Yesterday, Peter Vesterbacka from Rovio Mobile created a flutter with his remark that "paid content just doesn’t work on Android". Rovio Mobile is the highly acclaimed developer of Angry Birds, which has literally taken the world by storm. However, his comments didn’t sit well with many Android fans, who have been pointing out that Rovio didn’t even try the premium app route before opting for the ad-supported freeware option.
We reached out to Ludovic Vialle, CEO of LevelUp Studio. LevelUp Studio is one of the very few high quality publishers who have opted to limit themselves to Android. Beautiful Widgets has been consistently topping the Android Market charts (for paid apps), while Plume (previously Touiteur) has won the adoration of many a Twitter user. Having tried both the premium and the freemium business model, Vialle is uniquely qualified to comment on the state of the Android ecosystem.
Me: Why Android? Most publishers believe that the real money is in iOS. LevelUp Studio is amongst the very few publishers who have opted for an Android only strategy. What prompted this?
LV: Android was really new when I started to work on it, paid applications were just added to the Market, and I just had a feeling that being the first on a new platform could be a big opportunity. Before that I was an early iPhone user, but I started to dislike Apple’s methods of having everything closed in their eco-system. I was attracted by the different approach from Google with Android.
Me: How big an issue is fragmentation for Android developers? Moving forward, do you see fragmentation getting worse or getting better?
LV: Fragmentation has never been a problem, you just need to think and develop a little more in some rare cases, but otherwise Google did an incredible job to make it possible for everything to work without really paying attention to fragmentation.
Me: In an interview, Peter Vesterbacka from Rovio Mobile (developer of Angry Birds) claimed that Nobody has been successful selling content on Android. I suppose that as a company with multiple paid apps LevelUp Studio will have something to say about that. Vesterbacka also remarked that Paid content just doesn’t work on Android. What is your perspective on paid apps for Android?
LV: I can say that paid applications can be successful, I cannot really compare with iOS because we do not have equivalents applications on the platform. Beautiful Widgets has been the #1 paid application on the market for almost a year (with the exception of a new application occasionally borrowing the first place for a few days), and it certainly helps. Also people do like customizing their devices, and Android is the king of customization. You can make a lot of money from Android, quality and continued support/development is the key.
LevelUp Studio started as a hobby, and now we are an independent software producer, with three employees (two developers + my wife who assists me mid-time in paperwork) and myself. We will probably expand in the future, very soon, at this rate.
Me: Recently you made the full version of Plume (previously Touiteur), supported by advertisements, available for free in the market. What prompted this change? Based on initial results how has this affected the bottom-line?
LV: Previously we were using a Freemiumconcept, a free applications and a Premium version with more features, but to be honest, the revenues were not the same as Beautiful Widgets, very far from it, and developing Plume (Touiteur) was costing more money that it would provide.
So we decided to test advertisements and see how it works, we paid attention not to disturb the users, that was our priority, so we went with 140Proof, which is an incredible partner. In the end, the advertisements are not invasive, and they are providing really interesting content (not ringtones or antivirus advertisements that we are used to seeing). On the other hand, free users with advertisements now benefit from all of the premium features, and premium users don’t get advertisements.
I do not have the numbers yet, but I am confident that it will cover our costs at the very least.
Me: The general perception is that ad-supported free apps work better than paid apps in the Android market. What does your experience suggest?
LV: Unfortunately we do not have enough experience on this yet, but if properly implemented, it can certainly be an interesting model, but not necessarily for everyone. I have feedback from some Android developers who are saying that advertisements are not working at all, and they are going to leave that model. I tend to think that a paid only model with a good application/game could be interesting too (with no lite version).
Me: Both as a developer and a user of Android, what is your take on the recently introduced 15 minute refund window?
LV: As a user and developer: it is too short, sometimes we do not even have the time to understand how an application works within the stipulated time. People are not able to really test and quickly take the decision to refund before the end of the refund window. I think that one or two hours could work, but I understand that it might not be a good solution for game developers. Maybe this could be a developer setting?
Me: What is the one big limitation of the Android Market that you believe is hurting developers?
LV: The lack of a desktop version. I know this is coming, and hope that it will help people to choose applications. Also the limited payment methods (credit card only) .
Me: What is the one thing about Android that you love the most?
LV: Customizations, you can make your phone your own phone. I can even make my phone remain silent when I sleep, automatically! So many possibilities!
Me: Finally, what are you guys currently working on? What can we expect from LevelUp Studio in 2011?
LV: We are working on improving Beautiful Widgets (with some big updates coming soon) and Plume because there is always room for improvement. We will probably be starting a new project in 2011, but we will see how we perform at that moment and if we can afford to do it!