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Google has shown some recent conviction about the business of games.  Relative to the Android platform, however, they have some work to do.  The good news is that Android is ramping up and a lot of devices are selling.  Android has the potential to be a platform comparable to Apple by 2012.  But as a game platform right now, Android strikes out.  It is a well-known fact that the supply of good quality games on Android lags far behind what Facebook and Apple have to offer.  Here’s why:

Strike one:  many current devices do not have one-touch payment because they are not integrated with mobile carrier billing systems.  This is likely to be addressed comprehensively by 2011.

Strike two:  Conventional games don’t sell on Android because Google has a senseless and lazy policy to ignore what is posted into their app store. Google also allow consumers to try any paid app and then easily return it up to 24 hours later for a full refund.  Seriously, when so many other things on the app store are already free and everything else is free for 24 hours, why would anyone pay for a game?

Google defends this policy because they don’t want to police the store.  I could understand this if Google were a new startup with a small staff incurring startup losses.  But we are talking about Google!  If Apple and others can pay attention to what is in their app store, surely Google can also do so.  Google has ignored this problem and may remain in denial until 2011, when the widening deficit in their app quality compared with Facebook and Apple should finally motivate them to fix the problem.

Strike three:  Google does not currently allow competing ad networks on Android so there are no offer completion networks, which have been a staple of the growth and evolution of engagement and payment with social games.  As social games have been the only type of game that can monetize without direct payments, this policy nukes Android for the remainder of the game industry.  However,  Google’s recently announced acquisition of Jambool should soon provide at least one in-house offer network alternative.

As long as they keep selling devices, Android could be a great game business within two years, but it would blossom much faster if Google becomes more proactive about these issues.

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  1. Nick P.
    August 17, 2010

    Andoid’s OpenGL drivers and developer tools suck compared to iOS. OpenGL allowed some game companies to port in a few days by simply recompiling. Supporting cross-platform technologies should be the number-one focus at Google.

  2. August 18, 2010

    Good points all. However:

    > Google also allow consumers to try any paid app and then easily return it up to 24 hours later for a full refund.

    This is a wonderfully customer-friendly policy — one that I wish Apple would institute in their App Store. Many is the paid app that I’ve tried for 15 minutes, found to not meet my needs (for fun, productivity, etc.), then never opened again.

    Yes, the developers would have lost the sales from all those tossed-aside purchases, but it could also be argued that the 24-hour cushion would embolden me to try — and then buy — more apps. No need for the silly Lite versions or upgrading to full functionality through an in-game purchase.

    > Seriously, when so many other things on the app store are already free and everything else is free for 24 hours, why would anyone pay for a game?

    If a game still holds our interest when it times out, we’ll pay.

  3. Josh
    August 17, 2010

    Your first two points are good, but as far as competing ad networks, Google does nothing to stifle competition in that space. You can create whatever kind of advertising you want. Apple is squeezing out competitors on the iPhone but Google isn’t.

    One point that I’d add to your list though, would be the huge variety of form factors and hardware that Android ships on. For input, you can pretty much only rely on one touch from a touchscreen at this point. Multitouch isn’t even guaranteed. Add to this the problems that HTC’s touchscreens have (google nexus one multitouch issues to see what I’m talking about) and input becomes a big limiting factor.

    As an example, let’s say some company followed Apple’s lead and put a good gyroscope into their phones. That’d be cool, but you wouldn’t be able to publish a game that relied on it because you’d never sell enough copies to make any money.

    I really like Android, and I like where it’s going, but it’s using a computer sort of metaphor, while the iPhone is using a console sort of metaphor. Consoles will always be easier to write for, and easier to make money from.

  4. Hamranhansenhansen
    August 17, 2010

    > As long as they keep selling devices

    Nokia sells more devices, but they’re not a great gaming platform, either. Apple’s App Store became a huge success almost overnight when only 6 million iPhones had been deployed. So it isn’t about number of devices.

  5. Dantv
    August 18, 2010

    Let’s see, what is Android?

    -A copy of the iOS interface with icons and apps.
    -A copy of the Apple’s App Store.
    -A copy of iOS’ multi-touch interface.
    -A copy of Java and the JVM, for which they are being sued by Oracle.
    -Even a copy of the Microsoft strategy for delivering operating systems.

    I’ve lost ALL respect for Google!!! They just want to spy on us users and spam us with their fracking ads!

    I’ve switched over to Bing for my search engine and you know what, it’s pretty good. Bing maps is sweet as well! Also Windows Phone 7 looks great for games as I suspect you know since I saw Digital Chocolate listed as a launch partner!

  6. Scott
    August 18, 2010

    I can’t disagree with the substantive points you make, but your timeline seems not just wrong, but “I am not reading headlines” wrong. Back at the Google I/O market it was already announced that the market would be dramatically overhauled in the next OS release, which is happening in Q3 this year. They have already installed the underpinnings (and announced on their developers blog) of carrier-based charging for apps that is coming even before then. So there’s no “2011-2012″ in this roadmap, for “strikes” 1 & 2 it’s “September-November 2010″.

    I agree with strike 3, but social gaming isn’t exactly exploding on iOS yet either (Facebook is another issue altogether). But even a cursory examination of the big headlines over the last few weeks (/cough ) should demonstrate that Google is being quite “proactive” in terms of growing the gaming aspect of Android (note that reports include a very deep entire rewrite of the part of the market that will deal with high-end gaming). And that fairly large re-org of the mobile handset gaming industry is set to go off in late Q3 or early Q4 of 2010.

    So while your objections are valid as to why gaming on Android has so far lagged behind iOS, your timeline to catch up (and exceed) appears almsot laughable.

  7. Anders H. Jensen
    August 17, 2010

    Also of note is the fact that Android apps are only sold in 13 countries worldwide, leaving out interesting markets such as the Nordic countries, much of Asia and South America. As a developer, we are are not even allowed to sell apps because we are not in one of the Google-approved countries. I see Android facing some huge set-backs if they do not step up their Market game soon. Otherwise, it will just be a next-gen feature phone OS, with iOS and Windows Phone being where people go to get quality apps.

  8. August 18, 2010

    Another problem I can see (and this is for apps as well as games) is the Android platform fragmentation.

    Big screens, small screens. High res, low res. Gobs of RAM, little RAM. It’s a compatibility nightmare, and as such it makes it difficult to produce a quality game/app that works across all devices.

    The iPhone has a huge advantage in that regard. Standard hardware specs, less of a compatibility nightmare.

  9. Al
    August 18, 2010

    Could you tell me about the pro and cons of the Android programming languages for Gaming apps. I have heard that because of how Android is written, the graphic drivers are not as good as iOS, and because there are so many different handsets, developers have a hard time writing one game and making sure it works for everyone. Because of those reasons, most game developers are sticking with iOS for now.

  10. Alex Kerr
    August 18, 2010

    Trip, clearly Android still has some things to change, le’s hope they do as there should be a significant user base over time.

    Speaking of which, where do you see Nokia/Symbian/Ovi Store? It is likely that already presents a much bigger market for games, and I think they do not have the issues you cite above for Android (not sure about the ads though). Symbian^3’s nearly here, the new Nokia N8 has on balance the fastest GPU on the market (roughly comparable to iPhone 4), and Ovi Store is much better than it used to be, along with developer support. So – a great place to do business, or….?

  11. August 19, 2010

    Great post. However, I think there may be a high probability that its all part of their strategy to do what you have bashed them for. It makes perfect sense that they “ignore” these things as it will get people hooked and oil the viral machine. People *will* talk about these differences in social gatherings and with friends etc. and these differences (refunds) will make Android stand out from the iPhone. Then once they have folks hooked, they can easily switch the policy. Also, allowing anything to get posted – is going to increase interest amongst developers, as once again it will stand out against the horror stories with Apple. So, whoever is cooking up these policies is one genius in marketing! :) They understand what it takes, if they have to have any chance in catching up with Apple … and IMO they are playing things just the right way for now… until they are close and then of course they can switch policies at will.

  12. August 19, 2010

    ..continuing… they can always prune low quality apps from their market at any stage they choose once they get the traction they want and figure its ok to do the switch over. At that point a few devs will get mad, but that would not hurt Google as they would have caught up by then. They can always create a new category for these low qualtiy apps (called something not so degrading) or simply build in some system where low quality apps (perhaps with high returns or whatever system) get pushed down the list to the end.

  13. Partner
    August 22, 2010

    I hope that neither Android nor iOS ever includes support for “offer completion” payment systems. I just want to buy a good quality game or other app at a reasonable price, not be scammed by a “free” app into signing up for a monthly bill for things I never wanted in the first place.

    It is also my sincere hope that neither Apple nor Google will follow FaceBook’s lead in allowing (certain dubious) games to spam all of your contacts.

  14. Partner
    August 21, 2010

    Oops, make that “Facebook.”

  15. August 22, 2010

    There are definitely a lot of problems still to be ironed out with Android but it is already a viable platform for gaming with many avenues to see revenue. The android market still has a lot of improvement to go, but luckily it is not the only place where android applications can be purchased.
    The 24 hour refund is a huge problem , it assumes that every single app has more than 24 hours worth of content in it. If A better solution would be to make this apply to premium price point app/games only. Asking a $1 app to be able to keep a customer entertained for more than 24 hours is quite a leap. Assuming that all customers would be as altruistic as Kid B is not a good enough protection against people taking advantage of the system.

    Chris Turpin;Complaining of fragmentation is a non-issue, it’s like complaining that when creating cars you need to deal with wheels. There will never be one system to rule them all no matter how easy it is creating apps for iOs. As much as people say fragmentation is a problem, there are relatively few bugs in any android device, it is just a matter of catering for different screen resolutions. More fragmentation means more customers anyway, just as there will never be one mobile os, there will never be one mobile form factor either.

    Android has all the tools needed to create good/fun games, you may not see Rage on it any time soon, but we don’t need to either.

  16. August 24, 2010

    RE: “Google also allow consumers to try any paid app and then easily return it up to 24 hours later for a full refund. Seriously, when so many other things on the app store are already free and everything else is free for 24 hours, why would anyone pay for a game?”

    It is amazing that you list the 24 hour return policy as an Android weakness. How can you sell any game on any platform and *not* offer a full refund within some reasonable period of time? What kind of a customer service is that?

    To answer the question “why would anyone pay for a game?”: people would pay for a good game and would not refund it, if it’s worth the money and worth keeping for more than 24 hours. If this doesn’t happen, the problem is not with the Market, but with the game in question.

  17. September 17, 2010

    [...] 24 hours for a full refund. Calling the refund policy “senseless and lazy,” Hawkins writes “When so many other things on the app store are already free and everything else is free for [...]

  18. Mysterious Developer
    October 6, 2010

    I don’t remember being allowed to refund Modern Warfare or Windows 7 for that matter. In fact the only place that has ever offered refunds for software in the history of software, is the Android Market.

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