Though we’re constantly buffeted by stories about new Android-powered game consoles and the continued growth of the Google Play Store, the fact still stands: An Android port seems to remain a footnote in the development process, an afterthought, a thing that has to be done as opposed to the thing to do. Even today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that’s exclusive to the Linux-based platform, or a developer willing to profess an undying affection for Android. People might make Android games, but they don’t seem like it.
It’s a jungle out there
When Apple launched its App Store in 2008, it changed the playing field for mobile games and made them more accessible to people who wouldn’t be caught dead buying a dedicated handheld like a Nintendo DS or a Sony PlayStation Portable. Success stories began rolling in. Angry Birds became a global phenomenon, Rovio Games a national hero. Draw Something drew creator OMGpop away from the brink of bankruptcy and into a $180 million buyout offer—all within seven weeks. The message was clear: The right application can do more than pay your bills; it can make you a rock star.
But while Apple might have been the one to get the ball rolling, Google was not far behind. The Google Play Store has matured since Android first launched, and many of the apps found in the App Store can also be found in Google’s digital store. Android also has a higher market share than iOS, making it the most used mobile operating system worldwide. For all intents and purposes, the Google Play Store should be the ideal environment for any developer, a digital gold mine ready for the harvest.
But is it really the Shangri-La that it has been advertised as?
Chris Pruett certainly thinks so. Chris is a part of Robot Invader, a Silicon Valley-based game development studio with a fondness for 1950s monster movies and cutesy, action-based titles. Both Wind-up Knight and the company’s newest game, Rise of the Blobs, have enjoyed consistently high praise from the press. Pruett says that the revenue garnered from Android users has beaten iOS sales figures by a solid two to one.
Quantity is definitely a factor here. Since its release, Wind-up Knight has been downloaded 7 million times, and close to 5 million of those downloads, Pruett reports, were made by Android users. “In our case, our Android version makes significantly more than its iOS counterpart, despite both being exactly the same game and both receiving similar featuring from their respective platform holders.”
Spacetime Studios, creators of the mobile MMO franchise Legends, had similar opinions. In an interview with TechHive, CEO Gary Gattis noted, “On a day-to-day basis, we actually make more from the Google Play Store than we do the Apple App store. That being said, the average revenue per iOS user is certainly higher, but we just have that many more Android users.”
Android gaming stinks
Such overwhelming positivity for the Google Play Store is not universal, of course. Pocket Tactics editor Owen Faraday, who expounded on Android gaming for Wired sometime ago, called the marketplace “a desolate wasteland.”
Faraday went on to cite a variety of developers, many of whom seem to see Android as a necessary evil that’s plagued by digital pirates. Piracy is a particularly vicious issue. Sports Interactive’s studio director, Miles Jacobson, once reported a staggering 9-to-1 piracy rate for Football Manager Handheld. And while still determined to provide support for Android users, Madfinger Games’ Anna Porizkova previously divulged to Gamasutra that the piracy rate for Shadowgun had, at one point, reached 90 percent before eventually dwindling to a still-striking 78 percent.
Nicholas Vining, chief technical officer of Gaslamp Games, has been working in the industry for well over a decade and is, despite his work on various open-source and Linux-related projects, somewhat dubious about the profitability of the platform. "The people I used to do contract [work] for typically found that Android made [them] about 1 percent of what they made on iOS—if they were lucky. If that’s the case, we would never make our money back doing a Dredmor port, and would probably end up losing cash on the deal."
Even more telling is the stuff that has not been directly spoken. Chair Entertainment put the gorgeous-looking Epic Citadel in the Google Play Store only this January—a full three years after the tech demo was first shown. Is it a positive indication of things to come? Maybe. Maybe not. In an interview with Mashable in 2011, the Mustard brothers intimated that piracy concerns were one of the major problems keeping the Infinity Blade franchise from Android users.
“We’re confident that will be worked out and [the Google Play Store] will become a viable place for game developers, but that hasn’t happened yet," Donald told Mashable. "So it’s not the tech, it’s the business platform.”
It’s March 2013 now, and piracy hasn’t yet stopped being an issue.
Here’s another example of developers’ dissatisfaction with Android. Telltale Games blew away both the press and the public with its Walking Dead point-and-click adventure game. Like the comic book series and the TV show before it, the game gathered an awe-inspiring number of accolades: In total, the game, which is split into five episodes, has won over 80 ‘Game of the Year’ awards. With so much going for the game, an Android port should have been inevitable, a guarantee for even more success. To the dismay of Android users everywhere, however, that much-anticipated port never happened.
In an interview with the PA Report, Telltale Games provided only a nominally favorable explanation of why an Android version of The Walking Dead has yet to happen.
"The disparate hardware specs, piracy concerns and state of the Android equivalent of the App Store make it very hard to bring our games over to the Android OS. To counteract these issues with the Android platform, and ignoring for a minute the huge issue of widely varied specs of Android devices, our games would need to be built and/or sold distinctly different than we do today on all other platforms. Will Walking Dead: The Game come to Android? We hope so, but nothing to announce today."