Google Play Game Services Is Just What Android Needs, but Who Will Use It?

Google's answer to Xbox Live is useful even if game developers do nothing but support cloud saves, but its Google+ branding could scare people away.

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

Out of all the things Google announced at its I/O developer conference this week, Google Play Game Services is the one new product I started using right away.

Think of it as the Google equivalent of Xbox Live. For games that support it, the service lets you earn achievements, find and host multiplayer games and compete in online leaderboards. It also supports cloud saves, so you can continue your game across multiple devices–not just on Android, but on iOS and web-based games as well.

As someone who owns multiple Android and iOS devices, that last part is crucial. In the past, I’ve avoided playing lengthier games on my phones, because I didn’t want to bother re-doing everything on my tablets.

So far, I’ve tried Google Play Game services on my HTC One and my Nexus 7. Cloud saving works as well as it should. Some games, such as Beach Buggy Blitz, will detect an online save and ask to replace your local device’s data. Others, such as Riptide GP, replace your local progress automatically. When you unlock an achievement, a slick notification bar pops in, providing a little addictive kick.

I also tried a few rounds of Riptide 2 multiplayer at a Google I/O demo booth. This is also pretty straightforward. You can either join a quick match, and get paired with anyone in the world, or invite specific friends to play with you. Google Play Game Services supports both real-time and asynchronous multiplayer.

So far, I’m satisfied with the service. If game developers do nothing but support cloud saves, it’ll be a useful addition to the Android platform.

I wonder, though, how many normal users will take advantage of the service, for several reasons.

googleplaygamessignin

Jared Newman / TIME.com

First of all, the name “Google Play Game Services” is targeted at developers. To players, the service is branded as “Google+,” the name of Google’s own social network. Games that support the service present a Google+ logo on their title screens, but it’s not obvious what this logo does. The average player might assume that tapping the logo is similar to signing into Facebook. The benefits of achievements, leaderboards and cloud saves could be easily overlooked.

Google+, for that matter, isn’t a wildly popular network, at least for mainstream users. So again, unless you either know what Google+ integration provides, or are already an active user on the network, there’s not a lot of motivation to check it out.

And if you do decide to investigate, the sign-in process veers into creepy territory. On the sign-in page, the default option is to share your entire friends list with the game publisher, and to make all your in-game activity public. You can change these settings, but only by opting out every time you sign into a new game. It’s not immediately clear what happens to the information you share; the sign-in page only says your data is governed by the privacy policies of Google and the game publisher. The granular control over privacy settings is appreciated, but the lack of consistent settings across games may scare people away.

Finally, for players that are interested in the service, there’s no way to find a list of games that support it. The Google Play Store doesn’t have a section for supported games, and the name of the service is so generic that you’d have a hard time searching with keywords.

It’s early days for Google Play Game Services, and it’s hardly doomed. But if players don’t take advantage, developers may not bother incorporating the service into their games, and that makes me worried. This is too useful of a gaming service to suffer from unclear marketing and privacy issues.

4 comments
MatteoRodrigo
MatteoRodrigo

When youre moving from one phone to another, is there a way to save your progress on Android games so you dont have to start from level 1 again and lose your completed levels, high scores, power ups etc.  Google told me that some apps now have this Google Plus thing youre talking about so I assume until last week, there was no way to sync Android games up with a new device so forget your Angry Bird completed levels and powerups on a new device?  And yet it doesnt seem apps have this now

RaphaëlRoyer-Rivard
RaphaëlRoyer-Rivard

I am developing a game in my spare times and the multiplayer feature of the Google Play Game Services seems really helpful to me. The privacy policies is not what I am afraid of, it's the fact that you need a g+ account to use the features. I have a lot of friends that still haven't created one yet and I don't think people that would try my game would be ready to create one just to be able to play my game. For those persons, I think it will be an instant uninstallation... 

MuhammadAd
MuhammadAd

Google play is making people stick to their beds instead of doing and playing from their laptops. That's not comforting, at least I prefer work on laptop and play on my Pc. sorry google. Meanwhile here is a resource I created http://howbees.com/2013/05/09/how-to-get-free-android-apps-apk/ . Hope it will benefit the android users for testing apps before buying them.

belogical2
belogical2

Great article.  As an Android fan, I hate to admit it, but you are spot on.  I hope this succeeds,but hiding it behind the G+ logo could cause issues in the long run.