Platform Wars: Is Android or iOS Better For Your Mobile Game?

Insights & Best Practices

May 26, 2015


min read

Six years after Android's launch and ascendance as the only real competitor to iOS, mobile game developers still ask: Which platform is better for me?Sure, Android has ballooned. In late 2014, it held over 83 percent market share worldwide, according to Strategy Analytics. Yet many developers still say iOS, at just over 12 percent, provides more revenue. Between these two factors is a nuanced answer.Outside forces are in play: Most mobile game developers now use multi-platform engines like Unity, Unreal, Cocos2dx and Corona. Sure, these tools have been available for years, but 2015 feels like an inflection point, with a new wave of mobile developers switching over as the major engines compete to slash prices and add features.So has the answer changed to a simple ?release for both"? Not quite. Almost all top mobile games are now cross-platform ? but as all developers know, there's no such thing as an easy answer. Where you focus your efforts can make all the difference.

Building the product

From initial conception to soft launch, a mobile game developer's predictions of who and where their potential players are may dictate which platform to focus on.This focus is important for testing and QA: Launching a perfect game simultaneously across all possible devices is tough. Player behavior can also vary between the platforms.Here are a few considerations for finding your focus:

  • Apple favors cutting edge technology and graphic design. Games like DomiNations, Alto?s Adventure and Monument Valley have received boosts from iOS App Store features.
  • Games with low requirements may be better suited for Android's massive pool of lower-end devices (like the casual hit). Older games like Pocket God also fit here.
  • Some countries, particularly Asian nations like South Korea, heavily favor Android.
  • Android may provide an easier competitive landscape for casual games competing with industry leaders ? for example, SGN's Sugar Smash, which competes with King's Candy Crush series.

What if you don't fall into one of these buckets? Many mobile game developers don't, which leads to the next point: Barring any competitive advantages, the two platforms don't offer a level playing field for testing.Simply put, iOS not only has fewer potential test users (due to its smaller market share), it also makes them less accessible with fewer tools for monitoring their performance. TestFlight, the most popular testing tool for iOS, now requires a wait for Apple's review team to approve test builds ? typically about a week.This requirement runs counter to the imperative of releasing fast and frequently.?I love the folks at the Apple App Store, but they are slow as molasses and seem to be getting slower," says Keith Katz, co-founder of studio accelerator Execution Labs. Katz has developed a simple formula while helping to release six freemium mobile games in the past year:

1. Test on Android until launch

2. Switch to focus on iOS while polishing your live operations

3. Later, shift resources back to filling out Android device compatibilities.

Post-release priorities

After the release, your initial planning may go out the window. What if your stunning, graphic-design inspired casual game gets passed over by Apple's review team? What if only iOS players convert to payers ? or conversely, the average revenue per user is higher on Android?There are no preordained answers. A canny mobile game developer focuses on reality, not preferences.Discoverability is the biggest issue today on both iOS and Google Play, so it's here that mobile developers may swing one way or the other. If you've received good feature placements on either iOS or Android, the best path may be to attempt to keep the momentum going. This doesn't necessarily mean paid acquisition; it could mean community support or new features prioritizing one platform.On the other hand, without app store features buoying your reach, paid acquisition may be the clincher. In this case, there are two major factors to look at:

  1. Lifetime value of your players on both iOS and Google Play
  2. Cost-per-install rates across multiple external networks.
heatmap iOS
heatmap Google Play

?CPIs vary wildly by game," Kongregate CEO Emily Greer remarked in a GDC talk on cross-platform games. This affects growth strategies ? for instance, Kongregate's hit trading card game Tyrant earns most of its revenue on Android, and exceeds iOS monetization on a per-user basis in some countries. In a case like this, if Android CPIs are also lower than iOS, there's a solid argument for focusing most marketing support on one platform.Results like Kongregate's are often unexpected. Before launch, recall that each additional platform you can reach is one more chance to win ? but you can also concentrate testing and QA on the platform that seems to be your best bet.Once you've completed soft launch and the data is in, the bets are off: You'll see engagement, monetization and CPI for each platform. At that point, "which platform" becomes a simpler question to answer.Chris Morrison is founder of indie game studio Chronicle Games. He has written for VentureBeat, the Economist, Inside Social Games, Fortune Small Business and other publications.