Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Future of Android as a Gaming Device

At the start of 2013, information about the release of the PlayStation 4 in the year ahead swept through a number of news outlets. Suddenly the game industry was bustling with rumors that a full-scale announcement would be made at the PlayStation Meeting 2013 which took place on February 20th. Last year, the Nintendo WiiU was announced, rumors of the next-gen Xbox began to surface, and once again everyone’s eyes were on the resurgence of new gaming consoles.

In this year of up and coming next generation consoles, my attention is focused towards the “Android as a gaming device”. As you may know, there are three game consoles with Android loaded as an OS that were put on the market this year, and they are already becoming a hot topic; the GameStick and Ouya (which raised an impressive amount of donations through Kickstarter), as well as nVidia's ProjectSHIELD.

In addition to game peripherals and controllers, there are heaps of Android-related gaming devices. Although I don’t know how it will all turn out, the fact that such a wide variety of gaming devices are being created is frankly quite exciting. (Although I’m sure that some of this hardware will end up simply becoming rare items for display on collector’s shelves.)

This abundance of “Android-equipped gaming devices” was anticipated to some extent. Android, a fundamentally open source mobile OS, has displayed development similar to IBM PC compatible machines that have taken the market by storm through open architecture. In other words, Android devices are to Windows as iOS devices are to Mac. (Although on the other hand, I still can’t really tell exactly what Windows Phones are shooting for.)

Apple made an appeal for the idea of the iOS terminal as a gaming device, but Google has also been trying to sell the Android terminal as a gaming device as well. Nevertheless, now in 2013, the charm of the Android terminal as a gaming device is significantly lower than that of iOS devices. The following summary will go into more detail about this reasoning as well as why I would like to think that the “Android equipped gaming device” known as ProjectSHIELD can overcome these problems along with the Ouya and GameStick.


Fragmentation!

The word “Fragmentation” has been blatantly expressed as the number one shortcoming of an Android terminal as a gaming device

On March 9, 2013, a blog article written by Mika Mobile entitled “Withdrawal from the Android” made news even in Japan. Indie developer blogs like Mika Mobile, which was originally started by a high school duo, made international news on topics like reflection on the ideals of the Android market, however the situation is quite different now.

At this stage, where “fragmentation” is becoming a problem in the Android market, Mika Mobile grieves over the fact that coping with different OS’s and GPUs does not fit the profit margin. Moreover, in the Japanese Android market, native game applications are steadily on the decline and “name-only apps” used solely for playing social games are popping up at an exponential rate.

Recently, iOS and device diversity also means advancements in Android “fragmentation”. This, to some extent, is unavoidable in regards to the Android as an open source OS. However, something like Ouya, which is a device exclusively for Android games, is a different story. Games intended for Ouya, ProjectSHIELD, and its users should be released. If this happens, they will probably be able to concentrate on game development without having to worry about other versions of the device operating systems and different GPU’s.

Of course, the short coming to this solution is that the majority of potential users that has an Android will be lost. However, these “potential users” also include customers from the “evil gamer” side of things who pirate the games to the casual players who do not pay to play. Developers would probably be happier to entertain users of an “exclusive game device” who are paying customers rather than doing business with the crafty old Android users.


Google Play - a Shabby Market

In the eyes of a developer, “fragmentation” is a major Android problem, where as in the user’s point of view, the main problem for an Android gaming device is the fact that the market is insubstantial. Even when looking on Google Play in one’s spare time for something to play, the possibility of finding something genuinely interesting is considerably small.

When doing game reviews, I realize the imperfections of Google Play. The rankings are not straightforward, it is difficult to understand the difference between “new arrivals” and “popular new arrivals,” and also in order to mobilize the users in social games there are a number of low quality applications available.

At least in iOS, when just looking at the ranking of store applications, you can find one or two of your favorite games. This is not the case in Android. For example, even if you find exactly the game you want, at this time it is blocked by “fragmentation” and your device or OS probably won’t support it.

Of course, because of such things like Google’s worldwide search engine, in the future search engines will probably be equipped with a function similar to Genius on iOS with high performance interest matching that will reflect users’ preferences. Still, if Android’s ecosystem infiltrates the market, users can probably obtain information from places like their favorite review sites. (On the other hand, in this shabby market there are still business opportunities for Android game review sites.)

Even so, if you are truly a gamer, buying a device exclusively for games equipped with Android rather than searching for a game through Google Play is probably more efficient. From big named developers/publishers to indie developers, there are some appealing titles already lined up on Ouya. Even the truly unknown titles that will be released from Ouya probably will not be like the browser-based social games that overwhelm the Google Play market.


The Possibility of Android as a Gaming Device

In the sections above we were able to easily see the problems of Android as a gaming device from both the developers and users prospective. Android equipped gaming devices seem to partially resolve these issues.

However the fundamental problem of “Do you want to go so far as to play an Android game?” still remains. As for game exclusive consoles, a number of gamers seem to choose things like the fresh-out-of-the-box WiiU, the PlayStation 4 - which will be releaseded this year - or the next generation Xbox. Experts actually anticipate that game devices exclusively equipped with Android such as Ouya, GameStick, and ProjectSHIELD will probably remain in the niche market.

Compared to other major consoles, the merits of Android devices are well known. As far as Ouya and ProjectSHIELD are concerned, this billing model (the name has changed from F2P to free-to-try) supports things like Windows games. Besides, the greatest merit that Android has as an open platform is that there are few barriers for developers who want to enter the market.

When looking comprehensively, these devices that enable Android to be seen as a gaming device look attractive to gamers who actively pursue indie games. We will warmly welcome any device which allows you to play both popular and unknown titles without puzzling over the OS version and which has a market that has not been eroded by low-quality applications. (In that case, there is no reason that Android couldn’t compete with PC game platforms such as Steam at this time.)