While it still doesn't offer as robust a gaming market as iOS, Android's overall gaming scene is becoming increasingly sophisticated as more and more users flock to the platform.
Irem's arcade shooter classic R-Type
landed on the Android Market this week
, lovingly ported by DotEmu, and perhaps the most astonishing part of its entrance was that the R-9a Arrowhead spacecraft didn't squash a horde of underdrawn doodle and stick figurines when it touched down. It seems that things around Android Market might slowly be changing.
As anyone who's spent any time involved with iOS gaming will tell you, the overall experience (and breadth of quality titles) on Android in comparison still has a ways to go. Not because there aren't good games available -- there are
-- but rather because up until recently there's been a general dearth of top-tier developers focusing on the platform and a corresponding abundance of shovelware cash-in doodle games and dodgy, arguably trademark-infringing clone-style entries. (It's hard to say for sure but a lot of the underpolished guff on Android Market looks exactly like the kind of potential malware-bait that security vendors keep warning Android users about. We're not opting in anyhow.)
The ever-exacting R-Type lands on Android: goodbye productivity, hello tantrum-throwing.
The reasons for the quality imbalance are numerous. Up until this year at least, the most conservative mobile platform for game developers to target was iOS, simply due to its lead on users. But that lead evaporated this year, as Android became the dominant smartphone OS on the planet. Even so, a casual glimpse at a couple of the (numerous) blogs dedicated to iOS gaming (like this one
and this one
) generally reveals a much more charged and competitive development scene than their Android counterpart
Part of it is due to the widely observed statistics that Android users aren't gaming in the same numbers and simply don't want to cough up as much for their apps anyway. Surveys this year and last have shown that iPhone users were more inclined towards playing games on their devices than Android users and were also more likely to pay more for apps generally. Even before you consider the problems for game developers stemming from broad Android device and OS fragmentation, it's easy to understand why they would view Android as a less profitable platform.
And the fragmentation issues (both in hardware but also in terms of Android OS variants: 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 etc.) are indeed a problem for Android gaming. While the vast majority of contemporary iPhone gamers use one of three devices (either the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 or iPod touch), there are literally hundreds of low, mid and high-end Android smartphones out there on offer from bucketloads of (tinkering) carriers internationally, and ensuring app compatibility across the board is an inevitably impossible task for developers (and especially for those making games, which are often more likely to stipulate specific hardware requirements than other software categories).
And where this publicly hits home for developers is in user app reviews. A quick browse of R-Type's (largely positive) user reviews this week on Android Market indicates a number of players with comments relating to various incompatibilities with regard to their specific device model ("Keeps quitting out on my HTC sensation", "Beautifully executed, but crashes about 10 seconds into the first level every time. Was so looking forwards to this... (Galaxy S2)".
Even the app store experience for Android users (and developers) is fragmented, with numerous sanctioned channels, such as GetJar and Amazon (not available in Australia), offering software repository alternatives to Google's own Android Market, as opposed to Apple's singular App Store. The enticement made to developers is that additional app stores provide additional opportunities for promotion, publicity and exposure, but it could also be argued that the multiplicity of app channels fragments the potential user audience too (especially in the Amazon Appstore age, where commercial exclusives prevent some titles from appearing elsewhere, such as on the international Android Market -- a bane for Australian users unable to access the much-hyped Amazon store, which is currently US only).
But things are slowly turning around for gaming on Android, and the number and quality of Android games looks to be on the up, especially when compared to a year ago. In that time Google has tweaked the presentation of Android Market itself, offering new features to promote new and trending apps and games.
Perusing the top-selling game lists on Android Market reveals a more sophisticated-looking set of titles, including the kind of big-name essentials necessary to draw attention from casual gamers. There's the obligatory Angry Birds (and spin-offs), Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, Robot Unicorn Attack, Reckless Getaway and numerous titles from popular houses Gameloft, Electronic Arts and Kairosoft.
Meanwhile, the emergence of Sony Ericssons's gaming-focused Xperia Play
has put a definite spotlight on Android gaming and ushered a number of Play-exclusive titles onto the platform, most notably the Android coup of indie phenomenon Minecraft
(a regular edition for other Android touchscreen-only devices is on its way). Somewhat similarly, Nvidia's Tegra Zone
promotes games optimised to run on its Tegra processors (many of 2011's crop of mid- to high-end Androids) and there's even been talk of an Android-powered home console and gaming-focused tablet during the year.
Popcap's Plants vs Zombies still hasn't made an appearance on Android Market (it's exclusively available on Amazon) and the trend is still very much that big-name games will appear first on iOS and then be ported to Android (rather than the other way around), but for those interested in gaming on Android, it's a promising time -- as the doodle clones start to thin and the R-Types begin to land in greater numbers. The only question now, is how long do us Android gamers have to wait for this