PopCap Games and Orange Pixel on “What’s right, and wrong, with Android?”

PopCap Games and Orange Pixel on “What’s right, and wrong, with Android?”

Jun 29, 2011

As Android users, we’re passionate about this operating system. We love games and apps and all the neat things we can do with our phones, and we know what makes Android great. Why, then, does it seem like the best games keep popping up on iOS devices? To get to the bottom of this question, I contacted a few different developers and studios to ask them, “What’s wrong with the Android?”

One of the first studios I contacted was PopCap Games who are responsible for such brilliant titles as Bejeweled, Peggle, Plants vs. Zombies and more. Many of these games began as PC games and then slowly made their way to mobile phones. They also have a spin-off division called 4th & Battery that creates edgier, more experimental games such as Unpleasant Horse and Candy Train, both currently exclusive to iOS.

I asked Jeff Green, Director of Editorial and Social Media at PopCap Games, why many of PopCap’s games start off on iOS and then come to Android. Is it a matter of hype, that the iPhone just seems to get all the attention? Or is it something simpler we aren’t seeing — for example, the developers all just happen to have iPhones? His response, via email, was both insightful and troubling.

“It’s really kind of neither. I mean, plenty of PopCap developers have Android phones, too. It’s more that — in this goes for PopCap as a whole, too, not just 4th and Battery — that it’s far easier to do quality control on the iOS’s closed system. The openness of the Android is great, but it also means that it’s a huge hassle to ensure compatibility across multiple phones. This has been made even worse by the wild west nature of the Android marketplaces themselves, which don’t make it easy for consumers to tell which games might actually be compatible on their phones.

“PopCap never wants to give anyone a substandard experience, whether it’s with the game itself or even just buying the game. The Amazon marketplace has been a huge step in the right direction, and that’s why we were finally able to get a couple of our games (Chuzzle and PvZ) out there on it. But the [Android] OS itself is the biggest hassle. If we had said to ourselves, ‘Okay, Unpleasant Horse is going to be an Android game first,’ we’d still be testing it now.”

His answer is very similar to Pascal Bestebroer of Orange Pixel, who are a bit of an anomaly. Orange Pixel like to design games first for Android and then port them to iOS. As Pascal points out, “… indeed, we like doing things backwards, and are porting some of our Android games to iPhone right now ;) This has only one reason: a more interesting market place.”

Orange Pixel make many fine games for the Android platform, including Meganoid, Mini Plane, Super Drill Panic and more.

Pascal’s response to the question of Android’s strengths and weaknesses were that, “Openness is a strength: from the OS to the hardware to the Android market and development tools. You can develop for Android on Windows, Linux or Mac; the tools are free. You can then easily test on the devices (side loading) or distribute to various testers for them to give it a spin. This requires a lot of extra steps to get working on iOS. Also, the rapid developments of Android could be seen as a strength. Although, you could argue against it obviously.”

As for weaknesses, Pascal cited some of the unique challenges that face Android developers, noting that the variety of devices is especially daunting. Even the simple question of screen size, for example, proves challenging. In his own words, “Making sure it looks good on all the various screen sizes.”

“I don’t like to call this fragmentation, however,” he continues. “because it is just part of this ecosystem. As with PC’s, Java-based mobile phones, and now also iOS: there are variation in devices, so you have to either calculate that in or ignore a large portion of devices. Android takes care of a lot of the screen-variation, but it is still something that requires extra attention and adds a challenge. All other stuff that people keep mentioning in their ‘fragmentation’ rants is just not a real issue. Most devices come with the same type of feature set: tilt, touch, processor speeds.”

From what I’ve gathered, you can see how the iOS offers a simpler environment to develop for, which seems to be very attractive even if more costly. Android, on the other hand, offers cheaper development tools, but the variety of devices and openness of the platform, while great strengths, can also be great weaknesses. As new features and functions continue to roll out, it’s easy to see how this “problem” will grow. As long as PopCap, Orange Pixel and many others continue to bring their work to Android, however, we’ll still have plenty of reason to love it.