What is going on with the App Store, exactly?
The idea of being able to patch iPhone games isn't bad in itself, but it's hard to fight the feeling that some publishers are abusing the feature.
I fired up iTunes this morning and saw that seven of my iPhone apps had updates available. Gameloft's Brain Challenge has been updated to version 1.4.1 – an 88.8MB download that gives me a "minor graphics update".
Meanwhile, Pangea Software has released v1.0.3 of its Cro-Mag Rally – a 58.3MB download providing a "minor performance improvement".
But THQ Wireless wins today's prize with v1.0.4 of de Blob. The download is admittedly smaller at 8.8MB, but the listed improvement is… "updated icon". Really, it is.
My broadband connection isn't going to fall over at the prospect of downloading these patches. But it's hard to fight off the thought that the sole reason for these minor updates is to send these games back to the top of the App Store games list, when sorted by 'Release Date'.
Are publishers to blame for simply making the most of a glaring loophole in the way the App Store presents games? Maybe not. But it's getting ridiculous. Take a look inside your iTunes folder on your computer, and the 'Mobile Applications' sub-folder. Every time you download a new update, it's stored alongside its predecessors, rather than overwriting them.
Apple needs to patch itself, and make the App Store sort by original release dates, not patch dates, to remove the incentive to pump out minor revisions.
At least then publishers might:
a) try harder to get the graphics, performance and icons finished before releasing their games
b) save updates for genuine improvements, such as new content or proper bug fixes.
Of course, the latter poses an entirely different challenge for sites like Pocket Gamer. If we criticise Super Monkey Ball for being too hard or SolarQuest for being too short, then updates making it easier to control your monkey or adding more levels pose a challenge – an issue we've been discussing internally at some length. (Currently, we clearly display which version has been reviewed so at least readers are able to match our assessment to a game's specific iteration.)
But writing as a gamer, I'm plain fed up of the stream of minor updates to the apps that I've bought. Patches as a pure promotional tool? No thanks.