After Hours

A tale of three app distribution channels

William J. Francis shares how many downloads his puzzle game app has received in Google Play, Amazon's Appstore, and the Nook App Store.

It's been about four months since my son and I released version 1.0 of our puzzle game Who Moved My Cheese? (WMMC) into the Android ecosystem. We chose to release our app for Kindle Fire, B&N Nook, and the army of Android phones and tablets associated with Google Play. I wouldn't exactly call the game a runaway success, though my son and I are very proud of the 13,000 and some odd downloads we've had to date.

Recently I was discussing this project with another budding game developer, and he was very interested in getting my feedback about the performance of the various markets. I explored these venues previously in terms of the submission process, but with a nudge from a TechRepublic reader, this time I'm sharing my experiences in terms of the one thing app developers can never get enough of: downloads.

Google Play

I thought Google Play (formerly called the Android Market) would be the sure thing and initially that was true. Within the first few weeks, downloads in Google Play were growing in leaps and bounds, often hundreds of new downloads a day. For about a month we were in the top 500 listing of Google's "new" games in the "brain and puzzle" category. I remember the morning I saw WMMC show up at the 100 mark. I was so excited I snapped a picture (Figure A) and immediately sent it to everyone I knew. Figure A

However once WMMC no longer warranted the "new" qualifier, the game quickly became lost in the sea of apps that make up Google Play, and I guess this is my biggest complaint about the store. I've had limited success with AdMob in ramping up awareness for short periods of time, but the way the market is currently laid out on the devices as well as at the desktop, it's not very easy to discover apps that aren't generating hundreds of thousands of downloads.

This morning I logged in to the developer console and took a look at the download numbers and see WMMC is holding at just under 6K total downloads.

Amazon's Appstore for Android

Truth be told, I didn't expect much from Amazon's Appstore. It seemed to lack focus to me, and the review process took some time to get WMMC listed. When WMMC finally did show up on Amazon's site, the download numbers were pitiful for the first 10 days or so. Then I got a second email from the Amazon team stating that my app was "now approved for Kindle Fire." What? I hadn't even realized there was a separate approval process.

Once WMMC could be downloaded for Kindle Fire, things took an upward turn. The Amazon daily download numbers started to approach the Google Play numbers, and I started getting very good feedback from users on the Amazon website. And whereas the Google Play rating system doesn't let developers and other users interact, the folks at Amazon already worked all this out long ago (back when Amazon was a bookstore).

In high school I had a wrestling coach who used to always say to us "steady pace wins the race." Amazon should locate Coach Bernhard and offer him a job as a Kindle Fire Developer evangelist — his mantra would be perfect. Once the daily downloads in Google Play started to dip, Amazon downloads continued to chug along.

This morning Amazon reported WMMC has right around 7K downloads. Amazon downloads have surpassed Google Play downloads, and I don't see any indications that will change.

The Nook App Store

For those of you who do math in your head, you've probably already noted that when you add up the downloads for WMMC from Google Play and the Amazon Appstore, you come up with 13K. Now what was it I said? That's right, my son and I are proud of the "13,000 and some odd downloads" our game has had. Unfortunately, B&N Nook accounts for the "some odd downloads."

It's true that, compared to our entry into the Amazon and Google market, WMMC on Nook had a late start, but there is a difference from a horse that is slow out of the gate and one that never leaves the stall. I was sorely disappointed, as I was convinced the typical Nook user was the perfect audience for the game. Not to mention the smaller selection of games meant more people should find the app.

Why then has the Nook version of WMMC generated less than 100 downloads? It's simple: B&N doesn't allow ad-supported apps, and unlike their iOS counterparts, Android users tend not to "buy" software. Even gaming legends like Roxio use an ad-supported model of their games on Android vs. a paid model on iOS.

Final thoughts

The experiences I shared concerning the performance of WMMC in three popular Android app distribution channels are my own. I have no doubt there are a wide range of variables that affect how an app performs in a given market, perhaps the most important being the app itself. Still, I think the more Android developers share with the community the more we can learn from one another.

I hope my retrospective proves useful to other developers. I encourage TechRepublic readers to share their experiences in the Android marketplace using the discussion thread that follows this post.

Also read on TechRepublic

About

William J Francis began programming computers at age eleven. Specializing in embedded and mobile platforms, he has more than 20 years of professional software engineering under his belt, including a four year stint in the US Army's Military Intellige...

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