At last count, there are some 350,000 games available for iOS, and 480,000 currently up for grabs on the Google Play Store. That’s an impressive selection, however, not every game is worth your time or money. In truth, for every memorable and innovative title, there are 20 clones or knock-offs out there, and telling them apart can be a real challenge. Fortunately, there are options available for cutting through the noise, from scouring review platforms to checking out the rotating selection of Editor’s Choices in-app.
But for the more enterprising gamer, there’s another way to spread your wings on the mobile platform. That’s by forgoing the limitations of the official app stores all together and checking out what the wider world of mobile gaming has to offer in 2023. Let’s take a look at some compelling alternatives to try out below.
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We take our web browsers for granted at our peril. While there’s no escaping the fact that smartphone apps make up a huge part of our digital diet nowadays, we can sometimes forget that there are many diverse experiences and options available to us on our smartphones by way of the ‘open internet’.
For example, there’s a whole world of HTML5 and Flash-emulated minigames available online, many of which have never found their way into the app stores. We don’t just mean the likes of 8 Ball Pool—captivating as it is—but full-fledged indie marvels like Supergiant Games’ award-winning RPG, Bastion.
Likewise, certain gameplay sectors are historically underrepresented in the app stores. This is especially the case when it comes to iGaming. In 2023, browser access remains the best and most popular way to play online casino games on the mobile platform, and with a huge array of offers and bonuses out there provided by leading comparison platforms, it’s never been more affordable to explore this diverse world of compelling titles.
The app stores are subject to licensing agreements and the regulatory frameworks outlined by Apple and Google. This is natural, but it does mean that certain gamers can lose out when it comes to accessing the games they want to play on their own devices. Sideloading—the practice of installing apps and games on a smartphone outside of an app store—is an invaluable means of wrestling back control from these platforms.
There are various reasons why you may want to sideload a game. The most common is that the game you’re looking to install is region-locked for your country or part of the world. Sideloading, in this case, lets you get around this arbitrary limitation.
Another reason why people like to sideload games is that it enables them to play different or discontinued versions of existing games. Flappy Bird, for example, can still be installed and played on your device using this method, even though it’s no longer available in the app stores.
Finally, ongoing legal disputes between publishers and platform curators can result in games being removed from the app stores. This is precisely what has happened with Epic Games’ immensely popular Fortnite. However, with sideloading you can easily install this game to your device and play in peace.
Open Source Gaming
There are many reasons why someone may want to explore gaming outside of the official app stores. One great use case is for those with concerns about privacy. The Google Play Store, and the App Store, are both closed software libraries. This means that you cannot see the source code of the apps you’re installing. This can be problematic, especially given that many popular apps, like the social network TikTok, have been found to ship with spyware concealed in their source code.
F-Droid, on the other hand, is an example of an open-source app store. There, every app is free to install, and all source code can be inspected by anyone who may wish to. While you won’t find big-budget productions on F-Droid, there are a surprising number of entertaining and well-supported games worth your time and attention there.
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