Developer rails against Amazon Appstore

by Phil Hornshaw

Since it was first launched, the Amazon Appstore has received a fair amount of criticism. Now there’s more: one indie developer is pulling his high-ranking Android app from the store after calling it a “disaster” and claiming that indie developers shouldn’t even bother with trying to sell through Amazon.

The developer is Bithack, an indie mobile game maker from Sweden and the maker of Apparatus, a puzzle game in which players create machines to move marbles around the screen and accomplish certain goals. Apparatus made its way up to the No. 3 paid app in Amazon’s store, but its CEO, Emil Romanus, recently wrote a detailed blog post about what Bithack feels is wrong with the store.

GigaOM has the story, which summarizes nicely the points made in the blog. Among the points Romanus mentions are reviews that developers have no recourse in altering and Amazon’s complete control of pricing. He writes about how Apparatus received an “incorrect review” that stated that “Apparatus must connect to the Internet to serve ads and actually tracks users.”

Romanus said the review was incorrect about the Internet connection and tracking but it nonetheless was voted ‘Most Helpful,’ GigaOM says. Romanus and the rest of Bithack are based in Sweden, and since they’re not U.S. customers, they couldn’t buy their own app. Because they couldn’t purchase Apparatus from Amazon, they couldn’t leave any review of their own – so the harmful, sales-hurting and allegedly wrong review just sat on the Appstore, driving away sales.

What’s more, after receiving the bad review, Romanus says Amazon halved the price of Apparatus down to $0.99 for seemingly no reason and with no correspondence with the developer.

Warnings from the IGDA

Bithack isn’t the first to have trouble with the way Amazon prices apps in the Appstore. The International Game Developers Association has warned away developers from Amazon’s store because of what it sees as oppressive developer agreement guidelines that give Amazon full control over apps and pricing, while leaving developers with no power at all.

The IGDA’s warning led to Amazon clarifying some of its developer rules, which the IGDA applauded, but said still was not enough protection for developers. Amazon reserves the right to pay either 70 percent of the sale price of an app or 20 percent of the supplier’s list price, a provision the IGDA has specifically targeted as reserving too much power to Amazon over what developers earn from their products.

Romanus also complained about other issues, including the fact that the Amazon Appstore doesn’t filter apps against the devices with which they’re compatible (unlike Google’s Android Market), and that the company’s app review process is unnecessarily long and involved. The Amazon Appstore also has few ways for customers to send feedback to developers and no way for developers to issue refunds to unsatisfied customers.

The IGDA has warned developers about the fact that Amazon retains full control over app pricing, with the ability to drop an app to free at any moment for a promotion, and it sounds like Bithack ran up against this issue as well. Romanus told GigaOM that of 180,000 Apparatus downloads, fewer than 1,000 of them were actually paid, with most customers showing up to take advantage of Amazon’s daily free app promotions.

There are pluses to Amazon’s store, and Bithack’s experience isn’t necessarily typical. The online retailer has nailed some big accounts lately, grabbing an exclusive on Popcap’s Plants vs. Zombies and Rovio’s Angry Birds Rio, which drive lots of users to the Amazon store and put apps in front of users just by association. Amazon also features a powerful recommendation engine because it leverages the power of its entire retail base in selling apps, just like any other product – and app discovery is a place where the Android Market has floundered.

But Romanus says that for small developers, there’s not much incentive in Amazon’s Appstore because of the lack of control and the ever-present problem of being a small, unimportant fish in a really big pond.