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Amazon Underground, the company’s experiment in “actually free” smartphone apps and games, will soon go even more underground. As in, dead and buried.
A developer blog confirmed the news on Friday, saying that the program will stop accepting new software on May 31 and that its download service will be fully shuttered in “summer 2017.”
The Underground app store launched just shy of two years ago with a weird sales pitch to developers: let us give your downloads away, and we’ll pay you a penny for every five minutes someone uses your app. The idea is that Underground versions of games and apps would not only be free to download but also have all in-app purchases removed—which might mean that players get hooked and rack up enough hours to get developers paid by Amazon’s weird system.
However, the storefront has its share of issues. It is only compatible with Android phones and tablets, and any participating app must be downloaded and installed either through the Amazon Underground app or the more recently updated Amazon app. (This also slaps interstitial, Amazon-related ads onto any participating app.) Bizarrely, Amazon never ported Underground to its line of Fire TV devices, which all run on an Android base.
From our anecdotal experience, software on Amazon Underground isn’t patched and updated as regularly as that on Google Play, and there just isn’t much in Underground’s selection to entice users to regularly return to the shop. The top free options remain pretty much the same as when the service launched in August 2015, with the dated likes of Fruit Ninja, Where’s My Water, Jetpack Joyride, Goat Simulator, and Sonic CD continuing to top its download charts alongside a scant selection of kid-friendly apps from Sesame Street and Toca. (Even Knights of the Old Republic, an Android port of the original Xbox classic, landed on Amazon Underground within its first few months.)
The major exception is Square Enix’s collection of “Go” game adaptations, which saw the series Hitman, Tomb Raider, and Deus Ex receive clever, enjoyable twists to make those properties fun as touchscreen puzzle games. These were ported over to Amazon Underground more recently, and if you’re an Android device user who hadn’t thought about Underground in a while, now would be a good time to claim one of those Square Enix gems.
exactly six months after the Underground app store is formally shuttered this summer—so it’s easy to imagine that developers won’t necessarily keep up with patches at that point.
Why exactly did Amazon push this free-apps, devs-get-paid system? Hard to say. The interstitial ads only played when booting an app, and they rarely loaded in our own cursory use of participating games, so it’s hard to imagine those driving much profit. Perhaps it was always meant as a Trojan horse to get people to download and install Amazon’s clunky, proprietary Android app—but if so, that horse has officially fled.