Why in-app billing won’t solve Android issues

This is the first of a series of articles from MoMinis to coincide with the launch of its $15,000 Mobile Game Development Contest – GameCast 2011. Find out more about the contest here.

Just a few weeks ago Google launched in-app billing in the Android Market. In theory, it’s great. It gives app developers a way to make more money by letting them sell digital content within their applications.

But developers should be aware of a number of issue before they commit.

1. Cumbersome Check-Out Process: One of the main reasons most Android games are free is Google’s inefficient check-out process.

iPhone has been hugely successful because of its payments process. Users are requested to enter their credit card information when first activating their phone, and majority of users do so. What’s more, iTunes store had millions of registered users prior to the iPhone launch. It was a small leap for Apple to get their existing users to download games for their iPhone.

But Android users are only prompted to provide their credit card information after choosing to buy a game. The fact that users need to haul out their credit cards at this stage, combined with a cumbersome purchase flow, lowers the conversion of paid games and applications. Consequently developers have to sell” their games for free in Google’s Android market.

2. Device Fragmentation: The issue of fragmentation reared its ugly head with Angry Birds’ Android first release and, according to the latest reports, it’s here to stay. And it’s not just an issue for developers. Users also need to figure out which flavour will work on their device and can be flustered at the multitude of choices.

In the case of Angry Birds, Rovio developed a separate, lighter version of the game in an attempt to resolve fragmentation issues. Even then, though, users need to figure out which version to install on their device.

As for developers, the plot thickens as Google prepares to separate smartphone and tablet OSs. Rumours say Google will release a mid-way version of Android for smartphones that can run some Android 3.0 (Honeycomb”) games on phones, which could ultimately result in a further split of the Android OS.

3. Search Limitations: Despite the fact that users can search for content using various categories”, searching for content in the Android Market can get somewhat confusing. When users search for a specific game or developer in the general search, the results aren’t displayed in the clearest way.

For instance, a simple search for Angry Birds” is likely to flood your screen with wallpaper collections, unofficial rip-offs, and plain old spam applications. Needless to say, this does not create the best user experience and presents another hurdle for users within the Google Android Market.

However, a recent announcement by Google Mobile Blog suggests new features that will accommodate search for apps within the Android Market such as ‘Trending Apps’. In addition, Google has made efforts to remove bad quality apps.

4. Lack of Marketing Tools: The Android Market lacks tools such as affiliate programs, coupons and more. Whereas third-party app marketplace GetJar lets developers promote free games using paid promotions and affiliate programs, the Android Market presents developers with almost no options for marketing and promotion.

5. Limited Distribution: In the past, Android Market has been limited in its footprint. Google only added prominent regions such as Hong Kong, Brazil and 16 others towards the end of 2010. It’s now taking payments in 131 countries, a significant increase from the 32 countries it previously supported.

6. Google’s Return Policy: Android returns are problematic. Google initially allowed users to buy games and return them within 24 hours. Users, therefore, downloaded games, played them for one day and then were refunded for these games. Google recently updated this to 15 minutes, but the old policy might have created a misleading perception of the Google Android Market and the way users consume games and applications.

* A Few Solutions.

So how do you overcome these challenges? The trick is to combine a few solutions and adjust them to your specific goals. Developers are advised to be creative from a marketing perspective and make use of alternative business models.

1. Lite Version of Games. Developers can allow users to play a lite version” of their game apps (either based on the amount of levels or a time limited game) and buy the full version with a click of a button. It works in the PC games market and makes a lot of sense. If developers succeed in creating an addictive lite version, users will purchase the full version of the game.

2. Virtual Goods. In general, users who enjoy a game are more likely to spend money on features that improve their achievements, increase their success and level of satisfaction. This is accomplished by designing a game that is complete on its own but can be enhanced with small additions.
Examples include unique weapons, extraordinary powers, and additional chapters in game apps.

3. Mobile Games Ads. There are two main kinds of ads available: Ads displayed to users while playing games. Despite the criticism of this business model, it does work. Rovio’s Angry Birds generated net revenues of $1 million per month from ads alone in December 2010. Secondly, Google confirmed it will be integrating Adsense ads for mobile programs with AdMob’s mobile ad software.

4. Branded/Product Placement Games: A good example is the Fishlabs game designed to promote Volkswagen Touareg. It was downloaded by millions of iPhone users. This model can be lucrative, but you need to be commissioned” to make such a game before you start the development process. So this model isn’t always scalable and will only work for a minority of developers.

5. Third-Party App Stores. Other app stores besides Android Market are steadily growing, including Amazon, GetJar, MobiHand, SlideMe, and more. They can all distribute games, promote them and create brand awareness.

* MoMinis Solutions

MoMinis uses alternative distribution channels including operators and app stores such as NTT Docomo, TurkCell, Getjar, SlideME, and Appia that do not contain the limitations currently found in the Google Android Market as outlined above.

In so doing, MoMinis addresses two of the biggest pains developers have to deal with: device fragmentation and distribution fragmentation.

On the device side, MoMinis makes sure that the games run seamlessly all across the board on various OSs and devices and eliminates issues that arise from device fragmentation.

A single MoMinis game operates among these 235 phones across Android, BlackBerry, J2me and Symbian platforms, with new devices constantly being added as the market expands.

On the distribution side, MoMinis sends games out to its global distribution channels. We deal with the many different submission processes, business models, promotional tools and content regulations. Indeed, some distribution channels such as operator stores and device pre-installations are not even accessible for developers.

MoMinis has the business relations in place to get visibility and promotion on these stores. But developers using The MoMinis Studio still earn 70 per cent of the net revenue generated from their games and stand to earn 90 per cent.

* Join the MoMinis Mobile Development Contest

The MoMinis GameCast contest, which has been launched in

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