Google is slowly opening up the Play Store’s billing policies. The “user choice billing” pilot program that was announced in March is now accepting sign-ups. Google describes the program in a support article, saying, “This pilot is designed to test offering an alternative billing option next to Google Play’s billing system and to help us explore offering this choice to users. We are looking to gain feedback in different countries and ensure we can maintain a positive user experience.”
Developers interested in billing through an alternative provider can fill out Google’s sign-up form, and it sounds like Google will manually review each application. Currently the supported regions are the European Economic Area (that’s Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden), Australia, India, Indonesia, and Japan.
Google won’t let developers use the pilot program for games—the biggest money makers—but only for apps.
With “user choice billing,” when a user hits the checkout system, a box will pop up asking if they want to use Google Play billing or some other third-party service. (This list of choices must include Google Play billing.) In the European Economic Area, however, developers already have the option not to not use Google Play billing at all, thanks to the EU’s Digital Markets Act.
Barring a few promotional tiers, Google and Apple both take around 30 percent not just for purchases of newly downloaded apps but also for digital purchases inside already downloaded apps. Many developers view these fees as excessive, and the push inside both ecosystems to allow third-party billing was originally pitched as a solution to high app store fees. Various regulatory bodies have forced the Google/Apple app store duopoly to open up payments, but Google and Apple have each done so without fixing the core problem of high app store fees. Apple takes a 27 percent cut of purchases processed outside the app store—basically the original 30 percent fee minus the typical 3 percent processing fee charged by credit card companies. Google is doing something similar with this new program and will only reduce its fees by 4 percent.
You’ll still need to pay some kind of fee to your third-party payment processor, so with only a 4 percent reduction from Google, developers won’t really save money. Sign-ups are open now though, if you’re interested!