What’s Wrong With Android Gaming?

By  |  Friday, November 20, 2009 at 6:03 pm

The latest in self-important mobile app developer drama comes from Gameloft, but it’s not the usual iPhone bashing we’ve come to expect.

Instead, Gameloft finance director Alexandre de Rochefort declared (via Reuters) that the company’s got beef with Android. “We have significantly cut our investment in Android platform, just like … many others,” he said at an investor conference in Barcelona. He explained that the Android Market is just too weak compared to the iPhone’s App Store, on which Gameloft sells 400 times more games.

“Google has not been very good to entice customers to actually buy products,” Rochefort said. “On Android nobody is making significant revenue.”

I’m not an Android phone owner, so I can’t speak at length about the Android Market experience. From my understanding, it’s no great shakes. But as a gamer, I can spot a few things that are holding Android back.

For starters, Android 2.0 was the platform’s first version to support multi-touch, a vital feature for first-person shooters such as Wolfenstein 3D or the excellent Eliminate Pro. In Gameloft’s case, no multi-touch means no Assassin’s Creed 2 or Gangstar: West Coast Hustle, both of which rely on multi-touch controls.

Then you’ve got the low application storage limits found in most Android hardware to date. Even the latest, Motorola’s Droid, only allows for 256 MB of app storage. As Android and Me notes, that rules out a game like Myst, which on the iPhone occupies 727 MB.

I also think there’s a silent killer at hand in the form of emulators. I sampled a friend’s Droid last weekend, and I couldn’t believe that he could play classic Nintendo, Genesis and Super NES games on his phone. That’s an asset if you’re a consumer, but I don’t doubt that emulators cannibalize game sales in the Android Market.

To top it off, I don’t get the sense that Android phone manufacturers and carriers are marketing video games as a big use. Check out the pinwheel on Verizon’s Droid Web site — gaming barely gets a mention.

The sad thing is that most of the points I mention are being addressed, or are at least fixable. Gameloft has every right to complain, as developers do, but maybe the company is bailing out at precisely the wrong time.

 
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15 Comments For This Post

  1. John Says:

    Wow what a poorly researched article. You cite an android and me article that came out oct 28, the day the droid was launched. You are correct, there is only 256 MB for app storage, but that only refers to the core executable. Developers have for sometime been storing the data for the app on the SD card (16GB on the Droid.) Also, until the droid came out, there were less than a million android devices in use. Now, with the verizon estimated to sell nearly a million Droids by the end of the year, that will more than double a developers reach. Combined with the superior specs of the device, these things all make android, and the Droid in particular an excellent gaming device.

    Iphone has two years on android. Lets see where this powerful, open source platform leads us in two years. I bet you will be proven wrong.

  2. Martin Hill Says:

    @John,
    The problem with only 256MB of storage for apps is that once you fill up that 256MBs, no matter how much external storage you have, you’re hosed. I have 1.88GBs of apps on my iPhone and no management of internal vs external storage is needed.

    Then there is the problem with the fragmentation of hardware, firmware and software on Android phones, incompatibilities between Carrier ROMs, OS versions, GUIs, screen sizes, hardware user inputs etc etc. It all gets very complex very quickly.

    The problems exemplified by Java coming home to roost – write once, debug everywhere. No wonder major developers are bailing on Android – they are going where the money and easy development environment is – the 50 million iPhone/iPod touch platform.

    -Mart

  3. Jared Newman Says:

    Whoa, John, I advise you to re-read. Nowhere do I say that the Droid is a sub-par gaming device, or that Android doesn’t have potential. We’re talking about now, because is Gameloft pulling back now, but I even said that might be an unwise decision.

    To your first point, though, would you deny that 256 MB, even for core executables, is limiting?

  4. DZ Says:

    Three words… Poke A Mole.

  5. Stilgar Says:

    You don’t need to support games full-blast to have a good platform.

    I find it funny that the Apple touts iPhone as a game platform at their keynotes and in their commercials, but the Mac is widely known to be a horrible platform for computer gamers, and yet both platforms are successful somehow.

    While your information is disappointing, there’s no reason Android 2 can’t be successful without games.

  6. Tom B Says:

    “I find it funny that the Apple touts iPhone as a game platform at their keynotes…”

    The iPhone’s strength is cheap, casual games you can carry in your pocket.

    ” but the Mac is widely known to be a horrible platform for computer games”

    The Mac is a SUPERB, rock-stable game platform; the trouble is (historically) there’s been more money to be had writing PC games. Less of an issue now, with so much gone over to consoles….

  7. Justa Notherguy Says:

    @Tom B:

    > The iPhone’s strength is cheap, casual games […]

    Don’t say that to the guys in Cupertino. A typical reaction is somewhere between staring at their feet and, ‘Just remembered I need to go make a call. Later.':

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/y8zx3sq

  8. Justa Notherguy Says:

    @Stilgar:

    > I find it funny that the Apple touts iPhone as a game
    > platform […] in their commercials […]

    No, that tack is reserved almost entirely for iPod Touch ads.
    iPhone, not so much.

  9. Justa Notherguy Says:

    @John:

    > Also, until the droid came out, there were less than
    > a million android devices in use.

    No. Based on various estimates and press releases, the number was more like 2-3 million handsets. That’s across all manufacturers & carriers. HTC’s Dream/G1, alone, reached the one million mark by 3Q09.

    But, even aside from market share (and insecure SD cards), game devs have had good reasons to be reticent regarding Android. All pre-Droid handsets had dinky screens – at least 10% smaller than iPhone – and poor or no implementation for multi-touch gestures. Further, until October’s release of the NDK, devs were forced to code using Google’s version of Java.

  10. Justa Notherguy Says:

    @Martin Hill:

    > […] no matter how much external storage […] you’re hosed.

    Not necessarily.

    > I have 1.88GBs of apps on my iPhone and no management of
    > internal vs external storage is needed.

    Android Open Source Project are working on a secure solution for native App2SD implementation. That way, devs can do their full installs to SD, rather than just core executables. Could appear by year’s end.

    Which would sell better: a pricy, 36Gb phone or a cheaper phone that allows the user to carry a pocketful of microSD cards, holding 36Gb of games? Its an interesting question. :)

  11. Stilgar Says:

    “The Mac is a SUPERB, rock-stable game platform; the trouble is (historically) there’s been more money to be had writing PC games. Less of an issue now, with so much gone over to consoles…”

    Not true. Did you not see the well-publicized interview with Valve’s Gabe Newell where he talks about Apple not taking gaming seriously?
    http://archive.videogamesdaily.com/features/gabenewell_valve_iv_sep07_p1.asp

    I’m no Microsoft fan boy, but MS has done the right thing with Direct X. OpenGL is okay, but Direct X and it’s fast-evolution really helped solidify the PC as the computer developers platform.

    Don’t get me wrong, people will go where they can make money, if Apple had the most market share they probably would have the most games too, but they could certainly make things more attractive for game developers than they have.

    Take a look back 20 years at the Commodore Amiga. How much market share did that thing have? Very little, but it attracted a great number of game developers.

  12. Justa Notherguy Says:

    @Stilgar:

    > Valve’s Gabe Newell […] talks about Apple not taking
    > gaming seriously?

    Exactly my point, in the response to Tom B. If you meet some guy from Apple who seems ‘really excited’ about gaming, then either (1) that guy is not in a position to do much of anything and/or (2) he won’t be at Apple, for long.

    Word is, Mr. Jobs thinks the whole subject is tres déclassé, especially in regard to iPhone. Period. Its just a non-starter – you might as well blow smoke in his face and offer him a chug from your paper-bagged 40.

    > Commodore Amiga […] attracted a great number of game
    > developers.

    Man, I loved my Amigas. Good times. :)

  13. Nic Says:

    Honestly this whole article wreaks of latent fan-boyism. In particular your note on emulators. Let’s get started: Out of about 20 friends of mine who all picked up iphones and ipod touches, 14 of them “jailbroke” their device to do what they wanted it to do. And what was it that made it so pertinent for them to do so? — Apparently emulators, as all of them immediately installed one, or two, or three…as well as a load of other free applications that should be just that: free. Hmm…if only a device existed that people don’t have a need to hack/mod and could get the best of both worlds, a secure App store and access to third-party software. Oh wait, one does, the Android platform.

    Even worse, your invalid point on emulators really falls flat when you speak of it possibly hurting game development and growth. Have you not heard of Apullo.us? I guess not…as all of my aforementioned friends with their jailbroken iphones have been enjoying every single App in Apple’s store for free. That’s right, hacked iphones play hacked iphone apps…what a suprise. Now think about how many jailbroken iphones represent that glorious user-base Apple touts around, because I see millions of users getting their free Apps daily off that site. You might want to re-analyze what is really hurting game-development there Jared.

    All of this and not to mention emulators and gaming in general on the iphone sucks. I hate to break it to you but touch screen d-pads and buttons are utterly atrocious and I will never go back to the gimmick that is iEverything. You guys have your head so far up Apple’s a$$ you literally back their walled in community that the industry has spent years trying to disassemble.

  14. noop Says:

    Not a word about atrocious gaming performance of most Android devices? Yes, emulators are big on Android(and, for almost 10 years, on Pocket PC/Windows Mobile), because they only require framebuffer access and integer ALUs. But iPhone/iTouch devices have fast FPU unit and GPU, enabling decent 3D graphics at 30 or even at 60 FPS.

  15. Today's Top Products Says:

    Hey, this is a really great article…. Good work.

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