GamesBeat

Google still doesn't get games, bans emulators on Android Marketplace

Google has removed a batch of console emulators that let Android users play classic video games from older consoles, like the Super Nintendo (SNES), from the Android Marketplace. The move is another slap in the face of Google’s budding gaming populace.

Applications that are part of the “-oid” family, which include console emulators Snesoid and Gameboid, were removed from the Android Marketplace overnight without direct explanation. Developer Yong Zhang has had his developer account revoked as well. This isn’t the first time Google has unceremoniously booted a significant gaming application off the Android Marketplace, but it doesn’t seem like the applications violate the company’s terms of service because owning a console emulator isn’t illegal.

Google plans to add PlayStation games off the PlayStation store to the Android Marketplace as time goes on. That means Android devices that are running PlayStation games — ones that are available on the PlayStation Store and can be played on PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3 devices — will essentially be acting as emulators with copies of the games. That’s how emulators like Snesoid and ZSNES operate, except gamers are expected to own hard or soft copies of the games they are emulating on their computers or mobile devices.

A few other emulators appear to be still available on the Android Marketplace, so it appears the “-oid” family was pulled because it used freeware code as the basis of the emulators and then charged for downloads. That said, the “-oid” family was by a very wide margin the most accessible set of emulators.

Emulators have been a bit of a gift to the Android Marketplace. They’ve opened up the mobile operating system to thousands of games that now have the chance to go mobile instead of forcing gamers to carry around consoles or cartridges. They’ve turned Android devices into one-stop devices for gaming.

The controls aren’t perfect on these emulators. I’ve tried them on three different form factors — a 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab, a 7-inch Galaxy Tab and the Galaxy S smartphone — and haven’t found the sweet spot. Neither a chiclet keyboard or an on-screen touchpad layout seems to work. I usually end up firing a gun when I want to jump or dashing off the side of a screen to my death while shrieking a nice loud “what the heck!” every three or four minutes. (Luckily the apps feature save states.)

Sure, it’s frustrating getting smoked by Wheel Gator, who is supposed to be one of the easiest bosses in Super Nintendo (SNES) classic Mega Man X2. I’ve beaten that game at least a hundred times and it’s reached the point that I can blitz through it without taking any damage with a Nintendo Wii classic controller. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the extreme mobility of the tablets and smartphones, and I love being able to carry around a hundred SNES games.

Google will soon let gamers everywhere use third-party controllers with their Android devices. There are already a few third-party applications that let gamers sync their Wii controllers to the device and play games, but adding third-party controller support would push emulation to a whole new level on Android devices. It was the announcement that I was most excited about when the company made it at the Google I/O conference earlier this month.

There are just so many options available to classic gamers through emulators, and they have the ability to drastically increase Android’s popularity over other mobile operating systems that don’t feature emulators. Snesoid and Gameboid have accrued more hours of playtime than every other app combined across every mobile operating system I own — save perhaps text messaging and email, if you want to call them apps. That’s after owning an iPhone for three generations and a tablet for a full generation. I’ve gone through at least every SNES and Gameboy Advance game I own as either a hard copy or a soft copy through the Nintendo Wii store.

Apple has a notoriously tight policy for mobile application approval — and that’s worked to its advantage. The Apple App Store has more apps than the Android Marketplace and every other app marketplace. That means that anything that is even tangentially illegal — or even in a grey area — is rejected from the App Store. The Android Marketplace is a little more lenient and has allowed applications like emulators because they aren’t strictly illegal. It’s not illegal to own or operate emulators, but it is illegal to own copies of ROM files, the files for the actual video games, if you don’t own a hard or soft copy of the game.

Apple has the advantage of getting first access to some of the best game developers in the business, like Epic Games. It has some beefy hardware, and developers don’t have to deal with developing a game that will fit multiple form factors and multiple devices. The best independent games will usually end up on the Apple App Store before they make it to other app stores like the Android Marketplace. So the only real edge Google has with gamers is that it’s able to bend the strict rules that Apple applies to its own app approval process.

I’ve said before that I just don’t think Google understands games. It banned the Kongregate arcade — an application that lets Android users access hundreds of flash games — rather nonchalantly. The Kongregate arcade broke the Android Marketplace’s terms of service, but it wasn’t really obvious because the application never technically downloaded the games to the phone. It just stored the flash games in the Android device’s cache. That’s about two levels of abstraction away from “behaving like an app store,” which is against Google’s Android terms of service.. The Kongregate Arcade has since reappeared on the Android Marketplace as a suped up browser.

The emulators are now available on third-party app marketplace SlideME. Moving to a third-party marketplace is basically the same route Kongregate went at first when it decided to throw its application up on GetJar. Those marketplaces are becoming more appealing now that Google has become a bit more heavy-handed in its app approval and removal activities. But Kongregate still ended up changing its application to suit Google’s requirements — because the Android Marketplace is still the most popular and most widely-used mobile app marketplace for Android devices.

I don’t plan on throwing away my emulators — in fact, I would pay the developers even more for access to the emulators if they aren’t available on the Android Marketplace. I just hope Google eventually gets the message — there are a lot of Android gamers, and we are still waiting for some great games. In the meantime, don’t give us an excuse to turn away from the Android Marketplace and Android devices.

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  1. [...] Android is now following Apple’s lead, too, so it’s no use saying “the market will provide a solution”. People have [...]

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