Mobile Mavens

The Mobile Gaming Mavens talk Android Market's contentious app returns policy

Just another 48 hours...

The Mobile Gaming Mavens talk Android Market's contentious app returns policy

This week’s question for Pocket Gamer's panel of mobile and gaming experts was suggested by Andreas Vasen of Machineworks:

Google Market has instituted a 48-hour refund policy on its app sales. Conceptually, do refunds still make sense when selling apps, and are apps products or services?

Unlike ever before, the Mavens were divided.

The line was drawn between those who thought the policy absolved them of responsibility - Sandy Duncan of YoYo games - and those who thought it, instead, absolved the consumer of the need to ever pay for a game again - everyone else.

Duncan backed Google on a practical level. "The wide variety of Android devices mean that games just simply don't work properly on some of them, particularly the cheap handsets."

Every new phone introduces a new problem, he argued - in particular phones from an unnamed Korean manufacturer that are almost guaranteed to be bug-ridden.

With handsets varying so much between countries and each handset costing around $500, he said, "as a developer we just can't test on more than a dozen or so handsets or QA costs spiral out of control … Getjar list 528 different Android handsets."

But although he backed Google, he was critical of the Android market and platform.

"On the one hand, Google has created a market for Android apps but it's done a poor job of setting a base standard for all devices."

Given that many networks have their own markets, the variety of potential device-software combinations is huge - which is the real problem, Duncan asserts, to which the refund policy is an acceptable solution.

The Developers' Side

"There is a danger to a one size fits all 48 hour full refund policy," said Dave Castelnuovo of Bolt Creative.

"While I understand the issue with apps not working on all devices, I think that should be something the hardware manufacturers and Google need to fix rather than putting the burden onto app developers."

Given that many single player games can be completed within the 48-hour policy, Castelnuovo felt that this was a license to play many games for free.

"The refund policy should be for games that don't work on your device, rather than for games not on your top 10 list. A user should still have to pay for a game that they play for a couple hours and have got bored of.

"I believe the $0.99 price point and reviews already address most of these issues. That price point allows users to take a risk. With screen shots, app description and reviews the user can get an idea of what the game is about and if there are stability issues."

Castelnuovo argued that Android needed an app crash logging system, given that stability was the only real justification for a refund.

"Check the crash log, has the game crashed every time the user tries to play it? Does the app fail to open? If it does, offer a refund," he added.

"With Android, stability issues are a feature of the OS, not necessarily a factor of the quality or care of the development team."

Moreover, he wanted developer access to crash logs, so they could fix problems and enlist problem devices as testers in return for free game access and/or gifts.

"The bottom line is, Google needs to make it easier for developer to create stable games on the platform instead of cutting out the monetisation of apps. I also happen to have a high ranking paid app on Android Market and the monetisation already isn’t great compared to iOS, despite the development being a lot more work."

More of Dave's Side

Ustwo's mills™ couldn’t believe that people actually took the time to get their money back on an 69p/99c app.

"Anyone who bothers getting a refund on a 69p app needs their heads examined," he claimed.

"It sounds insane - it’s not a car, it's not a stereo. It's a fun app, useful for five minutes. Users need to read the description, look at screenshots and ask their mates if they are wary of parting with their money.

"Considering such a small amount of Android users bother to buy apps it seems ludicrous to then offer them a chance to get out of jail free!"

Kevin Dent of Tiswaz was equally passionate about the policy. "The Google refund policy is 100 percent grade A fresh off the shelf bullshit and ignores any value that developer drives into the hands of the consumer."

Dent has tracked his users and can see that certain consumers buy a game, before returning it, before buying it again and then returning for a second time. "Surely no one is actually that cheap to avoid paying 99 cents? Sadly there are a lot of people that cheap."

The most creative response came from Machineworks' Andreas Vahsen, who produced something like a haiku;

Short and simple:
It is legalised piracy,
courtesy of Google.
Utter, complete insanity.

Moaning Brits

PR maven Brian Baglow struck a conciliatory note; "I suspect it's more to do with the fact they're simple unused to the games/apps market and are trying to 'do the right thing' for consumers."

He did acknowledge that it penalised developers and allowed consumers a way to avoid paying.

"Has anyone actually pointed out to Google this is massively unfair to content creators? Maybe we should..."

"Of course those of us who are British have not pointed it out to Google..." quipped Jon Hare of Tower Studios "We just moan about it to our friends."

He saw the problem as one coming from our increasingly disposable society and from Google caring more about market share than profit.

"Google does not see enough benefit in the money being retained as opposed to simply building the platform as a rival to Apple," he concluded. 

"I am sure at some stage when enough critical mass is built up and Android is seen as the preferred mobile gaming platform, the refund policy will change."

A backroom operator, Dan works behind the scenes to source and proof content for; if you notice Dan's work, then something has
gone wrong. Dan's background is in writing about politics, tech and the games industry, and he's addicted to social networking and board
games. His favourite mobile games are Carcassone, Neuroshima Hex and Catan
(though he laments its lack of online multiplayer).