Game Developer Abandons Android App Citing Unsustainability

11 Mar/12

The company behind the popular Battleheart game for Google’s Android operating system are ceasing support for the platform citing the unsustainability of the platform in the long term.  In a blog post, Mika Mobile said…

 We spent about 20% of our total man-hours last year dealing with Android in one way or another – porting, platform specific bug fixes, customer service, etc.  I would have preferred spending that time on more content for you, but instead I was thanklessly modifying shaders and texture formats to work on different GPUs, or pushing out patches to support new devices without crashing, or walking someone through how to fix an installation that wouldn’t go through.  We spent thousands on various test hardware.  These are the unsung necessities of offering our apps on Android.  Meanwhile, Android sales amounted to around 5% of our revenue for the year, and continues to shrink.  Needless to say, this ratio is unsustainable.

Clearly there is an economic argument here as the company state clearly that they’re not making money, at least not from this one game.  Their problem however is exacerbated by the fact that Android has become such a fractured platform for them, and updates to the OS are coming so quickly that they’re spending too much time updating existing titles to keep them working.  This is cutting into the time they want to spend developing new titles instead.

This raises an interesting question as it should be a simple matter of writing an app and putting it on sale.  This, after all is what happens on iOS and what will happen for Windows 8.  These two platforms are very different from Android though for quite significant reasons.  With Windows 8 all the cross-compatibility work is done by the compiler, which is something Microsoft worked very hard on, and the main operating system itself will not be updated for another three years.  In the case of iOS very little changes and with the new iPad coming next month with it’s higher resolution screen, all upscaling of apps will be handled by the operating system seamlessly in the background.

Under the hood of both of these platforms everything is stable and nothing changes.  Android however is suffering from the fragmentation that being open-source has brought to some Linux distributions with even the creator of Gnome admitting last year that each new distro of the kernel is “breaking APIs all the time”.

In no small part Android is becoming a victim of its own success.  It is nowhere near as tightly controlled as either iOS or Windows 8 with individual hardware makers able to add their own elements to the OS.  This creates device-specific versions of Android, with good examples being the Amazon Kindle Fire and the HTC Flyer, that software makers have to check application compatibility with.

So is this the beginning of a slippery slope for Android?  It is possible that we could eventually find ourselves in a position where tablets begin to crash as software houses write apps that will run on one version of the OS on most tablets but not on one or two specific machines.  It is also possible that many apps will come with a list of supported devices before you buy or download them, and with advice not to update the firmware for risk of breaking the app.

It will be interesting to hear what you think on this.  Do you think Android is unsustainable or do you believe the open-source approach is simply superior to the closed-development that Apple and Microsoft bring to their platforms?  Why not tell us in the comments below.

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