Stateside: Developers, it's time to look beyond the holy trinity of Apple, Google and Amazon
Studios need to adopt an 'international approach'
For American developers, it can be very easy to think of the world of app distribution as one limited to two, possibly three stores: App Store on iOS and either Google Play on Android or Amazon's Appstore on Kindle Fire.
The reasoning behind that view is pretty clear: they're the platforms that bring in the users and, in turn, bring in the dollars.
But in other countries, things don't really work this way. Third-party app stores on Android appeal to markets outside the standard western perspective, and for developers willing to take advantage of them, it can give their game a leg up in the competitive mobile market.
So, should developers keen to make a buck where they can be thinking globally and looking beyond the big three stores?Global game
Adopting the international approach naturally requires a developer to adopt Android as, naturally, third-party stores are outside of Apple's remit.
However, while Android is now the dominant platform – eight in 10 smartphones running Google's OS according to the most recent stats – not all of the money developers make on it derives from sales on Google Play.
Indeed, there are many countries where Google Play isn't even available. Can't think of any? Well, what about China?
What's more, according to Polish-based consultant Stefan Bielau, there represents big opportunities in what's now the world's biggest mobile market.
Based on a talk he gave in November 2013 at App Promotion Summit Berlin China's top five app stores have about 50 percent of the total of what Google Play does in monthly downloads - estimated 1.3 billion downloads per months versus estimated 2.5 billion for Google Play.
It's a trend not limited to China, either. Google's hands off approach extends to multiple territories, and in others, so-called “junk phones” with pre-installed, carrier provided app stores lead the way.
The end result is, these relatively fresh territories represent potentially-untapped sources of users and revenue for developers, especially those working on free-to-play games. It's not just because of the users on these stores - it's because they also represent new featuring opportunities.Ropey story
Most stores have fractions of the users and downloads that Google Play has, but they have their own featured sections that benefit from having far less competition due to the fewer submissions on each store. A rising tide sinks all ships, but low tide means even a small boat can sail.
So for developers who connect with store holders and provide them with content that's potentially interesting and stands out to their users, it's possible to beat the averages on these stores.
Most of them offer only fractions of the downloads per month and total users, but with well-placed effort, they can serve as lucrative methods of promotion.
ZeptoLab released Cut the Rope Experiments across a catalogue of different stores. The result? The game picked up more than 2.3 million downloads on SlideMe and an additional 600,000 on GetJar.
These are not insignificant numbers – numbers, in fact, that helped contribute to the game's ultimate success on Android. Such a wide-reaching strategy enabled Cut the Rope Experiments to reach the hands of users that don't have access to Google Play – even if many of those users simply found the game pre-installed on their new hpone.
Get a good spot on these stores and users aplenty can be had.Extra work
It's not just the stores outside Google Play that are different, either. The way they deliver the apps onto the devices also varies.
SMS promotions are a poten force. One non-game app – TankenApp – was distributed by a carrier in Germany and saw a 2 percent conversion rate from nearly 760,000 SMS messages sent. This caused the app to shoot upt the top 100 ranks on Google Play and into the top five in its category.
Many of the alternate stores also offer paid promotional opportunities, which might just be the most ideal place to advertise an app - there's practically no hurdle for the app to be installed.
Amazon has been known to offer paid promotion on the front page of its Appstore - and developers like TinyCo have seen better-than-average ARPU from Amazon's store at points in the past. These conditions can change, but any store with any sort of reasonable established userbase is worth evaluating further for developers looking to get ahead.
The problem, of course, is localisation and getting into these other stores in the first place. Services like Codengo, which Bielau consults for, and InMobi App Publish can help to ease the strain of uploading to multiple storefronts by aggregating processes and data.
Still, developers wanting to expand globally with their apps may need to consult others who are fluent with other countries both in language and culture in order to maximise their impact. Designing a game to be localised is important too.
Undoubtedly, this all takes extra work and won't necessarily mean your game becomes any more successful than it would have done otherwise – in-app purchases aren't as prevalent in many territories as they are in the west, but didn't Flappy Bird teach us that ad revenues can still deliver the goods in 2014?
The long and short of it is, American developers need to start looking well beyond the US's borders for success, and that in turn also means looking beyond the Apple, Google and Amazon. It's time to expand our horizons.Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at 148Apps.com, which was acquired by PocketGamer.biz publisher Steel Media in 2012.