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Notes from adding in-app billing to my Android app (crazyviraj.blogspot.com)
13 points by psychotik 2195 days ago | hide | past | web | 12 comments | favorite

Google's lack of responsiveness to bug reports in general is really perplexing. I can understand it might take them time to address things, that they are busy and have other priorities, etc. But the manner in which they deal with bug reports is so terse and dismissive I find it insulting. Bugs with a huge number of people following and explaining in detail the problem will get ignored, closed with zero comments, closed with 4 words of meaningless comment, etc. Just to give an example -


It seems to me that they created the bug reporting system and then put nobody in charge of monitoring it or maintaining it and most likely no one has authority to even respond to half these bugs, except top people like Romain Guy who consider it beneath them. This is really burning a lot of good will in some of Google and Android's most enthusiastic supporters.

One of the downfalls of only hiring the best and brightest is that those people like building new stuff, not fixing obscure bugs. Maintenance programming might not be a sexy profession, but it's absolutely necessary.

It's really odd. I'm following critical Android bugs from 2008 that haven't been touched by a developer. And minor bugs that a developer's commented on/scolded the "me too!"s on. And a bunch of bugs that are duped all over the place.

They really could use a good, thorough, old fashioned bug scrub with QA and maintenance teams heavily involved/leading the charge. Cleaning up the bug database is a daunting no-fun task, for sure, but it looks terrible to outsiders and bug triage is a perfect place for new employees (junior developers, QA, and support staff) to get their feet wet while they still lack the emotional attachment...it's the perfect bootcamp.

The stats on this would be fascinating, too - for instance, I'd love to know the percentage of dupes. :)

Conversely, making senior developers responsible for triaging bugs straight from the public (and doing first line support for some of these, which does appear to happen from time to time) can lead to some serious burnout.

The worst problem here is one of PR. Google should at least pay some nice friendly intern to sit down and go through each bug and write a "Thanks for reporting this, we appreciate your time and I'll try and get the right person to look at it" type comment, with periodic, "Sorry there's been no progress on this, we're really busy as you can understand" - totally meaningless, but costs almost nothing and completely changes the feel of the discussion. Obviously they should do much better, but a token PR effort would be a nice minimum.

So, one question I have is how much does in-app billing improve the bottom line of your app? Does in-app purchase really make a free app more profitable than a straight up paid app or how does it compare?

I haven't seen much data myself on these kind of comparisons, so I'm quite curious.

Don't know yet, still working on getting this released. I'll update this thread (or, more likely, do another blog post) once I have some analytics. I'm also interested in what sort of failure rates I see for Market transactions. I'm definitely approaching this from a "testing the waters" perspective, given how new it all is.

I can't provide a comparison between paid vs. in-app, as our app is free, but here's our experience so far:

We've had in-app billing in place since mid-April. The income is helpful as any income is, but so far income from in-app purchases does not outstrip customer support and server costs (we do our own support, so factor in that for a small startup, you could be actually developing new features and improving the product vs. answering questions, handling refunds, having to dance like a marionette to get someone at Google to look at a critical billing bug).

Luckily, we do have an iOS app as well to subsidize the Android side of the house...but money doesn't buy time in this market, unfortunately.

Our cancellation rate is 20%. That is, for every 100 purchases, there are 20 cancellations for various reasons.

We suspected this outcome going into it, so this was not really a big deal to us - any offset to the support and maintenance costs is a boon, in our opinion, and keeping our users happy is important - Android users were bummed about missing the extra features, so we made it so.

We had a few hitches right out of the box with purchases getting lost (https://code.google.com/p/marketbilling/issues/detail?id=14), but we're able to help users around that if we're lucky enough that they contact us about it.

For the past week, however (right before the June 15th maintenance), Android Market isn't sending purchase status back to a subset of users, resulting in users paying multiple times for products that never get delivered (https://code.google.com/p/marketbilling/issues/detail?id=32).

So our revenues are going up! Except they're not, and I'm spending two hours a day dealing with angry customers who think we're thieves and ferreting through the Merchant Center trying to pre-emptively catch these broken transactions before a customer sees they were charged $20 bucks for a $1.99 feature because they didn't think the purchase took. Some of them I won't be able to catch unless they contact us, as it's not uncommon for people to use multiple credit cards with different names on them.

The fact that it's nearly impossible to get Google's attention on this is incredibly distressing. I've commented on bugs, reported it multiple times to the Merchant Center (our case has been forwarded "to a specialist"), reported it via the Market Publisher site form, posted a forum message...why is it so hard to get Google's attention on something like this? Don't their fancy algorithms pick up on the fact that in-app revenue has jumped up across the board? It's one thing that users aren't able to purchase (that sucks), but an entirely different thing if users are able to purchase 20 times, but never get what they paid for.

To be honest, in-apps really aren't seeming very worth the risk. I am hoping they work to change this, but it seems pretty bleak right now.

That's great feedback - your sentiment regarding Google's apathy seems to be evident in all the bug reports, as was a big red flag to me like I mentioned in my post.

Are you losing users, or do users understand after they contact you? Just curious if you're bleeding customers because of Google's problems. At some point, if Google doesn't fix this, I assume this is going to make you rollback your in-app purchases.

Not currently, our users are pretty awesome, on the whole, we're really lucky in that respect. I actually haven't gotten much feedback from those who've contacted us (I've been following up to get more detail about their OS, Market version, etc - in case there's a common thread that I could post along with the issue reports), but I think once they get their refund, they go on their way...

The real problem are the users that never contact us about it and just leave negative reviews...it's super common for users to leave angry reviews, but never contact you to give you a chance to fix it and there's no way to tie a review to a customer, I guess I could contact every "Ashley" that attempted a purchase in the last week...

What's also really odd is that I'm not hearing back from anyone that I pre-emptively refunded. We do have to pay transaction fees for refunds, not sure how/if/whether Google will do anything about this. Likely the large number of refunds will bot-flag us as a "bad app." Oy.

I wrote @timbray to get attention on those bugs - maybe you can too?

Will try it, but he hasn't responded to other queries from folks on Twitter about very important things re:Android developers, but I guess it's worth a try. Just had to refund a bunch more today. Thanks for the tip!

I think I have a hack that'll save you commission on refund. Follow/DM me on Twitter and I can share.

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