Android is the most widely used mobile operating system, giving developers looking to reach a large audience a strong incentive to release apps for the Google Play Store. Despite the operating system’s popularity, however, many game developers remain ambivalent about Android, according to recent reports. Among the issues cited are high piracy rates, a less enthusiastic user community and compatibility issues stemming from the large array of Android devices.To embrace the increasingly popular OS, programmers may need new development tools.
Mixed prospects with Android audiences
Despite a substantial lead in terms of market share, Android is generally seen as inferior to iOS for game options. In a column for Wired last fall, developer Owen Faraday called Android a “desolate wasteland” for games, noting that many of the top mobile games are or started out as iOS exclusives, with Android ports considered an afterthought. Android users have been shown to spend less than their iOS counterparts on apps, making them a less appealing market for studios charging premium prices.
Additionally, piracy rates for Android are substantial. Sports Interactive, which produces popular soccer simulation “Football Manager,” told Eurogamer last year that nine out of 10 copies of the game were pirated, and other studios have reported similar figures, TechHive noted.
Nicholas Vining, chief technical officer of Gaslamp Games, told TechHive recently that some of the companies he used to work with have reported making as little as 1 percent as much money on Android as on iOS. Telltale Games, which made last year’s popular, award-winning “Walking Dead” adventure game, recently explained that piracy, disparate hardware specs and the lack of a central Android app store had discouraged the studio from porting to Android.
Others told TechHive that Android users were their best audience, however. For Robot Invader, the studio behind popular mobile game “Wind-up Knight,” Android users are a bigger source of revenue than iOS users, largely due to a greater volume of downloads. Spacetime Studios CEO Gary Gattis, whose company makes the “Legends” mobile massively multiplayer franchise, reported a similar phenomenon.
“On a day-to-day basis, we actually make more from the Google Play Store than we do the Apple App store,” he told TechHive. “That being said, the average revenue per iOS user is certainly higher, but we just have that many more Android users.”
Dealing with fragmentation
One of the primary challenges with Android game development is that the platform is simply seen as more difficult to develop for than iOS. The vast Android ecosystem – one analysis pegged the total number of distinct devices at 3,997, according to TechHive – means that ensuring compatibility across all devices is essentially impossible, particularly for small, independent studios.
Adjusting specifications for the different screen sizes, screen resolutions and OS versions is generally not worth the effort, particularly when compared to developing for the more standardized iOS environment with users who are willing to spend more. The same features that make Android appealing for hardware makers are a challenge to software developers, Chris Schwass, of independent studio Campfire Creations, told Wired. Gaslamp’s Vining agreed, explaining that hardware issues can reflect poorly on software developers.
“If your name is on a software product, you are judged by how that software product runs on the consumer’s hardware – and it’s your fault, as a developer, if the game fails to run on some cell phone or tablet that Samsung only manufactured, for six months, for sale in certain parts of Hungary,” he told TechHive.
With Android’s market dominance, many are confident that the development environment will improve. For now, though, programmers are saddled with screen size issues and other compatibility challenges created by device fragmentation. As they look to navigate these challenges and avoid errors in their games, tools such as static analysis software can help catch inconsistencies and eliminate bugs.
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