Fieldrunners developer among those confused by pricing rules in Android Market

by Marty Gabel

For all the discussion about how free and open the Android system is compared to its iOS rival, there are a few quirky rules about apps in the Android Market that are not only restrictive for developers, but perhaps even for Google itself in terms of revenue.

While malware threats and copyright-infringing apps usually litter the headlines, here’s an interesting one which, admittedly, I didn’t know about until recently. Here’s section 3.3 from the Android Market Developer Distribution Agreement:

You may also choose to distribute Products for free. If the Product is free, you will not be charged a Transaction Fee. You may not collect future charges from users for copies of the Products that those users were initially allowed to download for free.

No free lunch

What this means for developers is that they can’t have one-day sales on apps, or even release a brand new app for free for a week or two, before making it paid. Such behavior is commonplace in the iTunes App Store. Sure, free in the iTunes App Store means zero dollars for the developers, but the publicity surrounding the sales, and the potential of in-app purchases can really make a difference. However, in the Android Market, if developers made the mistake of changing an app to “free” for the day, then go to switch it back to, say, $0.99, they can’t. They have to create a brand new app version and re-sell it.

This is not much fun for developers (and creates confusion for consumers). One-day, or early-release sales, are a great way to rake-in publicity. That’s already been proven when top games and apps in the iTunes App Store go free, especially around holidays. No wonder we rarely see much traction, even in our very own AndroidApps price cuts section, when developers can’t even offer their apps free for a day in Google’s marketplace. It’s another reason why so many developers simply choose to offer their apps and games free and fill them with ads. That is probably a better way to generate revenue than offering them for $0.99. Google must enjoy the cut it gathers from the ads, too.

The Fieldrunners HD issue

On Thursday, July 30, you can expect to see popular iOS game Fieldrunners finally get a release in the Android Market as Fieldrunners HD. The launch price will be $0.99. But that’s not what the developers intended. Subatomic Studios had plans to offer the game for free in the Android Market for its initial release to drum-up interest. However, like many other developers, they were stymied by Google’s rules.

I talked to Alec Shobin, PR and Marketing Manager for Subatomic Studios to find out more about this. “The Android Market is a rapidly growing and maturing distribution platform. Like any growing service they are experimenting with different functionalities in the hopes of creating something better. We have tried our best, and it is unfortunate that we could not do some of the things we had hoped to do for our customers.”

Shobin isn’t quite sure why other stores are able to let developers sell games that temporarily go free, but Google isn’t. “Despite our best intentions, the system did not allow for a free app to become paid. Hopefully these restrictions will change in the future.”

Time to open up?

Perhaps it’s time for Google to rethink some of its policies, especially if developers are still confused by the rulings. Undoubtedly, the company is making an effort to improve the user experience for customers when visiting the Android Market, but they need to do a little more to help developers. Heck, there’s not even redeemable promo codes available for developers to send out to consumers. This is a sure fire way to drum-up interest, especially if Google wants to become a bigger player in the gaming space.