App-ed Out: Logics of Success and Failure in App Stores

Article Information

  • Author(s): Jeremy Wade Morris and Austin Morris
  • Affiliation(s): University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • Publication Date: 21st October 2019
  • Issue: 7
  • Citation: Jeremy Wade Morris and Austin Morris. “App-ed Out: Logics of Success and Failure in App Stores.” Computational Culture 7 (21st October 2019).


Apps have rapidly become a highly successful and pervasive form for the distribution of the software commodity, but their success as both a technical form for the delivery of software and a cultural form for carrying ideologies of software relies on a surprising amount of failure. Accordingly, this paper looks at how rhetorics of success and logics of failure have become central to app store infrastructures. After considering some of these theoretical and structural connections between failure and app store infrastructures, we analyze a range of para-industries and entities that both fuel the rhetorics of success and purport to help app developers overcome failure. We argue that, for app store owners and other app ecosystem entities, failure is economically generative and rhetorically valuable. The success of app stores in promoting ubiquitous software relies on the failure of countless apps, and thus on the distributed labor of the thousands of independent developers.


‘Tweets coming soon.’
‘All movements have a beginning.’

These were the first two tweets published to the AppDeveloperUnion (@AppDevUnion) twitter account. They were published on Jun. 7, 2012, strategically timed a few days before Apple’s annual WorldWide Developers Conference. A dozen or so other tweets came from the account over the next four days, some of which linked to press articles about the AppDevUnion, the rest of which articulated the group’s demands. The AppDeveloperUnion was asking Apple specifically, but platform owners more generally, for three primary deliverables:

  1. Put a stop to the cloning of apps; apps that are basically copies of already-existing apps
  2. Help provide legal and financial aid for developers who were being hit with lawsuits by patent trolls for using platform/app store technologies
  3. A more equitable royalty split than the 30% share platforms take from app sales.

The AppDeveloperUnion’s demands made a few headlines, but their twitter account and the #appdevunion hashtag show little action after June 12, 2012. Organizing digital cultural laborers has long been a challenge,1 but the highly distributed nature of app developers, their varied issues, identities and class backgrounds, and the sheer level of dependence on App Stores for the distribution of their creations likely short-circuited the AppDeveloperUnion’s efforts before they even began. Their website and its manifesto – at least judging by screenshots in the Internet Archive – went offline by the Fall of 2012. All movements may have a beginning, but not all movements have such a quick end.
The AppDeveloperUnion’s failed intervention, while brief, gives a glimpse into the cultural and industrial logics of app stores. The desire to generate some kind of collective action around bettering the conditions of work for the developers speaks to the political economic relationships that structure those stores, such as the revenue splits for in-app purchases, the conditions for selling software through the app stores, or the responsibility of the platform provider to rid the platform of spammy, copycat or other unwanted apps. The attempt by the AppDeveloperUnion to create a collectivized response to these conditions points to a fundamental tension that structures app stores. On the one hand, these platforms promise developers ‘unlimited possibilities’ and a path to ‘bring your creativity to over a billion customers around the world.’2 Along with press reports suggesting that ‘iPhone Developers Go From Rags to Riches,’3 apps, like so many other digital goods, pedal the idea of individual developers turning their passion and hobby into a profit-making and reputation-building venture. On the other hand, the AppDeveloperUnion reminds us that these promises are often empty, or at least exaggerated. In digital stores where millions of apps co-exist and compete for user attention, failure is a regular occurrence, resulting in approximately 59% of apps not breaking even, and 80% of developers unable to sustain their business.4 Developers must deal with copycat apps, lawsuits from patent trolls and other issues the AppDeveloperUnion outlined as a condition of being a part of these larger platformized software infrastructures. App stores offer promises of certain kinds of success, but more often than not, their promises depend on a significant amount of failure for their own prosperity.
Accordingly, this paper looks at how rhetorics of success and logics of failure have become central to app store infrastructures. While failure has always, to some extent, been part of the software industries, it has only recently been incorporated into the technical, cultural and structural logics of software production, circulation and consumption. App store platforms allow far more developers to take part in making and circulating software than previous retail models, but only a relatively small number of apps are highlighted, featured and made visible in app stores. There are also failures on the consumer side; apps hang, crash, and quickly become obsolete on account of the constant upgrades to the operating systems and devices on which apps rely. Consumers expect apps to fail (and to be regularly updated), just as app developers and app stores rely on logics of failure to draw consumers back to the app store and maintain visibility in algorithmic retail environments.
After considering some of these theoretical and structural connections between failure and app store infrastructures, we move on to consider a range of para-industries and entities that both fuel the rhetorics of success and purport to help app developers overcome failure: companies that provide App Store Optimization (ASO) services to increase an app’s visibility in app stores or businesses that capitalize on failure, like MindInventory or Apteligent, which sell usage data and other insights and solutions to developers to help ensure their apps do not hang or crash. We also consider how failure is coded into the infrastructure of app stores by examining ‘copycat’ apps – apps that are clones of trending apps – and ‘zombie’ apps – apps that are ever-present on app stores but no longer maintained or rarely, if ever, downloaded and thus effectively invisible. Both copycat and zombie apps point to the role this overproduction of failure plays in sustaining app infrastructures; they are by-products of an ecosystem that provides low barriers to access and to create software and app stores that rely on a constant veneer of new programs and software ‘solutions’ to retain consumers.
Ultimately, we argue that, for app store owners and a number of other entities spread out across the app ecosystem, failure is, troublingly, both economically generative and rhetorically valuable. The success of app stores in promoting ubiquitous software relies on the failure of countless apps, and thus on the distributed labor of the thousands of independent developers who create the apps that provide the seemingly unlimited options the stores themselves promise. Whether it’s through specific versioning tactics or platform rhetorics that provide the impression that bugs and other kinds of failure are perpetually being eradicated, platforms present what feels like unlimited choice while capitalizing on the failure inherent in offering users that unlimited choice. Platform providers are largely indifferent to the scale of failure taking place in their stores and to the work done by app developers to help make the platforms successful (through failure). Failure reveals itself as a constitutive part of the infrastructures on which apps rely. The overwhelming abundance of apps means that success for some developers and platform owners in the app ecosystem depends heavily on the failure of others.

Infrastructures of the Software Industries

Since the 2008 launch of Apple’s iOS mobile application store – and the many competing app stores that followed in the U.S. and abroad – apps have rapidly become a highly successful and pervasive form for the distribution of the software commodity. Software developers and publishers have flocked to platforms established by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Tencent and others with hopes of capitalizing on the popularity of this new format for displaying and delivering software. Consumers have downloaded well over 175 billion apps since 2008 and fuelled over $86 billion USD in global app revenues.5 This growth in everyday use of software has further reinforced Lev Manovich’s6 call for a more established field of ‘software studies,’ and further reiterated key insights from early work in the field7 about how crucial software is in shaping everyday experiences of how ‘the world is made and known.’8
The turn to mobile apps, however, integrates software even more precisely and unremarkably into the rhythms of the everyday than previous forms of the software commodity. Apps have now become one of the primary ways contemporary consumers and citizens engage with software. Software is now literally in the pockets of millions of users worldwide – a fact that early software studies scholars predicted but had not yet encountered in practice. Software is now, truly, ‘everyware,’9 so software studies must continue to provide a ‘radical critique of software systems [that] proposes not to take computers “at interface value” but rather delve into the hierarchical layers of abstraction that comprise hardware and software systems, decompose them, hack them, and alter them in progressive ways.’10 Software’s ‘mutable, contingent nature’11 may present challenges for researchers, but software’s digital and seemingly intangible products are still material12 and ‘interpenetrated by material patterns and circumstances.’13 Software studies thus offers app researchers both cultural and theoretical critiques to how the world itself is captured within code in terms of algorithmic potential and formal data descriptions.14 Similarly, apps offer software studies researchers new and fruitful methodological and theoretical questions. For example, how do we study software that is purpose built for continual updates, or software that is designed for particular locations, events or time periods? How do we study such a massive quantity of programs, many of which are minimally distinct? How do we capture a user’s ‘experience’ of an app, or conceptualize the various ways apps are presented, discovered and consumed in app stores and on various devices?15
More recent work in software studies and platform studies16 has turned towards the infrastructures that support the production and distribution of contemporary software, especially in light of app stores and platforms that bundle the production, promotion, circulation and use of software with specific hardware platforms and virtual retail outlets. This integration of previously separate experiences (e.g. production, retail, use, etc.) into a closed-loop ‘stack’17 where all activities take place on one device represents a significant shift in the history of the software commodity. Before addressing the effects of the platformization of software, however, we turn first to explore the historical infrastructures that governed the sale and distribution software, and the relationships between developers, publishers, retailers and users.
Just as the ‘app’ represents the latest iteration of the software commodity that follows in a long line of attempts to sell software (e.g. web downloads, CD-Roms, Shrinkwrap software, pre-installed code, etc.), the concept of an app store represents the latest configuration for how and where software is sold. Software’s earliest incarnations were also, in their own way, rooted in failure and crisis. In the 1950s and 1960s, computers were largely built for and used by various branches of government and private enterprise, and companies like IBM built large and expensive hardware machines that came preprogrammed with any of the ‘software’ the users or clients might need. Software was not a distinct commodity,18 so the role of software developer was not necessarily distinct either. There were vibrant hobbyist scenes (groups like DECUS or SHARE) that freely traded code and programs, but it was rare until the mid 1960s to find people or companies devoted to creating specific software programs and applications.19
As companies like IBM started ‘unbundling’ software applications from its hardware20 and businesses like Applied Data Research or International Computer Program began selling software as standalone products in the late 1960s,21 a distinct software industry with an assemblage of publishers, developers, retailers and the like began to form. But the rise and success of the software industry was not immediately evident. In fact, IBM’s decision came in the midst of what was otherwise referred as a software/programming crisis; a failure of supply and demand. Since there was barely an industry or pipeline in place to support new software developers, innovations in hardware far outpaced innovations in software, leading to a mismatch between supply and demand. Through most of the 1970s and 1980s, computer trade magazines referred to the ‘software crisis’ or ‘programming crisis’ as a situation in which there was more hardware being developed with not enough talented software developers to write code and applications for that hardware.22
This failure to create enough software for new hardware needs was seen as a missed economic opportunity. There were countless machines ready for use, but without new and innovative uses for these machines, computing was stuck in stasis. The solution, perhaps unsurprisingly, was to institutionalize software development and to build an industry around it. Governments started treating software engineering as a sector similar to manufacturing (with attendant tax breaks etc.) while universities and other institutions began creating courses, programs, and disciplines, around software development and engineering to help foster talent and skills. As personal computing matured in the 1970s and 1980s, and as computer games drew in a large number of hobbyist developers, the infrastructures around software strengthened. Developers could now sell the distribution rights to publishers, who then sold programs through the mail or through retail franchises like ComputerLand or Software City.23 The late 70s and early 80s saw a dramatic rise in personal computer software, and in the number of software developers, leading to close to 35,000 programs from about 3,000 vendors in 1983.24
Retail reigned for software sales during this period, either through independent software chains or larger big-box stores like Staples, Office Depot, Radio Shack, Best Buy, etc. But the arrival of the web in the mid-1990s signaled, as it did in so many other industries, an opportunity for many developers to build software relatively easily (i.e. Flash, Javascript) and distribute it directly to users through the web. This meant that through the late 1990s and early 2000s, software was available from a plethora of places, including traditional retail stores, developer sites, software aggregator sites (e.g., service platforms (e.g. Steam) and file sharing networks. With the rise of mobile phones and other portable devices during this time, there were also burgeoning websites where users could download files to install on their phones and run as applications. All of this distributed activity meant that there were fewer centralized venues than in the 1970s and 1980s through which users could find, discover and purchase software.
The launch of Apple’s iOS store in early 2008, then, was responding to a very different kind of software ‘crisis’ than the one from which the software industry was born. Whereas software’s early programming crisis was caused by a lack of software and lack of developers, the ‘failure’ in software that Apple and Google faced upon the launch of their app stores was one of over-abundance. Rather than a lack of developers, there were countless individuals versed in coding games and web apps in a variety of different programming languages and for a variety of different devices. Rather than a lack of software, there was instead a lack of a coherent outlet where software could be displayed, presented and distributed. Similar to the earlier software crisis though, Apple’s (and eventually Google and Microsoft and the other app stores that followed) solution was through the centralization and institutionalization of software development via their app platforms. If, previous to app stores, developers were working on their own, selling software from individual websites and writing across a number of languages and styles, then app stores brought this individualized approach to software development together in a more controlled environment, set the standards for how software would be created and distributed in the age of digital mobile devices. By building platforms that bring together developers and users and tie them to a particular set of devices – as well as a set of practices around software development and use – app stores represent a new logic for the circulation of software, one which is increasingly contingent on a particular relationship between specific hardware and the guidelines, policies and peculiarities of app store platforms. The platformization of software production and circulation helps centralize the distribution of the software commodity, but it also helps navigate the ‘crisis’ of having too many disparate developers working independently by forcing convergence around a certain set of technologies, standards and expectations, helping to create an environment that seems more accessible than previous modes for making and selling software and more likely to result in individualized success.

Platformization and Failure

App stores represent a shift in the infrastructures developers must navigate in order to produce, promote and circulate software and apps for mobile devices. These platforms both enforce certain ways of using software and allow for programmability and extension. They also become strange configurations of layers and layers of hardware and software, leading to, as Bogost and Monfort note, ‘platforms [that] contain other platforms,’ like a particular phone that contains a specific operating system and relies on a proprietary app store for installing its programs.25 App stores, as platforms, drive developer possibilities and shape the way they can market and sell their products. These are part of the platform’s ‘politics,’ where politics refers to both the activities that take place on platforms that have political valence for users and other actors on the platforms – like content moderation, algorithmic recommendation, affordances, etc. – as well as the more meta politics behind using the term platform to describe the kinds of services these sites/spaces provide.26
App stores are also part of the larger trend that Nieborg and Poell identify as the ‘platformization of cultural production’ where platformization is defined as ‘the penetration of economic, governmental and infrastructural extensions of digital platforms into the web and app ecosystems, fundamentally affecting the operations of the cultural industries.’27 Platformization is taking place within a larger political-economic shift toward ‘platform capitalism,’ Nick Srnicek’s term for the dominance of data creation, extraction, and exploitation operations in contemporary capitalism.28 Srnicek argues platformization is the optimal organizational mode because it enables platform providers to leverage multiple, disparate groups of users within the same system, engendering network effects that support monopolistic ambitions.29 Within the cultural industries specifically, Nieborg and Poell argue that platformization creates two significant effects. The first is on the production side as developers work to ‘align their own business models and production and circulation philosophies with those of leading platforms.’30 The second effect of platformization is the way renders cultural commodities ‘contingent’ since it creates commodities that are highly personalized, individualized and constantly in need of updating,31 demanding new kinds of labor and constant attention to the products from developers. Platformization, then, brings the conflicting agendas and motivations of platform providers, content creators, retailers, users and more into the same space (along with the technologies, guidelines and policies) provided by the platform. For apps, platform providers present the app as a disruptive format and offer their platform as a path to take part in that disruption, but this disruption occurs on terms that are markedly more favorable to the platform than they are to the makers of cultural commodities.
The rhetorics of the app store speak to the new kinds of labor and work that these platforms hope to cultivate. Apple’s latest press materials, for example, claim the company has earned $86 billion in revenue earned through the App Store. The company splits revenues 70/30 with third party developers, so Apple argues the $100 billion that consumers have spent on apps in the last decade has provided a sizable sum for the developers who provide the content that is key to Apple’s thriving, and still relatively new, software distribution platform. Apple press releases boast that the amount of money ‘earned by developers is simply mind-blowing. We are amazed at all of the great new apps our developers create.’32 The press releases are, however, less clear about who were the specific beneficiaries of this burgeoning economic activity, lumping all developers big and small in the same category. Whether the revenues went to established and longtime players in the software industries (EA Sports, Ubisoft, etc.), organized and well-funded upstarts like Zynga and Snap, Inc., or individual hobbyists and amateur software developers is skipped over in the releases. The tech press generally lauds app stores as well for increasing the number of developers and the diversity of software available, pushing the notion that it is increasingly possible for an everyday user to ‘In only 20 minutes, […] build an app that’s available all over the world, for just $1 a month.’33 Like the early days of the boom,34 stories abound of hobbyist developers who managed to earn ‘$22,000 a day at the top of the App Store charts’ or a ‘nine-year-old programming prodigy’ whose simple drawing app managed to attract over 4,000 downloads in two weeks.35
While popular press accounts generally backed up Apple’s assertions that the app store would be a new economic engine for software development jobs, including independent developers, the same accounts also raised doubts that ‘independent developers’ could really mean one or two people operating on a freelance basis.36 Traditional barriers to entry are low, to be sure – a knowledge of code, a great idea, time, and $99 USD per year to pay for one’s Apple Developer account registration are all that’s required to write an app – but the app store model presents its own barriers to entry that are considerably less obvious. Experienced independent developers are frank about the challenges of success in an App Store full of competing commodities. The app cannot just be fine, it must be the best at doing its particular task. The app must adhere to current industry economic trends, such as the current one toward free downloads with in-app purchasing. A single app is unlikely to profitable, but a small portfolio of apps can help developers make enough to cover costs. The app must be available across different hardware on the same platform to ensure maximum interoperability and, therefore, maximum usage.37 Algorithmic sorting won’t be enough to get even a great app in the hands of consumers; developers should also hope to be written up by online publications or Apple’s App Store editorial team in the hopes that they’ll push the app on the front pages of app stores based on their ‘unique and compelling story.’38 All of these conditions favor larger and better-resourced players; larger publishers are able to leverage multiple apps for better recognition and placement within the app store, garnering greater attention for developers who have already had previous attention or success in the App Store.
Apple currently touts its App Store across its hardware offerings with the slogan ‘Four platforms. Infinite opportunities’ and promises developers ‘the easiest way for users to discover, purchase, and download your apps. You can integrate exclusive features, provide seamless updates, and showcase your app to millions of users.’39 While single apps like Pokémon GO! can attain revenues of over US $2 billion,40 these promises downplay the very real possibility that many new apps will fail. The vast majority of apps created in a given year will not make money, and indeed may not be seen within the app store.41
How should this discrepancy between rhetoric and reality be explained? Jesper Juul’s work in game studies suggests that failure is generative of particular behaviors in players and developers, who negotiate the terms of success and failure within the game text.42 Read this way, failure is an essential and productive part of the video game’s social life as a cultural commodity. While Juul is largely referring to game content and mechanics, this logic is arguably and increasingly also true of platforms, wherein failure is a possible outcome of participation and the rules of failure are negotiated between platform and developer. Matthew Bellinger even argues that ‘failure’ should be analyzed as a rhetorical strategy with developers that encourages self-discipline according to the social rules of a system.43 Apple, Google and Tencent set the terms by which success is defined and leave developers to labor to ensure that they meet those terms. Thus, for Bellinger, paraphrasing Richard Lanham,44 we should look ‘at the means by which failure is produced, not simply through those means to take failures as given’ within the app store environment.45 Failure, in other words, is not a necessary condition of platform capitalism, but rather a result of the particular relations between platform and laborer that have developed within that environment.

Symptoms of App Infrastructures: App Builders, ASOs, Copycats and Zombies

For platform providers then, the platformization of software production involves a tension between providing resources and rhetoric to allow developers to achieve (or at least feel they can achieve) success while mitigating or downplaying instances of failure that are inherently a market that involves significant overproduction of goods. For instance, Apple is remarkably transparent about the work they want developers, collectively, to do, and how the platform envisions app development working. The ‘Developer Insights’ portion of Apple’s App Store website offers a curated collection of video stories of successful developers navigating particular challenges: how to respond to reviews, how to localize your app for the Chinese market, how to make the most of the metadata elements of app pages, etc.46 Only one video is directly addressed to indie developers; ‘Marketing a Game At Launch’ touts the story of WRKSHP, the developers behind the 2013 iOS release Battle Camp, who leveraged ‘limited marketing resources’ to make the app popular via social networking integration within the app. WRKSHP currently employs 60 people at their headquarters in San Francisco, suggesting Apple’s own idea of an ‘indie’ developer does not necessarily align with the way app marketing slogans are read by an increasingly contingent workforce. App developer resource materials describe how to overcome the problems created by the app store, but they strategically ignore the specter of failure that haunts countless blog posts written by or about frustrated and burned-out developers.47
In providing code resources for developers – not just the standard development kit, but also payment processing technology through its Apple Pay product, cloud computing services for multi-platform synchronization through its CloudKit product, AI assistant services through its SiriKit product – Apple streamlines the development process for all developers, but also centralizes that process and makes it contingent on Apple’s proprietary, platform-specific technologies (and thus on Apple’s continued support of those technologies). This is by no means a guarantee; smaller developers are rarely forewarned of minor or major changes to the Apple ecosystem, which can make strategizing for the development process across the life cycle of an application difficult.48 So while the materials and resources provided by platforms might represent an expansion of the pool of developers who can create and sell software, the precarity of the work of selling software on these platforms means many developers still lack the proper resources to achieve visibility for, and capitalize from, the software they create.
Moreover, developers working for platforms face additional restrictions and guidelines on their products through direct editorial oversight in the app review process. Both Apple and Google provide documents covering end user safety, app software performance, app design, business model, and legal compliance, and lay out the reasons why apps would not be permitted in the stores, along with best practices for getting apps approved. Most of these guidelines are intended to root out malware, shut down apps that copy already-existing apps, prevent apps from hiding the nature of their features, or ensure compatibility across platforms and devices. While some of these guidelines are more arbitrary than others, all are political in some way.49 On the whole, they construct a set of values that serve to standardize the software that is available. This standardization is not in itself a bad thing, but it has resulted in a model in which indie developers struggle to compete.
Take for example, the popularity of the freemium business model – where customers can download an app for free and are later asked to upgrade or purchase in-app upgrades – that is pervasive on these platforms.50 While certainly a useful model for users wanting to try out new software, the freemium model is often a difficult business model for indie developers to use, since it is dependent on the developer being able to invest in maintaining and updating the app with new content regularly and is contingent upon users continuing to the see the value in making purchases within the app. While bespoke products in other industries might beget bespoke pricing, Apple cautions developers that ‘while pricing is up to you, we won’t distribute apps and in-app purchase items that are clear rip offs. We’ll reject expensive apps that try to cheat users with irrationally high prices.’51 In an environment where high upfront prices will trigger scrutiny from both Apple editors and end users, who are used to low-to-no purchase prices, developers must commit to significant investment to their contingent commodities.
Platforms may be relatively upfront about their expectations from developers. They are less transparent, however, about how developers are supposed to navigate some of the problems they face, individually, once their app is on the app store. While the guidelines are clear for how to code and build apps, how to present apps according to App Store policies and other such practical considerations for having an app accepted into the app store, platforms leave developers on their own to labor to address some of the very problems that app stores themselves create. Despite the benefits of a unified platform for distribution and consumption, developers still struggle – as the AppDeveloperUnion manifesto implied – with issues of visibility, clutter and control. These issues might be thought of as platform failures, but they are particular outcomes of the kind of platformization taking place in app stores.
Take, for example, the issue of visibility. The very ease of making and selling apps that the press and Apple so frequently tout also means a significantly greater amount of competition for individual developers. The chances of a single app standing out become far less. Despite continued industrial and economic excitement over apps for the last decade, there seems to be a growing consensus that ‘the go-go growth days are gone’52 and that ‘getting people to try new [apps] is still a tough sell.’53 It seems ‘app fatigue’54 has set in for many consumers, making it tougher for developers to market their apps and communicate its benefits. Platform owners rely on developers to create countless options of apps to meet any specific problem, but platforms haven’t invested equally in means and modes of presenting that wide variety in a way that isn’t overwhelming to consumers. Most app stores present curated and packaged lists to help consumers discover the apps they might want or need, or they allow users to sift through top sellers in particular categories. While getting an app featured through one of Apple’s app store curators or editors helps, the process for achieving this honor is opaque. Developers are instructed to choose the correct category from Apple’s established list and use metadata to differentiate between apps already differentiated by unique, 30-character names, as well as ensure the app ‘provides robust editorial content so that it doesn’t seem like a mere storefront.’55 These guidelines seem to be constructed around the ideal of an app ecosystem where competition is based on which particular use can be fulfilled by a particular app; under this ideal framework, apps compete based on their relevance to the lives of Apple’s end user, but this belies the algorithmic and explicitly editorial forces that shape the environment in which that end user encounters the app as a commodity. This is partly why developers resort to tactics that help them stand out algorithmically, such as cramming trending keywords into the titles of their apps. As one developer noted: ‘I’m not particularly proud of some of the methods I use to make that happen [with my app] Gas Cubby – Fuel Economy (MPG, Mileage) Calculator and Car Maintenance & Service Log. The thing is, I’ve got a business to run and kids to feed. If a long app title increases business 20%+ (and I think it can), it’s really hard for me to not do it, especially when all competing apps do.’56
As a result of continued difficulty in achieving visibility, many developers turn to the now burgeoning industry of App Store Optimization (ASO) companies that (cl)aim to help app developers and software publishers ‘optimize’ apps so that they appear higher in search results and rankings lists on various app store platforms. Like with web search engine optimization companies (SEO), the process on how exactly to tweak apps to make them findable by discovery algorithms, however, is largely anecdotal and often dynamic, as platform owners look to prevent this kind of behavior. Many developers think the equation for achieving higher rankings looks something like: ‘Ranking = (# of installs weighted for the past few hours) + (# of installs weighted for the past few days) + Reviews (star rating + number of reviews) + Engagement (# of times app opened etc.) + Sales ($).’57 ASO companies, and developers using ASOs, invest a significant amount of resources to boost these numbers by providing advice on logo design, keyword choice, in-app retention strategies, and other aspects of an app’s display page. Gummicube, for example, offers what it calls an ‘End-to End Solution for Mobile Marketing and ASO’ with keyword optimization, solicited reviews and ratings, focus groups and analytics.58 App Radar offers similar services, with prices ranging from $99 a month for apps with 100,000 downloads to $599 a month for companies with a greater number of users.59
ASO, however, often relies on a lot of metadata and keyword manipulation, and sometimes, like SEO, involves more questionable practices, such as paying for bulk downloads to increase download statistics or using public relations firms to plant fake, glowing reviews of an app.60 ASO entities and tactics are a symptom of the problem of overproduction; they exist solely to help solve a problem the platform itself created in terms of its decisions on how to present and curate the software it displays. ASO services play on a developer’s fear that their app will become a ‘zombie app:’ apps that are produced and do not appear on any of Apple’s lists, for any category or any country. As a result of not being included in these lists, zombie apps can only be found through direct search, and thus are rarely, if ever downloaded. Adjust, a Berlin-based mobile analytics company that coined the term and tracks the phenomenon, estimates that there were anywhere between 70% and 90% between 2013 and 2016;61 stats which are then marshalled by companies and services like Adjust or King of App to promote the benefits of their ASO services. There is an entire web of companies, like Mindventory or Apteligent, dedicated to helping developers avoid this fate for their apps by providing a broad range of consulting services on app promotion, in-app retention strategies, usage and crash statistics and more. Unfortunately, these ASO consultations require a significant and persistent investment, and thus favours developers with enough resources and funds to devote to such practices, which puts emerging or independent developers at a disadvantage.
The second key concern is the related issue of clutter. App stores are not just filled with other competing apps, they are filled with other apps that in many cases serve literally the same function as countless other apps. The rapid rise of popularity of many apps, coupled with the importance of rankings, means that there are widespread examples of copycat apps – apps that emerge as clones of already trending apps and confuse consumers into downloading them – on most popular app store platforms. The amount and extent of the copying varies significantly, from copying general game/app mechanics to more specific copying of color schemes, designs, features and instructions. The wildly popular 2014 game Crossy Road, which itself borrowed from the mechanics of the classic game Frogger, had countless clones across multiple platforms (e.g. Crossy Jungle, Crossy Chick, Road Crossing, Cross Road, Smashy Road, etc.) all mimicking the game’s distinctive blocky characters, landscapes and endless hopper mechanics.62 Similarly, the 2013 game Flappy Bird – which was earning its developer $50,000 USD a day through in app advertisements63 – had a stunning number of clones, especially once the developer removed the app from most app stores. The game’s simple mechanics, basic graphics, and a vast array of online video tutorials – such as ‘How to Make Flappy Bird in Under 40 Minutes’ or ‘Making Fruity Bat (a Flappy Bird Clone) in Ruby’ – all made it ripe for copying. One report suggests that nearly a third of all games released during the 24-hour period after the game’s removal were clones,64 and nearly 800 clones – including Flying Rainbow Cat, Tiny Flying Drizzy, Jumpy JellyFish, Flying Mustache and more – remained in the stores a month after Flappy Bird’s discontinuation.65
Many of these copycat games are blatant attempts to capitalize on a trending app, and their poor mimicry and fakeness is sniffed out quickly by users. In some cases though, app developers watch as the popularity of copycats overtakes the original. Take for example, the case of Threes, a number-puzzle game where users move numbers around a board to create multiples of threes.66 A few days after launching Threes, the developer watched as a game called 1024 borrowed the game’s exact mechanics and features, and then as another copycat, 2048 shot to the number one spot on the rankings list in multiple app platforms.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Screenshot of app store search results for 2048 in 201467
Developers can file for infringement, but the cost (both financial and reputational) to doing so is significant. Plus, it’s rarely clear what constitutes outright infringement, versus what might simply be an acceptable and legally permissible homage or reference to an existing game (i.e. the celebration of Crossy Road as a nostalgic update to Frogger vs. the disdain for the many copycat apps that came after it). App store platforms like Google and Apple do attempt to remove blatant copies, but they often lack the ability to police copycats thoroughly. For example, when Flappy Bird clones skyrocketed, platforms began rejecting apps with the word ‘Flappy’ in the title, but this did not address more substantial levels of copying going on at the level of design and functionality in many of the remaining clones. So when Google rejected the clone Flappy Dragon for using ‘irrelevant, misleading, or excessive keywords in apps descriptions, titles, or metadata’ from its Play store, the app was simply re-submitted as Derpy Dragon.68 Developers who do reach out to platform providers to notify them of copycatting have had mixed success; the developer of Wake Alarm notified Google of the Neon Alarm Clock Free app, which offered virtually identical functionality, but the developer notes that ‘unfortunately Google was unable to offer us any help,’ in their response: ‘At this time, Google has decided not to take action. We encourage you to resolve any disputes directly with the individual who posted the content.’69

In some senses, app platforms benefit from clones and from the plethora of options they provide. Platforms encourage iterations on what trending, whether those are lazy copy cats or innovative iterations. As one developer notes, ‘While it might not be the most honest or ethical path, [copycatting] is a reaction to the sheer difficulty of getting your game noticed on the App Stores. New mobile developers are finding it hard to profit, let alone break even, as the top ten mobile game developers continue their stranglehold on around a quarter of the mobile games market.’70 Like any digital platform, it seems like some level of spam or unwanted noise is a function of the app store’s existence. In fact, as the developer’s comments above indicate, spammy and duplicative apps might even be read as a strategic response to the difficulties of standing out in the app store environment. While many developers will try to succeed solely on the strength of the original idea and functionality of their app, others will borrow from or adapt existing ideas as a way to create visibility for their app without having to start from scratch. Copycat apps, then, are thus a symptom of (and solution to) platformized software distribution. The ‘failure’ of clutter, then, creates a situation that benefits platform owners, ASO companies and similar peripheral services, as well as even some developers.

Finally, there’s the lack of control that developers have over their product that sometimes feels like a form of platform failure. Developers express frustration at the lack of control that comes along with being part of the platform. For many apps that have been banned from the app store for questionable or unclear reasons, it’s clear that Apple’s we’ll-know-it-when-we-see-it attitude toward bad apps or bad developers is insufficiently transparent. Reserving the right to change and update their guidelines for acceptance is perhaps necessary for the success of app stores as a multi-sided market, but it also means that platform providers can be capricious about the enforcement of these guidelines. While app store platforms are quite transparent about the expectations they have for developers conforming to certain design aesthetics and how to code, build and present apps in accordance with their policies, they are less transparent about how individual developers are supposed to navigate some of the problems they face once their app is on the app store. They leave developers on their own to address some of the very problems created by app stores. Platformization of app infrastructures is also an expression of their control over the platform. But platform providers’ enforcement of this control is capricious, self-interested, and insufficiently transparent.
In particular, as the App Developer Union’s demands noted, while Apple gives developers the opportunity to use their technologies within apps, this doesn’t necessarily protect developers from threats against their apps. For example, a few years ago, several independent and small app developers were hit with patent-infringement suits for using staple technologies provided in app store Software Development Kits (SDKs). An overly-litigious patent-holding company, Lodsys, claimed that it had patents on a broad range of basic technologies that fuel app stores and began demanding developers using these services in their apps (e.g. in-app purchases, mobile payments, etc.) for royalties and licenses or they would face legal repercussions.71 Despite being encouraged and guided by the platform to use these technologies, developers were left on their own to navigate thickets of patents and to sort out how to come up with the proper economic and legal resources to resolve the situation. Apple’s App store provides the technology for building app infrastructures but can only do so much when those infrastructures put developers in precarious scenarios.72

Despite the benefits of a unified platform for distribution and consumption, developers still struggle with issues of getting their app approved, seen, and promoted in an environment that is filled with legitimate competing apps as well as spammy copycat or zombie apps. Vying for visibility, prepping an app for approval or defending it from outside threats requires an additional kind of labor on the part of developers. It’s labor that goes beyond creating the product and labor that instead involves navigating the intricacies of the platform on which their products, and often livelihoods, depend. Software has long been platform-dependent,73 though we argue the relationship between the developer and the platform has changed because the hardware has also become the distribution method. By designating app stores as the means for obtaining apps on specific devices, platform providers set guidelines for how developers labor, but also control the conditions for how developers succeed or not in circulating and profiting from their software. Traditional retailers like Best Buy or Walmart may be able to set the conditions for how certain products appear and are priced in their stores, but app stores’ influence on the end product extends to the level of code, and to the laborers who create that code.


On May 18, 2018, The Developers Union (@TheDevUnion) made its Twitter debut with a tweet addressed to #DearApple: ‘We believe that people who create great software should be able to make a living doing it. So we created The Developers Union to advocate for sustainability in the App Store.’ Despite the similar sounding name and Twitter handle as the earlier AppDeveloperUnion (@AppDevUnion), the two groups seem unconnected. The newer iteration was also taking up a different cause: they were asking Apple ‘to publicly commit […] to allowing free trials for all apps in the App Stores before July 2019.’74 Describing itself as a ‘non-union union’; it charged no dues and had no real formal structures for collective bargaining.75 Like the earlier group, it was born from the acknowledgement that many independent developers have had difficulty earning a living by writing software that has to meet the demands of being marketed and circulated in highly restrictive platforms. Subsequent tweets and press appearances suggested the group might also consider addressing the current royalty split for non-subscription apps. And like the earlier group, the Developers Union’s twitter feed seems to have waned after a few months.
It is unclear whether the App Developer’s Union or the Developer’s Union would have (or will) solve many, or even some, of the failures and challenges that developers face by virtue of taking part in the platformized distribution of software. The challenges these two ‘organizations’ faced in generating support for their causes, after all, are those that face digital laborers of all kinds. Recent work in digital labor studies – see Tai Neilson’s thorough overview76 – confirms that unions for digital workers are persistently challenged by the fact that many digital workers are classified as independent contractors, that their labor is often performed outside traditional employment relations, and that free labor for platforms is a pervasive practice. These are in addition to a significant increase in anti-union legislation in various regions and countries that is driving union memberships down.77
Shortly after the #DearApple letter, Apple did indeed change its policies regarding free trials in non-subscription based apps, though it’s unclear how much influence the group’s letter exerted in the decision.78 Even with these modest gains, the idea of an app developer’s union, of a collectivized developer labor force articulating demands on behalf of all developers, will always be directly at odds with the highly individualized promise app stores regularly make to developers. The idea of a union for app developers is an organizational antithesis to the Californian Ideology79 that pervades app store rhetorics and on which app store platforms rely for the overproduction of software that fuels their services. Developer discontent with app store platform failures is not difficult to find but incentive to organize and make manifest that unease is harder to trace.
This is, in part, the power of the platformization of culture. Developers are encouraged by platforms to understand their labor vis a vis the end user, with the platform as a mere intermediary – even if the platforms exert control over which commodities are exchanged, and by what means. In competition with one another, developers may fail to see the many ways in which large and small corporate developers, as well as independent solo developers, would benefit from working toward the collective goal of combatting precarious app developments. There is, after all, a larger and more persistent mobilization effort that’s taking place in the cultural industries around precarious labor and how creative industry workers can organize to resist the scripts imposed through new configurations of digital technologies, capital and labor, such as Cohen, Brophy and Peuter’s ‘Cultural Workers Organize’ project, or the nascent Game Workers Unite movement.80 Neilson also notes burgeoning digital labor movements in the creative industries, call centers, high-tech workers at Microsoft and digital news producers that might offer lessons or models for app developers to follow.81 The highly distributed, decentralized and individualized experiences of app developers may pose greater challenges for organization but the two ‘non-union unions’ we have used to bookend our argument are at least a recognition that taking part in platformization need not also entail ceding all control to platform providers. The infrastructural bias of app stores toward failure does not invalidate the work done by these developers, even if it does present a challenge for activists working to address the common kinds of failures that app developers encounter through platformization. Failure may be productive for the content and mechanics of games and other apps, and even for the para-industries that emerge to address it, but it need not be a governing logic for the future of software distribution and circulation, and for a platform’s relationship with its developers and users.


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Dormehl, Luke. 2014. “A Third Of New IOS Games Are Flappy Bird Clones.” Cult of Mac. February 27, 2014.
Dredge, Stuart. 2014. “Here Are 95 Flappy Bird-Inspired IOS Games… Released in the Last 24 Hours.” The Guardian. February 27, 2014.
Edwards, Jim. 2014. “A ‘Dark Pattern’ In Flappy Bird Reveals How Apple’s Mysterious App Store Ranking Algorithm Works.” Business Insider. February 12, 2014.
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———. 2012. “IOS App Success Is a ‘Lottery’: 60% (or More) of Developers Don’t Break Even.” Ars Technica. May 4, 2012.
Fuller, Matthew. 2003. Behind The Blip: Essays On The Culture Of Software. Brooklyn, NY, USA: Autonomedia.
———. 2008. Software Studies: A Lexicon. Leonardo Books. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Galloway, Alexander R. 2004. Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press.
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———. 2018. “Exodus International: Banned Apps, App Stores and the Politics of Visibility.” In Appified: Culture in the Age of Apps, edited by Jeremy Wade Morris and Murray, Sarah, 51–69. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
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Juul, Jesper. 2013. The Art of Failure : An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Kafka, Peter. 2016. “The App Boom Is Over.” Recode. June 8, 2016.
Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. 2008. Mechanisms : New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Kitchin, Rob, and Martin Dodge. 2011. Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life. Software Studies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
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———. 2017b. “Apple’s Huge App Store Makeover Arrives Today in IOS 11.” TechCrunch. September 19, 2017.
———. 2018. “App Developers Get Their Wish with Expanded Support for Free Trials.” TechCrunch. June 4, 2018.
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Author Biographies

Austin Morris is a PhD candidate in Media & Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose research focuses on queer labor and value in the platformized digital media industries.
Jeremy Wade Morris is Associate Professor in Media & Cultural Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of Communication Arts. He studies the digitization of the cultural industries and is the author of Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture and co-editor of Appified: Culture in the Age of Apps (with Sarah Murray).


  1. Tai Neilson, “Unions in Digital Labour Studies: A Review of Information Society and Marxist Autonomist Approaches,” Triple C: Cognition, Communication, Cooperation 16, no. 2 (2018): 882–900.
  2. John Callaham, “Apple Unifies IOS and OS X Developer Programs under a Single Banner,” iMore, June 8, 2015,
  3. Brian X. Chen, “IPhone Developers Go From Rags to Riches,” Wired, September 19, 2008,
  4. Chris Foresman, “IOS App Success Is a ‘Lottery’: 60% (or More) of Developers Don’t Break Even,” Ars Technica, May 4, 2012,
  5. App Annie, “App Annie 2017 Retrospective.” (App Annie, 2018), ket-data/app-annie-2017-retrospective/#download.
  6. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001).
  7. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan, New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader (New York: Routledge, 2006); Matthew Fuller, Behind The Blip: Essays On The Culture Of Software (Brooklyn, NY, USA: Autonomedia, 2003); Matthew Fuller, Software Studies: A Lexicon, Leonardo Books (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008); Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge, Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life, Software Studies (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011); Katherine Hayles, My Mother Was A Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies, Software Studies (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009); Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, The New Media Reader (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003).
  8. Fuller, Behind The Blip: Essays On The Culture Of Software, 63.
  9. Adam Greenfield, Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2006).
  10. Robert W. Gehl and Sarah A. Bell, “Heterogeneous Software Engineering: Garmisch 1968, Microsoft Vista, and a Methodology for Software Studies,” Computational Culture 1, no. 2 (2012): n.p.
  11. Gehl and Bell.
  12. Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms : New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008).
  13. Gehl and Bell, “Heterogeneous Software Engineering: Garmisch 1968, Microsoft Vista, and a Methodology for Software Studies.”
  14. Martin Dodge, Rob Kitchin, and Matthew Zook, “How Does Software Make Space? Exploring Some Geographical Dimensions of Pervasive Computing and Software Studies,” Environment and Planning A 41, no. 6 (June 2009): 1283–93,
  15. See Jeremy Wade Morris and Sarah Murray, Appified: Culture in the Age of Apps (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2018) for further discussion.
  16. Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort, “Platform Studies: Frequently Questioned Answers,” Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference 8, no. 1 (2009): 7.
  17. Benjamin Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016).
  18. L. Johnson, “Creating the Software Industry-Recollections of Software Company Founders of the 1960s,” Annals of the History of Computing, IEEE 24, no. 1 (2002): 14,
  19. Paul E. Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), 88.
  20. F.G. Rodgers, “IBM Announcement of New Pricing Policy,” Computer History Museum, June 23, 1969, 9,
  21. Martin Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic The Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, History of Computing (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003), 99.
  22. Cuthbert C. Hurd, “The Software Crisis,” Computer Usage, 1966; Business Week, “Software Gap: A Growing Crisis for Computers,” Business Week, November 5, 1966.
  23. Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic The Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, 209.
  24. Campbell-Kelly, 208.
  25. Bogost and Montfort, “Platform Studies: Frequently Questioned Answers,” 4.
  26. Tarleton Gillespie, “The Politics of ‘Platforms,’” New Media & Society 12, no. 3 (2010): 347–64.
  27. David B. Nieborg and Thomas Poell, “The Platformization of Cultural Production: Theorizing the Contingent Cultural Commodity,” New Media & Society, April 25, 2018, 2,
  28. Nick Srnicek, Platform Capitalism (Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity, 2017), 39
  29. Srnicek, 48.
  30. Nieborg and Poell, “The Platformization of Cultural Production,” 7.
  31. Nieborg and Poell, 15.
  32. Apple, “Developer Earnings from the App Store Top $70 Billion,” Apple Newsroom, June 1, 2017,
  33. AppMakr, “How to Make an App for IPhone & Android – DIY Free Mobile AppMakr,”, 2018,
  34. John Cassidy, Dot.Con: The Real Story of Why the Internet Bubble Burst (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2003).
  35. Keith Stuart, “How to Become an IPhone Developer in Eight Easy Steps,” The Guardian, February 10, 2009,
  36. David Streitfeld, “As Boom Lures App Creators, Tough Part Is Making a Living,” The New York Times, November 18, 2012, sec. A1,
  37. John Gruber, “Vesper, Adieu,” Personal blog, Blazing Fireball (blog), August 23, 2016,
  38. Sarah Perez, “Apple’s Huge App Store Makeover Arrives Today in IOS 11,” TechCrunch, September 19, 2017,; “Discovery on the All-New App Store,” Apple Developer, 2018,
  39. Apple, “App Store – Apple Developer,”, 2018,
  40. Artyom Dogtiev, “App Revenues (2017),” Business of Apps, May 11, 2018,
  41. Foresman, “IOS App Success Is a ‘Lottery’”; Michael Daniel, “Your Chances of Making a Successful Mobile App Are Almost Nil,” VentureBeat, September 24, 2017,; VisionMobile, “VisionMobile – Developer Megatrends Q1 2015,” July 3, 2015,
  42. Jesper Juul, The Art of Failure : An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2013)
  43. Matthew Bellinger, “The Rhetoric of Error in Digital Media,” Computational Culture: A Journal of Software Studies, no. 5 (January 4, 2016),
  44. Richard Lanham, The Electronic Word (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 81.
  45. Bellinger, “The Rhetoric of Error in Digital Media”.
  46. Apple, “App Store – Apple Developer.”
  47. See for example Gruber, “Vesper, Adieu”; Casey Newton, “Life and Death in the App Store,” News, The Verge, March 2, 2016,; Jared Sinclair, “A Candid Look at Unread’s First Year,” Blog,, July 28, 2014,
  48. Gruber, “Vesper, Adieu.”
  49. Tarleton Gillespie, “Exodus International: Banned Apps, App Stores and the Politics of Visibility,” in Appified: Culture in the Age of Apps, ed. Jeremy Wade Morris and Murray, Sarah (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2018), 51–69.
  50. Chance Miller, “In-App Purchases Are More Successful Now than Ever, New Data Shows,” 9to5Mac, April 14, 2018,
  51. Apple, “App Store Review Guidelines,” App Store Review Guidelines, 2018,
  52. Peter Kafka, “The App Boom Is Over,” Recode, June 8, 2016,
  53. Sarah Perez, “Majority of U.S. Consumers Still Download Zero Apps per Month, Says ComScore,” TechCrunch, August 25, 2017,
  54. Barb Darrow, “How App Fatigue Is Taking a Toll on Smartphone Owners | Fortune,” Fortune, August 16, 2016,; Ben Schippers, “App Fatigue,” TechCrunch, February 3, 2016,
  55. Apple, “App Store Review Guidelines.”
  56. App developer David Barnard, quoted in Frederico Viticci, “Four Years of App Store: Developers Weigh In On Search, Discovery, and Curation,” News, MacStories, May 18, 2012,
  57. Jim Edwards, “A ‘Dark Pattern’ In Flappy Bird Reveals How Apple’s Mysterious App Store Ranking Algorithm Works,” Business Insider, February 12, 2014,
  58. Gummicube, “Gummicube Home Page,” 2018,
  59. App Radar, “App Radar Pricing Page,” App Radar, 2018,
  60. Miguel Helft, “Charges Settled Over Fake Reviews on ITunes,” The New York Times, August 26, 2010,
  61. Adjust, “The Zombie Uprising: A Look at the Undead App Store in 2016” (Adjust, July 27, 2016).
  62. Alex Riviello, “Crossy Road Clones Emerge: Google Play, Windows App Store, Even PS Vita Is Full Of Games Seeking To Cash In On Success,” Gamenguide, March 2, 2015,
  63. Ellis Hamburger, “Indie Smash Hit ‘Flappy Bird’ Racks up $50K per Day in Ad Revenue,” The Verge, February 5, 2014,
  64. Luke Dormehl, “A Third Of New IOS Games Are Flappy Bird Clones,” Cult of Mac, February 27, 2014,
  65. Stuart Dredge, “Here Are 95 Flappy Bird-Inspired IOS Games… Released in the Last 24 Hours,” The Guardian, February 27, 2014,; Joshua Sherman, “More than 800 Flappy Bird Clones Still Exist: Here Are a Few of Our Favorites,” Digital Trends, March 5, 2014,; Paul Tassi, “Over Sixty ‘Flappy Bird’ Clones Hit Apple’s App Store Every Single Day,” Forbes, March 6, 2014,
  66. Asher Vollmer and Greg Wohlwend, “Threes Homepage,”, 2014,
  67. David Price, “How the App Store Got Taken over by Copycats,” Macworld UK, April 16, 2014,
  68. Price.
  69. Robleh Jama, “The Upside of Copycat Apps and How to Deal with Them If They Get out of Hand,” The Next Web, April 9, 2016,
  70. Jeremy Ooi, “What Can We Learn from Cloning Popular Games?,” Medium, September 11, 2015,
  71. Chris Foresman, “Lodsys to Apple: Your Letter Means Nothing, We’re Suing Developers | Ars Technica,” Ars Technica, June 1, 2011,
  72. Foresman.
  73. Nieborg and Poell, “The Platformization of Cultural Production.”
  74. The Developer’s Union, “Developers Union Homepage,” The Developers Union, 2018,
  75. Lauren Goode, “Fed Up With Apple’s Policies, App Developers Form a ‘Union,’” Wired, May 18, 2018,
  76. Neilson, “Unions in Digital Labour Studies: A Review of Information Society and Marxist Autonomist Approaches.”
  77. Stanley Aronowitz, The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement (New York, NY: Verso, 2014)
  78. Sarah Perez, “App Developers Get Their Wish with Expanded Support for Free Trials,” TechCrunch, June 4, 2018,
  79. Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The California Ideology,” Mute Magazine Vol. 1 Issue 3, September 1, 1995,
  80. Oscar Moralde, “From Passion to Power: Game Unions and Historical Lessons from Media Labor,” First Person Scholar, September 12, 2018,
  81. Neilson, “Unions in Digital Labour Studies: A Review of Information Society and Marxist Autonomist Approaches.”