Can Android make it as a gaming platform?

As you may already know, if you’re a long time reader of DroidDog, I am an avid video game fan. I play mainly console games, but when I’m on the go, my phone has replaced my Nintendo DS. Why? As much as I love my DS, the added convenience of being able to carry one device seals the deal. Not to mention that as far as quality of games go, phones have met, if not surpassed, 90% of the original DS’ library. So why then, do I still feel like I’m really missing out some days? It’s not that I’m carrying a phone over a handheld, it’s which phone I’m carrying.

I have no shame in admitting that I use an iPhone 4. I use a lot of Google services on it –GMail, contacts, etc.– but I like some variety. The Nexus and iP4 make a great duo; it’s like the best of both worlds. When I want to be productive, I grab my Nexus S. GMail is top notch, I can use profiles, 3G data speeds are amazing, and there are some days when I really use that Android authentic multi-tasking to the fullest of its capabilities. If it’s going to be a casual day at the beach, however, and I know I’m going to be left with a lot of time to pull out a quick game here and there, I grab for my iPhone. As for right now, the iOS surpasses Android gaming. I can’t quite make any dramatic real world comparisons, like saying Android is to Wii as iOS is to 360, because both platforms are practically on equal footing. But there are subtle differences that make me question the future of gaming on Android.

The first thing I noticed when picking back up an iPhone with iOS 4.x, was Game Center. Sure, we have Open Feint (which actually works on iOS as well, if you can find any games that use it), but compared to Game Center, Open Feint is terrible. Every single time I have ever tried to activate Open Feint, the game I’m playing it with slows down, glitches out, and begins to stutter. On iOS, it simply says “Welcome back du57in”. Android needs to create some sort of native game network if they want to take it to the next level. If they did, I can’t even imagine how many friends I’d have the first day of it being open. Android does native apps incredibly well, so I can only dream how much better Google could create a social gaming experience compared to the third-party.

Another thing that would also help Android gaming? Android-based PMPs. Samsung is the only one making an effort to really dig into this market, and they may be going somewhere with it. It’s to the point now where people will willingly choose an Android phone over an iPhone, so why not a smaller entertainment device? The more Android devices you get out there, the better. It will entice developers to take special notice of Android, and create more devices where one of the top three things it’s used for is games. I can see it now: you walk into Best Buy, and right next to the iPod display sits the Galaxy S II PMP (of course, with some sort of snazzy name) with it’s Super AMOLED Plus display, 8GB of on-board storage, Google Music inside, full access to the Android Market, and with a $250 price-tag. Wouldn’t you be tempted?

The next thing Android needs, is exclusives. Are there any major games that only come out for Android, big enough to make a splash on the front page of major tech blogs? Generally, no. The biggest one in recent memory has been Minecraft for the Xperia Play — the biggest exception of all phones, Android or not. Sure, side-loading emulators (since they’ve all been pulled from the Market) are cool and all, but playing games made for a controller with a touch screen isn’t exactly an enjoyable experience. The Xperia Play has a controller built in, so not only can it take full advantage of any touch based games, but classic games are a blast on the device. Which brings me to Android’s biggest advantage, and downfall.

Android offers a level of variety unheard of in mobile technology up to this point. When that sort of variety works, it really works. You can use the OS on anything from teeny-bopper messaging phones, to full on mobile gaming devices with slide out controllers. When that variety goes against the OS, it really goes against the OS. Games in the Market are riddled with comments about how their phone is too slow to play, and some developers aren’t helping much. Even though my Nexus S is deemed top of the line by Google’s standards, there are plenty of games that would be far more enjoyable if I had a G2X or other dual-core device. This problem will not be easily fixed, but as Android continues to evolve, Google has shown more and more signs of an upcoming change to standardize the platform as much as possible. Fortunately, this isn’t the only thing pushing Android into being a better platform for gaming.

Developers have taken notice of Android, and it shows. iOS is landing less and less exclusive titles, and Android is reaping the benefits. Markets like the Amazon Appstore have really helped with this, and as Amazon continues to grow, so will support. The growth of Android in general also helps a lot. The number of Android activations daily is not slowing down. Before you know it, you won’t be able to get away from high-end Android devices at every turn.

So Google, I beg of you: create a native solution to Game Center, help get more PMPs into the market (or just release one yourself), and jump in bed with some top-tier developers so Android can land some exclusives worthy of making front-page news. Consider this my thanks in advance, because if that short list is fulfilled, Android has a bright future in gaming.

Image via RedBubble

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