Long before the launch of Google+, there was a recurring rumor that Google would get into social games in a big way. The company invested more than $100 million in Zynga, and was reportedly planning to use games as an anchor point for an upcoming–and still unnamed–social network. The result was Google+ Games, which sprung up shortly after the launch of Google+.
Google pitched it as a less annoying version of Facebook gaming, cordoned off from the rest of the network so other users wouldn’t be flooded with spam from their friends. True to the rumors, Zynga was on board with a Google+ version of Zynga Poker and eventually CityVille. PopCap offered a version of Bejeweled Blitz, and Rovio brought Angry Birds to Google+ as well.
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But now, a couple game developers are splitting from Google’s social network. According to Gamasutra, PopCap–now owned by Electronic Arts–and Wooga have pulled their games from Google+. Though neither developer spelled out their reasoning, it’s obvious from EA’s statement to Gamasutra that user adoption wasn’t there: “These decisions are never easy, but ultimately we believe that dedicating our resources to new projects is in the best interest of PopCap and our Bejeweled fans.”
Two developers don’t equal a revolt, but the Google+ games library is already tiny. At the moment, I count 43 games in the catalog, not including the recently departed. There are no signs of momentum in Google’s favor.
What can Google do? The company has already said that it plans create a single platform for gaming on Google+, Chrome and Android. As VentureBeat points out, a unification may help broaden the appeal of Google’s gaming service and help it compete with Facebook.
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But simply mimicking Facebook isn’t good enough, because Facebook will always win out on selection and the size of its network. Google should embrace the fact that Google+, Android and Chrome appeal to tech-savvy users, and should work with new gaming talent to come up with something big. Just as an example, imagine what cross-platform support and Google+ integration could do for the multiverse in 0x10c, the next game by Minecraft developer Mojang.
Social networks have amazing potential for video games, but they’re currently stigmatized by games like FarmVille. It’s now clear that Google+ users aren’t interested in that type of game, so I hope the departure of PopCap and Wooga is a wake-up call for Google to try something new.