You may have noticed our awesome giveaway that starts today: two ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime tablets, with an extra two chances to win courtesy of our sister site, SlashGear. The promotion is made possible by NVIDIA, and we thank them kindly. NVIDIA’s probably done more than any other single company (with the possible exception of Google itself) to advance gaming on Android. But here’s the thing: awesome hardware isn’t enough. As great as the Tegra 3 and other next-gen platforms are for gaming, the games themselves have to be the focus if Android is going to be a major contender in the mobile gaming space.
I don’t mean to knock Android game developers – they do a great job and have a variety of awesome titles available. But here’s the thing: for the most part, consumers will buy an Android phone or tablet, then seek out games. That’s the opposite of what happens on iOS, where Angry Birds and Infinity Blade sell more phones and tablets than Siri does. Games make up a whopping 25% of app downloads in the Google Play Store, but Apple still has an undeniable advantage. This is an extremely general statement of course, but the gist is that people seek out games on iOS, while people settle for games on Android.
A perfect example is Mass Effect 3. BioWare’s epic conclusion to its trilogy is easily one of the biggest releases of the year, so naturally they prepared a mobile strategy to go along with it. This includes a paid mini-game and a companion app – but only on iOS. On Android, we have to settle for a live wallpaper (NVIDIA’s influence again) despite the almost certain fact that more Mass Effect 3 players are carrying Android-powered phones than iPhones. A lot of this can be attributed to Android users’ lack of enthusiasm for paid apps, but all the same, it’s a definite dis to players who want the full experience but have the “wrong” mobile hardware. Publisher EA has developers for Android – just today they released two new sports games in the Google Play Store. Where’s the love?
It’s not just major releases either. I can’t count how many times I’ve written about an exciting new Android game, only to look and see that it’s been available for months (or years!) on iOS. Two perfect examples are Sega’s Super Monkey Ball 2 and Temple Run, the latter of which has some Android users frothing with anticipation. It’s hard to blame developers for focusing on a platform that has more users who’ll pay the paltry price for a mobile game and has an easier way to account for all current hardware, but all the same, it’s a frustrating reality.
So what’s the solution? Simple: Google and Android OEMs and suppliers need to start courting iOS developers directly. It’s not enough to make awesome hardware and chipsets, because as long as the iPad still has exclusives (and quite a lot of them) it’s got the advantage. LG is already doing something like this, in courting Capcom with Street Fighter and Resident Evil exclusives, which have also already appeared on iOS. But re-releases and old games won’t do it. Companies dependant on Android need to stop taking the scraps and start getting exclusives.
Disturbingly, this attitude would be pretty similar to the console gaming world, where Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo fight tooth and nail to woo top developers for established game series. But if Android gaming is to reach the heights of its competitor, this is what needs to happen. This means that companies will be trying to get exclusives not just for Android, but for their phones, tablets and chipsets – NVIDIA’s got an upgraded version of Sonic 4 Episode II just for Tegra 3 (a game that would probably be possible, if not optimal, on Qualcomm chipsets) and Samsung has exclusive levels of Angry Birds Space. It’s an ugly landscape for a dedicated gamer to wade through.
This being the case, Google is pretty much the only company with the pull to unite their efforts. While the big G has certainly encouraged Android gaming with dedicated sections of the Market and heavy (and presumably subsidized) discounts, they’re still taking something of a hands-off approach to the actual development process. So here’s an imperative, Google, NVIDIA et all: start paying for exclusive content. Not just the leftovers from iOS, but games that people will switch for. If by some miracle you could convince Double Fine Studios to release their new mobile adventure game on Android only, that’d be a good start.
Android has no end of hardware for gaming, not the least of which is controls and expansion that gamers crave. But what gamers crave most is the games themselves, and as long as iOS is the first (and all too often the only) stop for developers, Android will continue to be second best.