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Apple Vs. Google Vs. Microsoft: Which Rules Mobile Gaming?

Tom's Hardware Interviews Four Android And iOS Game Developers
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Tom's Hardware: The mobile operating system landscape is still in a state of flux. While the primary two players are iOS and Android, we’ve seen Microsoft fighting for traction with cheaper WP7-based phones.

As developers trying to attract a broad audience, what challenges do you face in delivering cross-platform games? What are the advantages or disadvantages of each ecosystem (does one OS have features that make it more attractive than the others)?

Fishlabs: iOS is the most attractive platform at the moment. Sure, due to new generations of devices, a certain kind of fragmentation has found its way into that platform (for example, from iPhone 3GS to iPhone 4 to the new iPad), but all-in-all, it is still a very consistent ecosystem. From a developer standpoint, the common OS and GPU architecture means texture compression is nearly the same for all iOS devices, making this platform particularly appealing for game development.

Android is a bit more tricky. On the one hand, the enormous install base of Android-based smartphones and tablets makes it almost impossible for us to deny that platform completely. But on the other hand, the huge fragmentation of the Android market (with dozens of manufacturers producing hundreds of devices with a myriad of different hardware specifications) and its high level of software piracy make it pretty hard for us to release a title on Android and still turn in a reasonable profit. We hope that this will change, at least to some extent, with our first free to play title out.

Last but not least is WP7. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s current OS does not have that much relevance for us at the moment because it doesn’t support native game development. Making our titles available for WP7 would require us to fully convert them from native code to managed code, and that would mean quite a lot of additional effort. If you consider the rather modest sales of WP7-based smartphones and Microsoft’s announcement that it will finally allow for native code support in WP8, it appears to us that it would be better not to optimize our games for WP7. Instead, we’ll wait until its successor comes out.

Madfinger: Our goal is to get our games to as many people as possible, so it is in our best interest to support as many platforms as possible. This is why we chose Unity 3D as our technology. As a result, we can port our games to other platforms very easily. On the other hand, we cannot support platforms that are not supported by Unity 3D. For example, we cannot support WP7 because Unity requires native C++ code. We hope this will change with WP8.

Regarding the challenges that we are facing, the biggest problem is the fragmentation of Android versions and device types, and thus increasing testing and polishing. On the other hand, we observe the biggest audience for hardcore games mainly among the Android users. Apple, to the contrary, does not provide developers with dev kits or information before it releases updates and new devices, meaning developers cannot get ready for this change or develop apps considering what will come next.

Mediocre: As long as we can use a common programming language, cross-platform development is manageable. In our case, we use C++ for the actual game and use custom setup code for the two platforms. Audio requires two different implementations, as there is no OpenAL interface on Android. Since we are a small team and do all the work in-house, we strongly doubt we will support WP7 phones until they can compile and run native C++ code. Supporting a different audio or graphics API is no big deal, but rewriting and then maintaining two separate branches of all the game code and support libraries is just too much work.

Vector Unit: All of our games are built natively with C++, with just a thin layer of objective C or Java wrapped around them. Our Vector engine is cross-platform, so it’s relatively simple at this point to generate builds for multiple ecosystems, and it works well for us. Our games, so far, have sold similarly well on Android and iOS.

With that said, the challenge on Android is support. Fragmentation is an issue, and supporting multiple hardware specs can be a pain. Support and compatibility testing on iOS is much easier, but then the marketplace is much more crowded and competitive, so there are trade-offs.

Tom's Hardware: What can Apple, Google, and Microsoft do to help convince developers that they have the operating system that deserves the most attention? Are marketing considerations and budgetary constraints forcing mobile game developers to limit their efforts to Android and iOS only? Do you find that a user of one platform is more likely to purchase games than others, or is it simply a matter of how many devices are out there? Do you have other considerations (like an app approval process)?

Fishlabs: The crucial point is not the install base of a certain platform, but how much money you can make on that platform. Take the Blackberry Playbook, for instance. The addressable audience is tiny compared to iOS and Android. However, Playbook users seem to be willing to pay for content, and Blackberry World is a robust store that even supports operator billing. RIM claims that 13% of its developers make more than $100 000.

In combination with the fact that porting from iOS is fairly easy if you have a C++-based engine running your game, we expect Blackberry to become the second attractive platform next to iOS, at least for premium developers. If Microsoft is able to establish a seamless experience with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, combined with tight store integration featuring proper billing and quality-focused content offering, this will also make a very tempting proposition for developers. This is where Google still has a lot of homework to do. Despite its enormous install base, Google Play is far from perfect. That is also the main reason why many OEMs have launched their own app stores, fragmenting Android even further.

Madfinger: Developers support ecosystems that generate the most money at least cost. Even though we love our work, as much as any other company we have to consider profit. Every company has to pay employees, bills, and so on. Thanks to our multi-platform engine, we are able to support iOS, Android, and hopefully in the future WP8 without having to invest a significant amount of money. Regarding the process: the simpler the better. We are small company, and every extra hour spent adapting our game to other devices or platforms delays the release of our next game.

Mediocre: We originally planned to release our game on iOS-only. Everybody we talked to said the same thing: an Android port would not pay off. However, we strongly believed in Android as a platform, and in retrospect, that turned out to be a good investment. There are many big-name games being released simultaneously on Android and iOS now, and it is definitely considered a proven market. Numbers definitely count, but I think you have to trust your gut feeling too. It is easier to get visibility in less crowded markets, which is an important consideration.

Vector Unit: Discovery is the single biggest issue in the various app stores. Currently, all the app markets base most of their discoverability around rankings, which is unfortunate. That is not how people generally consume other entertainment products, like movies or books. They find what interests them, and disregard whether it is the #3 movie or best-selling book. I think developing a rich system around discovery and recommendation would be a huge attractor for developers, for any platform.

Ultimately, it comes down to audience size and activity—both Android and Apple are similar this way. We currently do not support WP7 for two reasons: the WP7 market is much smaller, and it does not support apps written in native code.

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    c4v3man , April 27, 2012 5:45 PM
    tk1138EXACTLYthese mobile games are a joke...they are clearly made for the lowest common denominator of people (the stupid)

    Obviously this is a PC centric website, but a fair amount of "hardcore gamers" seem to miss the point completely. Honestly the term Hardcore Gamer seems to indicate you're not really a gamer at all.

    Games are there to entertain, and to have fun. If I can have fun playing World of Goo on my android phone while running errands with my wife, or play Machinarium on my Playbook while flying to my destination, then at is gaming at it's essence. Honestly the Wii was probably the best and worst thing to happen to gaming. Obviously it brought out alot of shovelware (that otherwise would have targeted another console) but it also showed the world that people don't need serious games, we need fun games. Not everyone wants to compete all the time, they just want something to pass the time, to tell a story.

    There's room in the market for all game types. Hell, I even backed Takedown since I do enjoy a "serious" game occasionally. But claiming that people will stop playing tablet games "once they see what a PC can do" is ignorant. I'm well aware of what a PC can do, and will continue to play games on all my devices, when convenient. I don't need great graphics to have fun, just remember that video games started out with a dot and 2 lines.
  • 13 Hide
    cumi2k4 , April 27, 2012 9:23 AM
    @ anonimus789
    True that HD version is the way, but developers should not charge additional fees for it. Imagine if PC game developers implement this...you pay for the 1024x768 pix version, then when you upgrade your resolution to 1680x1050 pix, do you have to buy the game again?
  • 12 Hide
    blazorthon , April 27, 2012 4:35 PM
    tk1138EXACTLYthese mobile games are a joke...they are clearly made for the lowest common denominator of people (the stupid)

    ram1009This is complete BS IMHO. I don't see how anybody can enjoy gaming on such a tiny screen not to mention the lack of processing power and absence of memory required by modern games. It's all wishful thinking by the marketeers. Just something new to sell unsuspecting novices who later find out what a desktop can do and buy what they should have bought in the first place.


    You two are exaggerating by way too much. Mobile gaming isn't for the stupid, not in the least. It's for people who want to game when they are mobile. Desktops are for a completely different market with different goals. Mobile gaming is not about matching PC gaming in quality, it's about cheap, affordable games that can be played when you are mobile. Of course they won't come close to desktop quality. Mobile games are not for the stupid, they are for the mobile. You two are just elitest pricks who don't recognize that your ways of life can't be sustained by everyone else and even if they could, not everyone wants to be like you. If I'm on a train for two hours a day to go between work in a city and my home in a cheaper suburb outside of the city, then wth am I supposed to do? PCs obviously aren't a viable choice here. However, I have my phone on me, so I can use it. Mobile gaming markets are pretty similar to the Game Boys and such, except the smart phones are both for gaming and many other uses.

    Sure, mobile gaming can also be done at the house and such for people who want to do it. It is FAR more affordable than PC or console gaming is, so many more people can do it who would have otherwise been left without any good games at all. Furthermore, games obviously don't need tons of memory if they are written well. For example, the PS3 only has 256MB of GDDR3 VRAM and only 256MB of XDR system RAM and most modern smart phones have at least that much memory, if not even more. Smart phones have more than enough memory for mobile gaming.

    Furthermore, smart phones are approaching the processing power of the PS3 and Xbox 360. Tablets have already matched them with the newest iPad (although I'd wait until a non-Apple tablet/smart phone had such power before buying something like this). Most people simply can't afford or can't justify spending hundreds to thousands of dollars to get high performance gaming systems and games for those systems, especially when they can get a far cheaper phone that is also needed for other things and get the games for less than $10 each (many are free). Sure, they aren't as high quality as some PC games, but it's not like most PC games we see today are nearly as good for the time as we have seen in the past. So many potentially good games have been dumbed down or were just made poorly.

    Sure, we still have some good games, but most of them simply aren't anymore. Sometimes, I'd rather just play an older game nowadays just because they were simply better games, despite not having as much eye candy. Seriously now... Most people need a phone for a variety of reasons (be they convenience or through necessities such as jobs requiring phones and other important reasons). Most people don't really need a computer for anything except internet access. Sure, some people, such as developers, IT, and others need them for their jobs, but most people don't really need them and can do a lot of what needed a PC on a cheap laptop or even on a good smart phone. So, phones are obviously pretty much universally needed by the majority. You can just get a free or a cheap game, or a bunch of them, for the prices of a single PC/console game. They don't even need to be as good... At least smart phone games don't have DRM problems and such that PC games (and possibly console games soon enough) have.
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    Anonymous , April 27, 2012 9:03 AM
    Though I agree that paying more for an HD version of a game is not the right way moving forward, I do believe HD resolution for gaming is essential. In my opinion, a game with excellent high-resolution graphics will win over a similar game with a lower res graphics. Having that crisp, clean graphics, would say a lot about the quality of the game even before the consumer has a chance to play it. First impressions count.
  • 13 Hide
    cumi2k4 , April 27, 2012 9:23 AM
    @ anonimus789
    True that HD version is the way, but developers should not charge additional fees for it. Imagine if PC game developers implement this...you pay for the 1024x768 pix version, then when you upgrade your resolution to 1680x1050 pix, do you have to buy the game again?
  • -8 Hide
    Anonymous , April 27, 2012 9:38 AM
    Andrew Ku, your shameful promotion of Windows Phone was embarasing. The developers have nothing to do with it, and you kept bringing it up over and over again.
  • 1 Hide
    jaquith , April 27, 2012 1:01 PM
    Phone & Tablet Reviews - I'm of the opinion, at least (here), there's little point to voicing any constructive point of view. Each platform has their followers and the numbers based on sales are not representative of the folks that post their comments.

    Therefore, whichever platform you like I hope you can 'get' what you like. I do hope that all platforms can make it easier for the developers.
  • 12 Hide
    blazorthon , April 27, 2012 4:35 PM
    tk1138EXACTLYthese mobile games are a joke...they are clearly made for the lowest common denominator of people (the stupid)

    ram1009This is complete BS IMHO. I don't see how anybody can enjoy gaming on such a tiny screen not to mention the lack of processing power and absence of memory required by modern games. It's all wishful thinking by the marketeers. Just something new to sell unsuspecting novices who later find out what a desktop can do and buy what they should have bought in the first place.


    You two are exaggerating by way too much. Mobile gaming isn't for the stupid, not in the least. It's for people who want to game when they are mobile. Desktops are for a completely different market with different goals. Mobile gaming is not about matching PC gaming in quality, it's about cheap, affordable games that can be played when you are mobile. Of course they won't come close to desktop quality. Mobile games are not for the stupid, they are for the mobile. You two are just elitest pricks who don't recognize that your ways of life can't be sustained by everyone else and even if they could, not everyone wants to be like you. If I'm on a train for two hours a day to go between work in a city and my home in a cheaper suburb outside of the city, then wth am I supposed to do? PCs obviously aren't a viable choice here. However, I have my phone on me, so I can use it. Mobile gaming markets are pretty similar to the Game Boys and such, except the smart phones are both for gaming and many other uses.

    Sure, mobile gaming can also be done at the house and such for people who want to do it. It is FAR more affordable than PC or console gaming is, so many more people can do it who would have otherwise been left without any good games at all. Furthermore, games obviously don't need tons of memory if they are written well. For example, the PS3 only has 256MB of GDDR3 VRAM and only 256MB of XDR system RAM and most modern smart phones have at least that much memory, if not even more. Smart phones have more than enough memory for mobile gaming.

    Furthermore, smart phones are approaching the processing power of the PS3 and Xbox 360. Tablets have already matched them with the newest iPad (although I'd wait until a non-Apple tablet/smart phone had such power before buying something like this). Most people simply can't afford or can't justify spending hundreds to thousands of dollars to get high performance gaming systems and games for those systems, especially when they can get a far cheaper phone that is also needed for other things and get the games for less than $10 each (many are free). Sure, they aren't as high quality as some PC games, but it's not like most PC games we see today are nearly as good for the time as we have seen in the past. So many potentially good games have been dumbed down or were just made poorly.

    Sure, we still have some good games, but most of them simply aren't anymore. Sometimes, I'd rather just play an older game nowadays just because they were simply better games, despite not having as much eye candy. Seriously now... Most people need a phone for a variety of reasons (be they convenience or through necessities such as jobs requiring phones and other important reasons). Most people don't really need a computer for anything except internet access. Sure, some people, such as developers, IT, and others need them for their jobs, but most people don't really need them and can do a lot of what needed a PC on a cheap laptop or even on a good smart phone. So, phones are obviously pretty much universally needed by the majority. You can just get a free or a cheap game, or a bunch of them, for the prices of a single PC/console game. They don't even need to be as good... At least smart phone games don't have DRM problems and such that PC games (and possibly console games soon enough) have.
  • 13 Hide
    c4v3man , April 27, 2012 5:45 PM
    tk1138EXACTLYthese mobile games are a joke...they are clearly made for the lowest common denominator of people (the stupid)

    Obviously this is a PC centric website, but a fair amount of "hardcore gamers" seem to miss the point completely. Honestly the term Hardcore Gamer seems to indicate you're not really a gamer at all.

    Games are there to entertain, and to have fun. If I can have fun playing World of Goo on my android phone while running errands with my wife, or play Machinarium on my Playbook while flying to my destination, then at is gaming at it's essence. Honestly the Wii was probably the best and worst thing to happen to gaming. Obviously it brought out alot of shovelware (that otherwise would have targeted another console) but it also showed the world that people don't need serious games, we need fun games. Not everyone wants to compete all the time, they just want something to pass the time, to tell a story.

    There's room in the market for all game types. Hell, I even backed Takedown since I do enjoy a "serious" game occasionally. But claiming that people will stop playing tablet games "once they see what a PC can do" is ignorant. I'm well aware of what a PC can do, and will continue to play games on all my devices, when convenient. I don't need great graphics to have fun, just remember that video games started out with a dot and 2 lines.
  • 7 Hide
    ojas , April 27, 2012 6:38 PM
    Mihai CAndrew Ku, your shameful promotion of Windows Phone was embarasing. The developers have nothing to do with it, and you kept bringing it up over and over again.

    Though at least we know why they've nothing to do with it. I for one was unaware of the native code restriction. It's good to see they're willing to support Win 8 though.

    What was more interesting is the way they completely avoided talking about anything related to x86. Can't be sure why but i think they've not got much experience at all with the arch.
  • 10 Hide
    c4v3man , April 27, 2012 7:05 PM
    ram1009You can always tell when someone is out of logical, focused arguements. They start calling names. "Elitist prick"? What do I care how you spend your 2 hour commute? Next you'll be telling me it's OK to game and drive. Something tells me you're an itard.

    Why would an "itard" avoid buying the new iPad and wait for a non-apple tablet to have that kind of power? When did he indicate that he drives a car at all, let alone proposed that driving while being on a cell phone was acceptable?

    You called touchscreen gamers "unsuspecting novices", got called out on it, then called another user an "itard". You might want to read the first line of your post again aloud.
  • 4 Hide
    blazorthon , April 27, 2012 7:27 PM
    Quote:
    You can always tell when someone is out of logical, focused arguements. They start calling names. "Elitist prick"? What do I care how you spend your 2 hour commute? Next you'll be telling me it's OK to game and drive. Something tells me you're an itard.


    Yeah... That big post of mine full of logical arguments must mean that I'm out of logical arguments. Me using a hypothetical situation that is fairly common for many people must mean that I do it too, mustn't it? Me saying that a lot of people like to have something to do when they are on a train must mean that I support gaming while driving a car, mustn't it? Me specifically saying that I refuse to buy Apple hardware must make me an Apple fan, mustn't it? Looks like you're the one without any logical arguments. You just resorted to insulting me after I called you out on your ridiculous comment. It showed obvious signs of being an elitest prick, so that's what I said. My comment doesn't imply that I support Apple nor that I even support Apple's products at all, so your insult didn't even make much sense at all.
  • 2 Hide
    alphaalphaalpha1 , April 27, 2012 7:31 PM
    Quote:
    You can always tell when someone is out of logical, focused arguements. They start calling names. "Elitist prick"? What do I care how you spend your 2 hour commute? Next you'll be telling me it's OK to game and drive. Something tells me you're an itard.


    Quote:
    ...Tablets have already matched them with the newest iPad (although I'd wait until a non-Apple tablet/smart phone had such power before buying something like this). ...


    Something tells me that your gut instincts are wrong.
  • 6 Hide
    mcd023 , April 27, 2012 7:54 PM
    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks a bunch for the interview! As an amateur Windows Phone developer I appreciate being able to hear what other devs are saying (by amateur, I mean that I've only done silverlight and c#, not XNA (games) or C++, which I can't even read! haha). The questions that you asked were good and relevant and I'm glad that you did include windows phone as part of the question set; I may have a bias, though. Great article!
  • 1 Hide
    RADIO_ACTIVE , April 27, 2012 8:19 PM
    My 2 cents Mobile phone gaming (smartphones/tablets) will replace devices such as the DS and PSVita and so on. I don't think it will ever replace consoles or PC gaming. why do I need a separate mobile gaming system when I have a phone that can do it.
  • 3 Hide
    jwcalla , April 27, 2012 9:25 PM
    Thanks for the article, it was a very good read.
  • 2 Hide
    Pawessum16 , April 28, 2012 1:24 AM
    Mihai CAndrew Ku, your shameful promotion of Windows Phone was embarasing. The developers have nothing to do with it, and you kept bringing it up over and over again.

    I actually thought the Windows Phone thing was quite interesting. I was recently in a group that coded a game in XNA for our CS class. The class is mainly taught in C and C++, but our Prof let us use XNA and C# for this game project if we so choosed, and it was definitely one of the easiest programming projects we did all semester. We did it too without the majority of us ever seeing C# or coding a game, and it was cake! Plus, porting from the PC to Xbox to Windows Phone is only a matter of changing controls around. So, if you're already in the Microsoft gaming ecosystem, development is super easy. It's insightful to see that the error on Microsoft's part was in the fact that they didn't make porting from other platforms to their own so easy.
  • 0 Hide
    _Pez_ , April 28, 2012 1:46 AM
    I see in the future Smartphones and tablets games over consoles. console's future is getting dark :D 
  • 0 Hide
    blazorthon , April 28, 2012 2:27 AM
    _Pez_I see in the future Smartphones and tablets games over consoles. console's future is getting dark


    From the same generation, a console can always have several times the processing power of a smart phone or tablet. The iPad 3 is the first phone/tablet to match PS3/Xbox 360 performance and it came out almost a decade after they did. If a console were released with modern hardware right now, it could be FAR faster than any smart phone or tablet simply because it has an always on, high wattage (compared to the mobile devices mentioned) power supply and chips that can use that power to churn out performance far greater than the aforementioned mobile devices.

    Compare a low end desktop to the phones and tablets to get an idea of the difference. A console can often churn out the quality offered by a PC of about 50% to 100% greater cost when they come out, so lets compare, say, a $700 PC to the most recent tablets (how about the newest iPad?).

    The PC could have an i5, Radeon 7850, and 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3. It could play pretty much any game in at least 1080p with the settings more or less maxed out and with some good AA. A console made today could probably do the same for about $350 to $400.

    The tablet? stuck at less than half of the performance at the same (or a greater) cost. Smart phones would fair even worse than the tablet.

    The future of consoles may be getting dark, but for completely different reason than what are shown in this article and your comment. For example, the extreme DRM problems and the fact that people might not be willing to deal with another release cycle this long as well as they have dealt with this one (which isn't very well already).
  • 3 Hide
    slomo4sho , April 28, 2012 2:45 AM
    anonimus789Though I agree that paying more for an HD version of a game is not the right way moving forward, I do believe HD resolution for gaming is essential. In my opinion, a game with excellent high-resolution graphics will win over a similar game with a lower res graphics. Having that crisp, clean graphics, would say a lot about the quality of the game even before the consumer has a chance to play it. First impressions count.


    The gameplay has to be equally important. Having an aesthetically pleasing game that lacks quality gameplay is just a flashy distraction.
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