Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

10 November 2023
Reading: 6 min

Over the past 24 hours, waves of discussion, outrage, and even outright anger have swept through various forums and communities related to Google Play and app development. This is in response to news about updates to the store’s policy. Let’s explore what these changes entail and examine their potential impact on developers.

What’s new on Google Play?

On November 9, Google announced a Google Play policy update that could potentially make life more challenging for developers.

In brief:

  • Google is ardently striving to enhance the quality of apps on Google Play.
  • To achieve this, they are rolling out more stringent requirements for all new Developer Console accounts starting November 13, 2023.
  • To apply for production access, each app or new version must undergo a 14-day testing process, either open or closed, with a minimum of 20 testers.
  • Tester selection is open to everyone, not strictly professional QA testers; even family members can serve in this role. However, the testing phase must continue for 14 consecutive days.
  • Following the testing phase, the results should be submitted to the store moderation alongside the app description and all relevant questionnaires.

Developers who regularly use Play’s app testing tools before publishing release higher-quality apps and games, which can lead to higher ratings and more success on Google Play. In fact, apps that use our testing tools have on average 3 times the amount of app installs and user engagement compared to those that don’t.

To help developers reap these benefits, developers with newly created personal Play Console accounts will soon be required to test their apps with at least 20 people for a minimum of two weeks before applying for access to production. This will allow developers to test their app, identify issues, get feedback, and ensure that everything is ready before they launch. Developers who create new personal developer accounts will start seeing this requirement in Play Console in the coming days.

You can read more on the Android Developers Blog and in the help sections of Google itself, for example.

How will this affect indie developers?

Why are we so worried about indie developers specifically? Of course, the update will affect everyone who publishes an app on Google Play. However, it’s the independent teams, startup developers, and small businesses that will have the most difficulty overcoming the new entry barrier, while large companies with engaged audiences will have no trouble conducting testing of any scale. So, what will change for independent teams?

Increased costs in terms of time and resources

The requirement for developers to test their applications with at least 20 people for at least 2 weeks before applying for production access may mean that the team doesn’t have an adequate budget for testers. Even if you consider that you can enroll your entire extended family as testers (Google will support you in this endeavor) — this solution may not be suitable for everyone.

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

Furthermore, this testing has to be done for every new application or updated version. If we’re considering professional testers, this would significantly increase the budget of the developers — accounting for at least 20 monthly salaries. And if it’s about a trial launch of a single app, there might not even be sufficient funds for a one-time test to qualify for Google Play.

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

Stifling innovation and impeding rapid prototyping

A mandatory testing period can prevent developers from quickly iterating and prototyping their ideas. This is especially true for projects that require frequent updates or are in the experimental stage.

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

Barriers for new developers

This requirement can be a hurdle for new developers in the app development ecosystem, especially those still learning the ropes. The obligation to conduct extensive testing with a minimum number of users might discourage them from realizing their ideas or entering the app market due to the perceived (or indeed actual) complexity and time commitment.

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

As pointed out by Reddit users, some apps require specific setups or device types for testing, making it even harder to locate suitable testers.

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

Impact on time-sensitive projects

Some app development projects can be time-sensitive, especially when dealing with seasonal events or focusing on trends. It would be challenging for developers to accomplish two weeks of testing, followed by moderation (which takes an unpredictable amount of time). Trends that are relevant to niches like affiliate marketing, for example, may not last beyond the two-week testing period. This results in missed opportunities and lost profits. Moreover, it can lead to decreased competitiveness in the Android application market.

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

What will change for affiliate marketers?

  1. Most likely, we will see a shift of developers flocking to other platforms, chiefly the App Store, which, although not problem-free, it doesn’t set such a high entry bar. Furthermore, even before these innovations, Google moderators didn’t provide feedback on apps that failed their checks. In contrast, the Apple Store team is willing to explain the issues with your application.
  2. If developers leave Google Play, it’s logical that there will be fewer Android apps, and the cost of buying or renting the remaining ones will likely increase.
  3. Working with situation-specific trends will become much more challenging, assuming such an opportunity even remains. In reality, Android will only maintain a niche for seasonal events, which would require advanced planning and testing.
  4. Competition in the iOS app market will increase as new developers flood this market. Ideally, this is expected to lead to lower prices for iOS development and better quality of the apps themselves due to increased competition.

What else is there to expect?

The question is more rhetorical, although on various forums, users have already started talking about collecting signatures or even starting a class-action lawsuit.

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

Meanwhile, forum threads are filling up with requests to find testers. Less than a day has passed since the announcement.

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

Google Play Update: Test It or Fail It

Most likely, in the near future, we may see a wave of online protests demanding the requirements be softened and the entry threshold for the store lowered. However, if we consider that Google implements such measures to “improve application quality” and “protect users from unscrupulous developers” (such as micro-loan applications in India), it’s unlikely that the update will be rolled back.

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