Charles Hudson’s Six Android Development Challenges (and how to tackle them)
Last night, Yetizen, an Android game development accelerator for helping fund and build mobile & social games and emerging platform companies, hosted “Prepare to be Android-i-fied” at Google SF.
The turn out was fantastic, and it was fun hearing people pitch their exciting ventures, such as Explorence, a company that lets you chart your own Amazing Race™ with your friends, or Chute, a cloud-based photo sharing API that allows developers build creative applications with their database.
Networking aside, the main event was the Android game development-focused keynote talks from Charles Hudson of Bionic Panda, and Barry Dorf from Ngmoco:). Charles Hudson kicked off the talk with:
ANDROID IS HARD!
Charles Hudson was not shy about his experiences developing on the Android platform with his game studio, Bionic Panda Games. There was little sugar-coating of the six major challenges that Android developers face, especially when compared to iOS. He did have great suggestions for tackling each one, which we wanted to pass on to you. His six tips are below:
Problem: Unlike the iPhone, there are many types of Android devices, which leads to OS fragmentation, varying screen size and resolutions, and types of hardware. This means that the user experience can vastly differ from user to user. Also, Android game developers can drown themselves in work trying to make their game compatible with everything.
Solution: Charles suggests that you test your game on multiple devices to make sure the user experience can consistent across a sea of devices. He said that he bought old, “well loved” Android phones from resellers to cheaply test his game on each type of hardware. As for OS, if you need to draw a line in the sand and not supporting older OS versions to provide a consistent experience, then do so. According to Ngmoco:), which spoke later in the evening, 94% of Android gamers are on 2.1 or above, so you won’t miss many customers by cutting out the troublesome 1.6 and 1.7 versions.
2. Development & Testing
Problem: Because it is so easy to launch new applications and versions on Android – you are essentially just one button away from pushing new versions – Android game developers can sometimes get trigger happy. This can overwhelm users and stop them from updating your game.
Solution: Android users typically don’t update their apps as often as iOS users, so Charles recommended a minimum period of one week between app updates, excepting urgent bug fixes of course. And as we mentioned before, you should test your game on each major type of phone and supported OS version before an update goes live. This can prevent unforseen hiccups and help you avoid those urgent bug fixes.
Problem: Developers are typically flying totally blind when it comes to the way that users are interacting with their app, especially on Android.
Solution: Look into integrating with a game analytics platform that fits your budget. Google Analytics is free, but can be a trickier integration as it isn’t built for mobile. If you are looking for an easier and more mobile-friendly solution, there are mobile game analytics platforms that are free to try such as Flurry and Localytics.
4. Platform Wars
Problem: 23% of all smartphone customers are on iOS devices, and conventional wisdom states that iOS users are more likely to pay for apps and complete in-app purchases than their Android counterparts. This also leads into the problem with Android game monetization, which we cover at #6.
Solution: To paraphrase Charles Hudson, “it is better to build a great game on one platform instead of a mediocre game on two platforms.” Each platform has different capabilities, so focus your resources in building an awesome game on Android before you worry about iOS. Bionic Panda is an Android only game studio, so Charles clearly practices what he preaches.
5. Distribution & Discovery
Problem: Discoverability on Android depends less on category ranking compared to iOS, and getting Featured on the Android Market is just as difficult as it is on the Apple App Store. Also, Android does not have a united social graph like Facebook or Apple’s Game Center, so it is hard to lean on viral mechanics to acquire users.
Solution: There tends to be higher search activity on Android (as Charles pointed out, “it is Google product”), so make sure your app description is accurate and hits all of the important keywords that users would use to search for a game like yours. Also, he could not stress enough the importance of having a well-designed app icon that draws users in. This icon and your app title are often all the user sees before making his decision to download, so use that space wisely! Also, fortunately for Android developers, Android still allows incentivized installs, so jump on the ad networks such as Tapjoy and Admob to help capture your seed group of users. Assuming you’ve made a compelling app, once you get the seed group of users you should be off and running.
Problem: It is conventional wisdom that iOS games typically generate more revenue when compared to Android games. Part of the story behind this is that in-app purchases on iOS is much easier than the severely fragmented Android payments. Others argue that monetizing Android is hard because the platform attracts a less free-spending customer base.
Solution: Count on an eventual consolidation of payment methods on Android, and Google Payments is a good default because they will always be around. The key with monetization is to provide compelling reasons for users to buy in, and then they will find ways to do so, regardless of the difficulty. If you’re interested in getting more tips about game monetization and building games on Android, be sure to check out our articles A Hacker’s Guide to Monetizing Free-to-Play Games, and Roger Dickey’s Hacks for Game Monetization.
Thanks for reading, and if you found it helpful we hope you subscribe. We have also started a meetup on Meetup.com for San Francisco game developers interested in Game Monetization, and we invite you to join us there. We are just getting started, but we plan to include speakers, workshops, game developer roundtables and panels of industry leaders, all around game monetization. Join today to become a part of San Francisco’s first game monetization community.