The new age-rating system will see Android developers completing a questionnaire about their app or game’s content before it is published, rather than simply choosing a rating.
“The developer goes in and takes this single questionnaire, based on the level of content that they have in their app, and at the end of the questionnaire they have the ability to activate ratings for different territories,” Eunice Kim, product manager for Google Play, told the Guardian.
Google has worked with the International Age Rating Coalition and local ratings bodies including the ESRB, PEGI, USK, ClassInd and the Australian Classification Board on the new system.
“Different countries have different ideas of what content is appropriate for kids. We’re going to help developers categorise their apps for the right audience,” said Purnima Kochikar, director of apps and games for Google Play.
Existing apps where developers have not completed the questionnaire will be marked as unrated on the Google Play store, which may mean they are blocked in certain countries. From May, developers submitting new apps or updating older ones will be required to complete the questionnaire.
“It’s pretty much focused on the classic things you think about: sexual content, violent content, drugs and alcohol, and gambling,” said Kochikar. She acknowledged that there are some nuances for individual countries – rules barring content that supports acts of terrorism in Australia for example.
Kochikar also told the Guardian about Google’s new policy of reviewing apps before publishing them on Google Play – a change from the hands-off policy that had been in place since the store’s early days as Android Market.
“A few months ago we began reviewing apps and games before they were published on Google Play to catch policy offenders earlier in the process. This is a new process for us, and it involves a team of experts,” she said.
Google is keen to stress that it does not believe introducing an Apple-style approval process will slow Android developers down as they launch and then update their apps on its store.
“One of the greatest features we have on Play is the ability for developers to iterate quickly and publish quickly. Developers say that is something they truly value,” said Kochikar.
“We have been able to build a system that catches violations early without adding friction for the developers.” Google says that its new approval process works in a matter of hours, rather than days or weeks.
The company is also launching new features to show developers where their app is in the approval process, including more information on why they have been rejected or suspended from the store, to encourage them to fix problems more quickly.
“Usually it’s the simple things: do you have your IP correctly, are you doing something that most people would find egregious, or do you use ads in a very spammy way that takes away from the user experience,” said Kochikar.
“When I talk to developers, I try to teach them more discretion. If you talk to our best developers – the ones who are super-successful in monetisation – I call it an exercise in restraint. They are usually good at creating a good user experience first, rather than just monetising.”
She added that she hopes the new age-ratings system and approval process will help more developers build sustainable businesses with Android, including making it easier for them to go global with their apps in the former case.
Google recently said that it paid out $7bn (£4.7bn) to Android developers in 2014 for apps and games released through Google Play for its billion-strong community of Android users.
That’s less than the $10bn paid out by Apple to iOS developers from a smaller base of users, but Google’s figure shows Android’s growing significance to mobile developers – something that’s reflected in the greater number of apps launching simultaneously on both platforms.
“Even smaller developers are becoming very astute about going global,” said Kochikar, citing London-based developer Space Ape Games as an example, when it took its Samurai Siege mobile game to Japan.
“We worked with them on localisation and provided them with great tools and support, and today 15% of their revenues are coming from Japan,” she said.
The new age-ratings system will, she hopes, take the guesswork out of the process for developers targeting a global audience for their apps and games, without necessarily having the cultural knowledge of varying standards.
“Those standards can be very different, and trying to understand that as a developer can be challenging. We hope this will help them,” she said.
“Right now, we are reaching one billion people in more than 190 countries, and more and more developers – big and small – are building successful businesses on Play. We have really looked at being better business partners for developers.”
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th March 2015 13.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010