Many people who use GameMaker to make mobile games start out with the Android module due to its accessibility and ease of use. Basically, if it works on Windows, it'll work on Android (with a minimum of tweaking), and when it comes to publishing, that too is also made extremely easy, since you just have to create an APK and upload it to Google Play.
However, the Google Play market is an extremely saturated one, has little or no controls over quality, and it doesn't cover a very large number of countries. Do you want people in China to play your game? Well, they can't because Google Play doesn't sell there, which means you are missing out on literally millions of potential users! The good news is that the Google Play market is not the only one available to you and in this article I'm going to list some of the other markets that are available to you for your Android games, as well as some of the pros and cons of going elsewhere.
WHY TO NOT (JUST) USE GOOGLE PLAY
Okay, Google Play is great, but it does have it's issues... Saturation is the main one, as it's very difficult to get exposure for your game on there without spending large amounts of cash on marketing, and even then it's not guaranteed. But is it worth checking out other app stores for Android just because of this? Frankly, yes it is, and here's just some of the reasons why:
- Free apps and promotions: Many of the app stores mentioned later in this article feature a "free app of the day", sales and discounted premium apps, or other money-saving offers, making discovering new games simpler for the user.
- App recommendations: Similarly, many of these stores might offer recommended games that don’t pop up in the Google Play top ten charts.
- Curated lists: Some app stores have a specific focus and a smaller selection of app choices that have been filtered for quality, age group, or purpose.
- Localized portal: There are app stores that specifically cater to different countries, and may offer localized apps you wouldn’t find otherwise.
All of these are good reasons to seriously consider Android app store alternatives... But it's not all roses and there are a few things that you should be aware of before jumpimng out of the Google Play pond and into the ocian of alternative Android app stores.
NOT ALL SUNSHINE AND HAPPINESS
Okay, so it seems that publishing your game to alternative Android app stores is a good thing. And it is... as long as you are aware that there are some risks to this which should be considered before you jump in.
The main risk of using alternative stores is malware, and I've read a number of articles now where it is recommended sticking to Google Play and avoiding all third-party app stores because of this risk. The security policy on different Android app stores will vary; some will perform similar safety checks to Google, while others won’t. If you are going to take the risk of publishing to those stores, then you should consider installing one of the top Android security apps first and actually downloading and installing a few apps from the sites you want to publish to to see what you find. Check out user reviews of the site too, and do a Google search to see what is thrown up. People are rarely quiet about getting malware from a source like an app store, so if a site has problems it should be easy enough to find out.
Apart from that, the other issues that you can find with these third party stores are:
- Android is (by default) designed to only accept signed games from the Google Play store, which means that your users will have to have enabled the downloading of non-Play Store apps in the developer options - not all users will be willing to do this.
- Some of these app stores can give a poor user experience and actually push potential customers way from your game.
- Your game could be mixed in with pirated versions of other games, sadly. The Android ecosystem is populated by a massive amount of pirate and cracked apps and games, and some of third party stores out there don't really care. So investigate the store before publishing as you won't want your game to be on there rubbing shoulders with a bunch of illegal wares.
- The terms and conditions of these stores may result in enforced promotions for your app, meaning that they could be discounting it or giving it away for free without your direct consent.
- The developer portals can be less transparent, harder to use and updates can take longer to push out.
It's also worth noting that by branching out into different app stores you are going to have to do much more work should you wish to update for a game breaking bug or whatever. Some stores are very slow to update submissions and so you should target these first when updating your games, and you should track the comments as you may find bugs and issues reported on different stores which are easy to miss.
A FEW ALTERNATIVES
Still want to publish outside Google Play? Good, because there are a number of sites that I can recommend and have used myself which I'd like to share with you, as I've found them to be reliable and generally good to work with. However, while I've done what I can to verify the stores recommended here, you should still be careful when using them and be sure to read the terms and conditions for each carefully and research what other developers have to say about them. I (nor YoYo Games) take no resposibility for any issues you may have!
The highest profile alternative to Google Play is definitely the Amazon Appstore, and it’s the default location for Amazon’s Kindle line of tablets. It offers a much smaller selection of apps and games than Google Play, but everything has passed Amazon’s quality control standards. It is polished and easy to use.
For developers, this store can be a great source of extra income, especially if your game is tablet optimized rather than just generally smartphone/mobile, as Kindle users are the primary customers. Some developers have reported huge download numbers off the back of the free app of the day promotion which you can request your game to be accepted for, but it's worth noting that equal numbers have reported no resulting increase in sales once the promotion is over.
The downside to the Amazon store however, is that it is limited to the U.S. and a smattering of European nations right now (UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain).
You can sign up to the Amazon App Store here: https://developer.amazon.com/public
This Android app store has a global reach and a fairly decent user base. Like most of the other markets, it offers free and premium apps which must all pass through a quality control process to ensure a minimum of quality. For users of this site, the main attractions are the availability globally and support for various payment options, including PayPal, and the fact that they make it very easy to filter searches to find the app or game that suits you.
The enticement of this site for developers is the fact that SlideME offers the chance to target a wider international audience, covering many of the countries that Google Play does not. Games are more likely to stand out because the choice is more refined, and the searches by users are more specific too. As a developer, you can set the prices you want and it is even possible to get a greater percentage of the revenue generated by your app with Slide ME, than the standard 70 percent you’ll get in most places.
Sign up to SlideME here: http://slideme.org/developers
Samsung are one of the biggest and most well known Android device manufacturers, and as such it would be a mistake to ignore their app store as a potential market for your games. Their store has been changed a number of times, and its current incarnation is as "Galaxy Apps".
On the surface, the Galaxy Apps store looks lucrative. Access to the major eastern markets (125 countries and counting!) and the fact that all Samsung devices come with the app installed by default make it interesting, especially when Samsung claim that their store uses a special algorithm to assess a bunch of data and offer intelligently tailored recommendations for the user (on the surface, however, it appears to recommend the same old suspects).
If you want to get your game on Galaxy Apps, there is a submission process to get your app certified which can be a bit slow and the developer portal isn't very friendly - at least that's what I've found - but once that is done and your game has been published, your game could potentially do very well.
This next site is not perhaps as well known or as popular as the previous ones I've mentioned, but it has 40,000+ apps and games available and their app actually comes pre-installed on a number of devices from smaller/cheaper manufacturers. That alone makes it worth considering as it's an instant market for your game.
Another great thing about the AppsLib marketplace is that it permits users to use PayPal to buy your game, and uploading and selling your games through their devloper portal is relatively easy and hassle-free. One thing to consider though, is that they are one of the few sites to offer a dedicated "Adults Only" section (PIN protected so kids can't access it, supposedly), which may put some users off the site, and it also has a very clear focus on Tablets rather than general mobile devices.
Sign up to AppsLib here: http://appslib.com/developers/index.html
This store is a bit different to the others as it doesn't only focus on Android apps. Basically, Itch.io is a Web-based games marketplace where indie developers can offer up their games for download. The store is normally accessed via the Web on a PC, but there is an Android-specific area of the the storefront where you can a purchase and download many interesting games.
So why am I including Itch.io in this short list? The site is really nicely designed and laid out and it has search and filter options which are better than most of the previous stores I've mentioned too. It also has a dedictaed user base that are actively looking for new and innovative Indie titles, making it less likely that your game will sink and not find at least a small audience, especially if it's a niche title.
Another reason to recommend it is that not only can developers upload their games easily, they also get to control exactly how much money Itch.io gets on purchases. There is also a dedicated Itch.io Android app that gives an overview of purchases, downloads, page views, and other useful metrics.
Sign up to Itch.io here: https://itch.io/register
There are probably hundreds of other Android markets that I could have mentioned here, but these are the ones I myself have published to and have tested out for reliability and safety. So, if you want to consider publishing outside of the Google Play ecosystem, these rae great places to start, and you can always find others with a bit of Google-fu! However, it's important to note that not all sites you'll find mentioned in other articles listing Android stores are actually safe, and at least two that I have investigated after being recommended to check them out from other sources have tried to install ad-ware on my PC. So, while the Android market is far larger than you may think, you need to consider carefully whether you want to take the time and effort (and risk) required to sell through these other portals before taking the plunge. If you do though, you could find it incredibly rewarding!