Monday, December 27, 2010

Android: so far, not so good

On December the 19th, Final Freeway for Android was finally released.

I personally didn't work much on this edition, though I did my share of work to adapt the game for some needs of the new platform and to post a proper press release this time around.

The press release was quickly picked by a few sites and on December 20th, we had a 53 sales.
These relatively high sales were probably because the game was in the list of the new releases. Things are not so good now, where sales average to 10 copies per day.

I can see the problems with Android as a viable platform. It has been discussed more than once. So, I'll try to cut it short..

The market sucks..

  • There are no promo codes to give out to get people and sites to try and review the game
  • You need to have a phone to check out the market and there is no standard web interface (other than a QR code to photograph)
  • It's hard for good games to stand out. A few days after the release, the only way to find the game in the market is to explicitly search for "final freeway".
  • Cost of games is a silly dance with exchange rates.In Japan the lowest price one can set is 99 Yen, which is more than one US Dollar ! So, a Japanese developer can't possibly set the price to $0.99.
    Also, games cost random-looking numbers in every other country other than your own. In contrast, in the iOS App Store one simply choses "Tier 1" and has the game sold for USD 0.99, EU 0.79, JPY 115.
  • Google Checkout system gives customer names and ZIP code of every purchase. Not sure how many customers know this, but surely this can work as a deterrent for the more privacy-conscious customers. Sure, you can trust me.. but it's hard to make an habit of buying apps from a different company or individual every time, knowing that every seller gets some of your data.
  • The return/cancellation rate is horrible. As of now, out of 185 downloads, 25 were returned (plus 8 failed purchases). That's a 13.5% return rate. The same game on the iOS App Store has a return rate of 0.23% !

Piracy is really bad
  • The licensing system is annoying to customers and worthless against pirates
  • Google-hosted Blogger sites run amok with pirated Android games.
    Reporting Bloggers sites to Google has had 0 effect (typical Google apathy). Reporting the links that host the downloads usually works... but it takes 2-3 days for that to take action and only takes 10 minutes for the pirates to upload again... a losing battle.
    As an example, see this "nice" site (Update: the page with Final Freeway has been removed by Google. The site stays however) that even asks for donations for its "services"... When I found it, I left a commend along the lines of "This is an illegal download. Please, support the developers 8)". The reply I got was: "Davide.. fuck you!".I replied again and so did a couple of friends of mine, then all comments got erased..
  • It's telling that Gameloft is trying with its own private market for Android
  • It's telling that Rovio distributes "Angry Birds" free but ad-based (perhaps it's what Google really wants: to further its ads business)
  • Take this one site alone: 920 illegal downloads.. against the 152 successful legal purchases that we currently have. That's a ratio of 6 illegal downloads to 1 purchase. 600% piracy rate already on one site alone.. multiply that for the several few out there (a search on Twitter reveals a wealth of download links..) ..and sales start to look more like a drop of drinking water in the sea.
  • See also the blog post Android Piracy Heat Map (Japan rocks indeed 8)

A lot has been said about piracy and I personally agree that one should not count one download as one theft. I understand that people want to try a product and that sometimes costs are prohibitive. But all that downloading activity is certainly not bringing any business to us.. and the game costs $1.25  ..if you don't have a dollar, you don't have a smart phone.

Overall, I'd say that the whole Android apps ecosystem is fucked. Google loves to play the card of the friendly, open company that doesn't lock phones.. but while doing that, it doesn't propose a compelling market experience for the users nor an healthy market for the developers.

It's too early to make a final judgement, but I have to say that so far things are pretty bad. We sold 152 copies in one week, and now average to 10 copies per day.
But the game is not bad. It sold on tens of thousands of copies in the App Store with little or no publicity (not even a press release) and 4 months after the initial release, it still sells about 130 copies per day.
Our multi-platform framework is there, and porting new games to Android would be much easier now... but if things don't change, I'll not bother porting new titles to Android even if that only meant to recompile the code, because supporting a piracy-laden platform is bad for the mobile market as a whole.

..while I'm still hoping for a break.. at least to repay the basic cost of porting the game.
wooo !