Google Play game developers and players alike are getting a quartet of game-changing additions today: real-time multiplayer, leaderboards, cloud saves and achievements. And that's not all -- the latter three services will function cross-platform between Android, iOS and the web. The whole initiative is called -- unsurprisingly -- "Google Play Game Services," and it's available today in a smattering of games. Unlike Apple's Game Center application, what Google's offering is backend support for developers rather than a standalone application. Think of it more like OpenFeint than Game Center -- you can sign in using your Google+ login in-game, and that login will track your identity (including leaderboard scores, achievements and saves) across various games and devices.
Any developer launching a game on the Google Play store has access to game services, though Google isn't making it an obligation. "We won't make it a mandatory exercise, or have any certification process around it," Google lead product manager Greg Hartrell told us. "We create fantastic services that allow developers to create these great game experiences, and help promote their discovery, help retain their users and keep them engaged."
%Gallery-188377%Beyond offering a new suite of functionality, game services comes with new APIs for monitoring piracy -- regularly cited by game devs as the number one reason for not publishing on Android. "Game services introduces APIs to allow for additional checks in the game to see if the game was purchased through the Play Store," Hartrell said. Of course, it's still up to developers to do the actual policing. "A developer can leverage those checks and see how they wanna handle the piracy of their game when it's detected," he added.
A massive swath of Android users will be able to employ the new additions to Google Play; not only is the functionality coming to everything running Froyo and up, but it'll also work on any Android device running Google Play (Google TV and NVIDIA Shield, for instance). The one thing missing from the cross-platform party, however, is multiplayer. On Android, real-time competitive and cooperative multiplayer (voice chat, up to four players with additional support on the way) is available, but not on iOS or the web. Hartrell denied its absence on iOS had anything to do with technical roadblocks or a lack of cooperation on Apple's part. "Fundamentally, this is just about where we've chosen to start. There's no technical constraint in terms of our ability to bring these things to other platforms," he said. He expects that multiplayer will also head to iOS at some point, though he didn't offer a timetable.
A handful of games are getting game services updates today, including Super Stickman Golf 2 and World of Goo, though we expect many more to pop up in the coming months.
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Introducing Google Play game services (May 15th, 2013)
We love to talk about games at Google. Especially the old ones, like Pac-man, Pitfall and Frogger. Since those classics, games have changed a lot. They've moved from that clunky box in your living room to the screen that you carry with you in your pocket wherever you go. They're mobile, they're social, and they're an important part of Google Play.
Today, we're launching Google Play game services, a core part of building a gaming platform for the next generation of games. These services help you make your games more social, with achievements, leaderboards, and multiplayer, as well as more powerful, storing game saves and settings in the cloud. They are available on Android, and many on iOS or any other connected device. By building on Google's strengths in mobile and cloud services, you can focus on what you're good at as game developers: creating great gaming experiences for your users.
With game services, you can incorporate:
Achievements that increase engagement and promote different styles of play.
Social and public leaderboards that seamlessly use Google+ circles to track high scores across friends and across the world.
Cloud saves that provide a simple and streamlined storage API to store game saves and settings. Now players never have to replay Level 1 again.
Real-time multiplayer for easy addition of cooperative or competitive game play on Android devices. Using G+ Circles a game can have up to 4 simultaneous friends or auto-matched players in a game session together with support for additional players coming soon.
Several great Android games are already using these new game services, including World of Goo, Super Stickman Golf 2, Beach Buggy Blitz, Kingdom Rush, Eternity Warriors 2, and Osmos.
We're excited to see what games will do with these new services and experiences, and this is only the beginning. Wait until you get to the boss battle... er.. Check out our developer site to get started: https://developers.google.com/games/
Greg Hartrell, Lead Product Manager