Last month we were invited to tour the office of Aurora Feint Inc, developer of the recently released Android version of Open Feint. While there we were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity of conducting a pair of one hour interviews with some of the top men that work there so we could ask them questions about their software as well as more general questions about developing for the platform.
What follows is the final part of our interview series with with Steve Lin (Vice President, Operations) and Jakob Wilkenson (VP of Engineering) returning. This interview has been altered from the original recording for the purpose of readability.
Read the other parts here:
Does Google co-operate with you?
We have a lot of people we can contact, especially with this launch. We’d aggregate a lot of the issues and then pass them off. Some of our developers have questions about this or that, obviously we have an agreement in terms of where we’re looking at feature placement and they’re like, “Sure send us the info.” In general Google is a pretty open company. We have a great relationship with Google and we have a great relationship with Apple but Apple is still like a giant box, nothing comes out of it and they’re super secretive about everything. They can never promise anything and it makes it a very closed company. But Google’s not like that, they are a very open company and that makes them a lot easier to work with. If you’re under NDA you can learn a lot and help repair, but in terms of public releases, of course, that’s kind of up to them. One of the best stories is PikPok which launched Flick Kick Field Goal, they are based in New Zealand so they couldn’t create a Google Merchant account. They set up a US entity and tried to get everything set up. I think they went through five or six attempts and they kept getting rejected, couldn’t figure out what’s going on, so finally we just did the hail Mary pass and I called up everybody I knew at Google and said “Get these guys an account, what’s happening?” and so they had someone go over to a terminal and figure out what was going on. Their account was approved at 10 PM and then they pushed their application live for the midnight release. It was very much last minute, or else they couldn’t charge for the app. That’s the other thing we’ve been doing with a lot of international developers, and actually users have said “Hey I can’t find this application,” and we have to wait until Marketplace supports those users. There’s lot of pent up demand but the other thing in terms of people buying their very first app we had people writing into us and saying, “Thank you for helping me break my app purchase cherry.” Now there’s some compelling things there so they went through the process. Now hopefully that’ll start to snowball and get them used to buying stuff. A lot of people were actually asking us Google checkout questions because they didn’t understand the process.
How would you choose to change the Google Marketplace?
The biggest issue is that not everyone can use it, that’s a huge issue I think. The return policy is a problem that I think all game makers are facing, because of the kind of games that people play on their phone, it’s digital chocolate. It’s like a fifteen minute or one hour entertainment boost that you’re paying a dollar for and people are okay with paying a dollar on iOS and they’re probably okay with paying a dollar for it on Android as well, but they have the option of not paying for it if they don’t want to. I think what would be better would be if the return policy window was shortened, because there’s the question of whether or not it will run on your device, which is the big reason for that. You should be able to figure that our right away and say, “Hey this doesn’t run, I want to return this.” But once you’ve made that purchase decision, unless it doesn’t run, you can always ask that developer for updates. Then there’s always the purchase UI, if you look on iOS, if you are buying something from the iTunes store on your device, it’s got the price, you click on it and the price goes away, it just says installing. On Android you see the price, you click on buy and then you are presented with a screen that shows you the price three times and then part of your credit card number, so there’s a lot of friction there from the user’s standpoint, so being able to make that more seamless and the other thing is that nobody has Google checkout accounts. Also a unified currency would be nice, it should convert to native currency (NOTE: This has been added to the Marketplace since we talked). I think the Marketplace is heading in the right way though for sure, give Google some time they’ll figure this stuff out, it’s just that until then they might need some help. Once Google comes up with the in-app purchase we’ll see the model where there’s the base game free with a couple of levels and then you can buy level packs and continue to expand the experience. Spokko does Tiki Totems and Blocks, I get totally addicted to those games so I always buy whatever the newest pack is and I think it’s worth it. For 99c you get like 30 levels, so that’s going to take me a couple of hours to get through.
Do you think there’s a danger with giving away too much for free that people will have enough of the game?
There’s always going to be a lot of those. There’s the debate of does it pay off to give away a lite game because for some people it’s going to be enough and they’ll never pay for the full version but the user base is almost unlimited because there are so many users out there that are potential players. What it’s really all about is getting your game into the hands of as many players as you possibly can and those players in return will make sure that you get more installs, too, because they are going to be showing off the game to their friends. If you can get 10% or 20% of those users to actually give you a couple of dollars then that’s a lot of money. This is something that developers are often struggling with because they don’t like giving things away for free and our ‘free game of the day’ program is one step worse because we’re actually telling developers to give away the whole thing. In the end it works because if you have the potential for 120 million players giving away 2 million copies isn’t really that bad, you still have 118 million users who can buy your app. I definitely think that giving away free content in general is the way to go. This is something that the social gaming market has really proved with online Facebook games. Everything is free and there are small micro transactions if you can get just two or four percent of your users to give you a dollar. Zynga has built a five billion dollar company around that, there’s a lot of money there. What we’ve observed from the Android users who have been writing in to us is that there are people purchasing the apps simply because they want to promote gaming on the ecosystem, there are people working as evangelists out there saying, “Buy this game, you’re supporting these developers,” to bring more over and prove that there’s a real market there. Also, the Android users are a lot more cordial on support, they tend to write complete sentences with punctuation. I think the big difference is that Android users are actually phone users, whereas half the game players on iOS are touch users, so there’s a lot of 12 or 13 year old kids who have no idea what punctuation is and they write support tickets like “This s**t’s broke! What’s going on? Fix it!” What’s been really helpful is that a lot of Android users have been very forthcoming with what ROM build they’re running, what kind of hardware they’re running, and who their carrier is. Android users in general seem a lot more technical than iPhone users. It has been really helpful to us in the early stages getting a lot of support from the users.
And so ends our Aurora Feint series of interviews. I want to thank Aurora Feint for the invite to their offices and for their hospitality. They have a great team of people who are very passionate about getting great games over to the Android platform and it’s hard not to love a company that has a stack of NES games and retro systems that even I couldn’t recognize in its break area.