Amid reports of its impending entry into the smartphone business and of its imminent Kindle Fire tablet revision, Amazon is moving to improve the gaming experience on its Kindle Fire.
On Wednesday, Amazon introduced GameCircle, a backend game service similar to Apple's GameCenter and the cross-platform OpenFeint. These services provide APIs that allow developers to implement desirable game features like achievements and leaderboards.
They also cement the service provider's position as platform owner and authentication authority, which is already pretty much guaranteed through the control over in-app payments exercised by service providers like Apple and Amazon. Those playing Kindle Fire games with GameCircle will access the service through their Amazon Accounts, just as those playing iOS (and soon OS X) games with GameCenter use their Apple IDs.
[ Read about Apple's upcoming OS here: Apple's OS X Mountain Lion Released To Developers. ]
Google has yet to introduce a competing service for Android game developers, but the company is said to be working on one.
Game developers who implement their own account creation and signup mechanisms have a more direct relationship with their customers, but at the cost of worrying about account management and security. They also have to contend with player reluctance to open yet another online account; having the option to use an online identity that has already been established with a major Internet company like Apple or Facebook tends be more appealing to players than creating an new account for every single game.
For smaller game developers, the plug-in-and-play nature of these services often seems to be more cost effective than developing and hosting something similar on their own servers or through a provider like Parse, StackMob, or Amazon Web Services. That's probably an accurate calculation for games that aren't truly compelling enough to retain player interest for years.
GameCircle offers three distinct services: achievements, leaderboards, and sync. Achievements, in the form of virtual badges, trophies, and rewards, are a common mechanism to sustain player engagement. Leaderboards offer players a way to compete against others and against their own past performance in a social context. And sync saves players' games to Amazon's cloud, allowing games to be resumed on any Kindle Fire device.
While few Kindle Fire users are likely to worry about playing the same game across multiple devices, they may find sync becomes more useful if Amazon releases a mobile phone that runs a Kindle Fire-compatible version of Android.
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