Google Play’s Search is Useless

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Google Play is host to many mobile games. Some are premium, some are free to play, and finally some fully free. If you’re looking for a specific app, you’ll find it without difficulty, but if you’re casually strolling the store to find new things, you’re going to have a hard time.

I don’t like freemium games and their deliberate monetization schemes, but I do adore premium (or completely free) experiences on mobile. I can name a few off the top of my head that I covered before, such as Final Freeway 2, Antiyoy, and even a list of four fully free games on Android. Searching for games to play and cover in the previous list was a difficulty, mainly because Google Play has absolutely no filtering for its search whatsoever. The difficulty of discovering games that tick the right boxes is far from helpful.

What Google Play Offers

Screenshot of Play's premium games section
The premium games section

When you open the Play Store’s Games section, you won’t find many premium games by default, as they are usually dominated by free to play games. There is a premium tab you can visit, but it’s only useful for letting you easily find the popular games you heard about several times already. It’s not exactly great for finding hidden gems.

In the Top Charts section, you can find the Top Paid column, which allows you to go all the way down to the 500th top-selling game. Finally, and only on a desktop web browser, you can filter your searches to either Free apps, Paid apps or all prices, which is far from ideal and not even available on the intended devices!

The Problems

Screenshot of the search results for "games under $3"
A search for apps under $3. Notice the price tags for Terraria and 60 Seconds.

There are no pages displaying only premium games other than the Premium section or the top paid chart. The search functionality Google offers suffices if you’re looking for a specific app (e.g. Retro City Rampage DX) and also works for broad terms (such as strategy games), but complex searches are just impossible. Looking for an app with no in-app purchases? Forget it. Want to search paid games that the for less than $3? “Games under $3” returns countless free apps for children. “Games under 3 dollars” does not omit apps that cost more than 3 dollars, and the same is true for “games without ads.”

itch.io lets you find games by using tags, along with other filters such as platform, release time, whether it was in a game jam or not, and even accessibility features! By comparison, Play has got none of that. The most you can do is write “paid” in your search to get paid apps. On GOG, I can filter by price points, genres, features, and languages. These filters help me discover great and affordable indie games that I never heard about before. There’s also Steam’s Labs, an interactive recommender that finds games based on your previous usage of the platform as well as utilising sliders and filters to narrow down preferences.

Screenshot of Google Play's web version
The price filter on the desktop web version

Google Play also doesn’t differentiate between free and free to play apps in the search results. A free game without ads or IAPs has no distinction from a free game with ads and IAPs. You’d have to visit each app’s page to find that information, wasting your time and bandwidth. In fact, the only time you can tell a free game from a F2P one is when viewing their pages, which means the problem extends far beyond the search results too. Play in general does not tell you if an app has one-time IAPs (such as unlocks) or infinite IAPs (such as in-game currency), muddying the waters even more. Some apps don’t even mention that information on the store page!

In Conclusion

Discovering games on Android is severely impacting my enjoyment of the platform. I’ve accepted that “free to play” games aren’t going away anytime soon and will dominate the front pages of the Play Store, but on the flip side there aren’t many tools allowing me to find anything else.

You can read our other articles about mobile games here!

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