The rise in popularity of mobile devices can be intrinsically linked to the real birth of a casual, mobile gaming market. While individual hardware manufactures and game developers have tried to unify certain games from a specific developer or specific platform with a companion social service, the proprietary nature has historically lead to low user engagment and adoption. That’s where Google comes in.
At Google I/O this week, the company announced Google Play game services, a developer and client-side system for powering and syncing games cross-platform, providing matchmaking, achievements, leaderboards, cloud saves and more for platforms such as Android, iOS and the web. In this article, we’re going to take a look at what Google Play game services is all about and evaluate whether it might have a shot at revolutionising how we play games on our phones and tablets.
What are Google Play game services?
Google Play game services is primarily a set of developer tools to be utilised in games, powering features such as cloud-synced saves, achievements and leaderboards in a similar way to what Apple’s Game Centre does on iOS. The service itself is powered by Google+, the social network that has evolved into Google’s cross-property, single-sign-in service.
The killer feature, though, isn’t any of those features; it’s the cross-platform nature. Google Play game services allows developers to implement the features on Android, but also on iOS and in web apps. This is a significant contrast to rival gaming services from Apple and Microsoft that are exclusively available on that platform, meaning your friends on another OS can’t join in on any multiplayer gaming sessions.
The service replaces Google+ Games, although the discontinuation of that service is likely to have impact on only a handful of users as the service failed to claim widespread adoption, regardless of Google+ user numbers.
Impact on Xbox Live and Game Center
Google Play game services joins the respective multiplayer gaming efforts from Apple and Microsoft. Apple has Game Center, an app and service introduced with iOS 4 in 2010. The developer APIs that form Game Center as a service work in the background to provide features like matchmaking, leaderboards and achievements, along with cloud syncing through iCloud, and is fairly successful in spite of its iOS exclusivity. The wide-spread of the iPod touch is an especially big reason for this, being one of the most popular options for handheld gaming.
Apple’s stance here is not likely to change and Game Center will most certainly remain an iOS exclusive. Does Google have a chance to steal any users of Game Center away? Probably not. That is, unless you’re the iOS-using black sheep of a family or group of friends who all swear allegiance to Android.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has Xbox LIVE, a multiplayer gaming service best known for powering the Xbox family of gaming consoles but also Windows Phone. Xbox LIVE’s popularity means that gaming on a Windows Phone, despite the fewer titles available, is an intuitive process if you already play on an Xbox 360 and is a big marketing point for the platform. However, this potential is limited due to the relatively small catalogue when compared to the Android and iOS juggernauts.
The reputation and brand recognition of Xbox LIVE presents Microsoft with an interesting dilemma. They could easily keep Xbox LIVE a Windows Phone exclusive but continuing to do so would force its potential to remain, in turn, limited. Instead, the folks in Redmond could very well present the APIs for integrating Xbox LIVE into iOS and Android and, with that reputation completely reinvigorate multiplayer mobile gaming.
Google is taking a proactive step into finally unifying iOS and Android gamers, more so than in the cases of individual developers and/or games. There’s a chance their efforts could very well succeed and, without requiring a user to necessarily download an app to their device or browser, implementation could be very effective. If it works out, aside from some potential fragmentation on iOS between Google Play and Game Center games, then there’s little negativity to be interpreted. However, it’s going to be interesting to see how, if at all, Microsoft reacts to the announcement, given their ownership of the Xbox juggernaut.
Google Play game services is just one of many announcments made at this week’s Google I/O. Catch up with all this week’s news in a special Google I/O edition of This Week In Android this Sunday!