As we recently mark the arbitrary end point from where we say one year ends and another begins, the mobile world looks and wonders: is this the revolution around the sun where things really change? In particular, I get the feeling like 2013 is going to be a huge year for Android gaming. Gaming-focused Android devices like the Ouya and Project Shield are going to hit store shelves, the 7″ tablet form factor has exploded in popularity, and the phones are just getting more and more powerful. It seems like if there’s a time for Android gaming to truly explode, this is the year. But will indies be part of the explosion?
There is one particular reason why indies are at a disadvantage over bigger studios, and it’s still fragmentation. It’s the problem that gets brought up with Android ad infinitum, but in talking to developers and following their chatter, it continues to be a problem. Developers just have such trouble supporting the wide variety of handsets and tablets out there. And with Android forks internationally and in the Western world like the Kindle Fire, Nook HD, and even potentially platforms like the Ouya and GameStick, there’s just so many OS variants and hardware types to try and support.
This is why, while I think Android gaming will rise up in higher prominence in 2013, as more cross-platform tools are developed and the growing number of tablets and phones entices publishers with the resources to put up with the bumps to get a chunk of the Android change, it will be the domain of the behemoths, and the little guy, the indie developers that truly make up the heart of mobile gaming, will be shut out.
The problem is that because Android is such a wild beast, designed to be split and forked thanks to its Linux roots, there’s little Google can really do in the short-term to change it, particularly because any OS version has a significant latency on when people will actually be getting it on their devices. This is where working with hardware manufacturers to get versions ahead of time may help. But it’s going to take work from all parties involved to ensure cross-compatibility when possible to make developing for the OS as easy as possible.