Google I/O: 10 rules to follow if you want your app featured on Google Play

With over 600,000 Android apps available, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. One of the most reliable ways to drive downloads is landing one of the coveted featured positions in the Google Play store, but until now the company has remained quiet on the guidelines it uses to determine if an app qualifies for an Editor’s Choice designation.

At last week’s Google I/O conference developer advocate Dan Galpin and senior developer advocate Ian Lewis offered some pointers Android developers can follow to increase their chances of getting featured on Google Play.

First and foremost, developers should ensure their app supports high resolution, meaning they need need to be presented in at least 720p.  Lewis and Galpin also say developers shouldn’t run Compatibility Mode on the Honeycomb Android OS, as the enlarged graphics don’t look quite so crisp.

Developers also shouldn’t “mess with” or remove the default Android buttons on a screen. These buttons can have their brightness reduced to the point where they’re practically invisible in the midst of gameplay, and developers should instead follow the “principle of least disruption.” An example of this in action was the Back button, which should pause a title when it’s pressed during gameplay. From here developers can have have the button show options dialog or move to a previous screen, while pressing the button at the initial UI screen should dismiss the app.

Meanwhile, developers should also ensure their title provides a painless user experience. Part of this involves “respecting the lifestyle”, which means an Android title shouldn’t wake up and start playing sound even while the Android device is locked. Instead, games and apps should stop playing sound as soon as they are paused and shouldn’t start playing audio until the user resumes the app. Likewise, apps should have minimal permissions, and aren’t likely to be featured on Google Play if they do things like change wi-fi settings, read/write information from users contacts and calendars or send and receive SMS messages (as this allows developers to bill users without the users’ awareness).

Apps need to be reliable in order to be featured, too. According to Galpin and Lewis, the easiest way to ensure this is to test an app on as many Android devices as possible, since GPU hardware differs between different models and there are often bugs on different drivers. Reliability is also important for in-app payments, too, as it’s tough to recommend a title that’s unable to keep track of purchases and deliver the content that’s being paid for.

Galpin and Lewis’s final piece of advice for developers who have made a great game is to localize the title into as many languages as possible, since it will increase discoverability. If a studio doesn’t have the resources to translate their app into many languages, then they should focus on English and Korean, as Korean Android users particularly enjoy games on the platform.

There are also three quick ways to ensure that an app will not be featured on Google Play. First is to use a payment provider other than Google itself. Second, an app shouldn’t download other apps because, according to Galpin, “Google Play is not a place for you to distribute your own app store.” Finally, bribing customers with in-game rewards for five-star reviews is considered the worst offense by the editorial team and no game that does this will ever be featured by the editorial team. That said, developers are encouraged to ask for and are allowed to incentivize feedback, they just can’t set conditions demanding positive ratings.

Both Galpin and Lewis acknowledged their talk was by no means a definite set of rules, but they explained the criteria they were covering were the basic milestones Google’s editorial team looked for when evaluating apps.