Last year was a good year for Google and games. By November, more Android devices may have been sold sold than iPhone and Google released the Chrome Web Store, making it possible to buy a game app and be played on any device through the browser (which essentially, is just like an operating system). The problem was, no one can make any money on any of Google’s products for some reasons (more on that later).
In 2011, I predict Google and Android will become an even bigger games player. Dare I say, the largest games channel in the world? But, game companies will still not be able to make any money.
The secret for Google’s success with Android is their crack engineering staff. Every couple of months, Google updates Android and it keeps getting better and better (and the next version for tablets, Honeycomb, looks that it will keep this technical tradition alive).
Based on all the smart phone and tablet announcements at CES, there will be a lot more Android devices to choose from in 2011, and some could be iPad and iPhone-killers. Motorola’s Xoom tablet looks amazing and I am particularly excited about Vizio’s plans to release an Android phone and tablet this year. In 3 years, Vizio become North America’s number one LDC TV maker through their ties with Costco and Walmart so you can’t discount them.
The problem with Google and Android, ironically, is also its engineers. For all its techno-know-how, Google’s user interface design sucks. It has user designers on staff, but they seem more focused on re-designing the Doodle (Google logo on home page) every day instead of doing actual work that may be good for the games industry, like re-designing the Android Marketplace so that it does not suck so much.
The Android Marketplace is the worse designed product in the world. Finding new game apps is impossible. Buying games is a pain due to Google Check-out. There are no recommendations and the experience just sucks. Downloading free games and apps is easy. Buying a game or app, not so easy. As a testament to this, I have owned a Droid phone for a year and have downloaded tons of free games apps. I have never bought an app though (don’t ask me how many games I have bought through iTunes though).
A skeptic would say that all Google has to do is copy iTunes and done deal, Android becomes a money-making success and gamers and game companies are happy. That is too logical for Google’s engineers. They must code their way to victory. And the games industry and gamers suffer.
The other issue with Android is that due to its openness, game companies have to design their games across multiple devices (not design once and play everyone). Google could solve this by working with their partners to create a set of suggested standards (not required, but just to make things easier). This is what a normal industry leader does, but again, its not an engineering solution, it’s far too logical.
So my prediction for Google for games is more of the same in 2011. Google will become a bigger player in games, but you still won’t make money on them.
OK, I know, that is less a prediction than the current state of affairs. Here’s my off-the-wall prediction. Google buys Open Feint and uses their team to create a rocking Android Game Marketplace and use their multi-player platform (that works with Android) to have a product competitive to Apple’s Game Center. That is less a prediction and more of a “what I would do if I were Google” statement, though.