Life Counter and the Android Market

29 Aug 2009
Tags: Android and LifeCounter

Back in March, I tried writing something on the Google Android platform, and released improvements over the next month. LifeCounter, a small app to keep track of the history in a Magic the Gathering game, has now been released for almost six months. As I don’t work on LifeCounter anymore, this is a postmortem.

Android Market’s user comments are equivalent to those on Youtube.

There was begging for a YuGiOh version. There were two star comments saying that this was great work. There were a lot of comments that were just incoherent. Here are two of my favorite worst comments on the free version of Life Counter:

This is AWESOME! Too bad none of us will ever get a girlfriend :( (Five stars)

would have been useful 10 years ago(and the phone). No more stealing back packs for me. (Five stars)


People will not pay for polish.

If there’s a free app on the Android Market that does anything remotely similar to what you’re planning to write, I urge you to simply not bother. At the time of initial release, there were two apps that tracked life in Magic. One was simply a background image with large, aliased purple text on it and no obvious way to change the score (you had to tap above and below the number). The other was two numbers (which were different sizes), again with no obvious way to use it (you had to slide up and down on the number).

I arrogantly believed that this would be easy. I just had to build something that was user friendly and then polish it until it shined. Add a log of all changes to the score. Support 2-4 players. Look pretty with different colors, rounded corners, et cetera. I spent significant time on small details and subtle behaviours.

Immediately after I released it as a paid product, I got an email accusing me of swindling people off because it didn’t do anything substantially different. I pointed out all the additional features and UI polish, to no avail. I got a bunch of email in the same vein over LifeCounter’s lifetime.

Over six months, I’ve only sold 104 copies of LifeCounter. It has been a commercial failure. People simply don’t pay for quality, at least in this market.

One bad review can sink your app.

Over the lifetime of the paid app, I had 15 five star rating and 1 four star rating. And then I got a 1 star review on August 1st. Here’s what happend to sales:

Graph of Sales

The review retreads the demonstrably false claim that LifeCounter has no features above its free competition. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter if it’s false. It’s now the first user comment people see, and it’s obviously affected sales per above. It’s also likely to stay at the top for a long time. Fewer new sales means a smaller pool of people to actually write reviews that would push this lie off the top.

What should you do?

As much as it pains me to say this, as I love the Android platform, I wouldn’t recommend people invest the time to write commercial software for it. I may write more utilities for Android (or port rlvm once the NDK is more complete), but I will probably never do anything expecting to profit from my software on this platform.