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App Rebalancing Guidelines for Amazon Underground

Introduction

One of the great things about submitting your app to Amazon Underground is that as a developer, you do not need to do much work beyond the basic required steps:

  1. Re-build and re-package your app with a new and unique package name.

  2. If your app previously had IAP items, recreate those IAP items and adjust your code to use the new SKUs

  3. Submit your re-packaged app as a new app to the Amazon Appstore.

However, occasionally app developers might find that they can make their apps even more fun and engaging for users by re-balancing their apps in some way for Amazon Underground. While the [Amazon Underground eligibility criteria and design guidelines][underground/amazon-underground-eligibility-and-submission-checklists] currently discourages app re-balancing, Amazon may make exceptions to this guideline in the future.

What is App Rebalancing?

In the context of Amazon Underground, app rebalancing is defined as an app that alters usage for Amazon Underground users beyond providing those users with previously paid-for features and content for free or beyond providing exclusive items or features for Amazon Underground users, all of which need to be called out in the description section of your app's submission package.

Examples of app rebalancing might include the following scenarios:

  • Instead of instantly granting a popular consumable item to users in unlimited free quantities, your Amazon Underground version implements a gating mechanism such as allowing users to only access 5 "magic hammers" per hour.

  • Having Amazon Underground users accumulate "experience points" at a faster or slower rate than non-Underground users.

  • Granting Amazon Underground users 1000 "coins" upon launching the game for the first time.

Requirements for Rebalanced Apps

Customers of your app should perceive the value of the Amazon Underground version to be greater than that of the non-Underground version. Increasing the perceived value of the app can help increase customer loyalty and engagement, which potentially increases the royalties that you receive from the Amazon Underground program. Any rebalancing changes that you make to your app must adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Exclusive Content: Enhancing the user experience, such as exclusive character outfits or tools for Amazon Underground users is a great way to add value to your app. Make sure to call out any new items that you add in the description fields of your app's submission package.

  • Gameplay Changes: When making changes to your game, ensure that the Amazon Underground version provides better value than the non-Underground version.

    • Look-and-feel: Retain the look and feel of the non-Underground version. While you might need to make some modifications, the core game-play experience should feel the same as the non-Underground version of your app. For example, you must include the same popular features and In-App Purchasing (IAP) items that you had in the non-Underground version of your app.

    • Essential IAP items: Do not remove any essential IAP items, levels, or game play from the Amazon Underground version of your app.

    • Extended non-interactive sequences: Do not make changes to your app simply to increase user engagement time and royalty payments without adding value for your users. Modifications such as extending cut-scenes, interstitials, cinematics or other sequences that are passively viewed by a user are not permitted.

    • Game progression: Users playing the Amazon Underground version of a game should be able to progress through the various levels of the game at roughly the same pace as most of your paying non-Underground users who increase their pace of progression via purchasing IAP items. To maintain a consistent look-and-feel, users should not feel like their progress is being penalized by playing the Amazon Underground version.

    • Cool-down periods: Careful use of cool-downs and usage limits for acquiring consumables can help maintain a desirable element of scarcity in the app. However, to maintain long engagement patterns, provide ways for the player to remain meaningfully engaged in some aspects of play even while they wait for timers to expire in other aspects. Long delays and cool-down periods limit overall engagement and are counter-productive to monetization.

  • Advertising: Advertising is allowed in your app or game as long as the non-Underground version also contains the same amount of advertising and does not allow users to pay to remove it.

    • Removing ads: If the non-Underground version of your app contains ads and offers an IAP item to remove the ads, remove both the ads and the appropriate IAP item from the Amazon Underground version.

    • Unlocking IAP items: You must not require a user to watch advertisements to unlock IAP items or other rewards.

  • In-app currency: Many games use a form of in-app currency, such as "coins" that can be used to unlock levels or to purchase weapons, extra lives, or personalization items. Amazon Underground has several guidelines pertaining to re-balancing with in-app currency:

    • Awarding in-app currency: If the non-Underground version of your app has a form of in-app currency that users normally pay money for, you can replace the payment option with a reward system such as awarding currency for a daily login or for reaching a cumulative playing-time milestone. (Use your own analytics to capture logins and playing time.) In this instance, please ensure your Amazon Underground customers will have a more than adequate amount of currency when they first launch the Amazon Underground version of your app. For example, if on the non-Underground version at first launch a customer has 100 coins, you could automatically award your customer 500 coins when he or she first launches the Amazon Underground version. (This amount would vary, depending on the general patterns of reward purchases and what you expect customers to achieve in your app.)

    • Rewarding engagement: Reward user engagement with in-app currency. For example, if the average player of the non-Underground X version of your app accumulates or buys and spends 500 coins over the daily average play session of 2 hours, award the player 500 coins at the start of the day. Alternately, you could also give players 200 at the start of the day and provide opportunities for them to accumulate 300 more over the next 2 hours of typical play. Note, however, that you will not be permitted to require that users watch an ad to unlock a reward such as in-app currency.

  • Time lapses and cool-downs: Do not implement time lapses or "cool-down" periods for Amazon Underground customers to restrict their progress. For example, do not require customers to wait a certain number of hours before they can unlock a new level. However, reasonable cool-down periods may be used for unlocking consumable items.

  • Leaderboards: If the non-Underground version of your game includes leaderboards, the Amazon Underground version of your game should share those same leaderboards. Amazon Underground players should not be segregated to separate "Amazon Underground version" leaderboards. Those users should be able to play and interact with users of the non-Underground version of your game in the same ways as non-Underground users. However, to keep play fair and balanced across gameplay versions, consider the following aspects of gameplay:

    • Multi-user game balance: Keep game balance, expected progression rates, and potential for player success fair across Amazon Underground and non-Underground platforms. Do not force Amazon Underground players to wait a certain period of time to unlock new levels.

    • Multi-user economies: Cross-platform multi-player economies present special challenges in Amazon Underground, and successfully implementing such economies so as not to disrupt the overall game world requires particular care. At first glance, you might be tempted to segregate Amazon Underground players from non-Underground players as the easiest way to keep things fair; however, this easy solution does not necessarily provide the most engaging experience for your customer base.

  • Branding: The Amazon Underground version of your app must retain the same branding, identity, and gameplay elements as the non-Underground version of your app. Users should easily be able to recognize the Amazon Underground version of your app as the title that they are already familiar with and should not feel like they are playing a limited edition or trial version of your app.

  • App submission: If you re-balance any aspect of your app's gameplay or game mechanics to account for the Amazon Underground model, mention your changes in the description section of your submission package.