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Nine Things That Could Make the App Stores Better

I have been on a rant lately, but I think this is really important. Instead of complaining about the app stores, I want this post to be a more positive approach of offering ideas that I think could make them better.

And the skies will part
And the skies will part

First of all, I think the app stores are amazing. The original app store was particularly amazing four years ago, but I don’t think anyone thought that apps would essentially become the primary method for people to obtain their information and be entertained. With that in mind, both Apple and Google essentially need to recreate many of the mechanisms that the Internet has had 20 years to perfect.

I think the basic flaw with the app stores is that Apple took what they developed for iTunes music and adapted it for apps. From there, Google basically copied what Apple created, so we essentially have two of the same approaches. The problem with this is that music has built in discovery via Pandora, Spotify, satellite radio, terrestrial radio, etc., so while you can browse iTunes, most people already know what they want to buy. Games do not have this luxury. With that in mind, here are my nine ideas for making the app stores better.

  • 1. Allow the store listings to have analytics and A/B tests similar to web pages. Developers are flying blind and have no idea if their sales text is working.
  • 2. Sales Leaderboards are not the best measure of the best games. Top Grossing is an especially strange leaderboard that could be exposed to developers, but is not really relevant to players. I know people have a passing interest in top grossing movies or books, but I don’t think that is the most relevant discovery mechanism for how people choose to consume those items. However, in the app stores, it is essentially the only mechanism for making decisions.
  • 3. Use analytics signals for leaderboards. This would be things like how many times a game is played during the day or how much time is spent on it. This would allow leaderboards such as what is the most played game, this instant.
  • 4. Create better game taxonomies, categories, and tags, so it is much, much easier to browse by clicking around. RPG, boom a bunch of games. Roguelike, boom less games. Pixel Art, boom, even less games. Wait, there’s Heroes of Loot, that looks interesting.
  • 5. Allow me to opt in so I can see what games my friends are playing and so my friends can make recommendations to me.
  • 6. Have better Leaderboards, and back end support. Google does not even have this, and Game Center is not as good as it should be. This helps with virality.
  • 7. Confirm users that rate games own the game in a much more strict fashion so the ratings cannot be gamed. A simple solution would be to make sure the player has played X minutes or several times before they are allowed to submit a rating for review.
  • 8. As I mentioned before, run the stores as a backend distribution system so there can be many, niche stores. These sanctioned stores can be officially allowed on the phones. An affiliate fee would be paid to the stores and the money would come out of the 30% fee the stores are charging developers. Of course, Apple and Google could keep their stores, but having more options would be a good thing. For instance, a really great Educational/Family store or a nichy RPG store.
  • 9. Have a more Netflix like recommendation engine. I know that is not perfect either, but it is way better than Genius. When was the last time you used Genius?
  • 10. Once the sales leaderboards are not the definitive list of the “best games” (at least in Apple’s mind), then they would not have to worry about services like AppGratis. Those kind of curation services would be viewed no differently than how the Internet views Woot.com, with its amazing deal per day.
  • Anyway, these are the ideas I have off the top of my head. Do you have any more ideas? Also, the idea that you need to make a great game has already been thought of.

    -Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
    Make It Big In Games <–p.s. this is a joke. You can’t make it big in games, you do it because you love it!

  • http://www.aboveground.com AbovegroundDan

    I’m not sure on the analytics stuff, since some of that info you can get yourself in other ways, but you definitely hit on something with 7, rating games. But I think you can go farther and say that the ranking algorithms have to be changed, as they are constantly gamed via download bots and other methods.

    I dont like the idea of more stores, though. It’s causing confusion on the Android side, and developer headaches having to release to different stores with different requirements.

    I’m glad to see this discussion start up again. The App Stores have been broken for a long time and they’re about due a revamp. As someone who’s released half a dozen apps in the last 4 years and had to take on client work to actually pay the bills, I’m near giving up on the consumer side and just focus on contract work.

    • TedHoward

      Do Amazon affiliate links confuse users like multiple app stores? That’s how app stores should work. He’s not talking about having multiple catalogs of apps, just exposing the one single catalog of apps in new ways – a website cataloging great rpgs as he said, a “Jeff Tunnell’s Awesome Game of the Day” blog, something like thewirecutter.com for apps, …

      Real analytics would be awesome. At Breaktime, I remember how surprised I was when I found out what app makers had to do to just to buy CPI campaigns. Think of how powerful it could be to A/B test different screenshots for game apps.

      • http://www.aboveground.com AbovegroundDan

        If you’re talking about analytics as far as figuring out where your traffic & purchases came from, then yes, I think those are desperately needed.

        But where would these other app stores live? As separate apps? Websites (already exist, and are useless)?

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      Ted has it right. The app store would still handle the back end, billing, hosting, downloading, etc. The front end is all that would change. You could imagine maybe adding some additional data for the new stores. They might make it way easier to compile reviews for instance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=597336634 Eric Boosman

    really great ideas in here, Jeff.

  • http://www.twitter.com/travisirby Travis Irby

    Agree completely with every single point! Here’s hoping someone at google and apple is listening…