Exclusive: Google is working on a Game Device Certification program for Android gaming smartphones

Exclusive: Google is working on a Game Device Certification program for Android gaming smartphones

With the recent success of mobile games like Call of Duty Mobile, it’s easy to see why AAA game publishers, Google/Apple, and smartphone OEMs are pushing mobile gaming so hard. In the smartphone space, we’ve seen gaming-centric, flagship product launches from brands like ASUS, Black Shark, Razer, Nubia, and others. The competition is only going to intensify as gaming smartphones move to the mid-range, backed by chipset vendors Qualcomm and MediaTek. To ensure that future gaming smartphones are powerful enough and behave predictably enough for Android game developers, Google is working on a Game Device Certification program.

We first learned about Google’s intentions from a trusted source back in July, but we didn’t have any concrete details or evidence we could share at the time. Now, 3 months later, we obtained a copy of the most recent version of Google’s GMS Requirements for OEMs/ODMs. This document enumerates the technical requirements that smartphone OEMs/ODMs must meet in order to be allowed to pre-install GMS, or Google Mobile Services, as per a commercial agreement between Google and the OEM/ODM. This document is analogous to the Android Compatibility Definition Document (CDD), but while that document is published online, this document is not public.

We obtained a copy of version 7.0 of the document, which was last updated on September 3rd, the same day Google released Android 10 to the public. Section 13 of the document details the additional Android “Platform Requirements” that devices must meet in order to receive approval to use GMS. Subsection 13.14 covers the new “Gaming Device Certification” technical requirements. These requirements must be met if the OEM/ODM wants to declare that the device has received game device certification.

In summary, these requirements ensure that certified gaming devices behave predictably “so game developers don’t face unexpected throttling, lost CPU cores, or other odd system behaviors.” The document goes into some detail to explain how OEMs/ODMs are expected to build gaming devices with predictable behavior. For high-performance and predictable GPU behavior, Google says certified devices must “provide a modern, up-to-date high-performance GPU and display APIs, and enable reasonable frame introspection.” Specifically, certified gaming devices must support version 1.1 of the Vulkan Graphics API, pass the latest OpenGL ES/Vulkan graphics conformance tests provided by Khronos, and meet other requirements related to Choreographer and SurfaceFlinger. Lastly, for reasonable memory behavior, Google wants OEMs/ODMs to ensure that gaming devices allow apps to allocate at least 2.3GB of memory before they’re killed by the system.

Android Game Device Certification requirementsSince we don’t have older copies of the GMS Requirements document, we weren’t 100% sure about how new the Game Device Certification program actually is. However, we spotted a job application on LinkedIn that called for a Developer Relations Program Manager for “Android Game Device Certification.” Since the listing is closed, we can’t see when it was published, though a rehosting of the page on another job search website was published on June 28th. We don’t know when this rehosted page scraped the original, however, we did notice that Peter Cardwell, a former Microsoft employee, seems to have taken this job in May, so the program is definitely new.

The job listing confirms the big picture of this new program. Google is building a team to engage with OEMs and SoC makers to educate them on the upcoming requirements that I listed above. The team is tasked with creating test suites and workloads to demonstrate compliance with the new program, as mentioned previously.

Google has not yet publicly announced this new Game Device Certification program, and there are no devices currently on the market that have received game certification. Google says that devices that opt-in to the program must declare support for the com.google.android.feature.GAMECERT_PREVIEW feature flag. I checked for this feature flag on the Black Shark 2 (Android 9 Pie), ASUS ROG Phone II (Android 9 Pie), OnePlus 7 Pro (Android 10), and Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 10) and all reported it wasn’t present. I suspect that Google won’t keep this program a secret and that they will publish a list of compatible devices like with Android Enterprise Recommended, so you won’t need to check for this flag yourself.

A few days before the publication of this article, I reached out to Google to ask them to confirm the legitimacy of the document we received. While I haven’t heard back yet, we have corroborated enough details from the document to make me fairly certain it’s the real thing. The document is about 57 pages long, and we have a lot more to share about what we learned from it.

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