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Mobile Game Development: Native or Not?
by Roei Livneh on 08/05/14 03:23:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Mobile Game Development: Native or Not?

By Roei Livneh, CEO & co-founder, Gingee

One of the greatest challenges facing mobile game developers in 2014 is the platform / OS development challenge: To develop native or not.

As a game developer with 12 years of experience, I can understand and appreciate the challenge developers face.

Reasons For Developing Native:

  1. Best suited to the hardware for which it was developed: Software is written for hardware. When a developer – any developer – develops in code which was developed for the specific hardware, the resulting application will have the best performance and provide users with the best experience. This will be true for a game or for any other application.
  2. Provide users with a UX & UI which is Native to their device: Native development enables developers to provide their users with a user interface / experience which they are already familiar with, making for a better playing experience.
  3. No need to rely on 3rd parties: A second important advantage of developing on one native platform is that you won’t need to rely on 3rd party technology. You’ll be developing with the technology that you know best. It’s kind of like a home court advantage in sports where everything feels natural because it’s your own court.

There are advantages to developing native, as I wrote above, though there are also a few good reasons against it.

Reasons Against Developing Native:

  1. Fragmentation / Optimization: mobile gaming is a fragmented world including Android, iOS, Windows, Blackberry, etc., and for each, there are current versions, recent versions and tablet versions. With Android alone, according to Open Signal, there are eight versions in use supporting 11,868 distinct Android devices, up almost threefold since 2012.  Research from InformationWeek’s Mobile Application Development Survey showed that the biggest challenges when developing native applications are the coding complexity and cross-platform compatibility for both iOS and multiple Android variants, with each requiring its own optimization.
  2. More updates: With a broad range of variants, native development will require extensive updating in order to support all the versions and updates of each OS / platform.
  3. Greater Time to Market: Not only will game developers need to hire more developers in order to develop natively across OSs / devices, but they will also experience a greater time to market, a situation that has been labeled ‘the 11th month challenge’. Let’s say a developer has a successful game for Samsung phones. Now this developer will want to increase revenue by developing for Android tablets and for the iPhone and the iPad. So one by one, they will open development pipelines and hire developers for each device / OS. As these development teams develop the game for each device / OS, they’ll need to make specific optimizations and updates for each in parallel. As I’ve heard from many developers, after 11 months, they are challenged to justify the costs of the parallel development in this fragmented market versus the revenue generated by the game. That’s why it’s referred to as the 11th month challenge.

Though there are development advantages for native development, from a business perspective it can be a challenge to justify the additional resources for native development.

How to decide if you should develop native or not? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is development for one platform / OS sufficient for you?
  2. If not, can you sustain your business on one operating system / platform until you’ve generated enough revenue to develop on other platforms / OSs?

How do you decide if to develop via native OR not? I’d like to hear your input based on your experience in the comments.

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Markel Denterow
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There is one, ugly, aspect of developing native - copycats. Unless your game requires complicated server-side logic or top-notch art assets (and even those can be easily outsourced if you simply say - hey, I want copy of that but different a bit so it's clear it's not asset ripoff), if you are remotely succesfull in native (let's say iOS), expect to see copies of your idea in other markets very fast.

Even if your version is better, nicer, smoother, marker is already fragmented.

Wayne Marsh
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Are you suggesting that native games are more susceptible to cloning?

Alternate Procellous
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I don't think that's what Markel is saying. I think he's saying that copycats are a very good reason to not target a single platform (native development) first.

You could, for example, release your game on iOS first, intending to release an Android version shortly thereafter. But because of the increased time-to-market of a port (compared to having done cross-platform development from the beginning), it's possible a copycat might see your success on iOS and attempt to replicate it on Android before you're able to release on that platform. Then you're facing entrenched competition that has already reaped some reward on the Android platform from your initial investment on the iOS development effort.

This is actually a common problem in business. As first-mover with success in one market (iOS), you're investing a lot of time and money to prove that there's an audience for your game. A copycat sees this success and moves quickly to replicate it in a market that you haven't entered yet (Android).

Given the nature of game development today, I view this as a very strong argument against native development.

Markel Denterow
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Yes, that what I meant, sorry for not explaining it clearly first time. Thank you for clarification.