Google’s Android platform has taken a few knocks from the development community over the past couple of weeks. Mika Mobile, developer of OMG Pirates!, Zombieville USA and Battleheart posted a melancholy blog post last week outlining the problems the studio has encountered working on Android games.
“We spent about 20% of our total man-hours last year dealing with Android in one way or another – porting, platform specific bug fixes, customer service, etc.,” says the post. “I would have preferred spending that time on more content for you, but instead I was thanklessly modifying shaders and texture formats to work on different GPUs, or pushing out patches to support new devices without crashing, or walking someone through how to fix an installation that wouldn’t go through.”
“We spent thousands [of dollars] on various test hardware. These are the unsung necessities of offering our apps on Android. Meanwhile, Android sales amounted to around 5% of our revenue for the year, and continues to shrink.”
The writer is quick to point out that his thoughts were not intended to add fuel to any childish platform flame wars (“This is not a weapon to be swung in the never-ending holy war between fans of one platform or another”) but rather an honest account of the realities of working on a development platform with so many variables.
“It is not a condemnation of the android platform as a whole,” the post concludes. “It is not a proclamation that things will never improve.”
However, a few days later mobile-developer platform company Appcelerator released the results of a study indicating that as the Android OS becomes increasingly fragmented, fewer developers are choosing to make Android versions of their games.
Appcelerator has a staggering 280,000 developers using the service as a development platform, and amongst these gamemakers, interest in Android has shrunk by around 10 percent in the past 12 months so the alleged erosion of interest in Android isn’t merely occuring in strongly worded blog posts. Indeed, there are hard stats that reveal Mika Mobile’s experiences are representative of a wider trend.
“This slow erosion of Android is interesting,” Mike King, Appcelerator’s principal mobile strategist told The Register, “because if you go back to the beginning of last year, Android was not quite neck-and-neck [with iOS], but pretty darn close.”
According to King the number one reason for this erosion of interest from devs is the fragmentation of the platform, both in terms of the multiplicity of Android app stores as well as the huge range of different hardware devices. “That fragmentation is really starting to ding Android,” said King.
Why does Hookshot Inc. care? Surely this is talk for the business mavens and strategists. For us it’s all about the games, right?
True, of course, and we will woo and love good games HARD, regardless of the platform. Nevertheless, competition is important and, while a game platform that’s as agnostic and free as the internet itself would be a wonderful thing, that scenario seems pretty unlikely as Apple continues on its eager quest to collect all of the money in the world.
Platform competition ensures game developers get a competitive deal for their efforts, enabling them to invest back into more and better games, while smooth developments help studios focus their energies creatively. And THAT is something Hookshot Inc. cares about.
So what might Google do to reverse the decline? Or is the DNA of their business model destined to yet more fragmentation, creating wider and wider cracks into which developers and their games are swallowed?