Getting Acquired: How To Transfer Ownership of Your Android App or Game


Much like the dot-com boom saw this little thing called “the Internet” turn websites into full fledged businesses, the App Era is accomplishing the same feats in a newly mobilized world. Not every developer can become a ROVIO, Zynga, or Instagram – the latter of which sold for $1 Billion to Facebook – but there is a LOT of money to be made in this fledgling industry. Some developers enjoy driving revenue with app/game sales, in-app purchases, or advertising; but what if YOU wanted to sell ownership of your app or game to another company or individual? How do you transfer your app?

It’s incredibly easy and in the below video we show you exactly how:

The steps to transferring your app/game:

It’s an outrageously simple process that took me 2 hours to complete, from filling out the form to seeing my app in the new account. As far as I know, iOS and Windows Phone offer no such simple transaction process which really hinders developers looking to cash out their chips.

Apps & Games: MUCH More Than Source Code

For many companies, apps are a way of extending their relationship with their customers. Much in the same way that Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other services allow people and companies to continue the conversation beyond the boundaries of their home or business. If you purchased a business and that company had 50,000 Facebook Friends, 100,000 Twitter Followers, and an Android App with 150,000 downloads… imagine the irritation if you couldn’t continue where that Android App left off.

Not only is it important to maintain the relationship with those 150,000+ current users, but imagine having to start over. The previous owner could close their account, provide you with source code, and the new owner could upload the APK to their new account. All of a sudden, you’ve lost every single download, rating, and review in the Google Play Store. Not to mention you’d have to upload using a different package name. Since the Play Store URLs on the web are generated using package name, any links to the app would point to the dead app or a blank page.

Buying an app isn’t simply about getting the source code… it’s about acquiring the users, the reviews, the ratings, the links, and everything that makes the entity successful. Just as SEO trends have webmasters clamoring to rank on the top of Google’s search results, placement in app search results on the Google Play Store is becoming increasingly important. Clean transfer is an important part of maintaining and building on top of an already successful app.

Buying Unsuccessful Apps/Games

There are way too many apps and games available for download. So many that great developers creat interesting apps and games that fall through the cracks. They may not have the means to promote them or perhaps the competition is too stiff, but could it be successful in someone else’s hands?

There are a ton of “Recipe” apps on the Play Store. Most of them are just terrible database dumps that offer very little value. But some of them are interesting little apps that haven’t got many downloads but are helpful and well made. The developer hasn’t made it a stand alone success, but what if they could sell it to a big website or company that focused on cooking and food? That company could promote it to THEIR audience and perhaps make the app a success from a consumer, critical, and financial standpoint.

App marketplaces are in their infancy and right now there is still a lot of room for things to shakeout and mature. But don’t assume that if you make an app or game and nobody downloads it that it is a failure… maybe you should be selling your app to a business rather than consumers?

Always Plan Ahead

Most developers come up with an idea and dive right in, not considering the future possibilities of being acquired. Bad move. You definitely want to consider the possibility and plan accordingly; at least offer yourself the flexibility to make important decisions down the line. Here are four very important things to consider:

  1. DO NOT:Open your developer account with a new E-Mail address and simply turn over ownership of the E-Mail account to the purchasing party. I would suggest against this: if any discrepancies or disagreements ensue, it is difficult to prove transaction/ownership of the E-mail account. However, your E-Mail records will clearly document your app transfer request and the success page along with transaction numbers.
  2. Use a different signing key for each App/Game: Each apk uploaded to Android Market needs to be signed with a “key” before it is uploaded. This key prevents other people from maliciously updating your app or uploading an APK as their own. Many developer use the same key for all their apps but this is a bad idea: what if you sell ONE of your apps or games? The purchasing party would then have the key to all of your apps and games, and that’s information you do not want floating around. In most cases you probably won’t get burned, but you should be safe rather than sorry.
  3. Hire a Lawyer and/or Sign a Contract: The app transfer process isn’t an agreement with terms and so forth. If there is money changing hands and/or any grey area, it would be a good idea to consult a lawyer. I’m not a lawyer and cannot provide legal recommendations or council, but in the past I’ve personally used online resources to create my own contract and had both parties sign using a notary public.
  4. Use an Escrow service such as Escrow.com for the transfer of funds. In this situation, when both parties agree to terms, the buyer is asked to submit payment to Escrow.com. When the funds are secured, the seller is asked to provide the buyer with their merchandise… in this case ownership of the app/game and related source code. Once the buyer acknowledges they’ve successfully received the merchandise, Escrow.com relesases the funds to the seller’s bank account. With any disagreements in between, Escrow.com is holding onto the money and can ask as an intermediary party to determine how to proceed. In short: it prevents either party from being totally burned with no avenue for recourse!
If you have any tips, tricks, suggestions, or opinions for your fellow developers, please leave them in the comments!

Good Luck and happy developing.

Rob Jackson
I'm an Android and Tech lover, but first and foremost I consider myself a creative thinker and entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for ideas of all sizes. I'm a sports lover who cheers for the Orange (College), Ravens (NFL), (Orioles), and Yankees (long story). I live in Baltimore and wear it on my sleeve, with an Under Armour logo. I also love traveling... where do you want to go?

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  1. Great article!
    For a moment there, I thought Phandroid was getting acquired.

    1. I had exactly the same thoughts – it’s another great article for developers, but I thought it was leading to news of Phandroid being sold or something. Whew, that was a close one! ;^)

      Rob, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am really enjoying Developer Month!

      1. Agreed, Developer Month is amazing!
        Too bad I don’t have any apps out yet, I’m working on 3 at the moment but won’t be out until next month. Oh well, at least there’s next year.

    2. Same here..man that was a close call. Don’t sell us out like your Ravens do every year.

  2. I disagree with “Use a different signing key for each App/Game”. What if you want all your apps to have access to a shared account provider, but you don’t want any other apps to have access? Then you use a signature-level permission. If you use a different key, this isn’t possible. If Google had intended for every app to have its own key, this wouldn’t even be an option.

    1. I usually use one key for publisher account…I’m not sure which is right or wrong but you make a good point.

      I guess the question is what happens when you transfer that app? (pretend you sold an app)… Now the other owner needs that signature. Or did I miss something myself?

      1. I don’t think you’ve missed anything, but I’m not sure what a good solution is either.

    2. Great point, Scott. Didn’t think of that… will see if we get any good suggestions/opinions before updating the article with this caveat.

  3. Good article – thanks! Do you think it would be possible in Developer Month to have an article for the idea-people looking to find the right developer? Tips for finding a great developer would be awesome, plus even some app startup tips (could be useful for devs & non-devs)

  4. aww my comment was deleted :(

    1. Sorry… we’re trying to clean up the language here. We’ve got an awesome group of loyal readers but the foul language reflects really badly on the site and prevents people from wanting to join the community and enter the discussion.

      By all means, negative comments are accepted and appreciated, just keep them clean.

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