Android users and an unwillingness to pay for great games

Half the time, mobile is a disaster for gaming. There’s so much entitlement, and freemium fare has only intensified the idea from certain quarters that all games should be free. When they aren’t, such people tend to get very annoyed; and this problem is especially bad on Android.

I’m asked why premium games often rock up first on iOS and in some cases many months (or years) show up on Android, like an afterthought. In reality, games creators have put in plenty of thought. Mostly, said thought is whether porting their game to Android is worth the hassle, given the state of the market.

A recent case study of this occurred when a games creator whose work I’m fond of announced one of his older iOS games was coming to Android. Said game remains objectively excellent — a highly polished premium effort that is like a classic arcade title finely tuned for mobile play. Short of you being a gaming genius, it’ll take you a good few hours to get to the end of the game; and because it’s arcade fare, there’s plenty of replay value.

When the game was first announced as coming to Android, people were very excited. This games creator has a strong and loyal following. But he’s noted in the past — publicly — that free to paid conversions for his other titles could be better. In part, I put this down to a certain subtlety in his pointing people towards the paid option — this creator has a tendency towards being too generous. Even so, some reckon he’s not generous enough: I’ve seen plenty of gripes about in-game ads, in his flagship title that is otherwise free, and moans that updates from a tiny one-man indie were taking months to materialise.

With this latest title, things hit a nadir. On announcing the game would be premium, people kicked off. “Why can’t it be free?” they complained. And today, I’m told that a whopping 50% of Android users are requesting refunds on the title. Now, perhaps by some staggering coincidence, this game is just not their thing. More likely, they’re taking advantage of Google Play’s two-hour refund window, burning through whatever they can in that time, and then getting a fiver back into their pockets.

Ultimately, this event merely highlights why a lot of game developers no longer bother with Android at all. 50% refunds probably sounds extreme, but I’ve heard of similar figures from other games creators who’ve released objectively good games. In short: Android gamers as a group too often just aren’t willing to pay. (iPhone/iPad users aren’t yet quite at the same level, although things on Apple’s platform aren’t exactly rosy for creators, judging by what I hear from various quarters.)

Perhaps this is the final nail in the coffin — yet more confirmation of sorts that freemium killed mobile games. That notion everything should be free extends far beyond gaming, and is a major problem from creative indies to publishers alike. I suspect what many people forget in their entitlement is that there are creative people at the other end of these games — and their livelihoods. So, again, if you claim to love something, support it — it really is that simple. Otherwise, whatever praise you’re offering is nothing more than hot air.

April 13, 2020. Read more in: Apps, Opinions, Technology

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Why WWDC 2020 going online-only may be a good thing

Apple has announced WWDC 2020 will be online-only. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The global health situation made it broadly impossible for Apple to continue with its standard format.

There will doubtless be people who are upset about this change— not least old-hands. I have only been fortunate to attend WWDC once — last year — but even that single experience made it obvious that the buzz extended well beyond the keynote. A big chunk of San Jose was awash with developers, excited at the prospect of talking directly with engineers, and attending superb sessions outlining the latest Apple technologies.

Attempting to replicate this format online will be tricky — not least that direct engagement with Apple engineers. However, Apple in its WWDC 2020 announcement press release also noted its global developer community has more than 23 million registered developers in more than 155 countries and regions.

WWDC 2019 was packed, but it obviously wasn’t that packed. Getting a ticket is essentially a lottery, and those applying are a filtered group: people who have the means (time; money) to travel to the US, and attend the event.

For the general public, probably not a lot will change. Apple will announce a bunch of new stuff at a keynote, and they’ll get the opportunity to play with shiny new toys when the public betas rock up. For some journalists, there will be a change — being present somewhere always provides you with a different viewpoint. But, frankly, we’ll cope. For the developers, though, this year’s WWDC could prove transformative, if Apple manages to truly democratise the event, and ushers in a culture of more equality throughout the wider developer community.

March 13, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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Kill your productivity: free browser games ahoy!

I spend a lot of time writing about games and the internet. Over the past two decades (eek!), the two of these things have in one area combined: browser games. Back in the early 2000s, games you played in your browser were rare and mostly awful. Flash shook everything up, but then Steve Jobs punched Flash squarely in the face.

Today, though, tons of genuinely great games are playable without any additional plug-ins. I some time ago penned a piece for Stuff on the best of them, but it mysteriously vanished one day. Not sure how. Anyway, by way of magic (Internet Archive: bless you), and a smattering of elbow grease, it’s now back, with revised content and some new games.

Whether you’re into bizarre endless text adventures, retro classics, surprisingly engaging clickers, one of the best match games ever created, platformers, puzzlers, or a version of Pong played against endearingly dopey bears, there’s never been a better time to kill your productivity with browser games. And while you’re doing so, perhaps take a moment to marvel at what’s now possible in a web browser – and what might be possible another two decades along the road.

January 16, 2020. Read more in: Gaming

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Removing bezels from TVs, phones and tablets can cause rather than solve problems in tech

Back in 2014, I wrote for Stuff about the tech industry’s obsession with thin. The point was that a fixation on making products thinner was becoming detrimental to the user experience, given that a few extra mm could house larger batteries, or superior keyboards. Now, the  tech industry seems to have its eyes set on eradicating bezels, as outlined in Pocket-lint’s piece on new Samsung tellies.

Samsung’s not alone. In phones, removing the bezel now appears to be some kind of holy grail, and, frankly, this baffles me. Sure, I don’t want a massive chunky bezel that makes a device seem like it’s rocked up from a 1985 concept video. But most of the time, I want a bezel in a screen-based device. A frame around content provides focus. And with a tablet, it provides somewhere for your thumbs to go, rather than them covering what you’re looking at and interacting with.

It’s also notable that in the Android space, attempts to remove the bezel have resulted in some horribly ugly creations. Companies triumphantly boast about stripping the bezel back, but on devices that retain a ‘chin’, thereby resulting in something that looks visually imbalanced. At that point, the breathless rush to remove the bezel has not only impacted on user experience, but also visual design.

For my money, the current iteration of iPad Pro gets everything about the bezel right. There’s a bezel around the screen, but it’s even, it’s unobtrusive, and Apple has the confidence to omit a logo. It affords focus, ensuring whatever you’re looking at doesn’t blend with the device’s surroundings. Rounded display edges soften the bezel’s impact. The bezel’s size ensures you can hold the iPad without covering what’s on the screen. And the bezel also houses Apple’s complex Face ID camera system, without an ugly notch or ‘hole punch’ impacting on the display.

I imagine Apple and many within the tech industry are desperate to make this bezel thinner. I think it’s great as it is – and the same goes for the bezels on my TVs and phones.

January 8, 2020. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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No, Huawei MatePad Pro isn’t an iPad Pro killer

Huawei MatePad Pro is all over the news, mostly because the company with no shame has yet again more or less cloned an Apple product. Only its sleek tablet has a camera hole punch in the corner, rather than Apple’s rather better solution of hiding the camera in the bezel. (Urgh.) Still, given that the unit will cost less than half the price of an iPad Pro, most sites are falling over themselves to label it an iPad Pro killer.

No.

I spend a lot of my time investigating, using and writing about apps on mobile. With a few exceptions, the Android tablet apps market is garbage. There is very little there. For most people, this doesn’t matter. They grab a cheap tablet and are happy with Netflix, Google Docs, Gmail, Facebook and a browser. But with iPad Pro, the clue is in the name.

A great many people using Apple’s flagship are actual professionals. They require professional software. And despite a (fortunately diminishing) number of people still screaming into the void that you “can’t do real work on an iPad”, that ship has long since sailed. Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer are great for graphic design. LumaFusion is excellent for video editing on the go. Korg Gadget, GarageBand and a slew of synths cater for musicians. Scrivener, Ulysses and iA Writer exist for jobbing writers who need something more than Google Docs. And so on.

Head to Google Play and pretty much none of this kind of thing exists. So, sure, give the MatePad Pro an article, but keep your breathless headlines, because until the Android app ecosystem dramatically changes, MatePad Pro might be an answer to the iPad Pro hardware (if you can stomach the hole punch), but it then presents a tricky question: where the hell are all the pro apps I need to do my job?

November 26, 2019. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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