How Android N and Google I/O 16 Will Change Android Gaming

New technology, hardware, and features will change the way you play games.

Google's putting the finishing touches on Android N, including what they're going to name the operating system, after revealing new hardware and features at Google IO 2016. Android gaming promises to be majorly impacted by some of the things Google has revealed. Here are 6 of the big changes that will have an impact on Android now in the future.

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Google Daydream is the Next Salvo in Mobile VR

Google Daydream Home Background
The home background for VR mode in Google Daydream. Google

This has been rumored for a bit now, but Google Daydream is a major push for Google to help make a more serious form of VR standard on Android, and to take some control back from the Gear VR, the most serious mobile VR platform. What's interesting in part is that Apple has shown little to no interest, publicly, in VR yet. Some rumors about a team working on VR are out there, and admittedly Google has done more work publicly with Cardboard so far.

But here's the difference: Google has gotten millions of Cardboard units out there. And Daydream promises to be compatible with a wide range of phones that Gear VR is not.They have developers who are familiar with their tech and API. They have VR video distribution on YouTube. Getting VR to a wider variety of Android devices, versus Apple's smaller slate of iOS devices that they control from top to bottom, is a challenge. But that foundation of content and backend that Apple will have to build up. I don't know if mobile game developers have the highest opinion of Apple – not that Google has been great, either – but Google's foothold in VR might be huge unless Apple's VR efforts are way more advanced than we think. 

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Fighting IAP in VR to promote paid games

Google IO Google Cardboard
Google IO Google Cardboard. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I talk to developers about VR, and one of the things I hear is that free-to-play wouldn't work. Two reasons for that. One is that many things like customizations don't really work in a first-person environment. Second, the interfaces for in-app purchases and similar effects work really well on a touchscreen, with friction reduced by things like in-app purchases. VR interfaces make that more difficult. So, Google is smart in telling developers: don't do it. It's easier to just sell things up front rather than trying to work the current popular mobile business models into games.

This has other benefits. Mobile players aren't used to paying for games up front. They might not have to nowadays, but the benefits of VR might get them to. That, or perhaps the free-with-paid-unlock model could somehow work. Which might be beneficial: it would suck to buy a game and then find out it makes you sick. While free-to-play on mobile is what the mass market has demanded, anything that helps promote paid game experiences will be great for developers who make experiences that are better.

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Project Tango Lives

Adventures of Poco Eco for Project Tango
A screenshot of the Tango-enabled version of Adventures of Poco Eco. Possible Games

While the world focuses on virtual reality, augmented reality must not be forgotten. Google's Project Tango could help out with this, as devices with Tango use sensors that help a device know its positioning in the real-world. And this could make for better-augmented reality than ever, with plenty of gaming applications. Already, several games on Google Play take advantage of Project Tango test devices, such as Adventures of Poco Eco, and it's not implausible that Tango could combine with Daydream to make for powerful mixed-realty experiences with advanced controls.

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The introduction of the Vulkan API to Android

Super Evil Megacorp

Part of the challenge of mobile VR is that you hear game developers talk about how GPU power is a concern with VR. Many think that VR isn't even at a point where it can ideally do what people expect because the hardware just is not there yet. So, any leg up that Google can give to developers in leveraging mobile hardware is key. Android N's support of the Vulkan API is going to be important. While adoption might take a while due to the slow rate of adoption for later Android versions in general, there's a lot of promise here. Any advantage that Android can claim, or erase from Apple, in mobile gaming is huge for the platform. The key being that especially since VR is going to need the performance, Android needs graphics libraries like these.

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Early Access comes to Google Play

Critical Ops Weapon Skin
A special weapon skin in Critical Ops. Critical Force Entertainment

Google giving prominent featuring to in-development games could have its drawbacks – Steam Early Access is not without its perils. But considering many Android games and those in early access are free-to-play ones, there's far less of a concern there than on PC, where a developer could take money for paid games and deliver an underwhelming product if they ever even finish their game. That might still happen on Android with paid game beta testing, but it's likely to be a lesser effect. Also, the ability to give feedback directly through google play will help developers get more and more useful feedback by reducing friction.

Google Play Award Winners
The 2016 winners of the Google Play Awards. Google Play

This could wind up being incredibly prestigious, and a point of pride for Android developers. The Apple Design Awards are very coveted by developers. And they have a bit of hipness to them. Like, they largely recognize famous games, but famous in the sense of indie games. And the choices make sense for Apple, they fit into the products that Apple is going to want to promote as an award winner. They're this prestigious thing that developers want to win.

What Google needs to do is to be very careful with these awards. In fact, simplifying them from their current categories, some of which are nonsense, would be a good call. And finding a voice for them, to award only the best apps in meaningful ways, possibly eliminating categories, would be a smart call. More »

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