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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: Current state of Android Gaming
I used to be an iPhone owner.  When the 3Gs was new and hot, Android was still a wannabe platform and I decided against it in favour of Apple's beautiful and well designed device.  It didn't really take too long to develop a rather unhealthy habit of buying games for the thing, it was a hotbed of development for new and wonderful game ideas, and for a while I was very happy with it.

But Apple just had to keep pissing me off.  The iPhone experience was one of a thousand smooth cuts, slowly revealing the myriad ways I wasn't allowed to do what I wanted, and when Samsung released the Galaxy S 2, I jumped ship.  I have no regrets. 

Well, I have a few.  The app support isn't as strong on Android, and a lot of my favourite games are not available. The first thing I did when I got the Galaxy S 2 was search the market for all my favourite games.  I couldn't find most of them.

Now, six months later, a few of them are, but the sad truth is Android just doesn't have the developer love.  It's sort of like being a Sega Saturn owner back in the day: despite a few gems, the majority of the interesting stuff  is going on somewhere else.

So I set out to find out why.  I've asked a bunch of developers of my favourite iPhone games why there's no Android version, or in the case of those that have ported versions, why it took so long (didn't they know I was waiting?) and how it's gone for them so far.

My hotlist of games:

Bitpilot by Zach Gage
Orbital by bitforge
Dragon's Lair by Digital Leisure
Dark Nebula by 1337 Game Design
Tilt to Live by One Man Left
EDGE by Mobigame

Four of those developers have replied, and for the most part they all say the same thing: There are too many Android devices with different capabilities, and Android users don't buy enough.

Quote by Reto Senn, bitforge:
There are two reasons why we didn't bring Orbital to Android earlier.
 One is technical, the other is financial. And in the end, they do boil down to one reason: fragmentation.

Compatibility

With the iPhone, you have only got a few devices, and it's very easy to say '3Gs or newer' or 'iPhone 4'.  You can't do that with Android.  Games in the Android Market are full of lengthy lists of compatible devices, Android version requirements and, in most cases, a long list of half-literate users bringing the average rating down with incompatibility complaints.

When I was in Japan c.2000-2005, the Japanese mobile phone ecosystem was like a tiny time-travelling version of the Western world.  NTT Docomo, the largest carrier, had a bewildering number of handsets and the apps available for them had lengthy lists of compatible phones, sort of like Android has.

J-Phone (later Vodafone, later Softbank) had a much more elegant system: every manufacturer had to meet certain requirements, and the phones would easily be grouped into classes.  When you bought a phone that  was '256kAppli' compatible, every game made for that class of phone would run on it.  There were only three classes, a lot like Apple's iPhone hardware, which has only a few differently spec'd devices.

For a developer, it's far easier to make games for the iPhone, 'cause you only need to test it on maybe four devices.  For Android devs, well...

Quote by Alex Okafor, One Man Left Studios:
Add in the fact that a new android handset is released what
feels like every 2 weeks, it seemed like a nightmare.

Sales

Most of the devs I talked to said the same thing: Android users don't buy as much as Apple users.  For many reasons this is true, but the lack of focus from Google makes it a real law of the Android ecosystem.

Quote by Anders, 1337 Game Design:
And since no one really pays for anything on Android, we would have a very hard time getting our money back.

Google dropped the ball with the Android Market.  For a long time it was an unmoderated wilderness of clone apps and scammy devs who'd release the same game with ten different names and icons, and then update it every day so it was always at the top of the New Apps list. 

And there was nowhere else to go.  Until recently there hasn't been enough quality software to justify websites like 148apps and TouchArcade, so there were no alternate sources for reviews, or even awareness.  What few sites there have been are so starved for good apps to review they'll post the dreck to fill space, further increasing the odds users will stop caring.
 
In their own words

Some responses were very detailed. 
 
Quote by Paul Gold, Digital Leisure (Dragon's Lair):
the fractured platform is certainly an issue that as a developer forces quite a bit of extra work. In fact, with hundreds of different devices we wanted to ensure full support out of the gate, but even now we are frequently updating to ensure any phone user from 1.6 to 4.0 can have a great experience. As well, we've developed the game for about 12 different phone and tablet resolutions so everyone can have a perfect gaming experience.

Quote by Alex Okafor, One Man Left (Tilt to Live):
Android is an OS that runs on a vast array of devices, from various handsets to toasters, so out of those 500k a day the number that are actually capable and worth the time to invest in game development begins to shrink considerably. Add in the current evidence that Android users are less likely to buy games and apps than iOS users, it suddenly doesn't seem like a huge boon for what we want to do. We took a bet on iOS and so far the bet is paying off. And given that we're a two man shop, the technical details of creating well-tested and robust games on multiple platforms is something we try to avoid with our limited resources.

Quote by Anders,  1337 Game Design (Dark Nebula):
The main reason that we haven't released on Android is that it would be too costly for us to ensure quality to our end users. Getting the game running on Android is not a problem, but rather to get the game running perfectly on most Android devices. We don't want to release something that we haven't tested, since we want our customers to get value for their money.

Quote by Reto Senn, bitforge (Orbital):
Now has it been worth it? If you look at the Market, Sales clock in at 1'000 to 5'000. With us getting around 2$, this means we have so far gotten less than 10'000$ off that port. This does not even cover the porting cost yet. For us it was a test to see if the Android Market is viable.

Fixing things

There's a lot that can be done.  The first and easiest problem to solve is the Android Market.  Google has already started making changes here, and the new market looks better and is easier to market.  Also, like Apple's App Store, users can now see what's popular in paid and free categories, view the editor's choice and staff picked apps...  It's easier to find the good stuff.

In fact, a quick browse through the Market shows none of the rotten spammy apps that used to clog up the works.  Most of the stuff at the top is made of quality, instead of anguish.

The next step is going to be tougher.  Google needs to specify minimum requirements for no more than three levels of current model hardware.  Entry level phones with slow processors and low resolution; mid range phones with fast or dual core, medium res or better; and the top-end devices with superfast CPUs and graphics co-processors.

For each level, a specific minimum range needs to be dictated.  If you go higher, fine, but never lower.  Developers will be much happier making graphics for a resolution they can predict.  Minimum CPU speeds will allow more accurate predictions of success for games that need a certain level of grunt.

Finally, I'd like to see a standardized controller input, 'cause a lot of games are better with tactile controls.  If not a plug-in port, then mandatory adherence to a bluetooth or other wireless standard.  My Samsung Galaxy S 2, for example, requires very specific devices 'cause the Bluetooth support is non-standard.

And from this point, it can only get better.
BLEARGH
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Interestingly, while preparing for this article, two other articles with very similar themes have come out.

The first, from GamaSutra, confirms what we all know: 
Study: Despite Android's Increasing Penetration, Developers Still Favor iOS

Quote by GamaSutra:
According to recently-published research by Flurry Analytics, new iOS smartphone projects started during the latter quarter of 2011 still outnumber those started on Android nearly three-to-one.

The second from NetworkWorld, is all about the money: 
Why Eric Schmidt's prediction about Android vs. iOS development is dead wrong

Quote by NetworkWorld:
Similarly, developers don’t always focus their efforts on the platform with the most users. Rather, they’re interested in the platform that can yield them the highest return on their investment. So much like advertisers covet particular demographics with respect to TV viewers, developers seem to place a premium on iOS users as opposed Android because they spend significantly more money on mobile apps.
BLEARGH
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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A friend of mine (Hi Dave!) suggested another reason Android sales are low: without a credit card, you can't purchase.  iTunes cards can be purchased with cash at a million stores around the world, but there's no such Android equivalent.
BLEARGH
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Via GamaSutra, a quote from Distimo:

The iPhone App Store generates about four times the revenue that is generated by the Google Android Market, the report finds, in terms of total revenue generated by the 200 highest grossing apps. Meanwhile, the App Store for iPad generates more than double the revenue of the Android Market.

There's a lot more analysis on Techcrunch.

So how does Android boost the paying user count?
BLEARGH
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Talking more with Anders from 1337 Game Design (Dark Nebula), I asked him about having a raft of beta testers in 'the community' to help reduce the testing pain for Android development.  He said:

Quote by Anders:
Actually, finding good testers is quite difficult. As a tester you really need to know what to test for and you need to be quite meticulous about it.

He went on to say that they're not entirely comfortable asking people to test their software without compensating them, which brings us neatly back to the cost of developing for a hundred different handsets.

He also agreed with what I said about platform standardization. 

Quote by Anders:
Regarding the Android market, I think they need to standardize it much  more. They need to set standards and have the device manufacturers follow those standards so that app developers only need to test their product on one device within a certain standard.

This is a critical feature as far as I'm concerned.  This alone would make Android development much easier.


A few days ago, Digital Leisure added WiiMote support for Dragon's Lair.  This is the closest we have to a standard for Android gaming, but of course the multi-platform dragon rears its ugly head again: I have a Samsung Galaxy S II, one of the rare phones that doesn't work with the Bluetooth WiiMote.

Alex from One Man Left Studios (Tilt to Live) offered this followup regarding my suggestion that a controller peripheral be standardized.

Quote by Alex:
I'd agree tactile buttons definitely feel nicer, but having a standardized hardware button layout seems difficult to achieve. Worse yet, having a device you plug-in via a port or bluetooth that you'd carry around everywhere would be an extremely niche market.

He's probably right, and he went on to mention that such peripherals already existed for the iOS market and have made little impact.  I wonder though if that's a chicken/egg situation: the controller isn't standardized, so it doesn't gain significant market share, so it isn't supported, because it there are too many controllers, because there's no standard.

Alex finished by saying the biggest successes on iOS and Android were titles that embraced the controls offered, rather than trying to replicate the oldschool gamepads and similar.  He's definitely right on that score as well.

But I want it all.  Why can't I have it all?  =)
BLEARGH
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