Why there are no good mtg free apps for Android?

This lack of good apps for this game may be astonishing at first. Magic is a popular game and Android is a popular platform. You should expect a few good mtg apps. WotC (Wizards of the coast, the makers of the game) is going to release an official app soon, but that has not been the case for the past years, so why there are no good free mtg apps?

Well, the fact is that there were good Android mtg apps, not to long ago M:tG Tracker was a free app and you could upgrade to the paid version. The app was as good as to get 3rd place on the Best Reference category of Best App Ever 

And that was not the only one. There were a few more, like MtG Tutor with a lot of features including a very good advanced search or MtG Depot with a very nice interface. Also, on the paid side there was Deck Forge, which had a lot of features and, I’ll admit it, took the lead of innovation in many aspects before I did.

But all those apps are no longer there, and the reason is that WotC have sent copyright infringement notices to google, asking  to remove them. Why now? The only reason I can think of is that they are going to release their own app and they want to wipe out competition.

Why making a better product if you can have “the only alternative”?

Let me clarify that.

Don’t take me wrong, there were material from WotC and is their right to claim the suspension of apps, but up to now this apps were made with good will, and were adding value to their product. Also, there was never the intention to talk, none of the developers of those apps were warned or given a chance to remove the copyrighted material from their apps.

Also, I’ve seen the screenshots and the app looks promising, so I don’t think they are going to do a bad product. But why should you risk your market share anyway? Maybe for the sake of more than 200.000 people that were using apps that are no longer available while the official alternative has not been released yet.

Make no mistake, WotC is not releasing the official app to help players, it is going to do it to make money. That is the only conclusion I can reach from their actions.

At this point: Why is M:tG Tracker (formerly pro version) still available?

When I got the free version suspended, I went through the app and I removed all the copyrighted material, the fonts, the mana icons, the tap icons, etc. with the hope that it will prevent that one from being suspended… it has worked so far.

I am trying to clarify what exactly can be put and what can not, and also asking for the procedure of licensing the material so I don’t have to worry about it in the future. While this is not settled, I can not afford to continue with the features I had in mind, risking that all that work may be trashed at anytime.

Thanks to all the users that have been supporting me and the other developers. If someone asks you “Why are no good mtg free apps for Android?” you can now tell them why.

Book Review: Learning Android by O’Reilly

I approach any Android book with low expectations. The ecosystem is changing too quickly and too often that is impossible for a traditional media like printed books to catch up properly. However, I gave this one a try.

Of course, there is no mention to the Compatibility Library, the Action Bar or Fragments, which are Honeycomb / ICS specific. I should have been shocked if there were, because they are very new, but I consider them myself the starting point of Android development as of today.

On the other hand, development up to Gingerbread is very well structured, starting with the basics of Activities and Layouts to keep going quite deep onto Services and Content Providers. They go even further, talking about Aidl and NDK, which I had no need to use yet, but it is good to have them referenced.

There are two variants of introductory technical books: the ones that teach you general concepts, and the ones that are structured around an example. I personally prefer the second type, it helps me seeing real applications of what I am learning and is easier to focus on the content. This book is one of those, which I think is one of its best points.

I recommend the book to get an overview of Android or as your first Android book. It will serve you for quite long in the learning process -I even learned a couple of new tricks myself-. But if you want to be a really good android developer you want to complement the lessons of the book with the Compatibility Library, the Action Bar and Fragments.

Why piracy in Android is not that important

Many people complain about piracy on software. A lot of mobile developers complain about piracy on Android. I was never too worried myself, this is why.

It is true, piracy exists. As a matter of fact, when we launched Chalk Ball at The Pill Tree, it got cracked in a couple of weeks. We were checking for blog reviews at a time and we found it, so it was even easy to find.

Cracking an Android app is not very complicated, but it is not trivial either. If someone takes the effort to do it, it means you are already in the way to succeed. Having your apps cracked is something to be proud of. So if it happens to you, don’t get angry, be proud of your work.

The cracked version was almost complete, just facebook integration was broken. There you have a tip: Since the signature can not be recreated, If you want your app to be really hard to crack, use facebook single sign in to login into your app.

Now think about the effort the user has to make to install an app from somewhere that is not Android Market.

First you have to seek and check an option labeled “Unknown Sources”. Many users will not do that, simply because is scary, and it is true, you are installing apps from untrusted sources anyway, if they cracked a game they can put a trojan inside it as well, right?

Secondly, downloading it and installing from your Android device is usually not trivial, you may need to download it in your computer, copy it to the sdcard, and then open a file browser to install it. Not complicated, but long and boring.

It is all about the cost of opportunity. If someone is about to install an application from an unknown distributor on the internet -having a free version that is enough for a few hours of play- and the process is going to take you more time than using the official channel, to save scarcely 2$, then is not a lost sale. This person was not going to buy it anyway.

Given that the problem with mobile games is mainly the visibility, each install -even if it is from a piracy source- is going to help you. That person is going to show the app to other people, and since there was an extra effort required, he is more likely to show it than those who just downloaded the free version. In the end, it is some sort of advertising.

These are my reasons to state that it is not a lost sale, and also that it is some sort of advertising. However, you may not be convinced by my arguments, then I’ll tell you about the ultimate tool to battle piracy on Android. Ready?

It is called the GetJar Gold program. They give paid applications for free, and you know what? They pay you per download. Sounds crazy, I know, but it works. They are a well known source and they have the latest updates since they work with the developers.

Once your app is part of GetJar Gold, piracy is meaningless. You just need to install their App Store and from there on, you just download the gold apps for free, almost as easily as from Android Market.

Using GetJar has a higher opportunity cost for a user than using the market, but less than downloading an apk from the Internet. So still, many people will get your app from Android Market. You are offering the people that is up to make an extra effort to get the app for free a legal alternative to piracy.

Everyone wins, piracy loses.

A big elephant enters the room

Let me talk about one of my favorite projects: Magic TG Tracker, it is the most popular Android App for Magic the Gathering in both the paid and the free version, here is Magic TG Tracker in Android Market if you feel curious about it.


Yesterday we had shocking news, Wizards of the Coast announced an “Official app”. For those who don’t know it, they are the guys that make the real game, and they already have a couple of computer versions as well.

Many users asked me how I felt about it either on the facebook page of the app or by mail. It took me a while to put my thoughts in order, since there were lots of them.

First, I think is good to have competition, that always pushes products to the next level. Maybe there is going to be a bit unfair, since Wizards is a big company and Platty Soft is only one person, but I still believe I can build a better product. They also have the brand support and they can do any type of in-house marketing that I can’t, but we’ll see.

Secondly, they are announcing their iPhone app, the android one will follow. This can take quite some time, and building an app like Magic TG Tracker from scratch is not a small task, if they are going to build it after the iPhone one is published I will expect a few months to get it out. During this time people is going to search more for Android apps for Magic, and that is good for me.

But what really intrigues me is the purpose of Wizards, let me explain. There are two main reasons why -in their position- you may want to have an official app.

  1. Improve brand perception
  2. Generate profit

Let’s analyze them, its when things become interesting.

Their app is going to be free, but they are going to charge for the updates with the new sets. So it seems they are trying to make profit.

Magic TG Tracker is the most successful app of his type. It has even been in the top50 of Tools in the market. It is been nominated to best reference app of 2011, you can vote for it. Yet the income I get from it is not enough to make a living out of it.

What I mean is that the income for this app is going to barely pay for the development, even if it generates money, it is not going to be a significant amount for a company like Wizards. I may be wrong and the brand of Wizards will make the app have much more downloads than I do, but allow me to doubt it. More than 200.000 installations are quite a lot, few apps have more than 250.000. The next free app is not even at 50.000 downloads.

And this leads me to the final point. If the app is not going to generate a significant revenue for Wizards, they should keep it completely free and use it a tool to improve the brand perception. I think they are a victim of the gold rush of the apps.

Even facebook and twitter have their official apps, yet there are others, and many people prefer to use them.

I am not afraid of losing my user base. I know they like the app, and I am keen on improving it farther, and I will keep working on it. I’ll let you know if the impact in the amount of users and downloads when they release the app, in the meantime, version 4.0.2 has just been published and 4.1 is going to be on the works on Monday.

Speaking at Appsterdam Lunchtime Lectures

On January 11th Raul Portales (@sla_shalafi) will be speaking at the Appsterdam Wednesday Weekly Lunchtime Lectures (WWLL). The talk title is “The Road to Publish”.

For  more details you can check it on meetup.

From having an idea to publish an app there are many things to consider and a lot of potential pitfalls.

The talk starts putting down the myth that you actually need an idea to continue about topics that go from product engineering to project management (even for small teams) and other common topics to software development and “appcrafting”.

Hope to see you there.