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OpenFeint paying iPhone developers to port to Android

by Phil Hornshaw

Social gaming platform OpenFeint wants developers to make games for Android -- so much so that it’s willing to help pay for it.

According to a press release, OpenFeint is pairing with Chinese online game operator The9 to help fund ports of Android games from Apple’s iOS platform. The money is coming from something called TheFund9, which has $100 million to throw at getting developers to bring their games over from Apple’s huge, but perhaps overcrowded, iTunes App Store and spread the love to the Android Market.

Currently, there are something like 437,000 apps in the App Store, and a huge percentage of them are games. The Android Market contains considerably fewer -- around 200,000 apps of various types. That doesn’t quite jive with Android’s popularity and success, which continues to explode. Android phones sell better than any other platform on the market currently, surpassing iOS, Research In Motion’s BlackBerry platform, and Nokia’s Symbian platform.

Android’s expansion in the mobile market is reaching some pretty intense speeds. All sorts of tech companies are coming forward with tablet computers to do battle with the iPad and the iPad 2, and there are even more Android smartphones spread around different carriers. Android gaming is also capable of some very cool ideas, including cross-platform play between tablets and gamers on other devices, including PCs and the PlayStation 3.

There are also some unique opportunities for the Android platform. For example, Sony Ericsson has a gaming-specific Android phone in the Xperia Play. After spending some hands-on time with the device at Game Developers Conference 2011, I can attest to it being a powerful little phone, on which playing games is a ton of fun. It’s also drawing the support of some major players in mobile gaming, like Gameloft, which has a large presence on both iOS and Android. Gameloft has about a dozen games planned for the Play, and is even shipping a few with the phone.

The only problem is that Android often lacks games. Games on the iOS platform make more money and draw more in advertising dollars in their apps, as well. They have a larger gaming user base and the platform is easier to develop for, since Apple tightly controls the specs of its devices. A developer making iPhone games can pretty easily port them to the iPad -- the myriad devices on the Android platform make that proposition a lot trickier.

But things are changing as Android gains users, devices and capabilities. Advertising in Android apps is picking up a lot of steam as well, and is expected to break $1 billion by next year. There’s money to be made on the platform, and developers are finding that out. And if they don’t already know it, hopefully OpenFeint will inform them with the $100 million it’s looking to spread around -- Android gaming can use all the help it can get. With any luck, more developers will start to see that there’s an app store they can sell their games in without quite so many rules as there are in the iTunes App Store.