Five ways to level up your Android game

Android developers who want to have their apps discovered more effectively in Google Play will be glad to know that the curation team behind the popular app store have basically the same goals in mind. A recent video from Koh Kim and Dan Galpin, both who work as developer advocates for Google, talked about several ways that developers can make their apps more accessible and engaging to users, thereby increasing installs, revenue, and authority.

Core app quality guidelines

While there are basic questions that every developer has on their mind, i.e., “how do I get discovered”, “how do I get rid of bad ratings”, “how do I get users to play my games”, etc. these questions tend to miss the fundamental point, which is that at the center of every app, there is a user. Happy, content, engaged users tend to equal more happy, content, engaged users.

There are core app quality guidelines found at developer.android.com that Google Play staffers encourage developers to perfect in their apps. Their testing has found that these simple guidelines are not necessarily always followed by app developers, which can lead in turn to bad reviews from users. A few of the most notorious offenses:

  • Notifications: Everyone hates to be spammed. A notification should not be an ad for something else, and it should be wholly controllable by the user. Google Play advises that developers give users precise control as to timing and sounds.
  • Privacy settings: Apps in general do not need to know how to change their users’ Wi-Fi settings, receive boot completed notifications, read system logs, directly call phone numbers, read or write their contacts and calendars, or display system level alerts. If your app needs one of these things, you’ll have to be able to justify it to the Google Play review team.
  • Audio: Sounds should not play when the user is not engaged within the app. Review teams will catch this and send the app back to the developer.
  • Testing in more than one version: Google Play encourages developers to test their apps in the latest version of Android, as well as in Strict Mode.
  • Quality graphics: Developers should provide high quality graphics across a wide variety of form factors. Every device that people are using to access Google Play will be tested. In fact, great graphics are one of the highest determining factors that can make or break the decision on whether the Google Play store decides to feature an app. Icons that accurately and engagingly represent what your app is all about are extremely important because of this.

In addition to guidelines like the ones above, Google makes available a “test suite” that developers can use to check their quality assurance compliance. These are actual steps that the QA team at Google will take to review any apps that are submitted, so it’s good practice to know what’s going to be looked at ahead of time. It also increases the probability that Google will feature and review your app if it passes muster the first time.

Distribution

The Google Play store is curated by actual people, and nothing gets through automatically. Getting featured on the store is definitely a huge boost for any app; for example, one game gave numbers from their feature week of going from a baseline of 500k installs to over three million – in just one week. The game was already highly rated due to an engaging user experience and high quality overall, so this just managed to tip them over the edge into stardom.  Featuring can be critical for launches and updates of an app; often increasing downloads ten to twenty times. In fact, sales of Super Hexagon multiplied by four during their Google Play promotion.

However, getting featured is really only the beginning. Once you get featured it can open doors to a lot of other promotions, sort of a snowball effect. The trick is getting to that point, initially. One of the best ways to do that is via Google Play Game Services, which gives developers a jumping-off point to integrate various Google services into their apps.  Achievements, leaderboards, cloud saving, real-time multiplayer, and anti-piracy are all here. This is also part of Google+, so it comes with simple secure authentication (this improves registration and sign-in conversions with a fast and secure authentication option for users), interactive posts (helps your users prompt friends to take specific actions in your app from a Google+ post), and app activities (helps you re-engage users when it’s relevant in the future).

Interactive posts can be a huge boost for engagement from within apps, since the user can sign into games with their G+ ID, and developers can create interactive jumping off points from within the actual gameplay – for example, say someone is playing chess and wants to challenge a friend to the game they’re in progress with. Targeted sharing with notifications can be fantastic for user engagement. If the game or app isn’t installed, the user will be brought to the store or the game to install it, and these notifications do show up on every Google property, so it is very pervasive.

YouTube

A recent survey from Blitz titled “Pulling the Trigger to Purchase” (2011) stated that 95% of 1000 respondents chose videos as the deciding factor that got them to install an app, followed by trailers (94%), visiting the developers’ site (61%), reading expert reviews (68%), and reading premium content (83%).  Videos are an incredibly important part of app listings. Google Play encourages app developers to take advantage of the free YouTube API in order to enable users to share actual gameplay videos, as well as market listings:

In addition, there’s no need to put an enormous video in the beginning of a game, when users are going to only watch it once – and they tend to uninstall large bulky apps that take up too much memory, which that definitely would do. Instead, the developer can host the intro video on YouTube via an API.

Money

Everyone wants to get paid. Google Play aims to make this process as streamlined as possible, and they have simplified quite a few activities that used to be difficult to implement; for example, local item pricing can now tell users how much they’re going to be charged before taking them to the store for in-app purchases.

In addition, subscription purchases can add up to a big difference when done correctly. Instead of a one-time purchase, the user may decide they are up for a longer term relationship. Every developer has to decide whether or not it makes sense for their particular app, but it’s a viable way to continue and maintain that customer relationship, plus, it’s a good way to close the gap between free games and in-app purchases, while providing a way for developers to create extra value.

When a customer decides to put their trust in you as a developer and Google Play as an app store, it’s more than just money at that point – it’s authority and reputation. So it’s important to do it right the first time.

Global empires

The global Android market is big and getting bigger, with apps available in more than 130 countries and growing exponentially, especially in Asia. Google Play is growing faster than activated devices with 48 billion installs, and a lot of those are games.  In order for games to be successful in global markets, apps need to be available in local languages; it just makes sense and it also provides developers with a larger fan base that will respond. For example, it is now possible to upload localized assets (like screenshots, videos, and icons) and change them by region. If users can understand more about the game, it greatly improves the chance that they will download it. The video provided a couple of different examples to illustrate this:

  • Eternity Warriors 2 vs. Blood and Glory Legend: Launched at the same time from the same studio; Eternity was localized at launch, while the other was only available in English. This made a gigantic difference in Korea, where the localized game racked up three times as many installs.
  • Gameloft: After setting up shop in Asia, they saw a 190% YOY growth. Once they started localizing in Korea, that growth increased by 520%, and are now one of their fastest growing markets.

The Google Play staffers were quick to point out that localization doesn’t necessarily just mean translation; developers have to figure out what makes sense with a global audience, and be sensitive to local customs and cultures that might not work with all apps and games.

What makes a good app?

There are so many factors that go into creating a “good” app: great graphics, good navigation, engaging gameplay, social capabilities, non-intrusive notifications, intuitive billing and/or in-app purchases, etc. It can be a bit overwhelming to think about. However, good apps that are downloaded by a strong user base invariably follow the same path.