Android is open? Tell that to Kongregate

The other day I downloaded a very nifty app for my Motorola Droid: Arcade by Kongregate. The app promised to offer 300 Flash games on my phone. To be clear, these were all games from Kongregate.com, a Flash-game portal of some renown. I tried a few games and found them to work well and being a geek, wasted no time telling my friends about the app.

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A few hours later, it was gone from the Android Marketplace. I assumed Kongregate had found a defect in the app and were preparing a new version, or some other technical issue. But no. It turns out Google pulled the app, saying it violated the terms of service, specifically the part that says:

"You may not use the Market to distribute or make available any Product whose primary purpose is to facilitate the distribution of Products outside of the Market."

Kongregate's Jim Greer spoke to Joystiq about the app, and during the interview he explained exactly what the it does. Basically it's a custom web browser that loads in a Flash game from the mobile version of Kongregate (m.kongregate.com). As an added bonus, it'll cache the game so you can play offline. That, apparently, is what has drawn Google's ire, or so Ryan Kim at GigaOm speculates. By caching the games, the app is arguably 'distributing products outside the market.' It seems like a pretty dicey argument to me. Greer points out that Android users can head to m.kongregate.com and play any of the games offered in the app. He further points out that there are any number of game console emulators in the Android Market and Google has no issue with those. Given that Google's terms of service defines "Product" as "Software, content and digital materials created for Devices in accordance with the Android SDK and distributed via the Market." Greer even wonders why the Kindle and Nook apps aren't impacted by the same clause, now that you can purchase books Product from within them. In fact up until now Google has had quite a light touch when it came to the Android Market, generally only removing apps that were overtly malicious. So why the sudden change of attitude? Matthew Lynley of VentureBeat [via GigaOm] suggests that Google doesn't want Kongregate around because they have their own plans to move into the social gaming space (although I'd tag Kongregate as casual rather than social gaming). So far, Google hasn't relented, and when GigaOm contacted them they reaffirmed their decision. Is this the face of a harsher new Google? Don't many of us love Android becaues it's "open" as opposed to Apple's "walled garden?" Google removing the Kongregate app feels like a very Apple thing to do, at least to me. Of course, this is Android, and that means there are alternative ways of getting apps onto your device, assuming your version of Android isn't locked out of running apps from "Unknown Sources" (if it is, then it's time to learn how to root your device). Kongregate still offers the app through its website and if you're a gamer with Android 2.2 and Flash 10.1, I'd suggest you check it out. It's a great way to get a bunch of decent games onto your device. Originally Kongregate had intended to continue to release new games for the app but given Google's actions, it may not be worth it for them to continue to support Arcade by Kongregate.

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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