Mobile Mavens

Discovery debate: Is it Apple and Google's job to help good games get spotted?

Our Mobile Gaming Mavens discuss

Discovery debate: Is it Apple and Google's job to help good games get spotted?

Last week saw Carter Dotson from 148Apps use his column to call for developers to stop blaming Apple and Google for poor app discovery.

Though Dotson admitted he is frustrated with Apple and Google's lack of action, he also pointed out that there is no real reason for either party to change their approach: for them, the App Store and Google Play are working fine as they are.

"The hard truth, however, is that both iOS and Android are doing fine without Apple and Google making the effort to ensure that relevant and quality content is pushed out to consumers – consumers are downloading more and more apps anyway," detailed Dotson.

"So, it's time for developers to stop moaning about app discovery. Apple and Google don't owe you anything – it was your choice to support their platforms, and so it's your job to make sure that decision was a worthwhile one.

"When it comes to discovery, it's time to start bootstrapping."

So, week asked the Mavens:

How much responsibility, if any, should Apple and Google take for ensuring good games get discovered by consumers on their respective platforms?

Oscar Clark, Applifier
This is something I've been writing about for quite some time. It's not the job of the app stores to sell your game. Rather, it's just to make sure that their content offering makes their hardware platforms shine.

That's a decision that these companies have taken about their focus.

The guys who run those platforms actively do the best for the developers they engage with and the scale of the companies that are trying to reach out to them is unprecedented. Compared to my time at 3UK where we tried to limit the direct relationships to around 30, its a crazy level of scale.

The pressure on them is of course enormous and their professionalism should be commended. Better yet, they don't sit on their hands; we regularly hear how both Apple and Android teams try to grapple with the discovery algorithms.

Apple's focus on ratings is a good approach as it the way it takes into account the rate of change of installed when considering the New & Noteworthy titles. Google's Trending Chart also remains extremely useful as it directly includes the rate of new downloads, not just the total.

However, it's still the case that the top ten Paid/Free/Grossing charts have largely been static for around the last 12 months and that means its full of games I've already got or already rejected.

There is a problem with the enormous volume of content and many users are blinded by the blistering array of choice. There is only so much you can do to put games on the front page but I suspect we don't want to go back to the one-man editorial approach of my day.

However, there are lots of lessons from those days which still apply and which I have repeated in many articles so I'll save the readers another rant here...

Perhaps I'm foolish and nostalgic; but I can at least demonstrate that this approach did work with 68 percent of the UK mobile game purchases in 2005, 45 percent of the revenue and only 5 percent of the audience.

I'm am impressed with the affiliate process that Apple have in place. I think that puts it in a better position in the long-run than Android. I think this area will be increasingly vital as more commercial pressure is put on them as alternative models appear (but that's still a way off yet).

Despite all this, the App Store and GooglePlay - including browsing and features - represents 35.7 percent of the influence to buy according to an online survey Applifier did in February. Social sharing (in person and on web) represented 37.2 percent of influence and 70 percent of respondents said that social factors are an influence.

Only 12 percent of influence reportedly came from advertising. No wonder we have reached the point where throwing money into burst campaigns just to hit a top 10 game has stopped being worthwhile.

As developers, we have a responsibility to make the best of, not only the way we are represented on the app store, but also how we use all the other means of communication. This has to include the way we represent the brand in the game and how we monetise the game.

We can't stop thinking when we have a game - we have to build an integrated plan to give it the best chance possible.

Will Luton, TinyCo
What can they even do? You go to the App Store and it's filled with apps - charts, featured, lists, those of people near by... Apple and Google provide eyes to lots of content.

What people mean by discovery is discover of their game. There's simply too many apps, player can't see them all.

The App Store isn't perfect, but the onus is on the app publisher to get seen. No good moaning it's hard - it is. Get on with it, find a solution.

Keith Andrew, PocketGamer.biz
I think one of the main objections is against the top grossing charts. I have to say, I've always found them very odd - why would a consumer base their purchase decisions based on what games are monetising best? Maybe I'm missing something.

Of course, produce those charts for developers, but keep them away from consumers.

Charles Chapman, First Touch Games
I'm sure most people know, but initially there was no top-grossing chart, and the initial demand for it was from developers unhappy with the fact that the top 'paid' chart was full of 59p/99c games.

A top-grossing chart would be more biased towards higher priced paid apps, and give visibility to those supposedly higher-quality paid apps.

I'm not certain but this may have been before in-app purchases were even possible on iOS and obviously few could foresee what the top-grossing chart would become.

Oscar Clark, Applifier

As I've said before, the charts aren't ideal for helping discovery if you aren't already successful - and the cost to buy your way there is largely unsustainable.

If you have to keep a sale chart ,I would make it the Google Trending chart or perhaps a 'Top Game This Week' including only games launched/updated this week (perhaps more frequently, this hour?). I might just be being silly now.

Harry Holmwood, MAQL Europe

I'm with Will here. There isn't a discovery problem. There's a promotion problem. Users have no trouble finding great games to play on the app stores, but developers have huge problems finding users.

As John suggests, 'most frequently played' or similar metrics beyond simple installs/revenue could be meaningful, although that would likely also have a knock-on effect on game design as developers try to game that system too (e.g. by making games with very restrictive energy and appointment mechanics requiring frequent boots of the game).

There's probably a formula somewhere that goes frequency x session duration x rating x days played that could lead to 'best games' charts for each genre although, again, any measure would be subject to unforeseen consequences if there's money to be made.

Also, I think both Apple and Google are to be congratulated for (so far, at least) resisting any urge to sell promotional space on the store.

After a world where every inch of shelf space, catalogue insertion, window display and, increasingly, console home screen was bought and paid for at great expense by the biggest companies who can afford it, it's good to see customers coming first and being presented with things because the app stores think they'll like them.

Keith Andrew, PocketGamer.biz

Harry - I'd disagree with your first point entirely. I think there is a big problem as a consumer finding games I like - so much so that, after being burned so many times and becoming disillusioned with it now, I stopped playing mobile games for about a year.

Even now, I tend to only try out new games people mention to me. I think, the choice is so vast, and - let's be honest - a fair chunk of those games are fairly poor that many gamers simply stick to what they know. They turn to the top 10. And I don't think that's healthy.

It's not a case of promotion - the tools are there. Twitter, social media, etc. It's case of consumers being able to find the games they like in amongst all the noise.

Harry Holmwood, MAQL Europe
I think things like independent curated recommendations/stores will overcome this kind of thing in time, along with better implementations of automated equivalents like Genius.

It's where Steam is headed I think, with independent sites being able to set up their own stores catering for their specific audience.

The question comes with whether someone can earn money by providing such a curation/recommendation service, and where that money comes from.

I'd probably be delighted with the results of paying £20 a year to have a weekly game recommendation that completely fits my tastes, but getting me to sign up for that in the first place would be very difficult.

What happens with such things is that they end up having to monetise the other side (content creators, not consumers) and then become subject to market forces which could distort their ability to recommend the right things to the right people.

And then they're just another company flogging advertising/user acquisition, and we have enough of those already.

Dan Gray, ustwo
I think it's because, in regards to the grossing charts, we're discussing a form of mainstream user that attributes popularity with quality.

"5 million records sold in the first twenty-four hours" automatically makes the average Joe think "Damn that must be worth checking out".

When you consider gameplay to be a minor distraction and alternative use of your device you lack the motivation to look beyond that top ten list in front of your face in the same way a mother buys a Boyzone record in Tesco.

The problem developers have right now is that, without a truck load of investment, it's nigh on impossible to crack that list, resulting in an arms race in which the guy with the biggest blunderbuss wins.

The guy with the silky switchblade cries in the corner if he's fighting a freemium battle.

I believe what people are alluding to when they mention improved search functionality and discoverability is a way to cross examine metadata and usage statistics on a much larger and more intelligent way, keywords just don't cut it any more due to volume. Pandora, MoodAgent and now even Spotify do a great job at suggesting content specific to the users taste.

Wouldn't it be awesome if the girl who's into obscure papercraft chinchilla racing, found a similar game about clay hedgehog cycling, even if that game sat at 5678 in the charts – by the way, I'll brb, I'm making that game.

It's focussed, relevant and penetrative marketing and it would reward all those involved.

Alex Bubb, Nokia

From an OEM viewpoint, I must agree on the responsibility and just highlight App Social – an app Nokia launched earlier this year on Lumia smartphones.

This has been a big focus from our store team for 2013 and following a hugely positive response, we now preload into all Lumia devices. This has definitely moved things on from just the traditional “app store model.”

If you haven't tried it, it allows users to build and share their favourite lists of apps and games, providing a live feed of recommendations direct to your home screen live tile from the users you follow. There is even a leaderboard for users that create the most thanked lists. Simple but very effective!

I'd argue probably one of the best innovations this year from any OEM, and lessons to be learned for discoverability on other platforms.

Oscar Clark, Applifier
I this this idea of an personalised algorithm - it's much closer to what's needed than an editorial voice (even if I'm a little sad about that).

Only snag is, the examples around now are Genius or Amazon; neither are particularly ideal but better than the absence of any discovery trope. I think we need to find a way to make that more insightful so it can predict something about future behaviour, rather than just proposing replacements for what you already have ordered.

Alexey Sazonov, HeroCraft
I'd love to have an option to hide what I've already downloaded – a checkbox in the settings or something.

In-genre diversity could be better - even in Strategy there's RTS, TBS, tower defense, card games etc. I think collections within genres could help a lot with that, and also syndicated collections could bring a bit of fresh air.

Imagine 'Top turn-based strategies by PocketGamer' or 'Top 10 farm sims with cute animals making pudding by Lady Gaga' etc.

Taking the best from other platforms could help a lot as well. Having said that, I'm off to check new flash sales on Steam!

Dan Gray, ustwo
I don't think what's being supported is a true representation of what's available, but it probably is a true representation of what will make the most money (and why shouldn't it be on the grand scale?).

It's the fact it's the same for every type of user that hampers sales of more niche releases. Personally I'm bored of opening the App Store and being faced with a splash page like this:

With every app icon being a cookie cutter of the next, in a friendly and approachable art style. It conflicts with my personal taste so much that the only part of the store I use is the search window to find games directly from recommendations or websites.

Imagine a storefront tailored to your own tastes, habits, friends and purchase history. Users would spend significantly more time absorbed in the store experience and thus probably more money. We all win.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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Robert Green
I think Dan makes the key point at the end there. Cynical as it may sound, the app store owners are publicly traded companies, so their interest isn't in highlighting the best games so much as the most profitable games. And that's why, despite not fulfilling the original goal that Charles laid out above, the top grossing charts remain a key feature.

One more key point I'd make is that the app stores don't just spotlight the kind of games that keep users paying, but also the kind that keep them playing for longer. To give a practical example, if you were to track my Steam usage, you'd see that I'd played Gone Home twice, for a total of about 2 hours, and not returned to it. Any sort of usage-based algorithm would likely conclude that I didn't really like it, when in reality I absolutely did, but it was only designed to be a 2-hour experience. The idea that more hours played = better games is one that I'd love to get away from, and not something that a movie or music recommendation system likely has to worry about.
Robert Leach
I know this comment doesn't have too much bearing outside the US, but the way Netflix approaches recommended movies works very well and could easily apply to apps. It really just takes films and shows you've liked before (based on your previous ratings) and gives you recommendations of movies and shows that are similar in a variety of ways (same genre, director, actor, or even obscure sub-genres).

The front page basically shows you a top ten recommended, latest releases, top ten in your favorite genres and sub-genres, plus they frequently play around with other brief lists (random selections, popular in your area, Christmas movies, etc)

The point is, it doesn't fill a lot of space, and it gives the user a lot of varied options, which leads to a good amount of discovery. And with recommendations that are based on my personal ratings, I'm much more likely to rate the movies I watch, leading to more people being able to find quality content that they are looking for.
promoteindiegames hello@promoteindiegames.com
@Keith,

The bottom line is people judge games on how much is spent on them because for most people that's the main way they show their approval or liking of something, other people know this, and do the same, hence "Social proof"

Maybe the problem isn't so much the lack of visibility of the good games, but rather the over-visibility of the bad ones.

@Harry,
The problem I have with the user-store approach (which no doubt will come about at some point) is that you really are just pushing the initial issue further down the pitch, you will just end up with 100s if not 1000s of these stores, and then which one do you follow? we will need review sites of which user-stores to follow? :)

There are ways to improve discoverability, and I'm working on a number of algorithmic approaches which use innovative techniques.
David Reeves
The same is going to happen on PSN and XBLA very very soon!