That syncing feeling: why don’t iPad and iPhone versions of the same game share game progress often enough?

Games are fun. Judging by both the paid-for and free app charts in the App Store, they’re also extremely popular. A look at the top-grossing apps on the iPad shows that 9 of the top 10 (in the UK store) are games. The odd one out is a newspaper, oddly enough. If you look outside the top 10 list, the trend continues throughout the chart.

With gaming clearly so popular on the iPad, and indeed the iPhone, developers are rightly beginning to throw considerable resources at creating some truly impressive iOS games. The likes of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Oceanhorn are effectively console or handheld games that run on a smartphone or tablet. Both are a far cry from the games we used to play on our mobile devices. Does anyone remember Snake on the Nokia phones of old? Ahh, fond memories indeed.

For all the increased attention that game development on iOS has received over the last couple of years, and with both big names and smaller independent developers bringing some excellent titles to the platform, there is still something lacking. We’re being treated to games that look absolutely stunning on the latest hardware and voice acting as well as story building have both improved dramatically of late, but there’s one issue remaining. One that’s become all too apparent to me as I’ve started playing games on an iPad mini (with Retina display, of course) as well as my iPhone. That issue is syncing.

The syncing of game progress, to be precise…

Simply, there’s not enough of it. Off the top of my head I can think of three, maybe four games that support iCloud saved game syncing. I’ve no doubt there are more, so no need to email me, but the point still stands – when I’m sat looking at an iPad with games that take tens of hours to finish, the ability to have consistent saved game stats across multiple devices is a God-send that seems to be sorely ignored.

Games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Republique both have the right idea, but something like Oceanhorn that lends itself to extended gameplay and progress that you really don’t want to lose simply ignores Apple’s iCloud solution. Even if you don’t want to play across multiple devices, the extra security of knowing your saved game is in the cloud, safe and sound, is always welcome.

The developers appear to have misgivings about Apple’s iCloud solution in general, with its ability to handle saved games coming in for particular scrutiny. We’ve heard from gamers who have had iCloud do weird and not-so-wonderful things to their gaming progress, which is possibly why iCloud is shunned by many developers. With that in mind though, is there another solution?

Turns out, there is.

Dropbox, the company that is widely acknowledged to be the top dog in syncing has its own hat in the game syncing ring. Dropbox Datastore can do much thing as iCloud, but with some exceptions that we won’t get into here. What it can most definitely do though is play host to saved games, and developers have said before that the Dropbox API is a dream to work with. So, why not use Dropbox as a game syncing solution?

That’s a question nobody but the developers themselves can answer. The old argument of not wanting to fill gamers’ Dropbox locations with files is irrelevant thanks to Datastore, which keeps everything out of the customer-facing Dropbox we all know and love. It’s transparent as far as the gamer is concerned, and it really can’t be any worse than iCloud regardless.

I simply refuse to believe that I’m the only one who launches a new game in the hope that it will let me take my game progress with me to another device, only to be disappointed. The sooner developers realize that having iPad and iPhone versions of their games that don’t talk to each other is just plain silly, the better off we’ll all be.

And that includes those developers, too.

If you’re a game developer with some insights into the ins and outs of syncing, please do get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.