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In PopCap Games’s Deal With Sony Ericsson, Some Insights Into Android

The gang behind Plants vs. Zombies just found a broad new audience. It’s a clever move–reminiscent of the way bigger gaming houses launch titles–but it carries the whiff of Android fragmentation.

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PopCap’s titles like the best-selling Plants vs. Zombies, Peggle, and Chuzzle will soon be auto-loaded by Sony onto its Xperia Mini and Xperia Mini Pro line of Android smartphones, starting later this summer. A clever move to attain a new audience by PopCap, it’s also the first time PopCap’s games will hit European Android phones–not a bad move, considering Android’s boom. But it also smacks slightly of Android fragmentation.

PopCap’s being smart about the pre-loads, with only Chuzzle being installed in its entirety–the other games are unlimited trial editions, with the option to switch to fully enabled copies as an in-app upgrade using a “directly integrated billing service.” The firm even notes in its press material that it’s “committed to providing best-in-class game experiences” for Android gamers, and thus chose Sony because the Xperia Mini’s are “equipped with superior processing power and exceptional screen resolution.”

But the firm has one eye on the development of the platform, and will likely adapt its strategy as “the Android platform matures.”

That’s an interesting comment. Android phones, after all, have been on sale for several years and are now outselling pretty much everything else in the smartphone world (and actually the overall handset market). Shouldn’t that classify the platform as darn mature?

Meanwhile, there’s more interest in the deal with Sony. It circumvents Google’s own marketplace system for disseminating Android apps, possibly because the marketplace isn’t the very best system out there. That’s something Amazon’s efforts to launch its own, curated, version highlights. But PopCap’s also choosing one single Android vendor, in a deal that’s reminiscent of bigger gaming houses choosing to only launch titles with Sony’s PlayStation platform, or Nintendo’s Wii. That’s odd when you consider that PopCap is in the middle of a potential purchase by either Zynga, or console gaming giant EA games.

In one swoop this highlights how mature the “casual” gaming market has itself become, and raises novel questions about the future of gaming on the Android platform–will other publishers choose exclusive handset partners, favoring their designs because of specific and reliable features these partners design into their phones?

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This also demonstrates the issue with Android fragmentation: If you want a PopCap game, then you have to choose among handful of devices on Sony’s Android list–rather than a Samsung or HTC unit (though we’re assuming PopCap titles will be available on other handsets eventually, as the press data makes no mention of “exclusivity”).

Sure, Android has the majority of the market, but it’s achieved that with a long list of different phones each with different specs, upgrade paths (or in the case of many devices, a lack of upgrade path) and different software options–such as PopCap games on Sony’s phones. In some ways this reminds us of the Nokia method of selling phones: although Nokia made its own devices, its trick is to flood the market with a plethora of identical-but-not-quite devices, each with its own strengths–and weaknesses.

[Image: Flickr user donabelandewen]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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