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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  • Nushio

    I have to wonder if its related in any way to Anonymous’s DDOS towards visa, mastercard, etc.

    • http://Website Kleptine

      I was thinking the exact same thing.

  • http://Website SJAMERSON

    I don’t think ALL one star’s should be removed, but the ones during that time frame relating to Google’s problem should be

    • http://Website Anthony

      I agree; I also believe Google should send out an email to the Android Market users to explain what happened and apologize. Unfortunately there will be cases where someone gets miffed because they couldn’t purchase the app, writes a 1 star review, then never looks at the app again to see if the issue was resolved.

      I’m a developer myself and even though I wasn’t effected by this, this whole story still makes me fume lol…

  • Merodeaz
    • Alan Reboli

      Lame shameless plug.

  • http://Website Miguel

    Google shouldn’t touch any ratings or comments. These apps might actually suck. I don’t get the logic these revs have regarding the one star comments. What user would think its a developers fault that the app wont download from Google’s servers?

    I get their anger but technical issues happen. They should get over it. And how could Google collect 30% of nothing if the app couldn’t be purchased?

    • http://Website John

      Apparently you are not a developer with paid app on the Market, when the app is not downloading, majority of the users blame developers for it, especially if his/her other apps can download but just a few can’t, they will naturally blame developers for it. I have since stop responding to users who said they can’t download the app.
      You are just ignorant by thinking the rev has nothing to do with the rating, it has everything to do with the rating, a user will always pick the higher rating app among the competitions.
      Technical issues do happen, apps do have bugs, but we as the developers fix bug as soon as they appear and let the user know we are fixing it, Google as the a big company is doing nothing to communicate.
      Stop showing your ignorance, that really pisses me off.

    • http://Website Bianca

      If the app really sucks, they will continue to get one stars, long after this one weekend is cleared up.

  • http://Website android market from the beginning

    Google wants apps but they don’t care about developers getting paid.
    I’ve been with them from the start but now porting to other platforms.
    Yes, they’ve done well with the help of OEMs, carriers, and developers but are last.
    Tired of it. Apple, in real life, is much better for the developer (just live with the rules).

    • http://Website Bianca

      Hmm, i disagree. While a few devs might have missed out on a couple of bucks over the weekend. Consider how much money devs loose out on while waiting for their completed app to be approved. We had an app developed for my workplace, and its been under review for quite a while now. Lame.

    • http://Website Karl

      I am growing increasingly fond of androidandme.
      Only independent voice out there things related to Android.

  • http://Website Lol

    “Please be assured we will take measures to ensure this is repeated.” – haha

    • Clark Wimberly

      Ha I hadn’t even noticed that. Good catch.

  • http://Website David G. Friedman

    I thought I read Google is supposed to give all of that 30% to the carriers and take nothing for themselves….But I’m sure they charge the carriers a credit card transaction fee…..

  • http://Website dee

    Hmmmmm this sucks.
    As a developer I would be royally pissed. You would think google would have a weekend team or something (bet they do now!) But seriously, it was a flaw for 2 days. Not 2 weeks. I would love to know what apps these were because these developers are making it seem like they are top ten apps. On that note, no you don’t deserve some money back but I do think you deserve a fixer upper from google.

    • http://Website Presto117

      Weekends are the absolute prime time for downloads. I make at least three times more money over the weekend from downloads than I do during the week. If this had happened during a holiday weekend (when app downloads are at their absolute heaviest), there would have been a huge uproar. I made about 1/3 of my standard monthly income from this Thanksgiving weekend alone, and I can’t even imagine what Christmas will look like for most devs.

  • http://Website zehro

    Thank-you for posting this. As one of the developer’s affected by this, it was not an experience I would like to relive.

    Upwards of 20 emails per hour from people asking why my app’s won’t install when all other paid app’s do. Multiply that by 48+hrs and you can understand how frustrating it was.

    The biggest problem I found was that each of these customers were under the impression that they had successfully purchased the application. After making their purchase (and being declined), their market app still allowed them to “install” the app. Each time they tried, it would download the app and then when it tried to install it, it would fail, leading them to the only logical explanation: The developer has made a faulty application.

    Sure, it was a “technical” difficulty, but for a developer trying to keep a good reputation with customer’s, it was an absolute nightmare of a weekend.

    • http://Website dayvod

      Im sorry everything is playing out the way it is…I hope Google responds more favorably and works to restore/maintain their reputation as a responsible, conscientious company.

      I know it’s not much, but I really appreciate the work, presumed skill and effort you put into your app. Keep it up. :)

  • http://Website A-Droid

    I’m still having this problem.

  • http://Website anon

    I am surprised that lots of people vote for weekend support. I bet that’s a “norm” now but I thought weekends are for resting and family.

    Remember you’re not hiring ONE person specifically for the weekend, you need a team to rotate. Could someone think about the kids…???

    Now, Google should refund what’s inappropriately taken from the developers. But these developers look like just… Arrogant, to me.

    What the fuss.

    • http://Website anon

      I mean, I agree with what “dee” said above.

    • http://Website Wakaka

      Can you not go shopping on weekends? Have you thought about the kids? I think your being like just … … … idiot.

      They are in a service industry, especially when it is an international thing, meaning it is 24-7! Weekend support is definitely appropriate and should be in place! And I am not even a developer.

      • http://Website anon

        Fire and law enforcement should remain at work on weekends. But heck, you’re sounding like that it’s a life and death issues. WTH?!

        Can I not go shopping in weekends? Granted I live in a modern city, but it can certainly be done provided if I’m told in advance and prepare accordingly. And I wouldn’t rage if I cannot BUY SOME FRAKING APPS FROM THE FRAKING ANDROID MARKET.

        I bet you haven’t heard of “social alienation” before, or if you have read about it, you certainly didn’t understand what it means nor give a damn about it.

        • http://Website Adam of Troy

          anon, you want to preach about social reform? fine, but the developers plate shouldn’t be your pulpit. an above commenter stated they made the majority of their app income on weekends and holidays, you don’t like this? that’s ok, tell us about the value of family and the danger of social alienation but please don’t attack people that are upset about receiving bad reviews instead of sales during peak purchasing times. these are the people making the software, without them what’s the point of owning a smartphone or visiting a place like android and me?

  • http://Website olugbam

    Maybe this coincides with the Verizon 3g blackout this weekend?

  • Dr.Jeckyl

    Don’t fuck with 4Chan Visa/Matercard. Anonymous is powerful.

  • http://Website marianop89

    Mannnnnnnnn i think i was the only one with that trouble!!! I´ve lost a lot of salessss!!! it drops like 50% to me…

  • http://Website earth22222222


    I feel for the developers here, but from a Lean Six Sigma point of view, the one star rating is valid. At the end of the day there is an issue in downloading the app, the fact the client has wasted X amount of time is the problem.
    Google should be doing more. It’s their problem and they have have performed poorly, and cheaply, something which is unacceptable in battle against Apple. Each issue that isn’t dealt with appropriately, doesn’t just loose the developers money, but could loose another Android user, affecting all.
    They should refund the 30% no support was given, no visibility in what was.
    Google should also make visible the history of an app. One stars can be positive too. As a client, if I see that a year ago an app, version 1, has 1 star, but in the last 6 months it has a 5 in version 2, I’m more likely to buy it because it indicates that the developer is actively improving his creation.

    kind regards

  • http://Website webgurupc

    It is still stuffed @ march 2011