Google Play's Promo Codes are Good for Android Gamers

Why Google Play's new promo codes could make Android gaming better

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Google has recently made a major change to Google Play, allowing developers to give out promo codes for apps and in-app purchases. This could have a big impact on Android gamers as it addresses a key deficiency that Android developers have had in comparison to iOS.

Let It Be Free

For the longest time, if developers wanted to give out copies of their Android game, they couldn't do so through the Google Play store. They'd have to either provide direct access to the game's APK/OBB files, or through an alternate storefront. And many developers don't like just giving out the game's files right away because of potential piracy issues – just having an APK floating around, especially prerelease, can be frightening, even with respected outlets and publications. Now, developers can safely give out promo codes for games and even in-app purchases, up to 500 per quarter

Android Matters Too

There are many reasons why many of the leading mobile gaming websites are iOS-first. This is in part because many of the founders of leading sites were big Apple fans to begin with or have connections to Mac websites. As well, iOS gaming got its start well before Android gaming did, so that's where the communities and enthusiasts flocked to. And Android's diehard fans have often been centered around rooting and device modification on sites like XDA-Developers' forums. But there is clearly a demand for Android gaming media. After all, there are many more Android devices than iOS ones out there.

But it was difficult for Android gaming media to get a foothold. It's just impractical for many websites to buy every single game they want to cover. While developers can just distribute game files directly, many prefer promo codes. This is because promo codes made for a more secure way to distribute games. Some developers and publishers are quite fine with giving out APKs – even massive ones – while some are terrified to hand them out because they were scared of piracy. While I believe that Android piracy is inevitable no matter what, developers would rather not just send copies of games out without protection to someone they might not completely trust. Still, now that they have the option to distribute them, it should help many websites provide more thorough coverage. 

Give It Away

Directly to the average user, giveaways are now a realistic possibility. When a developer wants to give out free copies of a game, they could just distribute the APK files for it, but this does come with security drawbacks. As well, if they update the game, even going through something like Humble is another hurdle in their procedural process. Now they can easily just give out copies of their game on the biggest Android store there is. Or even hand out free in-app purchase products, like free currency in a free-to-play game. They can't do so in large amounts, but they have the option to do this now.

As well, it's quite possible that things like the Starbucks free app of the week giveaways could come to Android. Now that a system to actually provide these codes is in place, Google could easily enter partnerships with stores, publications, and et cetera to actually provide freebies with ease. And I've found that these kinds of free giveaways can help developers out immensely.

Unfortunately, there's still limits on how many keys developers can generate. While the numbers are quite generous, especially compared to iOS, and should provide plenty of codes for press coverage and giveaways alike, compare this to something like Steam, where developers can request virtually infinite codes. This allows them to sell on other marketplaces, with the ultimate goal being to bring them back to Steam. While the Android marketplace isn't as segmented as the PC gaming space is, Google would still have a good reason to get developers to drive users to Google Play.

Still Not An Even Playing Field 

The problem with all this is that the App Store era of mobile gaming is seven and a half years old at this point. iOS won, and while Android has made some strides, it's difficult to say that it all turns around just because Google has started offering promo codes. There are major cultural factors beyond just free copies of games that have led to the current state of iOS and Android gaming. And with free-to-play games playing such a huge role on mobile platforms and Android especially, this is all possibly too little, too late. But the lack of promo codes is one big reason why the culture has taken this shape. And if it's going to change and Android gaming going to become something more prominent than it has been, this is a huge sea change for the platform.