This article was first printed in the GamesIndustry.biz Mobile Newsletter. To receive these special emails, sign up here.
Having your game plastered across the top of the App Store or Google Play in one of the few and highly-coveted Featured spots can be a real shot in the arm for any mobile title. The increasingly crowded market and growing discoverability issues are somewhat offset by the endorsement of a platform holder, and being one of the first games a potential new customer sees when browsing the store improves your chances of encouraging them to download.
However, while Google Play business development boss Matteo Vallone recognises how important this might be to a developer, he urges them not to pin all their hopes on it.
"Yes, of course it's a big thing if your game gets featured on the store and should drive a lot of attention, but I would recommend that developers shouldn't rely on that," he tells GamesIndustry.biz. "Our organic distribution on the store rewards consistency over spikes, so it's all about constantly engaging users and making sure when they download your game, they provide a good rating, they don't uninstall the game shortly after playing. All those things will gradually make you grow organically on the store.
"Of course it's a big thing if your game gets featured on the store and should drive a lot of attention, but I would recommend that developers shouldn't rely on that"
"If they're doing a good job with their game, I wouldn't be too sceptical about us learning about it and reaching out to feature them. There are so many developers that we've been in contact with to showcase their game that didn't expect it - that actually happens. So if you're doing the right things, you have a good shot at it."
The featured slots have become more and more important to developers as the market has become flooded with mobile games. The barriers to entry are lower than ever, meaning practically anyone can - and does - release a title for smart devices. And although curating mobile storefronts is the key to helping the best games reach the audiences they deserve, Vallone stresses that it's important for those barriers to remain low and the market to be accessible to all.
"Our responsibility is to make it easy for everyone to distribute their game and get access to our more than one billion users, and also to empower them to have the tools to optimise their games so they can understand why they might not be performing well and what they can do to improve on that," he says.
"From a store perspective, editorially we try to showcase the best games, the ones that might not have the same level of marketing behind them but are still worthy, but it's always challenging. It's a big platform, but then we're a big company. We can handle the quantity. I think people have this perception that there are so many games out there, and yes there are, but the number of good games released every week is not unmanageable.
"We're able to find the good games and surface them on the store on a weekly basis. If you check our new and updated collection, which is the most prominent on the store, every week shows you between 15 and 20 games that are of good quality. We rarely miss the great ones, so I think we're doing a pretty good job there."
Vallone's colleague and EMEA director for Google Play Ishan Chatterjee adds that the success of the best mobile games is often as much "user-driven" as it is by whether the platform holder promotes them.
It's a noble notion that anyone should be able to release a game, but it's open to exploitation. Copycats and clones are rampant on both Google Play and the App Store. Famously, hundreds of clones mimicking Dong Nguyen's Flappy Bird were released within days of him pulling his game from stores - and dozens copying his ne xt title Swing Copters appeared on both marketplaces before the original was even released. Should the stores not be clamping down on this?
"There's an easy way for developers who think their IP has been infringed to reach out to us. You can't avoid people trying things like that, but you can make sure the good developers prevail"
"We are making it easier for people to distribute their games, but we're also making it easier for people to escalate situations like that," says Vallone. "There's an easy way for developers who think their IP has been infringed to reach out to us and we can start the process to review that. You can't avoid people trying to do things like that, but you can make it as easy as possible for the good developers, the ones that are doing the right thing, to prevail.
"Also, from a user perspective, the fact that we are surfacing the originals, featuring them and highlighting games that are successful as soon as possible, means that normally the copycats or bad companies don't get as much attention and tend to fail fairly quickly."
Featured spots on stores are often used to promote premium games over free-to-play titles. In our previous newsletter, we discuss the challenges facing developers charging for mobile games in a market where consumers expect apps to be free, but Chatterjee reports that user attitudes to premium games are already changing.
"We do quite a lot from a user perspective by making the whole experience of buying a game as frictionless as possible," he says. "The average spend per buyer in 2015 - we don't have 2016 stats yet - actually grew 30 per cent over the previous year. So we are seeing people spending more and more, and we brought 180m new users into the ecosystem. That gives indie developers access and reach, which otherwise they might find difficult to get."
However, Vallone once again insists that developers shouldn't obsess over getting featured at the top of these mobile stores. Instead, they should look into other channels to reach potential audiences, and trust in the quality of their work.
"If they make a game they're passionate about and it comes through that it's a great game, people will want to share it," he says. "Relying on the virality of their game is important. One of the best platforms for that is YouTube. If they can find YouTubers with a big audience that love their game - in some cases, if a game is doing well, it helps them grow their channel. There's a virtuous circle where the developer gets more users and the YouTuber gets more subscibers. In general, any social network that relies on sharing content is good.
"It's not easy. I'm not trying to make it seem like it's easy to get that visibility, but we're seeing a lot of games getting visibility without us featuring them in the first place. Of course, if they start getting visiblity, there is more chance that we'll notice them and might be able to accelerate that by featuring them later."