Windows Phone Store: The Clone Wars

The Windows Phone Store has seen its fair share of challenges over the years. We have seen cookie cutter or spam apps, misleading apps, update failures and issues with developer revenues all surface. While Microsoft has done a decent job of responding to these matters, one problem continues to plague the Store - cloned or copied apps.

It is not a new issue or one unique to the Windows Phone Store but one that Microsoft needs to get control of better.

Understand that when I refer to copied apps and games I am not talking about games with the same concept. We have a bazillion match-three games available in the Store with many sharing similar designs, but I don't consider them copies. The clones are those games or apps that simply lift the code from one title, slap on a new title and submit it for publication.

It isn't a problem unique to the Windows Phone Store or one that is new, but it seems to have gotten worse.

Windows Phone Store Top Free Games

We receive review requests from readers and developers, as well as what we stumble upon ourselves. Over the past few months, several of these requests have been for copied or fake games, which we pass on. If the original title is in the Windows Phone Store, we focus on that instead. I try to research the authenticity of these games, but I'm not perfect and now and then one slips through the cracks.

Even Microsoft fails to catch these clones once they sneak past the certification process. They will often be included in their top rated categories in the Windows Phone Store. A recent Windows Central roundup was based on the top free games in the Windows Phone Store. We noticed one obvious clone in the top listed games, but two were missed.

As we saw with the spam apps, these clones are sneaking into the Store more often these days. Most get caught and are unpublished but many stays in circulation for a good while.

What can be done?

If you run across a game or app in the Windows Phone Store, there is a link on the Store listing that will report a concern to Microsoft. The clones are not always easy to pick out of a crowd, but some stand out like a sore thumb. Some of the signs include:

  • Store title doesn't match the title on the app itself
  • Ad support is overly aggressive with ad banners covering key details and you see a combination of ad banners and full-screen ads
  • There is a vast number of reviews on the app or game but very few comments
  • Store description refers to a different title than one listed

Just keep in mind that these signs do not always mean a Windows Phone title is a copy. When I spot one, I search iTunes, Google Play and even our Store for originals. The original versions can jump off the screen at you while others are not as easy to find.

Windows Phone Store Reporting

Along with customer reporting potential clones, Microsoft needs to step things up during the certification process. I do not know if there needs to be less automation in the process or just a refinement of the process, but something needs to happen to reduce the number of these clones making it to Store shelves.

When we saw gobs of cookie cutter or spam apps appear, Microsoft tweaked the submission process and limited the daily submissions to address that issue. When we saw misleading apps that used false descriptions or keyword tags, again Microsoft tweaked the process to correct that issue. It should not be too difficult for Microsoft to adjust the certification process to look for the obvious signs of a cloned app and have a human take a closer look at things.

Whatever the method, Microsoft needs to step it up. I review hundreds of Windows Phone titles throughout the year and enjoy offering my opinion on things and giving these titles a little exposure. We will continue to screen these titles to avoid giving an unauthorized copy of an app this exposure and appreciate our readers helping hands in making sure everything is on the up and up.

I just hope Microsoft can find a way to keep these copies in check. These cloned apps' presence is not fair to our community or the developers who support this platform.

Additional Discussion in the Windows Central Forums

George Ponder

George is the Reviews Editor at Windows Central, concentrating on Windows 10 PC and Mobile apps. He's been a supporter of the platform since the days of Windows CE and uses his current Windows 10 Mobile phone daily to keep up with life and enjoy a game during down time.