Google recently introduced an important new rule prohibiting deceptive promotion of apps on Google Play. It’s great that Google is clamping down on spammy advertising. However, the new regulation doesn’t really address a core, underlying cause for the practice: broken app discovery. With more than two thirds of apps failing to break even, it’s no surprise that some indie devs desperately turn to sketchy ad practices or bot farms that manipulate rankings. Of course, Apple’s App Store struggles with the same woes as well, but given that Google’s core competency is content discovery, it’s fair for the market to expect much more from Play.
Fortunately for Google, there’s a number of means to quickly gain the edge on discovery over Apple. In the process, the search giant can greatly help the independent developer community. (Which, after all, makes up the majority of app developers.)
In any case, it will probably take months to fix star ratings and rankings, and a lot of behind the scenes A/B testing to achieve the best balance. But there’s other, simpler features Google Play can introduce now to help level the playing field immediately:
Beyond Discovery: Better Advertising Solutions
App discovery isn’t the only problem facing game developers. Just as bad is developers’ inability to generate enough revenue to stay in business. According to most industry reports, two thirds of game developers fail to break even. Many attempt to make money through advertising. Most do it wrong. Nearly all give up. However, advertising is the primary revenue generator for an increasing majority of game developers, especially as free-to-play overwhelmingly becomes the dominant model. At the same time, as Google’s new policies show, Play is being hurt by deceptive ad networks. So Google should not only crack down on bad actors, but also encourage white hat ad players and innovative ad content formats.
To start, Google can encourage developers to move beyond spammy ad formats by seriously committing to deploying native ad formats, which preserve games’ user experience. While advertising is never going to be the perfect or entire solution, native ads that incorporate high design standards move things closer to a pure gaming experience without having to charge gamers a premium to cover development expenses (and deals squarely with the reality that some 98% of gamers simply make no in-app payments). For some tips and tricks, I wrote this guideline of techniques for successfully integrating native ads in games.
To be sure, even if Google were to implement all these changes, it wouldn’t guarantee sunshine and roses for app developers. With such a large market to compete in, most of their apps will still fail. But with the “bad guy” advertisers handcuffed, indie developers at least have much more peace of mind. For now, they can work with ad networks which monetize in a brand safe, transparent, user-friendly way. Google just needs to capitalize on this move by also helping devs at the discovery level. That way, well-deserving, low budget games -- no matter how much their big budget competitors spend -- have less incentive to turn to the next shady ad practice.
Robert Weber is the co-founder and senior vice president of business development at NativeX, the leading native advertising platform for mobile games. Weber became an entrepreneur at the age of 16 when he launched a multi-million dollar business in his basement. In 2006, he shared the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award with his twin brother Ryan. Rob is a Board Member for NativeX and an angel investor to many start-ups. He enjoys sharing his passion for entrepreneurship with others by serving on the board of non-profit Minne*, a 4,400+ member community focused on strengthening the Minnesota tech startup ecosystem.