Next Up For Google Android: Big Game Developers?


Will big game publishers like Electronic Arts start developing more software for Google’s Android operating system now that they’ll be able to charge money for their apps?

Google is now accepting paid apps for Android-based phones, with sales set to begin next week. This is an important step for Google: While the company has been able to attract more than 800 free apps, that’s tiny compared to Apple’s iPhone App Store, which is near the 20,000 app mark. The ability to sell commercial apps should help Google bridge the gap.

Games have been an especially important part of Apple’s mobile app platform so far: Six of the top 10 best-selling paid iPhone apps in 2008 were games, including one from Sega and one from Vivendi. So if Google hopes to woo consumers away from buying iPhones, having a decent selection of games can’t hurt.

Google doesn’t necessarily need high-end game publishers on board, but that can’t hurt either. tSo far, their participation in the Android software market has been limited. Electronic Arts (ERTS), for example, offers several games for BlackBerries and eight games for the iPhone, including premium titles like Spore and SimCity. But so far, EA has announced just three games for Android — Tetris, Bejeweled, and Monopoly.

One problem slowing investment: Google’s market share is still relatively small, which means dollars might be better spent elsewhere. That could change later this year when more phone makers like Motorola (MOT), Samsung, LG, and potentially Dell (DELL) start selling Android-based phones.

In the meantime, Google (GOOG) has a chicken-and-egg-like problem. Without cool apps, consumers have fewer reasons to buy Android phones instead of iPhones. Without a big install base, app makers have fewer reasons to invest in Android.

What will the Android app economy look like in a few months? We might learn more next week, when more partners could (in theory) announce their support for Android at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. And we’ll really know which platform has the hottest apps by Christmas, when Apple’s next iPhone will go up against several new Android phones.