Opinion: The significance of Google announcing cross-platform gaming services for iOS

Mr Cook. Tear down your wall

Opinion: The significance of Google announcing cross-platform gaming services for iOS
[Update: It's since become clear that Google Play Game Services doesn't support real-time multiplayer on iOS, just leaderboards, achievements, cloud save and testing, so the article's original headline has been edited]

'Well, that was a lot of meh,' was the Twitter consensus on the Google I/O 2013 keynote.

'The next Nexus device is a $649 Samsung Galaxy S4, and the lucky buggers in the actual room get a free $1,300 laptop.'

As it's ever been, the technology press focused on (the lack of) new hardware, when the industry's momentum - and Google's whole success story - is all about software and services.

Breaking down the walls

One clear example this is Google's gaming news

It announced that Google Play services will get cross-player multiplayer features for Android, iOS and web, plus leaderboards and achievements, and cloud synced savings.

Not earth shattering by any means, but it demonstrates some subtle ways in which Google views the world very differently from Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Blackberry etc.

For one thing, this is not Android's version of Game Center.

If offers many of the same features, of course, but it's not a standalone app - a walled garden - but services which are provided to developers through the Google Play SDK and for consumers via their Google+ account.

Indeed, if you sat through the entire Google I/O keynote, the cord running through it is how Google+ is becoming foundational for the company, especially in terms of enabling people to customise services ranging from search to mapping.

In Google's version of the future, you won't have Facebook for social interaction with friends and family, Instagram or Flickr for photos, Skype for chat and video interactions, Game Center, Xbox Live or PlayStation Network for your gaming achievements and leaderboards, PayPal for online payment, YouTube for video and Google for mail, mapping and search.

Instead, all these things will be integrated into Google+. It will be your online and mobile identity and plug into all manner of Google services.

Plus up

When it comes to games, the most important element is that the Google-hosted multiplayer features enabled through Google Play will use players' Google+ account as their identifier.

And crucially, as well as working on Android and Chrome, it will also support iOS devices, and presumably other OSes as they become relevant, as long as users log into their Google+ account.

This means the system will treat your gaming achievements and leaderboards as part of your general social identity. It won't be hidden away in a walled gaming garden that only those friends on the same platform (iOS, Xbox, PlayStation) can see.

For Google, you gamer state (or score) is as important a part of your identity (controlled via your Google+ circles) as a status update, or the photo you just uploaded.

Another element, not mentioned but hinted at, will likely see the sessions you play with other players becoming part of your timeline or stream.

Just as Google is extending Hangouts to become a persistence stream of messaging interactions, so there's no reason why your gaming history won't similarly be stored.

Second stick?

Will it work?

Google+ has had a something of a checkered history, with any people who do use it, treating it as very secondary compared to Facebook.

Yet, according to Google, the service has 190 million active users in the stream and 390 million active users across Google and the web.

And as more services are including within Google+, especially improved and customised search, mapping and shopping features, usage patterns are certain to rise, especially if slow-burning Facebook disenchantment isn't cured.

This will also create new distribution opportunities for developers.

40 percent of people who use Google+ on the web, using the single sign-in feature supported in Chrome, will download an Android app if the website has one available, providing additional app discoverability and distribution, the company says.

Incidentally, this is something that has been added Google Now too, thanks to the addition of recommendation 'cards' for games, which will include direct links to Google Play.

Come together

In closing out the keynote, Google CEO Larry Page argued this approach was Google's DNA.

"This is why we focus on platforms [Android, Chrome]," he explained.

"The industry needs better inter operation," he added, taking a sideswipe at Oracle and Microsoft in the process.

"I've been sad the industry hasn't been able to advance more [in this respect]. It's not a zero sum game."

And in one tiny respect, that's why Google didn't announce its version of Game Center. It's not interested in adding another layer of bricks to its walled garden.

Instead, it announced cross-platform multiplayer gaming... for iOS.
Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.