Why Some Mobile Games Don't Come Out on Android

A tablet and smartphone displaying the Lifewire.com website

Lifewire / Stanley Goodner

Android is a great platform for enjoying games on, with the many great devices to play on, the great controllers available, and the sheer number of games that are available. But even with so many games, if you compare to iOS, there are some notable omissions. Some games just never release on Android or are very delayed. While buying an Android device means that you're going to get some great games no matter how you shake it, you're bound to miss out on some gems. So, why do so many games get delayed or just never arrive on Android?

Android Versus iOS

The first, and perhaps core reason to consider, is that testing on Android compared to iOS is a completely different situation due to the nature of the platform. On iOS, a developer only has a small number of devices to worry about. Apple sells only a few variations of iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch at a time. And these are all using very similar internal hardware, so compatibility is generally assured even if a developer doesn't test on that specific device This isn't necessarily true in practice, as small differences can wreak havoc, but it's far easier for developers to track down and test the problem.

Now compare this to Android's wild west nature. Any manufacturer can make an Android-powered device since the operating system is open-source thanks to its Linux roots. There are certain restrictions on devices that have Google Play Services, but still, there's nothing stopping a fly-by-night manufacturer from making something that runs Android. Which is why there are hundreds upon hundreds of Android devices, all with different processor architectures, graphics chips, RAM types, and whatnot. What this means is that for sufficiently advanced programs like games, the odds that a game isn't going to run properly on every single device. And tracking down the devices that have issues can be difficult because it's possible only that one user has a device with that specific hardware configuration.

How bad is it? Publisher Animoca shared a photo of their Android testing lab back in 2012, showing a table full of different Android devices, out of the 400 or so they had at the time.

Now imagine the problems that have arisen since then. There are cheaper, no-name Android tablets and phones out there. Developers have more devices than ever to try and make sure their game's myriad issues are resolved. While services like Amazon's AWS Device Farm exist to help test on devices that developers don't have, it's still a lot of work.

For large developers that can throw money and massive testing armies at their games, it's worth investing in the effort to try and reach the massive number of people that have Android devices. But for smaller studios and many independent developers, it might not be worth it, instead of investing effort in developing further games versus the technical work to support Android.

Android Users Spend Less

The other big issue is that supporting Android may not make sense from a financial perspective. See, Android users often bring in much less money than iOS users do. Technology industry expert Benedict Evans reported in 2014 that "Google Android users in total are spending around half as much on apps on more than twice the user base, and hence app [average revenue per users] on Android is roughly a quarter of iOS." As he also reports, Android phones and tablets are often cheaper than iOS devices – someone who is shelling out for something less than the flagship hardware is probably not going to spend that much money on a game. We even see this with paid games. Ustwo, the developers of Monument Valley, revealed that their smash-hit puzzle game made a lot less money on Android despite releasing only a few months later.

Now, this also explains why for developers of paid games, it's far less worth it to release on Android. For free-to-play developers, it's possibly worth it because you can make money from non-paying users via advertisements, particularly incentivized video ads. But for developers of premium games, there's only one real option: hope users pay. And evidence shows that they won't. Plus, while it's probably an overrated factor, it's also worth considering that Android is much easier to pirate games on than iOS.

The good news for Android gamers is that despite the difficulties, there are still so many people with Android devices, such that for many, it's worth releasing on Android. The platform does provide its benefits as well: developers can release early access games on Android, where they can't on iOS. Games that need to be updated and tweaked are easier to do on Android, where updates don't have to go through a lengthy approval process like they do on the iOS App Store. But as well, cross-platform technology like Unity and Unreal Engine 4 make developing for multiple platforms a lot easier, and many of the incompatibilities can be solved at a deep technical level. Plus, services like Apportable offer cross-platform solutions, and publishers like Noodlecake Games handle many ports for developers.

But still, if you ever wonder why a cool iOS game isn't coming to Android, just know – there are many good, inescapable reasons why it isn't.