Dec 08 AT 4:41 PM Clark Wimberly 30 Comments

Android Market billing snag leaves developers soured

Over the weekend a number of developers in the Android Market support forums were reporting a highly disproportionate transaction fail rate (some devs claiming 80-100% of purchases failing). The problem continued with no response from Google for days, costing many of the developers real money and more than a few one star market reviews.

The problem appears to be sorted out now, a lot of the developers reporting problems have come back to say transactions are clearing, but the fix alone doesn’t look to be enough to soothe some angry developers. Many seem absolutely shocked that the Market appears to have zero weekend support, some are demanding refunds from Google, and all are really just looking for an honest explanation of what happened.

This tip came through a few days ago (thanks @_zehro!) and I probably should have posted it then, but I figured better late than never. A few of the devs in the thread had asked for media support to shed some light on the situation and this is my attempt to do that. If this is water under the bridge by now, just ignore this post (or let me hear it in the comments).

The problem: a recap

I’m going to do my best to summarize the problem and resulting uproar, but if you really want the full picture you can read the original thread over in the forums. The problem first showed up on December 4 (a Saturday) when judez posted:

What’s going on in Android Market? Every sell I have is declined. The system’s been failing for the last 6 hours.judezAndroid Market forum

It seemed that Google Checkout was randomly (and frequently) declining orders for a large number of developers (the majority of which appear to be outside of the US). Over the next few days/hours, more and more posts poured in showing the increasing frustration with the situation:

This is an utter disgrace now … I have lost an unbelievable amount of revenue because of this. I am fuming! There must be action we can take. I am getting too many support requests to even comtemplate dealing with, my reputation is being ruined because the users don’t know what’s happening and are blaming me, and still Google hasn’t said a word!!dooblouAndroid Market forum

Aside from the lost revenue, developers were concerned about the one star ratings that were starting to flow in:

It’s not just the sales, it’s also killing our reputation as developers. The user can’t download our app but they can download all their other paid apps so they assume that we have programmed our application wrongly.zehroAndroid Market forum

Being a developer myself, I can assure you one thing we realllly hate is a problem/shortcoming outside of our control making us look bad. As someone who solves problems for a living, it’s infuriating to have a real problem stare you in the face.

The resolution

On December 6 (a Monday) a Google employee finally showed up in the thread to report the problem had been solved:

As I mentioned on the other thread, we do deeply regret the inconvenience and pain caused to all of you, and take our responsibility to our merchants and developers very seriously. I certainly didn’t mean to be dismissive in my response.

Re: the reasons. We’re still digging into some of the underlying reasons with our integration partners, and will try to share more soon. Please be assured we will take measures to ensure this is repeated.salgarGoogle employee

Like I said at the beginning of the article, the problem was fixed days ago. I’m just writing about it now because most of the developers seemed disappointed that Google wasn’t able to even answer to say they were looking into things. The whole thread is filled with people who seem to feel amazingly disrespected.

The user dooblou did a fierce job of summing things up:

@salgar: The whole episode was an utter disgrace. “Regretting the inconvenience” isn’t really an apology either, is it? There was no communication with the developers, it took over 2 days to even start addressing the problem and it has all left a very bitter taste. I really think you should consider arranging a refund of the 30% we pay to you over the time frame this all occurred … this would go a little way to helping us all feel like we weren’t paying for support that never existed.

And on the note – how difficult is it to employ a member of support staff over the weekend that can monitor the Market? All it takes is 1 person to sit there monitoring activity – can you not even provide that for the 30% fee you take from us?

Finally, the ‘cut and paste’ response you gave everyone to their support requests was perhaps the biggest insult of all. I provide attentive and personal support to all my customers/users and it pays dividends (hey, I even do it at the weekends!) – why can’t you do the same. Out of all the support requests I have made to the Android Market, not a single one of them actually answers any of my questions – it’s like you skim read it, get the gist, and then choose the appropriate standard response to send back. Thanks for that.

So go on, make a gesture to prove that you take us seriously and that you value our contributions towards Android’s success. At the very least, you should email Android Market users that were caught up in this debacle and explain to them the issues and that it was not the developers’ faults. Please do this for us – EDUCATE THE ANDROID USERS – it’s the absolute bare minimum that you owe to us. I’m fed up of providing support for Google/Android as opposed to my own applications.dooblouAndroid Market forum

So what now?

Some of the developers were asking for a refund of the 30% paid to Google during the outage, figuring since no support was provided that no money should be split. Others are trying to figure out what to do with the one star reviews that were incorrectly levied against their apps. Google still hasn’t said much, only that the problem existed and is now gone. Should they be expected to do more than that?

Clark is a developer living in Austin, Texas. He runs ClarkLab, a small web firm with his wife, Angie. He's a big fan of usability, standards, and clean design.

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