Epic Games将手机游戏《无尽之剑》成功地推上iOS，但是却放弃了Android也正是这个原因。该公司首席执行官Tim Sweeney说道：“用户拿到手机后想要玩采用我们技术的游戏，而且希望能够获得一致性的体验，而我们在Android平台上无法确保这一点。这正是我们远离Android的原因所在。”
MMO游戏《Pocket Legends》和《Star Legends》开发商Spacetime Studios最初也觉得不同屏幕是件很棘手的事情，但是公司找到了解决方案。首席执行官Gary Gattis说道：“最终，我们重新编写了用户界面系统，可以根据设备类型进行动态缩放。”
Peculiar Games成员Patrick Casey（游戏邦注：作品有《Voyage to Farland》和《Microchip Monsters》）有着同样的想法：“在我的最新游戏中，通过将所有内容程序化绘制转变成后台任务来解决屏幕差异问题。代码会获取屏幕大小，然后运用于游戏呈现中。结果是，这款游戏既可以在240 X 320分辨率的手机上运行，也可以再7寸的600 X 1024 平板电脑上运行。关键在于，对UI布局过程有深入的理解，能够根据不同的设备来缩放按键和帧缓存器，而不是设计成固定大小。”
The Binary Mill（游戏邦注：代表作包括《Mini Motor Racing》和《Gun Club 2》）工作室主管Ingmar Lak说道：“我知道，有些设备无法升级到最新操作系统版本也是Android分裂性的部分问题，但我认为这个问题会渐渐得到解决。随着我们向前发展，Google、运营商和设备制造商也在不断成长，他们也会不断改善系统和设备。”
Peculiar Games的Casey声称：“不同设备规格（游戏邦注：比如屏幕大小和CPU速度）带来的挑战性要超过不同OS版本。我主要专注于Android 2.1到2.3版本，根据谷歌报告所示，90%的设备使用上述系统。”
Casey继续说道：“许多开发商误认为，如果以2.1到2.3版本为开发目标，那么游戏就无法再更新的操作系统上有效运行，事实上情况并非如此。它们依然可以在装有Honeycomb或Ice Cream Sandwich的Xoom、Galaxy Nexus设备上良好地运转。”
Vector Unit（游戏邦注：作品有《Shine Runner》和《Riptide GP》）技术总监Ralf Knoesel说道：“作为一家小型独立开发商，我们遇到的最大挑战是缺乏必要的资源在多种设备上进行测试。”
Digital Harmony Games（游戏邦注：作品有《Dragons Vs. Unicorns》和《Chin Up》）的Daniel Kim补充道：“购买4到8款设备来测试代码，这对独立开发者来说或许是笔不少的投入，但这样的投资是值得的，欣喜的用户会让你看到回报。”
所有受访者都表示，分裂性问题还不足以让他们放弃针对该平台制作游戏的念头。Binary Mill的Lak回应称：“Google Play正在迅速成长，它所呈现出的市场机遇不容开发者忽视。”
Knoesel说道：“我们的投入是值得的。到目前为止，我们的两款应用在Google Play上的表现都比App Store好。这种情况的出现有多个原因，包括（但不仅限于）我们游戏的内涵、App Store的拥挤状况和排名计算方法的不同。”
而Epic Games的Sweeney之前则发表了截然不同的看法。去年他分享了公司手机游戏将专注于App Store而忽略Android的原因。他的理由是，苹果iOS是最佳盈利平台。
但是，越来越多的开发商报告称，Android应用商店的盈利性超过苹果商店。跨平台免费游戏《Tiny Village》开发商TinyCo近期发现，游戏在Amazon Appstore（游戏邦注：针对Android设备）上的每用户平均盈利要高于苹果的设备。该公司甚至将亚马逊平台称为“金矿”。
Casey补充道：“乍看之下，Android的分裂型似乎是个很大的问题，但事实上却隐藏着巨大的机遇，你不仅可以将应用投放到Google Play上，还可以投放到Nook应用商店、Amazon Appstore甚至针对PlayBook的黑莓App World等应用商店上，接触到各种各样的Android玩家。在这些商店中，你投放的应用不会瞬间被50万款其他应用所淹没。”
Digital Harmony的Kim相信，新版本的Android操作系统会让平台得到提升。“当Android Honeycomb处在开发过程中时，行业对此普遍表示担心，但谷歌很好地将HoneyComb和之前的版本统一到Ice Cream Sandwich中。Android的当前状态依然让开发者头痛，但随着时间的推移，情况会变得更好，我们会得到一个统一化的平台。”
Dealing with Android’s fragmented market
Ask a group of mobile game developers why working on the Android platform can be a hassle, or why they prefer not to work with it at all, and it’s likely some will immediately point out its fragmentation problem.
Android developers have to build their games for a staggering variety of devices, taking into account different operating system versions, screen sizes, processor speeds, and numerous other factors. Staircase 3 recently tallied the number of Android setups accessing its OpenSignalMaps app, and ended its count at nearly 4,000 distinct devices.
That’s exponentially more than the number of iOS devices one needs to consider, and game creators have noticed. Financial services company Baird surveyed 250 developers a year ago and found that 86 percent of them considered Android’s fragmentation a problem. More than half said it was a meaningful or huge issue to deal with.
Epic Games famously brought one of the biggest mobile franchises (Infinity Blade) to iOS but not Android because of these problems. “When a consumer gets the phone and they wanna play a game that uses our technology, it’s got to be a consistent experience, and we can’t guarantee that [on Android],” said CEO Tim Sweeney. “That’s what held us off of Android.”
Despite Android’s fragmented ecosystem, many game developers have stuck with the platform and found ways to work around the problem. Gamasutra talked with several of those studios about how they’ve approached making mobile titles for thousands of different devices, and whether they still believe developing for Android is worth the hassle.
Developing for different screen sizes
Among the developers we talked to, the most commonly cited problem with Android’s fragmentation was having to display their game across a multitude of screen sizes and resolutions. Staircase 3 created the following graphic to illustrate the various screen configurations that viewed its app (scale 2:7):
Spacetime Studios, creator of 3D MMOs Pocket Legends and Star Legends, initially had difficulty with all the different screen setups, but it came up with a solution. “We eventually rewrote our user interface system to scale dynamically based on the type of device,” says CEO Gary Gattis.
Peculiar Games’ Patrick Casey (Voyage to Farland, Microchip Monsters) had a similar idea: “I’ve circumvented some of the differences in specs in my latest game by having everything drawn procedurally at startup in a background task. The code just gets the screen size and goes from there. The result is that it’s being played on smaller 240×320 ldpi phones all the way up to 7-inch 600×1024 tablets. … Getting a solid understanding of the UI layout process, especially weighting buttons and frame buffers to scale across devices rather than hard-coding sizes [is key].”
Casey adds, “That and designing from the start (enemies, monsters, whatever) with no assumptions about the screen size and for different CPU/GPU speeds, limiting framerates to 30fps (60fps is unfortunately unrealistic for most devices — especially if you don’t want to drain the battery).”
Contending with Android’s many OS versions
Compared to the number of studios that said screen size is a critical issue, fewer felt the jumble of different Android operating system versions installed across hundreds of millions of devices — with many incapable of upgrading due to restrictions from carriers or manufacturers — is a severe problem for them.
“I know that’s part of the concern [with Android fragmentation], that some devices don’t support upgrade paths to later OSes, but I think that’s a roll-on effect from an emerging market,” says Ingmar Lak, studio director at The Binary Mill (Mini Motor Racing, Gun Club 2). “As we move forward, lessons have been learned by Google, carriers and device manufacturers that will improve new devices as they enter the market.”
“The different device specs (screen size and CPU speed) have been more challenging than the varying OS versions,” notes Peculiar Games’ Casey. “I pretty much target Android 2.1 to 2.3, which covers 90 percent of the devices out there, according to Google’s ‘Platform Versions’ page.”
Casey continues, “One misconception is that by targeting 2.1 to 2.3, your games won’t run on higher level OSes, which is not the case. They’ll run fine on the Xoom and Galaxy Nexus with Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich or whatever.”
In many ways, the problems developers have encountered from Android’s fragmentation are the same as those PC game makers have faced for decades. As in the PC space, it can be difficult to anticipate all the problems a game will encounter on so many different configurations, especially if one doesn’t have access to the equipment for testing.
“The biggest challenge for us as a small independent developer is that we simply don’t have the resources necessary to test on many devices,” says Ralf Knoesel, who serves as technical director of Vector Unit (Shine Runner, Riptide GP).
Developers don’t need to make sure their games run on every device, though. Knoesel notes, “When launching a new game, our standard practice is to make sure the major chipsets and most popular devices are covered. This means testing on a handful of devices we’ve collected over the last year. Then we simply release the game to the public with no filtering.”
“If we get a few emails informing us of a device incompatibility, there are two courses of action: (1) If the device is popular enough (based on downloads/installs), we’ll purchase it and fix the issue. (2) If the device is not popular enough to warrant a purchase, then we’ll simply filter out the device.”
Daniel Kim at Digital Harmony Games (Dragons Vs. Unicorns, Chin Up) adds, “Getting a four-to-eight device base to test your code against might seem like a drastic expense from an indie standpoint, but it’s an investment that is well suited and should see some returns in the form of saved time and happier customers.”
Even if you don’t have access to a handful of common phones to test on, you’re not out of luck. Peculiar Games’ Casey says, “I set up emulators for the more popular devices. Unfortunately, the emulator’s pretty slow, but it’s a faithful emulation of the full operating system, and you can at least get a feel for problems in the UI, etc.”
Is it worth dealing with Android’s fragmented landscape?
All of the developers Gamasutra spoke to agreed that fragmentation problems haven’t been enough to dissuade them from making games for the platform. The Binary Mill’s Lak echoes many of their statements: “[Google Play/Android Market] is growing rapidly, and represents a market opportunity that devs would be crazy to ignore.”
“It’s definitely worth it for us,” says Knoesel. “Both of our apps so far have so far performed better on Google Play than in the App Store. This is due to several reasons including (but not limited to) the nature of our games, the flooded state of the App Store, and the way rankings are calculated.”
“Android as of now is the leader in the mobile OS race, and I don’t see that dwindling anytime soon,” comments Digital Harmony’s Kim. He emphasizes the importance of publishing games to both iOS and Android: “Strategically planning releases cross-platform is a must if you want to maximize on your potential and value, even if it’s a pain to deal with.”
“[One of the primary reasons] we love the Android platform is revenues,” says Gattis, whose Spacetime Studios specializes in free-to-play cross-platform MMOs. “We make about the same money on Android that we do on iOS. Our suspicion is that our games are more mid-to-hard-core, and this resonates better with the Android players.”
Contrast those statements with what Epic Games’ Sweeney said last year when he shared another reason why his company opted to focus on the App Store, releasing the Infinity Blade franchise on iOS but not on Android. He argued that Apple’s platform is “really the best place to make money.”
But more and more developers are reporting bigger revenues from Android’s app stores than Apple’s. TinyCo, maker of cross-platform free-to-play title Tiny Village, recently found that its game was getting a much higher average revenue per user on the Amazon Appstore (for Android devices) than on Apple’s service. It called Amazon’s platform a “gold mine.”
Casey adds, “Another point with Android that seems like fragmentation at first — but is actually an opportunity in disguise — is that it’s pretty seamless to get your apps not just on Google Play, but other app stores like the Nook app store (which is really promising these days), the Amazon Appstore, and even the BlackBerry App World for targeting the PlayBook with the Android player. In those other stores, your game isn’t immediately swamped among 500,000 other apps.
Painful but improving
Another reason why many developers are willing to overlook Android fragmentation is that they believe it’s becoming less of a concern. The Binary Mill’s Lak says the situation has “definitely improved” and comments, “The market is maturing, and as time goes on, fragmentation seems to be becoming less of an issue as the power of devices exponentially increases.”
Digital Harmony’s Kim is confident that new versions of the Android OS will also elevate the platform. “There were worries when Android Honeycomb was in development, but Google did the right thing in unifying HoneyComb and previous versions of smartphone Android into Ice Cream Sandwich. The current state of Android is still painful, but as time progresses, things should be getting better with a unified platform.”
That doesn’t mean fragmentation will cease to be a problem in the future, though. “In terms of getting better, yes I would say it’s headed in that direction, but fragmentation will always be an issue with the sea of manufacturer’s out there and the varying degrees of devices and their capabilities,” says Kim.
But maybe that’s not such a terrible thing. “I think there are upsides to ‘fragmentation’ to consider here,” argues Lak. “Variety. Innovation. Choice. The alternative is a closed market that stifles competition, leaving little of these.” (Source: Eric Caoili)