I got into Android game development right around the time Amazon launched their Android Appstore. There’s been a lot of buzz around this service – Angry Birds Rio for free, the daily free app, the Popcap exclusives, the lawsuits with Apple. And, seemingly, they are doing some nice things. If you take a look at the Amazon Appstore page for a game like Plants vs. Zombies or Angry Birds Rio, they’re very well done. Much nicer than the corresponding pages on the Google Android Market. So that’s good. But what are they doing for smaller developers?
I’ve been watching how things are progressing, and I’m not too thrilled with what I’m seeing.
You may have heard some negative press around their Terms of Service. I read up on this topic, but I decided not to worry about it. At the time I only had one free game that I’d created. I didn’t expect I’d be cranking out games people would be lining up to buy… not for some time anyway. Also, the $99 developer fee was waived for the first year as an incentive to get developers to sign up. So, I signed up. There was really nothing to lose.
I listed sCatter on the Google and Amazon markets at about the same time. The Google listing went live immediately, and saw modest interest. After the initial “Just In” spike died down, I’ve seen about 20-50 new users a day with a little over 2000 total downloads so far. On Amazon, I waited for the game to be approved. Once it was approved, I waited about a week for it to go live. Finally, I sent Amazon an email and the game went live. Someone did write a nice description for the game, which was better than what I could have done. However, it’s been live for about a month and I’ve had 16 downloads.
OK, sCatter was my first game. Maybe it was a crappy game. But when I released Bus Jumper on the Google and Amazon markets at the same time, I went through the same ridiculous process with Amazon. I waited for it to get reviewed, waited to no avail for the listing to go live and had to send an email before it finally did. And this time, the description consisted of a paltry 3 bullet points, 2 of which were wrong. I ended up reviewing my own game just to correct the errors in the listing. It took another email to get the description fixed.
How’s this game doing? On the Google market it crossed 10,000 downloads last week – not earth-shattering by any stretch, but not too shabby either. On Amazon, it’s had about 50 downloads.
What about paid apps? I created an ad-free version of Bus Jumper and listed that on both markets. 10 downloads on Google, 0 downloads on Amazon.
For a small developer like me, what am I getting from the Amazon Appstore? Not a whole lot that I can see. I obviously don’t expect the same level of service they give Rovio and Popcap, but I don’t have any control over what gets put on the product page. I’m at the mercy of Amazon’s writers, who in my experience don’t always do a great job. And on top of that, I’m not really seeing what Amazon is doing to promote my games that’s worth $99/year. The “New Releases” link on the front redirects to “Hot New Releases.” And, as far as I can tell, there’s no equivalent of Google’s “Just In” category where every app has a chance to get noticed.
Then there’s the question of which apps are actually selling. Almost everyone I know with an Android phone regularly checks the Amazon free app of the day and downloads it, if it’s interesting. But almost no one has bought or even downloaded anything else from the Amazon Appstore. There isn’t any reason to, since the same apps are available on the Google store. What does this mean for developers? Well, I did a little research.
Let’s take a random Amazon app of the day – Talking Tom Cat. The paid app is doing well on the Google market with 100,000 – 500,000 installs and 18,000+ reviews. How is this doing on Amazon? It was listed on the Amazon market in January. It was the Amazon free app on April 3rd. Out of 208 total reviews, there are 3 reviews from before April 3rd, which says it probably didn’t sell much until it was picked to be the free app. Of 21 pages of reviews, 19 contain reviews posted between April 3rd and 7th, most likely written by those who downloaded the game the day it was free. After that the reviews peter out again, with 4 reviews in all of May.
So, what’s happening here? I would guess that Talking Tom Cat made very little money before or after April 3rd. On April 3rd, it got a huge number of downloads. And since Amazon’s TOS says they will pay you 20% of your list price if they discount the app, the developer made some money that day. I expect they, ironically, made more money the day their app was given away than all the days it was listed for 99c combined.
I checked a few other apps, and it’s the same story. Good downloads on Google, zero or very few reviews on Amazon. Then the day it becomes the free app, bam, lots of reviews that die down to nothing in a few days.
That seems to be the way to make money on the Amazon Appstore. Write a good app and hope it gets picked to be the free app of the day. Amazon has been skimming the cream off the top. But pretty soon they’ll run out of really high quality apps to run as the daily promotion. At that point, some of the smaller developers will have a chance at getting their app selected. And I think that is already happening to some extent.
But here’s some more relevant news – Amazon is now discounting prices on previous free apps. What does this mean? I think it means that the apps didn’t do as well as Amazon had hoped after the promotion. Lots of downloads on the free day, but after that, not so much.
What does this mean for Amazon and the Appstore? Sure, this is building buzz, but are they making any money off the daily free apps? I don’t see how. Also, I think this is solidifying customer behavior. People just download the daily free app and not much else. Now I’m just a software developer, and I’m sure there are smart marketing people at Amazon who have a plan all figured out. But I can’t really see what that plan could be. Their blog post today talked about Plants vs. Zombies and brand stores for big publishers like Popcap. It ended with this comment:
“Brand Stores are appropriate for bigger vendors. That said, we are constantly working to showcase lesser known vendors and their apps on the Amazon Appstore and other Amazon.com destinations. We are doing this through promotions, targeted emails, promotions on related items’ pages, and more. We are dedicated to helping expose small developers’ apps.
So why do we keep banging the drum with these big vendors and better known apps? It’s simple – we think that by giving our customers exclusive content, great deals, and the brands they know and love, we’ll be able to drive more traffic to the Amazon Appstore and inherently to every app in the Amazon Appstore.”
Well, that’s a good sentiment, and I hope they back that up with some action. Otherwise, once my $99 developer fee comes due in a year, I don’t think I’ll be renewing my membership.