Android Fragmentation: Alive and Devastating Android Gaming Efforts

Android Fragmentation: Alive and Devastating Android Gaming Efforts

I love Tower Defense games such as Plants vs. Zombies and Fieldrunners, so when I saw a link on Google+ for a great new tablet / Honeycomb based TD game I got excited! When I heard it was a magic-based variant on the genre, I was intrigued and based on a couple of comments I was pretty well sold! Here is the description of Magic Defenders HD:

Ready for magic circles, spells and an endless army of orcs?
Be the hero and defend your village from the evil orcs in three different invasion episodes. You will fight in the forest, near the walls and inside the town to defend the town’s last resort, the castle. Compete with people around the world for the highest score in an endless battle to defend everyone in an arcade style gameplay.

Then I hit the link to the Android Market and got smacked in the face with the Android Fragmentation bat … again! There is nothing like seeing “This app is incompatible with all of your devices.”

When I bring up ‘Android Fragmentation’ I am typically rebuked by a chorus of ‘it isn’t so bad’, and am reminded that most apps people care about run pretty well on the majority of devices and majority of OS versions in use. When I point to version incompatibility and lagging updates I hear that 2.2 is a pretty modern version even if it has been out for over 18 months and has some distinct disadvantages from 2.3.x. When I talk about tablets … well, there is little disagreement to the problems there.

But the #1 Android Fragmentation issue for me … is games. Perhaps that isn’t surprising since I am such a heavy gamer, but it still surprises me just HOW bad it is.

I have said before that I have yet to find a game that performs better – or even as well – on Android as on iOS. While there are many things Android does well – gaming simply isn’t one. The graphics look worse, load times are longer (even with a faster processor), responsiveness is comparatively lacking, and so on. That doesn’t mean Android games are ‘bad’ – I’ve been playing a bunch of them and they work just fine. Plenty of folks happily game on Android daily. It is just a comparative thing.

That I could deal with so long as I could actually play all of the games I wanted.

There was a poll on an Android site this week about ‘how many apps you bought last week’. When I thought about it I realized that in spite of WANTING to buy several games … I bought NONE.

Gameloft has started bringing games to the Android Market, and supposedly a big push for them was the Tegra chipset. Yet my Tegra-based Acer Iconia isn’t supported by anything they make. And for anyone wondering what ever happened to my ‘Spectral Souls’ review, the game claims to be compatible with all of my devices, yet only works on my original Droid so I never finished it. There are other games that claim compatibility but don’t work correctly – this is particularly true for my Iconia Tab. And I can’t even think of all of the other games that are incompatible with my devices that I would have bought from the market based on good ratings and low price.

Given the massive gaming market Apple has created with the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, it would seem to me that gaming should be a priority to Android – but based on actions and results it is not. Let me be clear – as someone using Android for two years now, Android gaming is a failure. Maybe not PSP-level failure, but certainly much worse than it should be at this point in the OS history.

I understand that Google and their partners are in a tough situation trying to constantly catch up to Apple, particularly in terms of tablets. But since the smartphone OS has matured very nicely I hope that ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ or whatever the next release is called finally brings some decent capability, and that something happens to facilitate gamers actually getting to buy more than just Angry Birds and a few other top-level games on most systems.

What has your experience been with games and various Android devices? Am I just asking too much to expect things to ‘just work’? Should developers do more? Should Google be taking the lead? Let us know what you think!

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!

3 Comments on "Android Fragmentation: Alive and Devastating Android Gaming Efforts"

  1. Fragmentation is basically inevitable here, Android is more like PC gaming than console gaming due to the rapid introduction of new devices with different technology and specifications. At best we can expect some tools to manage the fragmentation, like a series of named minimum specifications, e.g. Android 2011 Gaming Level 1 (single core 1 gigahertz cpu with 3.5″ WVGA display with two point touch, 3-axis gyroscopes with x sensitivity, etc…). This didn’t happen in the PC space which may have contributed to its mess…

  2. I understand it to an extent, but I really think that if Google took some responsibility things could be much better. Not perfect, but that is the price we pay for a less controlled ecosystem.

  3. Hi, I’m one of the developers of the game Magic Defenders you used as an example. Our game is made for all “big” tablets running honeycomb. It should run on your Acer Iconia (well, if you’re talking abou the Acer Iconia A500).

    About the fragmentation, I completely agree with you. I’m an apple products user and when looking at the Android world it really scares me how confusing, messy and not at all standardized the whole thing is.

    From a developer’s perspective it is even worst! To develop for such a different array of devices, all with different capabilities and screen sizes/resolutions, if we want to make a game that is compatible with all of them we have to include in the package around 3 or 4 sets of assets (images, sounds, videos…). Then the whole code has to be a lot more complicated to be able to deal with using different assets depending on each device capabilities, screen size and such (checking device, loading correct assets, placing them correctly on screen, etc). The game becomes slower to account for all that extra processing and the game package becomes way bigger than it needs to be. Besides that, it obviously takes a lot of time to get those different optimized assets.
    After all that comes the testing! We have to test on like a dozen devices to be sure it runs everywhere correctly. Then one of them doesn’t, you try to fix it there and end up messing the game on another device. It’s a pain overall!

    We are currently working hard on having a magic defenders version out that runs on most devices. We’re targetting devices on android 2.2 and above, with a decent CPU (armv7 600Mhz+), and resolutions of 480×320 and above.

    We released the tablet version first because it was our first focus device. We chose these devices for the game first because it is undoubtebly where it looks best.

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