May 16, 2011
The Android Market has a problem. Namely, it’s that despite having a great OS, with plenty of apps for general usability, rivaling what iOS has, the gaming market is still far behind what iOS’ gaming market has been. This is despite Android devices selling by the bushel – it’s not a lack of consumers that explains why the Android gaming market continues to flounder. It’s hard to formulate a good hypothesis as to why this is the case, but I have an idea.
Apple does a better job at rallying people around their devices and their concepts than Google can. The Android community is smaller, and more focused on the devices themselves. There are plenty of sites and forums covering Android and plenty of people talking about them, but there are no major equivalents to the mass gaggle of iOS and Apple media sites. Android is the Windows of the mobile market – lots of people use it but no one gets excited about it in the way that Apple users do. This means that developers, especially talented ones, are going to be more likely to develop for iOS than for Android at this point. Who can blame them? iOS game releases draw more attention than Android ones do, by far, even if many releases get drowned out, still. This means that talented developers, like the super-talented independent iOS game development community, have little reason to release games on Android first, if the iOS community is something they’re both more familiar with, and more likely to achieve success with. Android has all the noise of the App Store, but not enough signal to justify releases on it.
It’s a chicken and the egg situation. There really hasn’t been a breakout release on Android to help justify talented developers releasing their games on Android, and Android ports of iOS games have only done well if they are major titles – think Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, et al. Major licenses tend to do well, as evidenced by EA, Namco, and Gameloft’s support of Android. Gameloft are even trying to spark up platforms with individual hardware hooks, like BackStab for Xperia Play, and Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem for the HTC EVO 3D. Whether there’s any net gain for either Gameloft or these specific devices does depend on a wide variety of factors including customer acceptance. However, these are even smaller user bases on these devices that companies who release games on these are trying to sell to. Of course, if developers would start to release some great games on Android, and get the market acclimated to Android as a serious gaming platform in the way that iOS has become, then it could quite possibly become just that. It just needs the content to do so, but right now developers have little reason to do so, without taking massive risks. The kinds of risks that independent and small development studios just cannot take.
It is a shame that in spite of Android’s user base, the game selection remains as mediocre as it is. The thing that continues to draw me to iOS is that there are so many interesting games being released so often, and Android just doesn’t quite have that same effect yet. I love Android, but it is absolutely lacking in the kinds of great games that iOS gets a steady stream of. Change will have to come if Android is to compete with iOS as a gaming platform.