Google Is Making Gaming Moves

Google may be planning some big moves into video games, based on a few recent developments

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Google may be planning some big moves into video games, based on a few recent developments.

As TechCrunch reports, Google has hired Noah Falstein to be the company’s chief game designer. Falstein is best known for his work on the arcade classic Sinistar, and on the Indiana Jones series of adventure games for DOS.

That’s not the only sign of things to come. The schedule for Google’s I/O conference this month includes three sessions on gaming, including one billed “New Developments in Mobile Gaming.” Android Police has reported that Google is working on a multiplayer gaming service, similar to Apple’s Game Center, based on hints in one of Google’s own Android apps.

What’s going on here? Let’s mull over the possibilities, based on what we know:

Possible: More Offbeat Gaming Endeavors

Google already dabbles in game design, occasionally releasing games in the form of Google Doodles, such as Zamboni and Soccer, and running the augmented-reality game Ingress through its Niantic Labs studio. Google could be bringing Falstein on board just to make better games. Or, given the data-mining potential of Ingress, perhaps Falstein’s job will be to find new ways to influence user behavior through gaming. (One of his main interests, according to TechCrunch, is the field of “serious games,” which attempt to teach or persuade rather than simply entertain.)

One thing to note, though: Google tried hiring a high-profile game executive before, bringing on former Sony manager Mark DeLoura in 2010 to serve as game-developer evangelist. He left the company four months later, saying it wasn’t a perfect fit.

Likely: New Gaming Platform, Hopefully Not Just Android

Android has plenty of games, but it doesn’t have an overarching experience similar to Xbox Live or iOS Game Center. There are no achievements, no friends lists and no standard multiplayer features. That could change soon, given the leaked details posted by Android Police.

But hopefully the effort doesn’t stop with Android. Last year, Google+ product manager Punit Soni promised a more unified gaming platform for Android, Chrome and Google+. “By next year, we will not be here talking about Google+ Games, Chrome Web Store games, Games for Native Client and Android games. We will be talking about Google games,” Soni said, according to VentureBeat. Google has a tendency to make empty promises, but I’d like to be surprised by a gaming platform that isn’t siloed on Android.

A Google Game Console: Too Soon?

Given the paucity of rumors on this topic, it seems unlikely that Google is getting ready to announce a game console of its own. But it’s not a crazy idea. Smaller companies like Ouya and GameStick are prepping their own consoles based on Android, and Nvidia is working on an Android gaming handheld. There’s plenty of buzz around these devices, and Google hasn’t enjoyed much set-top-box success with Google TV, so a Nexus console could provide a better path into the living room. Google could start by coming up with its own standard for physical game controls in Android, with a clear way for users to find supported games, but I have no idea whether that’s something we’ll see at Google I/O.