Three Ways Google Could Push Adoption of Android Market’s In-App Billing

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[Editor’s note: Charles Hudson is a co-author on our Inside Virtual Goods series of industry reports, a co-founder of Android game developer Bionic Panda Games and a partner at SoftTech VC. Bionic Panda recently began using Google in-app billing, which finally came out to consumers at the end of March after several months of anticipation from the Android developer community. Hudson also used to work at Google on new business development.]

We recently decided to launch Google In-App Billing in our first game, Aqua Pets. As a matter of background, we had been using PayPal to monetize our original game and were beginning to get user requests for support for credit cards. About one week ago, we released Google In-App Billing for Aqua Pets and decided to see how it would perform.

Our one major reservation with moving forward with Google in-app billing was the relationship between the 30 percent commission and what we anticipated the payment-enabled customer audience to be. While we don’t develop for the iOS platform, there are two compelling reasons why we think the 30 percent that Apple takes makes sense:

  • Apple has over 200 million credit cards on file already, so they’re bringing a large payment-enabled audience to application developers and they have every right to charge for access to that audience.
  • Apple kept alternative options off the platform from the very early days, which meant that just about everyone had to live with the same constraints around what they could and could not used to monetize. This is markedly different from other platforms, such as Facebook

After a week of using Google In-App Billing, we decided to dive into some of the data for our first week of paying users. Google does pass a field called “Account Age” that allows you to determine how long a given user who successfully transacts has had a payment-enabled Google Checkout account. We ran the data on our first batch of paying customers to determine the distribution of account age and charted the data below:

This is an admittedly small sample size of transactions and Google In-App Billing has only been publicly available for less than a month. However, what was of particular interest to us was the dark blue slice — nearly 25 percent of the users who transacted have had Google Checkout payment capabilities for less than a week and a meaningful number of them had account ages of 0 or 1, which means they essentially enrolled in Checkout to purchase in our application. Another 21 percent had only had payment capabilities in Checkout for less than a month, still relatively new to the world of spending money on applications through Google.

We really do want to see Google In-App Billing succeed and succeed quickly — it would be good for anyone building paid or free applications on the Android platform. If I were trying to drive broad adoption, there are three things Google could do and they are not mutually exclusive:

1. Compensate application developers who are enrolling net new Google Checkout customers: One way in which Google could make In-App Billing more attractive to developers would be to pay developers who enroll net-new Google Checkout customers. A small bounty of $5 to 10 per activated account would be interesting for most developers and would give the community a stronger incentive to push it more aggressively to users. A bounty of that size would be inline with what other payment options, namely PayPal, have paid historically to activate new users. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for Google to consider compensating developers who are helping to acquire customers.

2. Make Google In-App Billing mandatory for all application developers and enforce it: One other way to drive more broad adoption of In-App Billing is to strictly enforce usage of Google’s In-App Billing as a required and perhaps exclusive way to pay for in-app purchases across the network of applications in the Google Android Market. I do think that having end-users consistently see the Google Checkout experience across applications will make it feel more familiar and help hopefully grow the base of payment-enabled users. Having a standardized, simple, consistent way to checkout and buy things in apps that feels familiar to all users would be a net benefit for the platform.

3. Waive all of the fees for the rest of the year: One objection that developers have to rolling out Google In-App Billing is the 30 percent commission that Google is charging. There’s a simple solution to that — just remove it for the remainder of 2011. Yes, it will cost Google money. But zero-cost transaction processing is attractive to every developer out there and would likely spur some of the folks sitting on the fence to integrate in-app billing into their apps and encourage users to use it. They can reinstate fees in 2012 with a larger base of installed users and a happier set of developers who’ve seen the benefits of using in-app billing in their own applications.

At the end of the day, it’s Google’s platform and they’re free to do what they choose. But enabling platform-level in-app payments should be a priority and everyone will benefit when the solution is more widely used.