The Sick Joke That is Google Play
There's no money to be had there from for-sale apps
David Ashley
June 24, 2012

April, May, June of 2012 I got interested in the android OS and the beautiful new tablets with their large 10.1 inch displays and touch screens. I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 at CostCo for a total price of about $400, including sales taxes, and was impressed. I picked up Java and wrote some test programs and figured out how to make applications for it. I learned about OpenGLES2.0 and the shader language, and wrote some 3D shaders to make pretty 3D artwork.

I decided to create a game for the android marketplace, and I decided it would be a port of a hobby project I had created around October through December of 2011, a jigsaw puzzle type game where the puzzle itself is animated. The pieces are all squares, and the overall puzzle is also. Here is a screenshot of the game I created. This was on linux, and used OpenGL for the graphics rendering. All the drawing is done with polygons, mostly triangles. At the time I knew nothing about the more modern enhancements to OpenGL that allowed programmable per-pixel operations. That's an absolutely amazing development, actually, and some spectacular programs can be written that make use of it, but that's a topic for another essay.

The screenshot just shows the 12 animations I implemented. In the game, if you click on one of the animations (they're all going at once) you are taken to another screen where the "puzzle" is broken up into squares and they're all scattered at random. You've got to slide them back into position, swapping pairs of pieces. It's actually quite fun. At least I thought so. But I realized there was no point in trying to make money in the linux market. Everything has to be free, people don't pay for stuff there. No worries, that's just the way it is.

So after making the game I did nothing with it until I got involved with the android. I dusted off the project and ported my 'c' code to java and reimplemented each of the animations using OpenGLES2.0. For a handheld device it's kind of amazing that battery operated computing machinery can perform as well as a large desktop PC consuming around 500 watts of power. But that's the power of the programmable shader model. It's really efficient in terms of computations per watt.

I released the android version to the Google Play store on June 9, 2012. Here is the page for the game itself, called Ace Animpuzzle. You can follow that link and get screenshots of the android version, and there's a link to the YouTube video I uploaded to show the game itself. The price for the game was .99 $USD, and the equivalent price in every other currency where Google Play sells apps.

All along I said to myself, "I don't expect to make any fortune selling android apps, but it would be nice if it turned out to be a trickle of income." In fact I would have considered it a success if enough money came in to take the family to a chinese buffet once a month -- on the order of a dollar a day. I also thought to myself what the worst case scenario would be. That would be if I put a lot of effort into creating an app for android and not a single sale at all was ever made. Zero. Nada. Zilch...

I can report that my nightmare worst case scenario that I didn't even consider realistic was actually the one that is playing itself out. I'm writing this on June 24, 2012. The game was released 15 days ago on June 9. And so far there are a grand total of zero sales at all of the game. I don't count the 3 sales to friends and family who bought it just out of courtesy, as I'd have done for them as well. What's more, the YouTube video I put up to show the game in action has only been viewed 24 times. So it's not a matter of people just not being interested in the game. No one at all is even looking at the page for the game. In fact it appears as if the game doesn't even exist as far as the android "marketplace" is concerned.

Now, my point in writing this essay is just as a potential warning to anyone else seeing riches or even a trickle income creating apps for the Android market. Don't bother. There's no money there. I believe the issue is title saturation. There are too many, far, far too many titles available on the android marketplace. The barrier to entry is very low. So the very ease of creating apps for the android is also its weakness. Too much stuff is out there. And so much of it is free that the paid apps are not even considered. Moreover, it's clearly a case of winner take all. In the videogame industry in general the top X percent of games get 90% of the income, and the X value is itself on the order of .001%. Everyone wants the same small set of titles. All the rest fight over the scraps.

It's like I've heard about a career in acting: You can make a killing in it but you can't make a living in it. My little one-man game clearly can't survive in this environment. It's a pity, actually, because it's a pretty cool game.

Another pet peeve of mine is the Google Play side that I see, as a developer, offers me a link to advertise each of the other three android apps I've released, but those are all freebies I give away. I'm not even offered the option of advertising my for-sale application. And there doesn't appear to be any explanation given as to why I can't.

So in the grand scheme of things I can chalk up another learning experience. A sole developer trying to make money selling a simple game on the android can't hope for any measure of success. I mean, my god. Zero sales in 15 days. That's pathetic... And it's not a negative reflection on me or my taste or my ability to create a playable game. It's a condemnation of the Google Play market itself. It just isn't really a market at all. No money changes hands, apparently. Maybe that's a good thing though. What's money good for if everything is free?

I'm just kidding, there are no more pages to this rant...

ETA: 20140227 Well lightning can strike sometimes and you get wild, unpredictable successes like this: