In short, Google’s culture of constantly changing their algorithms may have just crippled the Indie scene for Android.
In the longer term, unless said algorithms are changed or rolled back, this could mean a lot of lost revenue for Unity Tech. and other engine vendors as they see fewer and fewer users able to afford the licensing (because making games as anything more than a hobby won’t be viable).
I used to think that Google is just too large and prevalent to make future financial trouble a possibility. Now I’m not sure, especially when their algorithm changes are leading to negative PR on a monthly basis along with the frustration of a huge chunk of their total userbase.
Both google and yahoo are known to destroy things with a change in their search engines. What can you really do, when everyone is riding yahoo and google search engines. If they want to change something they can.
Sometimes they change things for the purpose of getting rid of exposure to certain people. For example, content article producers. They both literraly said it was the garbage of the internet, and they are changing the search engines to derank them.
This isn’t related to the search engine, it’s a change in how the Google Play store lists recommended apps.
In any case, this could actually lead to Apple cornering the market for mobile games (as Microsoft continues to stumble in that area and iOS is seen as the most stable of the platforms). It could end up becoming the best news Apple could’ve received as its only real competition becomes a sinking ship.
Perhaps Mozilla could even get Firefox OS to actually get off the ground at this rate (all they need is a developer-friendly app. store with high discoverability and a special focus on smaller studios).
Except the Unity thread talks about how there’s been massive ban waves at Apple’s App. store (to the point where the store has actually shrunk by a noticeable extent). Google is not doing mass-banning quite yet.
The overall claim is that the companies are cleaning out the low-quality apps, but that will make it far more difficult for indies to do so much as get started on a path revolving around game sales (and depending on the standards, will even mean veteran users having to abandon game creation as anything more than a hobby). As I hinted, this could lead to a world of hurt for companies like Unity as the sales of their commercial licenses plunge. FOSS engines could also be affected as people will be less likely to make frequent patch submissions, but would likely not get hit as hard.
If both Google and Apple destroy their indie scenes, then it could actually be Windows that becomes a dominant force in the mobile space (either that or we see the road paved for an open platform).
The latest chatter on the Unity forums is that the algorithm change is intentional. What Google wants its app. developers to do now is spend years on a single project and keep a high retention rate with constant content updates and special events. This is coupled by the fact that Google has also made changes to kill off what is known as “organic searching”, which combined with the removal of the new apps. sections ensures that the only apps. that get discovered will be those by developers who pay Google to feature them (no more discoverability, as it apparently encourages people to download and play stuff of “low quality”).
What this means is that they’ve effectively wiped the vast majority of indies from their storefront and studios are already starting to close down (as you can no longer just move on to the next project unless you give it a team to constantly churn out updates). Also, combined with the way Google is handling Android development (less innovation and simply copying Apple instead), it seems like the Android OS itself is on track to commit suicide.
Oh well Google, it seems like the company does not actually know what it is doing at times these days.
If your “business model” can be devastated by a change to someone’s search-engine, then please face it – you didn’t have a viable business-model in the first place. If the only thing that brings “customers” to you is the mere fact that they “stumbled upon” it, and if there is nothing in particular to keep them there once they did so, “that’s not a business, to begin with.”
Even though they made a fairly-successful baseball movie based on this idea, the worst(!) possible bit of business-advice is: “if you build it, they will come.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. The very-cold reality of the business world – and yet, the very environment in which it daily flourishes(!) – is that “it is much harder than it looks.”
They have, the fact that Google is killing off discoverability means those games will almost certainly not be seen by the vast majority of users (unless of course you do a specific search).
Though there are interesting developments regarding if there’s a genuine issue present, the Googleplex is giving some rather confused messages that contradict each other (some are automated, some state it’s intentional, and others state it’s an issue they need to fix). The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing (so it’s no wonder their other platforms are losing users).
The interesting bit is that Google isn’t the only company working to make it impossible for indies and mid-sized dev houses to make money. The same thing is being done on the app. store for iOS, and even Steam is allegedly prioritizing larger publishers. Barring a sudden revival of Firefox OS or Ubuntu OS, much of mobile gaming in general will be GameLoft, Supercell, King, EA, and a few others (with nearly all of the smaller developers very hard to find or defunct).
Smaller developers and creators are in effect, being squeezed out of many of the major commercial platforms across the web. The only way to save them is the new generation of free and open platforms (preferably open source as well).
Bumping this, because the big Unity forums thread reports of another algorithm change that is hosing even more developers.
Right now, Google is requiring games to have huge retention rates after 1 month to even be visible for a significant length of time. This means the only games that can truly succeed now are F2P games that are constantly updated and use addiction mechanics like daily quests, sparkling graphics, and various psychological tricks (ie. the games by King and a handful of other studios). If you are the type of person who makes a game and give a few updates before the next project, you can’t make anything more than pocket change on the Play store anymore (which means only the large studios can afford to have more than 1 product if you are running a business).
On a brighter note, this has led to a surge of interest in alternative Android storefronts (which can be seen as a good thing, as it could eventually make it far easier for vendors to afford running a fork of Android with no built-in Google apps.). I bring that up because Google denies vendors the ability to have any of Google’s apps. on their devices if they run a fork of any kind.
Game development has always had this fundamental problem. There are hundreds of thousands of them – I’ll stop short of saying, “all alike” and instead say “market-indistinguishable.” If there is nothing to make your product stand out and you’re entirely relying on someone else’s search engine to enable people even to know that your product exists, you haven’t really got any hope. I very seriously wonder how many of them actually make enough money to pay the bills. (At the non-prices they routinely charge, how could they? Even “Angry Birds” sold for the price of four coin-drops at the local arcade. So they quickly scooped-up “four million customers” with no way to pay for them, as they very soon discovered.)
A few years ago I threw together a couple of e-books just to see if “Kindle” or any other electronic book reader was worth my time, and so far I’ve earned $53 in royalties which I’ve never bothered to collect. The books got very nice reviews from the dozen-or-so people who bought a copy (thankye), but if there are millions of products in the book-store then your simple odds are a million-to-one that anyone on earth will ever discover yours. (A fair number of people buy them, read them, then return them for a full refund, as though they were checking them out from a world-wide library. Amazon apparently doesn’t mind. Lesson learned.)
Meanwhile, I still regularly sell a software product for $153.00 a pop, or $35.00 if you want the use of it for just one month. That little light-bulb didn’t take long to switch on at all. This product sold by word-of-mouth because the people who buy it, need it, and apparently, two decades later, they still do. (I’ve sold a copy to every one of the boroughs of London, England. And, so on.) You have to have a business model that actually works, and a revenue model that actually works, and I submit that most games don’t. I predict that great games die on the vine at a rate of thousands per week, most of them stillborn. That’s not a business – that’s just a hobby.
Both Google’s and Apple’s so-called “stores” always have room for one more – and their approach is simply that they rent space. They do nothing, really, to promote the products nor to help the actual customer to choose from a myriad of offerings. That’s one reason why I’ve bought very little product from their storefronts: I have utterly no idea which one to buy, and there’s no one to help me choose. That’s not a store – that’s just a landlord. But on their respective platforms they allow no one to compete with them to offer a more-intelligent service: there is only one source of stuff to put on, say, your iPhone.
Going to disagree with you a bit here - the iOs app store has a few blog posts pretty much every day around some kind of theme and curates a few apps. Sometimes they have interviews with developers who have made particularly novel apps, including games. I actually try to check it somewhat regularly because I like to see what’s on the scene.
Something they do now is to constantly ask for new policy agreements,
and if one is missed they delete the app from all the users phones! I could ‘agree’ to get apps reenstated but I imagine that would be a nightmare of refund requests. I got an email from a service that offered multiple developer accounts that said something like “dont loose your entire user base if google deletes your account, spread them over multiple accounts!” which were like 4 times as expensive as my old developer account cost. They made it seem like a great place in the market beginning and then they just pulled the rug out here and there.
The big thread on the Unity forums is still going, some have now called it quits on game development as a career and are getting normal jobs (because they no longer see it as possible to do game creation as anything more than a hobby).
There’s also indications that Google is not budging on their new algorithms, this will mean a decline in revenue for Unity Tech. as the number of people able to afford the Plus or Pro subscriptions dwindle. It will be the same for Epic because less of their userbase will be crossing the threshold needed to begin making royalty payments.
Especially with Steam now seeing a major flood of games, it’s clear the indie gold rush is over and few have the money or the patience to really put together an exceptionally high quality and/or highly novel title and combine it with a major marketing campaign.