Mobile Mavens

The PG.biz Mobile Gaming Mavens debate whether Android can be fixed as a commercial opportunity

The PG.biz Mobile Gaming Mavens debate whether Android can be fixed as a commercial opportunity

This week, the burning question for the PocketGamer Mobile Mavens was;

With 100 million devices shipped and 4.5 billion app downloads from its Market, what does Google need to do to make Android a commercial viable platform for game developers?

Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of advice available.

Tower Studio's Jon Hare thought Google needed to adopt the mindset of a platform holder rather than a service provider.

"It's no coincidence that Apple, with its history as a platform holder, has made everything about its processes and pricing more developer friendly than many other mobile platforms," he stated.

Hare's view is that companies with a background in mobile services see "all third party software products (and particularly games) as being of relatively little value; peripheral and expendable."

He summed up: "Shoddy planning, which is enforced on millions of people, is never acceptable in my book; these people are meant to be professionals."

Find my app

Mills(TM) of UK developer ustwo pointed to discoverability as a big flaw for Android Marketplace: there are few filtering systems to help quality content rise to the top.

"Google needs to ... help separate the random and buggy apps submitted by jokers from the crafted, quality games produced by committed game developers," he said.

"If you put all your efforts into making sure a game shines you don't want the turd next to it to ruin the view."

James Kaye of consultancy Mobizest agreed, adding the new features announced at Google's I/O event were intended to address this flaw, but didn't go far enough.

But Mills wasn't finished.

Android owners don't have the same mindset as Apple owners, he argued. not having been institutionalised to pay for content through a unified billing structure, as iTunes users have.

"Google can help by looking at its payment experience (Google Checkout) and how the value of an app is communicated on the Marketplace," he said.

Can't pay. Won't pay

Sarah Thomson of Canadian developer IUGO pointed out the benefits of the competing Apple App Store in this area.

"It is a one-click, frictionless billing solution that Apple had up and running perfectly (as iTunes) when the App Store came into existence.

"You want users to be able to impulse buy at the snap of a finger and without a second thought. Every time you introduce another click into the process you lose buyers. It's that simple," she said, adding, "I read the other day that Android apps monetise at an eighth the amount that App Store apps do."

James Kaye continued the assault.

"The lack of blanket billing integration has caused a further issue in that the mindset of the average Android customer is much more focused towards free than an iOS customer, as they have not been conditioned to pay for apps as frequently or a premium price," he said.

His solution would be for Google to curate its market better. "It needs to take more control over the quality of the apps in the store, limiting derivatives and rip-offs and other such things that bring the quality and tone down."

Putting the pieces together

Of course, you can't have an Android discussion with the F word arising.

Kaye cited the comments of game luminaries such as id Software's John Carmack and Epic Games' Tim Sweeney's concerning their current reticent to release high-end Android content.

"Worryingly, I'm hearing more about a retreat from Google than an advance due to major issues such as fragmentation," he said.

"I'm not sure how this is addressed as it is not just down to the increasing array of devices with different specs but also the multiple releases of the OS." He hoped Google's commitment to only release one or two major OS updates annually would help the situation.

Richard Hazenberg of German studio Lunaforte felt the fragmented market could be easily integrated through something as simple as app search.

"Wouldn't it be great if Google offered app search; an easy way to search apps for your device as part of the Google service? It seems pretty close to its core business," he suggested.

Giving it both barrels

Thomson agreed with Kaye, and unleashed a caps-lock flow; "It is just mind-blowing to me that Android did not bring in experts from the Java/BREW days," she exclaimed.

"You seriously thought repeating THAT history was a good idea? Brutal. IUGO has been around long enough (over 7 years) and has developed enough games for Java, BREW and Symbian devices to be technically well versed technically. We stay away [from Android] because of the sheer time and cost it requires.

"This does NOT foster interest from indies who simply do not have the bandwidth or money to deal with this. AND we're back to catering to the lowest common denominator of devices. That sucks. That compromises our vision and quality of our games.

"That's why when the iPhone launched we declared Steve Jobs the second coming of the Saviour. He SOLVED all of that and THAT's why there's been a renaissance for mobile games."

Tiswaz's Kevin Dent isn't a fan either. "Android is the third rail of video games," he says. "If you started in mobile, you probably went up to handheld, browser and then console. If you started in console, you probably went down to browser, handheld and mobile."

"Either way, once you grab the Android rail you are screwed. Android is the today's J2ME. It will lure you with talk of riches and then kill profitability.

"I simply refuse to drink the Android Kool-Aid because it is really hard to make a great game on the platform, and it is even harder to monetise it."

The flip side

OpenFeint's marketing director Eros Resmini mounted a defence however, pointing out that Google was already working on many of these issues, although adding: "It's just moving too slowly and leaving an opening for another OS (or third party app stores, for example) to step in and make noise.

"I don't know why Google doesn't buy or partner on carrier billing solutions seeing as it's mega rich. The problem is already elegantly solved. This would move the needle big time on the buying experience/revenue for developers. I think the new market place changes are a welcome step in the right direction, but step on the gas Google!"

He was more positive about the platform's longterm future; "That said, ye who establishes IP and/or a user base on Android now will be a winner later me thinks."

The glorious vanguard

The lone voice praising Android was Christopher Kassulke of German developer and publisher HandyGames, which is focusing on free games with IAP on the platform.

"The Android Market is already a commercially viable platform for HandyGames. I see an evolution of the Android Market every month," he said.

"Yes, it's not perfect - missing worldwide operator billing, illegal distribution, etc - but come on, the user experience isn't much better on many OEM or operator portals."

He also disagreed with the perception of Apple as the industry's golden child; "I know a lot of companies and individuals who are not happy with how Apple works. All platforms, portals or companies have pro and cons, and I am happy to say that you can make money in most of them as a developer or publisher."


Tags:

A backroom operator, Dan works behind the scenes to source and proof content for PG.biz; if you notice Dan's work, then something has
gone wrong. Dan's background is in writing about politics, tech and the games industry, and he's addicted to social networking and board
games. His favourite mobile games are Carcassone, Neuroshima Hex and Catan
(though he laments its lack of online multiplayer).

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