Big-time games are making their way to Android, one release at a time. Let’s start with Square Enix, who have announced this past week at Tokyo Game Show that their legendary 16-bit RPG will be making its way to Android as well as iOS in the next year. This RPG features players controlling Crono and his friends on a time-traveling romp to try and prevent the world from being destroyed by the Eldritch Abomination known as Lavos. The game features multiple endings, and a unique battle system where multiple party members can combine on a single powerful attack. The game received a re-release on the Nintendo DS several years back that included a new ending; that version of the game could be the basis for the mobile ports. This isn’t it for Square Enix’s upcoming Android titles; Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest and Dragon Quest: Monsters are also on their way to mobile platforms along with Android versions of Final Fantasy I & II. These titles will expand Square Enix’s currently meager Android offerings, which consist of the interactive comic Imaginary Range and Crystal Defenders.
The idea of Android as a gaming platform is definitely gaining steam, with more and more creators both big and small preparing to put out their titles, and now more titles will be debuting alongside their iOS releases. The time of Android gaming as a serious force may be at hand.
TinyCo, a mobile game developer largely known for their free-to-play titles on iOS, have announced the TinyFund, consisting of $5 million that will go toward “game developers creating any type of game played on iPhone, iPad or Android including paid and free titles.” As their blog post about the TinyFund explains, developers who are selected will receive up to $500,000 per title, along with “marketing, development and business support.” They also claim that these games will get “access to TinyCoâ€™s large and rapidly growing user base,” with over 20 million downloads to TinyCo’s credit. Developers can apply now with TinyCo to receive funding for their titles.
While Android development is not the sole focus of the prize, companies that are willing to put money toward the development of more Android games is only good for the Android gaming market. There is a quandary in making games for Android, with a lack of original titles for the platform. A company willing to throw money around to start to make this a realistic possibility is only a good thing, if it can help out those independent developers looking to exploit Android’s growing userbase, but without the resources to undergo potentially risky projects.
Of course, the TinyFund does include iOS as well, so this likely won’t lead to a dozen new original Android games suddenly popping up. However, iOS is a very crowded platform as it is for gaming, and that’s because it can be very lucrative, and Android hasn’t shown to be worth the risk yet. For the sake of the fledgling gaming market on Android, I can only hope that interested Android developers take advantage of the TinyFund’s possiblities, and that TinyCo takes a risk on Android development. While they obviously have people to answer to, having received $18 million in funding earlier this year, the Android gaming nut could definitely be cracked by them if interesting projects are selected.
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.
I’ve continued to wrack my brain on what exactly has stood between Android and wider success with the gaming market, and I still find myself struggling to come up with good reasons that made sense. So, as I still consider why things aren’t what they seem with Android gaming, my thoughts turned to one special Android device that could mean a lot for Android gaming, a phone designed for gaming from one of gaming’s biggest names – Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play.
The Xperia Play is a wonderful idea. A cell phone that has actual gaming controls? That ought to shut up a lot of the people who whine about and deride mobile gaming’s controls STILL. Of course, Sony keeps making ads that mock mobile gaming and their supposed lack of “real games”, whatever those are. Of course, the Xperia Play, a cell phone, will be getting so-called “real games” through the PlayStation Suite, which will start off with a variety of Playstation 1 ports, like Syphon Filter and Wild Arms. Oh, and Sony’s unleashed their marketing A game on this one, launching a hilarious series of ads with the incredibly funny Kristen Schaal. The problem is that none of this really matters – the Xperia Play won’t really change much in the scheme of things for Android gaming.
The first problem is that not everyone can even get their hands on this phone. For whatever reason, Sony’s launching it on only one carrier at first – Verizon. It’s kind of a shame, as even if you’re interested in the Xperia Play, if you’re not on the Verizon network, you’ll either be SOL or looking for another phone. And it’s not like we’re talking about an iPhone either – that device seems to exist in a different universe where people will jump carriers just for it, but no one’s ever accused Apple fans of living in a rational universe, either. The Xperia Play is certainly not going to make people jump ship from their current carriers and contracts just so they can play Cool Boarders 2 with their phone. And by the time it likely hits other carriers, the technology won’t be as attractive, especially as other phones launch, and especially the iPhone 5. Remember, Apple is the only company that can get people excited for hardware released half a year ago, and I don’t know if the Xperia Play, being a phone barely associated with the PlayStation branding, will be able to draw Apple-level interest with future models.
Also, let’s get to the real problem here – this isn’t the next PSP. Sony punted on this one – if they wanted the Xperia Play to be taken seriously, they would have made this the next PSP model. It will likely wind up being like the iPad, where its 3G access will be solely for entertainment value, rather than as any kind of significant communication device, which will still make it a #2 option for entertainment. The phone has the advantage of being something that is always in someone’s pocket – handheld systems are usually something that are brought along if there is room or if there is some intent to play a game at some point. The NGP will be just like the PSP in that regard – and it’s hard to look at it next to the Xperia Play, and not be potentially disappointed at what could be.
Granted, the Xperia Play is a really neat idea, and the Playstation Suite could be really exciting if Sony works on expanding it out to devices beyond just the Xperia Play and NGP, and it could be great for Android gaming. The problem is that once again, a company is punting when it comes to trying to push mobile gaming. Apple has succeeded in part because they’ve been willing to go all in with the iPhone and iOS, especially since the App Store launched. Apple has the major advantage of being Apple, having that fanbase and their design philosphies that others don’t, but with companies like Sony unwilling to take major risks with their products to to try and topple the App Store’s gaming dominance, how will they ever actually do so? Because Android gaming is advancing at a slow crawl compared to iOS at times, and it needs a kick in the pants to speed it up. The Xperia Play could have been that kick – but I do not see it happening.
Of course, would such a phone even succeed? I may be giving Sony far too little credit here – I’m sure they’ve done plenty of market research and maybe decided that the correct direction to go in with a PSP successor was to launch with primarily wi-fi with 3G options. Of course, considering how Sony has fallen from the heights of console dominance by mismanaging the PS3, and how the PSP has become an increasingly irrelevant platform in recent years, there’s part of me that doesn’t have the kind of faith to say that I trust their judgment here in essentially making the Xperia Play act as second fiddle to their own upcoming product. So, forgive me if I’m not quite sold on the Xperia Play as the future of mobile gaming – I fear it will only be an interesting blip on the radar, and not quite the revolution it could be, if only Sony was willing to work at making it a real possibility.
Ed note: after spending way too much time on youtube, watching all of these hilarious videos, I have to say this one is my favorite:
Over on 148Apps, Android Rundown’s own Vincent Messina and I chatted up Android gaming on The Portable Podcast. If you haven’t listened to The Portable Podcast, I and a bevy of guests, from other critics to game developers, discuss the latest and greatest in mobile gaming. Typically, this has been with iOS gaming, but Vincent and I talk about Android gaming and the tablet market in this latest episode of the podcast.
We discuss Android, especially gaming. We discuss the elements of each OS, how they differ, and why one is not necessarily better than the other. We also discuss some of our favorite games for Android, including iOS ports.
Who We Are:
Host: Carter Dotson Guest: Vincent Messina, Android Rundown Contact The Show: Email | Twitter