How to get featured in the Google Play Store

I’m proud to announce that Frozen Fractal’s first Android release, Patchy, will soon be featured in the Google Play Store! I guess that means it’ll get a big banner at the top of this page, which is sure to drive some eyeballs my way. I don’t know what it is exactly that I did to make this happen, so I’m going to document what I did, in the hope that it’s useful for other developers out there.

I started by writing a good game. That this is a necessary step should go without saying, but if I look through the “Top new free” and “Top new paid” categories in the store, it’s surprising how many people forget this basic prerequisite. (And here I must thank some of my friends – you know who you are – who wouldn’t stop playing when I asked them to try the game; without them I would probably not have realized how addictive the game really is.)

Initially, I released it as paid only, at the lowest possible price ($0.99, €0.59, £0.50). I realize now that I might have been underselling it a bit by doing so, but with only a small amount of content (6 levels, 2 different enemies) I didn’t feel that a higher price was warranted.

When uploading to the Google Play Store, I made sure to follow this advice: add screenshots for both phones and tablets, add a feature graphic, and add a promotional graphic. Patchy was designed from the start to look and work identically on phones and tablets, so my screenshots are the same for both, but no matter. The feature graphic was something I threw together in a few hours in GIMP:

Patchy's feature graphic

The promotional graphic is simply a cropped version of that; as it’s used only on older devices, I didn’t want to spend too much time on it. Contrary to the advice, I did not add a video, because I did not have the time to make one.

In terms of promotion, I did next to nothing. I posted to this blog, to my Facebook and Google+ pages, to Twitter, and that’s it. This got me 17 installs (half of which from friends and family) and one five-star review (not from friends or family!). Then things went even quieter for a while.

A few weeks later I decided to try releasing a free version with AdMob ads. Apart from the previous promotional channels, which reach mostly just people who know me personally, I posted it to reddit in /r/AndroidGaming and /r/IndieGaming. This resulted in some quite positive feedback (my favourite: “Just wanted to thank you for utterly ruining my productivity today.”). Both posts remained on the front page of their respective subreddits for several days. At this time I also heard of a stupid bug that prevented the game from working on some phones, which I promptly fixed.

The reddit posts led to some quite positive reviews, an average rating of 4.7 stars, and over 1300 installs of the free version, nearly 900 still active (i.e. installed) today. It did not, however, lead to a significant increase in purchases of the paid app. This is unsurprising, as I didn’t promote it anywhere, neither in-game nor in the Play Store. I later added a pointer at the end of the app description, but it hasn’t made much of a difference yet. The in-game ads have so far made an estimated $5.47 in revenue, so at 70% of 23 × $0.99, the paid app still comes out ahead, but neither is making me rich.

Then things went quiet again for a while. For a day or two, the free version could be discovered in the remotest corner of the Play Store: tap Games, swipe the tab bar left to reveal Categories, tap Categories, tap Arcade & action, swipe the tab bar all the way to the right to reveal Top New Free, tap Top New Free, and scroll down to #190 or so. Needless to say, that didn’t seem to drive many clicks.

And then, entirely unexpected, I got an email from the Google Play Apps Editorial Board, stating that Patchy (the paid version) was nominated for featuring in the Play Store. This was not an automated email; it was very clear that they had indeed tried and tested the game. Before being eligible for featuring, I needed to fix an issue with the Back button, violating these guidelines. (I was aware of the issue, it was pure laziness on my part.) They also recommended that I added a video and localized my feature graphic.

Of course, I jumped on this as soon as I could, and released version 1.2 fixing the Back button behaviour; instead of going back to the menu, you now get a pause menu with Resume, Retry and Abort options, and the Back button acts like Resume. I replied to the email saying that the issue had been resolved.

A day later I also whipped up a simple promo video showing the gameplay. This was, as I had expected, not straightforward; even though I can run the game natively on the desktop, capturing video at 30 fps including audio turned out to be impossible. I ended up adding code to fix the framerate at 30 fps and save a screenshot to a PNG file every frame. Sound wasn’t captured at all so I had to add that in the editing stage. For editing, I had to figure out how to use Cinelerra. Like most advanced open-source software, it sorely lacks in the UI department, but it gets the job done.

I did ignore the suggestion of localizing the feature graphic, because there is no text in it apart from the game’s title, so there was nothing to translate even if I’d been able to. I guess it would be possible to add some country-specific graphics or something, but I’m not sure how that would work, nor if I could pull it off without stepping on people’s toes.

Yesterday I received word that Patchy has now been scheduled for featuring in the Play Store. They couldn’t give me an exact date, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it, and will be sure to post back here how it goes!

As the email only mentioned the paid version, I’m not sure if the existence of the vastly more popular free version has played any role. In summary, this is what I did to get featured, but I don’t know whether all of these things are necessary, nor if the sum of them is sufficient:

  • adhere to the app quality guidelines (wherever they make sense for a game),
  • add a feature graphic (this is a documented requirement to even be considered for featuring),
  • add screenshots for all device types,
  • and of course, have a decent app to begin with!