Let me put this out there right from the start: I’ve only played Roblox a handful of times when my daughter begs me enough to jump in and play a silly game with her. I have an account and I participate from time to time, but I am by no means a real Roblox player or someone who even fully understands the draw and allure of the game. What I do understand, however, is Roblox’s decision long ago to properly support Android on Chrome OS and how that decisions is something worth noting and replicating for other games.
If you are here reading this article, it stands to reason that you know all about Android on Chromebooks and you are quite familiar with the pros and cons of what that means. If not, here it is in a nutshell: by this point, most Android apps run just fine on most Chromebooks, but few are optimized to take advantage of a Chromebook’s specific features like a larger screen, keyboard, and mouse input.
Because of this fact, users like myself have still steered clear of quite a few Android apps on Chrome OS because, frankly, using the web counterpart on a Chromebook is usually a better overall experience. A game I frequently harp on is PUBG Mobile which has technically run on Chrome OS for well over a year at this point. Though it runs (seemingly better on some SoC’s than others) decently, touchscreen input is still necessary as the proper support for keyboard and mouse have not been integrated.
Before you go defending PUBG for being a mobile game and the idea of mouse/keyboard support ruining the experience, you need to know that they have dedicated rooms for players using mouse and keyboard. In general, those players are kept separate from the mobile, touch-only players unless knowingly added in a group. PUBG Mobile has done this because they make an official PUBG Mobile emulator for Windows. Yes, Tencent officially makes a PUBG Mobile emulator.
In addition to that, there is a dedicated support page on the Nvidia Shield forum that lists the entire PUBG Mobile keyboard layout for Nvidia Shield TV players. While you can’t actually install the game from the Play Store on that device, you can sideload it. After doing so, the game itself has a dedicated splashscreen detailing special keyboard settings for the user without need of any 3rd part software. For whatever reason, the game doesn’t run well on the Shield TV, so the experience isn’t great, but you can easily use a keyboard and mouse to fully play the game.
So why is this not already in place for Chromebook users who don’t need to sideload the game and can freely install from the Play Store? Why is PUBG Mobile not optimized for the chips in Chromebooks? Why, if keyboard and mouse support is already baked-in and ready have they neglected to turn it on for Chrome OS?
Basic neglect is the obvious answer. Without full assurances that there’s a big enough audience to draw from, developers have yet to be swayed on the idea of spending the time, money and resources on their apps to be sure that they run well and take advantage of all the benefits that a Chromebook can offer. Roblox gets it and is seeing the benefits. With millions of kids using Chromebooks on a daily basis, it is easy to see that they are expanding their reach by offering their game on a platform that kids are already in front of.
Instead of being complacent and satisfied with their game just running on Chromebooks, Roblox developers have decided to be sure that the entire hardware set available on a Chromebook is available for users to take advantage of when they play on a Chromebook. That means mouse and keyboard support aren’t simply an afterthought: they are built into the experience from the ground up.
This translates into my daughter being able to play Roblox on her non-touchscreen, 5 year old Chromebook with ease when her phone was on the fritz. Instead of being frustrated with the experience and having to only play particular parts of the Roblox experience, she instead told me that her time playing was easier, better and more enjoyable than when she plays on her phone. Though we have her issues on her (admittedly entry level) phone all sorted today, she is still wanting to continue playing on the Chromebook instead.
As I said before, Roblox gets it, and others need to jump on board as well. It’s not just PUBG, either. Scores of Android applications have the potential to be productive, essential experiences on Chromebooks but they never will until developers choose to stop neglecting the platform. For the past couple years at Google I/O, there are sessions all about making the changes needed to take advantage of Chromebooks. As Google continues making the process easier and Chromebook adoption keeps rising, there will come a time where developers can’t afford to ignore Chrome OS any longer. For many of them, once that time comes, their window of opportunity to this entirely new audience of users may be closed because someone stepped up and did it first. My only request to all these developers is: don’t wait. Why not optimize now?