Jun 02 AT 1:47 AM Russell Holly 40 Comments

Will games help decide your next Android phone?

The battle lines have been drawn, and it’s become increasingly clear that for the next little while the situation is not likely to change. As you read this, nVidia, Qualcomm, and Sony Ericsson are dawning their warpaint, loading up on ammunition, and fortifying themselves for the upcoming fight. What are they fighting for, exactly? Simple, they’re fighting for your wallet. Specifically, they’re fighting to show that they have the very best graphics, the very best titles, and the very best partners to help you choose them for your next phone. The biggest question is, are video game titles on a particular chipset enough to make the buying decision for you?

No consumer likes the idea of Android fragmentation, and unfortunately the single biggest place to see evidence of it is in our video games. Right now, the best games live across NVIDIA’s Tegra Zone, Qualcomm’s upcoming Game Pack, and let’s not forget the over 50 titles on Verizon’s game store optimized for the Xperia Play combined with Big Red’s plans to expand the service to other Verizon phones. There’s some pretty significant lines drawn in the sand, leaving consumers to choose from what they feel is “the best”

It’s REALLY hard to argue that there is much in the way of competition with the recent “Kal-El” videos from NVIDIA. There really is nothing else out there that compares with that level of intense graphical experience. Those chipsets, however, are still a good ways away. Right now, though, there is a competitor when it comes to a total immersion experience. Qualcomm has paired up with SRS Labs to deliver “3D sound” with their WOWHD technology, currently found in their Snapdragon dual-core developer kit. What Qualcomm may lack in total graphical power, will it make it up in the ability to deliver a more complete experience? And what about Sony and Verizon? With over 50 games out of the gate and more to be available in the coming weeks, will they woo customers based on sheer volume or selection? The Xperia Play itself comes pre-loaded with the infamous Crash Bandicoot, what if more of Sony’s iconic titles are to follow?

Is it the quality of the gaming experience, the sheer horsepower of the device, or the availability of popular titles that will eventually drive device sales? Can this somehow be equated to the existing console market? There’s no denying that Sony’s Playstation 3 has the best hardware, capable of generating extremely eye-pleasing graphics with it’s state of the art hardware. Yet, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is the more dominant force in the market, due largely to the volume of available titles, though it doesn’t hold a candle to Nintendo. The Wii’s unique gaming experience is considered by many to be the best overall gaming experience, which lead to their rocketing to the top of the console market almost overnight. Are the lessons learned in the console market transferable to the mobile gaming world?

If not the “console” factor of the device or chipset, will individual titles make a difference? Qualcomm just announced big mobile titles like Vendetta Online, Homerun Battle 3D, and GT Racing: Motor Academy as just a sampling of the titles to headline their Game Pack. Alongside these titles are parterships with huge mobile gaming houses like NAMCO BANDAI Games America, Glu, Com2US, and a bunch more. NVIDIA was the first to market when it comes to “high end” games, but they’ve not yet gotten 20 titles in their Tegra Zone, and at least one of the titles on that list is just a “THD” rehash of an existing title. That said, the quality of most of the games in the Tegra Zone is really high (Personally I am still addicted to BackBreaker HD, the ultimate standing-in-line game in my opinion) and there is no doubt in my mind that the recent “Kal El” performance demos will attract serious gaming companies to the mobile space. Meanwhile, Verizon keeps to the same tricks that have worked for them since the early feature phone days, by including games in their arsenal like The Sims 3 (but not really), Call of Duty: Black Ops (but not really), and Madden NFL ’11 (see where I’m going with this?) that will engage the average consumer simply because of the popular title, and the volume of those popular titles.

With any luck this won’t even be an issue some day. Like the PC market, hopefully Android games will be able to be enjoyed across all devices, though it’s been made pretty clear that’s not happening in the immediate future. I’m told that so long as Android is Java based, a Direct-X-esque solution is improbable, though I admit to not really understanding why. Each group is bringing something interesting to the table, but are the video games themselves really going to drive consumers to buy new devices? What if you’re looking at an LG or an HTC, would the tipping point be that one has titles you like?

I write things.

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  • tagon

    What will decide my next phone is unlocked boot loader, so HTC or Nexus or better yet HTC making another Nexus

    • http://Website Chris


      • http://Website Oreo

        What’s wrong you mad bro? Or are you just lashing out on other people cuz you think your gay and your in denial. Ha ha. Grow up kid iPhone is beat.

    • http://Website James McFadden

      iPhone has games.
      Android DONT.

      I got an iPhone and laugh about my sister who only has a droid. LOL

      • http://Website Anjie

        android has swag, iphone’s got nothing breh that’s all it matter. Own iphone 4 and nexus one, Nexus beats iphone anyday

      • http://Website kazahani

        Bad troll! Bad!

  • http://Website Name (required)

    Well compared to all of these when it comes to gaming sony will win the batlle simply because they have a much better game library and experience in gaming..

    • http://Website name (unrequired)

      i guess yur kidding… in fact i really hope your not serious right now…
      if your not, u really need to google this : ‘experia play specs’ and this : ‘sony psn’

      • http://Website name (unrequired)

        if you are**

      • http://Website phact0rri

        What are you on about? You are debating that Sony doesn’t have more experience in game software than Nvidia and Qualcom? That is quite an outrageous statement. Or are you just bad mouthing Sony cause your reading it on xbox forums? Seriously even if you hate Sony, you have to admit that they have over twenty years experience in the space, and the previous two consoles psx and ps2 were the winners of their perspective console wars. Or is it cause the PSN was hacked? which has nothing at all to do with this conversation.

  • http://www.droid-den.com Lekky

    Remember, for those of us that root we may not have to make this choice. With Chainfire3D we can use the drivers for the main three CPU’s on each other. For instance I can see and play tegra2 games perfectly fine on my SGSII exynos CPU.

    • http://Website Ric

      Agree, but full drivers don’t (and probably won’t) work for that – the one Tegra game im very envious of is Riptide, which doesn’t work with ChainFire.

      I can also see NVidia etc specifically coding blocking points into their games in the future to stop this.

      Samsung demo’d a very nice space flight game on exynos – maybe they’ll release that and then we’ll be laughing :-)

      • http://Website Miguel

        See now that’s unacceptable. Giving Developers the tools to tweak their games to run perfectly on the Tegra chips is one thing, but pro-activley blocking other processors from running the games in Tegra Zone is just not right. I won’t purchase any Nvidia products if I hear they are doing this.

    • http://Website Ric

      Also, also, I actually wonder whether the game devs have signed a limited period nVidia exclusitivity deal. It would seem very short sighted to sign a life-long deal.

      What if (devils advocate) nVidia devices hadn’t taken off, or next year it’s all about OMAP – it would have been very short-sighted of these devs if that was the case.

      Hopefully these games only have a 6 month exclusitivity deal or so.

      Actually, I wanna trademark that thought, you read it here first!

  • http://Website medwa

    Games are fun on a phone and all, but I wouldn’t base my decision of what phone I will be using for the next two years, while I’m locked in a crooked contract with a dirty carrier, on how well it will play games. I have my Xbox for that.

  • http://Website Slatkin

    I could not possibly care less about gaming on my phone. I really don’t see the appeal, especially action type games with the controls overlaid on the screen. My thumbs are not invisible.

    • http://Website Anjie

      with the SEXPlay it is ;]
      ps. (Sony Ericsson Xperia)

  • Jeffroid

    I did not read this article. I typed this reply the instance I saw the title(the question). Because I know it all comes down to preference and users’ primary usage of the phone.

    Some users want everything to be top-notch, multimedia, games, web-browsing, emails, phone call, texting.

    Some users primarily just want powerful texting capabilities and phone functions.

    Some users primarily use their phones as their organizers.

    Some users love the fact that games can help them kill time on the way to work/school.

    Some users surf the net, alot.

    Games are not a must, but it’s good to have them.

  • http://www.typhon4android.org/ Mike Leahy

    > I’m told that so long as Android is Java based, a Direct-X-esque solution is improbable, though I admit to not really understanding why.

    Android supports OpenGL ES which is a cross-platform standard for graphics rendering. Regardless if a developer uses the NDK and creates a game in pure C/C++ or via Java via the standard SDK OpenGL ES is still the API used. In fact essentially the OpenGL ES Java API is simply a native binding to the C OpenGL ES API / interfaces.

    OpenGL ES allows various extensions that a particular SoC GPU may support. Most notable are texture compression formats that may differ between the various Android SoCs out there. That is practically the only extension type that is different between various mobile GPUs. Yes there are other differences, but this is a major one some developers may get stuck on especially if it’s an iOS app that is being ported to Android as since all iOS devices have used PowerVR GPUs a lot of games use the PVRTC texture compression. Of course this doesn’t apply for non-PowerVR GPUs.

    Developers if they so choose regardless if they are using the NDK or SDK / Java can create cross-platform apps / games using OpenGL ES and support all of the SoC / GPU combinations.

    It might also be noted that the desktop OpenGL 4.1 version is now on parity API wise with OpenGL ES 2.x such that entire cross-platform efforts supporting OpenGL ES 2.x will run on the desktop with minimal to no changes.

    So it’s quite possible to create one engine that will run across all mobile SoCs / GPUs, but also run transparently on the desktop as well regardless if C/C++ or Java is used.


    “app fragmentation” is generally a non-desirable term IMHO and “app exclusivity” is probably a better term. Now app exclusivity to a given manufacturer / ODM has two major influences.

    1. The ODM / manufacturer (NVidia, Sony, etc.) courted a developer and paid them to exclusively release their app / game only on the manufacturers hardware

    2. The developer is new to mobile development and custom tunes their engine to a particular mobile SoC / GPU. When it really comes down to it though this usually may be due to limited resources by the developer to fully test and work out proper engine modifications that allow support across all devices. So that kind of comes down to laziness / or time to market constraints. In the latter case one would hope eventual updates would open an app / game up to more devices.

    I think number 1 is the real killer though and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

    Things will improve when there are solid multi-SoC / GPU tuned middleware engines that support all devices let alone cross-platform desktop support, etc. Unity comes to mind. I too of course am working on similar tech that is Java based and runs on all Android devices and the desktop without rewriting any / much code.

    I suppose I really want to emphasize “app exclusivity” over “app fragmentation”, because there are fundamentally no barriers between mobile SoCs / GPUs that fragment the OpenGL ES API in a serious way that limits cross-device let alone cross-platform app / game development.

    • Russell Holly

      Wow. Solid explanation. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge.

  • http://Website brett6781

    No, developer friendliness will (thanks HTC for the unlocked bootloader!!!)

    • http://Website Anjie

      unlocked bootloader doesn’t mean s-off. If it’s s-on then it would take developers a long time to crack the bootloader.

  • http://www.jedimoose.org mrben

    Games have become less important on my phone now I have Gingerbread on a Nook Color to play with…. However, the 2 biggest deciding factors for my next phone are likely to be:

    1. Processor speed – want it to be viable for the next 2 years. My current HTC Desire has actually fared remarkably well.
    2. Internal memory – want to be able to install more apps than on the Desire, where I seem to constantly be trying to work out which apps I can bear to uninstall so as to install the next new one.

    Games are definitely a part of it – my phone became my major gaming platform when I first got it.

  • AME

    I wouldn’t choose a phone based on game availability, but gaming ability would be a deciding factor in choosing a tablet. I’m just not a phone gamer, but I think there are some people out there who are which is why this has (seemingly overnight) become a huge deal.

    With competition we will (probably) see some even better games and gaming experiences. It may be annoying to the gamer to have this fragmented environment for phone gaming, but I think in the long run this is going to be great for Android.

  • http://Website Comet

    Fragmentation is an issue that Google needs to control.
    Because right now the only way to have the most compatible Android phone is buying a Google official phone.
    That’s the only way I’m sure I’ll get the latest updates, and be able to mess with it the way I want it.
    And games are part of the reason I would go this route. As you state if I choose one route over the other I will always loose something.
    So the best decision is probably choosing the phone that most game developers will be developing on. That’s probably the device where you’ll find more games and applications.
    I have a Nexus One and even though my smarthphone doesn’t have the top hardware it still gets some applications first. Netflix for instance.
    In my opinion if you bought a smartphone during the last year now its not the time to get a new one. The market is way to messy right now.
    IF you want a device to last a little bit more I would advice to wait for Ice Cream later this year.

  • http://Website PurpleHaze

    Am I the only one who wishes that Russell Holly would STFU, quit Android, and go write for some fetish site in Singapore?

    • http://Website kazahani

      Yes. You are the only one.

      Now be quiet.

  • http://Website name (unrequired)

    i put all my trust in XDA-developers, they will find a solution sooner or later…

  • http://Website kretz

    dropping your phone in water and being forced to buy whatever is currently available helped me decide.

  • http://Website RockinEvo

    Games wont let me decide what my next phone will be cause I will always look towards consoles for that. I go for good track record (updates,previous phones, communication) I learned from moto you can’t always depend on a new phone to b up to date later on I mean ma first android phone was the cliq xt I don’t need to explain the false hopes with that. Having good/great games is always good especially if u need to pass the time but its not that important to me, lol can’t play ma 2k11 on ma Evo

  • http://Website @AnAndroidGuy

    No games won’t influence my decision because I barely play them on my phone (battery life, memory). I’ll leave that to the 360, which is by far a much better gaming experience anyway. Solid, quality, innovative phones help influence my decision, games are just additional fluff

  • http://www.twitter.com/tdh004 tdh

    Not even in the slightest bit. I play a pretty wide range of games, but the kinds of games I would play on my phone aren’t going to have any sway on my decision making. Of course this is coming from a guy with multiple handheld gaming systems, multiple consoles, and a gaming PC. So the kinds of games they’re going to try and use as a selling point will already have been played on a console/PC by somebody like myself.

    It’s great the mobile platform is moving into this space, but it’s not something that I care about it at all. My next phone purchase will be specs and an unlocked bootloader, not 3D First Person Shooters.

  • http://Website Donald

    I don’t understand playing games or watching TV/movies on a phone. I care 0% about these features. I want to USE the device to be productive, listen to music (if a good internet radio app ever comes out), and navigate. I don’t even take pictures with the thing because phones aren’t fast enough and the quality isn’t the same as a DSLR.

  • http://yohanesmario.com Mario

    No, games won’t influence my decision on what my next android phone will be, but updates will. That’s why I’m waiting for the next nexus device which is at least equipped with a dual core processor. What’s the point of having a great device with obsolete software in it?

  • skylordnugget

    very much and reason why i want the xperia play

  • http://punmobile.net punz

    if you mean, we choose for graphic and processor quality,yes it will,coz most of game oriented phone pointed to that

  • http://Website Sparoc3

    Games are a must.
    Without games there is no point in having 1 ghz or more powerful processor ,same goes for ram.

  • http://Website pitachips

    Personally, games are no big deal. And it definitely won’t be a reason to choose a certain phone.

  • http://Website chilo

    Well…for me..games wont be a big factor for buying a phone, cuz well i have a SE X10 rooted with froyo and some times all i need for gaming is a good 2D game like angry birds, im a gamer but i play strategy games so fpr me will alwaya be my PC, but cmon how many ppl u know who loves player, we r not so much, what regular ppl wants is long battery life, a great camera 4 social meetings and social network, the one thing if like from my x10 is to be able of using it all they with hard 3G use with only 1 charge every night, better camera (is good but sux at night) and thats all…and i mean regular ppl wich doesnt even know the word root or how to do it that i think at least 70% of an android owner lack of that knowledge so…no o dont think games will be that factor for buying a phone or not..

    Srt 4 my english i did my best hehrhr

  • mavricxx

    Come on RIM get on this before it’s too late! I’ve even been posting for the longest on Blackberry sites that you need to pump out some good, big name titles on the Playbook as well.