Google announced the other day its new plans regarding changes to the policy that governs developers and applications published on Google Play. In its tireless fight against malware, fraud and low-quality applications, Google has decided to introduce a fundamental change that can harm the dreams of many indie game or app developers, if not end those dreams completely.
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In this article published on the official Android Developers Blog, we can see a summary of these changes. To start, Google is going to start asking for identity verification information for all developers who publish games or applications on Google Play, but this is not the particular change I want to talk about in this article.
If we go to the next point we can read the following:
Developers with newly created personal Play Console accounts will soon be required to test their apps with at least 20 people for a minimum of two weeks before applying for access to production. This will allow developers to test their app, identify issues, get feedback, and ensure that everything is ready before they launch.
This means that if you have created a developer account on Google Play after November 13, 2023, or if you plan to create one, you will necessarily have to go through a two-week testing phase in which you will be responsible for finding 20 people who want to test your application or game. This will be an essential requirement to be able to launch your application or game in production, that is, make it available to all Google Play users.
Now, what exactly is this minimum of 20 testers? Well, 20 people will have to give you their Google email address so that you can add them as testers of your application, they will have to download your app or game, and they will have to test it. And how much will they have to test it? Does it help if each of those 20 people downloads it and tries it for 5 minutes once? As far as I know, the Google Play team has not yet provided more details about it, but if we go to this official documentation page we can read the following:
If you have a newly created personal developer account, you must run a closed test for your app with a minimum of 20 testers who have been opted-in for at least the last 14 days continuously.
The question here is: what exactly does this continuously mean? Does this mean that these 20 testers will have to be testing your app or game each day of those 2 weeks? Does this mean that there has to be a certain number of openings for it to count as valid testing?
These are all questions that unfortunately we do not know for now. And why does Google do this? Well, in the statement that I mentioned previously, we can read:
Developers who regularly use Play's app testing tools before publishing release higher-quality apps and games, which can lead to higher ratings and more success on Google Play. In fact, apps that use our testing tools have on average 3 times the amount of app installs and user engagement compared to those that don't.
Well, it seems that what Google intends here is to put an end to the appearance of hundreds of applications that do not contribute anything to the ecosystem and that, supposedly, reduce the general quality of the software that we can find on Google Play.
And now I want to focus on an important factor: this will only affect the applications or games of developers who have a personal account. If you have a company account, this restriction will not affect you, you will be able to deploy applications and games without them having gone through any mandatory testing phase.
Some individuals have started to highlight the concern that the current efforts might undermine the capacity of independent developers to launch new apps and games. While I acknowledge that numerous releases may be of subpar quality, it's important to remember that there are very good applications and games that started precisely this way, with very humble beginnings but that little by little managed to cover an existing need in the market.
Furthermore, although we are told that this will only affect newly created personal accounts, I would not be surprised to see this policy also extended in the future to any product from any developer, old or new, who wants to launch a new application or game on Google Play.
I don't know about you, but I can't easily have 20 people to ask them to test my applications continuously for two weeks; and probably most indie developers neither. It's quite likely that if this policy is implemented in this way, businesses will begin to emerge, I cannot say whether legitimate and safe or not, but for a modest price will provide us with a group of paid testers with whom we can test new applications. In the end, it will be a new stopper for new developers, who will have to take into account this initial investment without knowing if their application or game will have any kind of success or not.
In my opinion, I completely understand that Google wants to have safe and useful applications in its store, however, this does not seem like the right way to achieve it. If you want to discourage the creation of junk apps then you could do what Apple does: ask for an annual fee for developers who want to publish in your store. Right now to be a Google Play developer you have to pay an initial fee of $25. This is a one-time payment that is made at the beginning and gives you the possibility of being a developer without ever paying anything else. To publish in Apple's AppStore you have to pay a fee of $99 annually, meaning that every year you will have to pay that money. This means that only those who have a minimum of interest and desire to create good products agree to publish in the store, even if they are small indie developers.
The truth is that I feel that being an Android developer is getting harder and harder every day, every year more and more policies are approved that restrict the ability we have to innovate and create new products. Furthermore, we have decisions like this that make creating applications or games on Google Play an exhausting task as time passes. I predict a future on Google Play dominated by corporations, those large companies with the capacity to cope with all the dedication that is necessary to stay up to date with new policies and to adapt applications to the increasingly numerous restrictions. All this while small developers go elsewhere. It is this group of indie developers who provide creativity, who provide novelty, and keep the ecosystem fresh. I have been doing this for more than 10 years and it is a shame to see the decline that Google Play and Android in general are having.
However, this is just my personal opinion. Tell me what you think of these changes in the comments section if you want. Thank you for reading until the end, I hope you have a nice rest of your day.