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Game developers still not sold on Android

Cassandra Khaw | April 3, 2013
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 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.

Too many devices, too little time?

A total of 3997 distinct Android devices--that was the number that came up when OpenSignal tallied up the number of handsets using its services. It's little wonder that diplomatically phrased frustration seems to be the norm when developers talk about the Android ecosystem.

PaweB Miechowski of 11bit Studios, a company best known for its work with Anomaly: Warzone Earth, observed that while porting to Android itself was not intrinsically difficult, the act of ensuring compatibility was especially difficult when manufacturers insist on putting different drivers on the same devices.

"And it doesn't matter if the GPU is the same." He grouses. "It's literally impossible to have those hundreds of devices and test them internally. So one can count on luck that if a game works on one device from a family, it will on others as well. I think the more demanding the graphics are in a game, the more driver-compatibility problems a developer will face. And then you have many versions of the system you need to support, so yeah, keeping track is necessary."

Gaslamp Games' Nicolas Vining is blunt about the matter--he calls the whole procedure a nightmare. "There are just too many Android devices with different specifications, screen sizes, screen resolutions, software revisions, and conflicts. We couldn't ship a game for Android without a massive support nightmare--and we, as a small company, aren't capable of handling that nightmare."

He adds, "If your name is on a software product, you are judged by how that software product runs on the consumer's hardware--and it's your fault, as a developer, if the game fails to run on some cellphone or tablet that Samsung only manufactured, for six months, for sale in certain parts of Hungary."

To put it another way, developing for Android is a lot like coming up with a unified lunch menu for a school with every allergy known to man. There are a multitude of things to juggle and even more compromises to be made. Though it is theoretically possible to personalize a meal for every student, it would be anything but cost effective.

You'd need to keep tabs on everyone's dietary requirements, personal preferences, the panoply of ingredients to make it all work and the possibility of the toaster burning out. It gets complicated. What makes it worse is that, at the end of the day, this is all still a business. Even if you were to seek out more efficient alternatives, you'd still be spending time and money, both costs that could be minimized if you were to simply choose to cater to a less problem-riddled (and wealthier) group.

Naturally, Android proponents have a different take; the problem isn't with the school, it's with the people trying to feed them. Pruett doesn't see device fragmentation as something that needs to be 'worked around' at all. "Our games are available on almost every modern device type but we've only have had to deal with bugs in one or two of these."


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