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I'm leaving Android for iOS, and I blame late games

Android gaming is all about waiting, and I'm fed up

The release of The Room 3 finally broke me. Last night I went to my local AT&T store, suffered through the inevitable awful wait, and traded in my Galaxy Note 4 for an iPhone 6S Plus.

It's not that I dislike Android devices, or the hardware. The phones are only getting better, and Samsung's line of phones does many things that Apple either can't or won't match. I have a SIM-less, Samsung-provided S6 Edge for use in the Gear VR, and it's a wonderful device. Android is more flexible and, if you're willing to spend the time getting everything just so, Android is a much more personable, able mobile operating system.

But Android is a terrible platform for gaming if you're interested in new releases, and I'm done with it. I'm not the only person who thinks of their phone as a mobile gaming system more than a communication device, and for those people Android is a bum deal.

I don't want to wait for the upcoming Android version of The Room 3 the way I waited for the Android release of Prune. I'm tired of companies like Bethesda announcing games like Fallout Shelter and watching everyone take out their iPhones to download it during E3 while I wait for the Android release.

It extends to toys as well. The Android version of the app for Disney's Playmation toys, I was told, is "coming soon," but it was ready at launch for iOS. I couldn't test that aspect of the product because it wasn't available to me. Because I was on Android.

Almost all of the most interesting games by the developers and designers I care about and follow are released to iOS first, with the Android version coming a few weeks later, if we're lucky. Sometimes it takes months, if it happens at all.

Why does this happen?

You can argue about install base and walled gardens until you're blue in the face, but the reality is you'll be waiting for games if you use an Android device. I caught up with Barry Meade, whose studio created The Room series, to ask why the game launched first on iOS. His answer is a common one.

"It's the same reason everybody has — Android takes way longer to test for due to the diffusion of devices," Meade told Polygon. "With iOS you only have to test maybe eight to 10 devices, and that's only because we choose to support pretty old devices, many don't. With Android you're looking at hundreds of devices off the bat, each with different hardware/screen set-ups."

The other side of this is that the iOS players are kind of testing the game for the eventual Android players.

"So with an iOS-first strategy you can release the game to many users with only a small chance of bugs arising due to differences in hardware, which means that when a bug does arise on iOS it's likely unconnected to the hardware and by fixing it, you are also fixing that bug for any future Android build," Meade continued. "What Android users forget is that because their versions come later they get the least buggy, higher performance version of the game because iOS users are, in an indirect way, guinea pigs for the other releases."

I hope that makes Android players feel better, but I'm just so tired of waiting. It can be dispiriting to have a developer email me about a game release only to be told it's launching on iOS, with the Android version planned for some unknown, future date. The Android gaming ecosystem was, in a direct way, making it harder for me to do my job.

I reached out to Prune's developer, Joel McDonald, to figure out why we had to wait for the Android version. Part of the answer was it was an arbitrary choice. He had to pick a platform on which to launch, and his iPad was right there, so he made up his mind.

"The slightly more involved answer is that iOS is more of a known quantity," he said. "Plenty of indies before me have succeeded on iOS with premium high quality games, while this is a little bit less true on Android. There's a certain momentum to it. Plus, there are far fewer devices to account for on iOS and it's not exactly insider knowledge that Apple devotees tend to be more willing to pay for premium games."

The Android gaming ecosystem was, in a direct way, making it harder for me to do my job

That's not saying Android is bad; it just makes sense for games to come to iOS first. McDonald is quick to praise Google's platform.

"In fact, from a developer's perspective, Android has been the most pleasing experience of any of the platforms I've released on, not to mention that the players have been great," he continued. "But as a dev you've also got to take the platform's particularities into account. One thing I knew going into it was that the 'unpaid install' rate would likely be around 95 percent and this is exactly what I've observed. In a lot of cases the smart thing to do is to convert your premium game to be free-to-play on Android, but that just didn't make sense for Prune, nor was it something that I was personally interested in."

That's the most polite way I've ever heard anyone describe piracy, by the way. But for-pay games just seem to do better on Apple, and if you're primarily interested in a pay-once experience from your mobile games, iOS is going to be the better choice.

The reasons and the reality

The reasons games come to Android later vary between developer, and some games are of course released on the same day for both platforms — Fallout 4's Pip-Boy app is available on Android day one — but it happens often enough with games I care about for me to stop caring about the reason why it happens. The reality is that it's going to continue, and I'm done with it.

So I have my shiny new Apple phone, and I'm back in the walled garden. The first thing I did was download The Room 3, and I feel pretty good knowing whatever games are coming in the near future, I'll be able to play them on the first day of release.

Apple's approach to the mobile space isn't perfect, and it's often criticized by developers, but the end result is that games come here first. I'm happy to be ready for them.

From the vault