut off the top of all app purchases in their store — willing to go out of their way to close an enormous loophole that bigger publishers like Gameloft seem to be jumping through?

Also, where does it end? The iTunes App Store isn’t the only marketplace where one could make purchases anonymously; pretty much any store that uses gift cards is open for exploitation and those that employ a “best sellers” list such as PSN, XBL, Best Buy and Amazon are all ripe for the taking.

We’re currenlty reaching out to more ex-Gameloft employees (former colleagues of our source) who will help to paint a clearer picture of the entire situation.


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Joel Taveras is one of the founding members of DualShockers. He hails from New York City where he lives with his wife and two sons. During his tenure with the site, he's held every position from news writer to community manager to editor in chief. Currently he manages the behind the scenes and day-to-day operations at the publication.