As the Game Developers Conference got underway in San Francisco on Monday, Google announced upcoming enhancements to its Google Play game services that will offer greater support for both Android and iOS devices.
Launched last year as Google's answer to Apple's Game Center, Google Play offers game developers APIs to implement game-enhancing features like leaderboards, achievements, cloud-based data storage, and real-time multiplayer connectivity.
Google, however, positions Play as a complement to Apple's offering. "We recommend that both Game Center and Google Play games are equally visible within your application," the company says in its developer documentation.
Several of the new features coming to Google Play games in the weeks ahead aim to help with player engagement. Google Play is gaining the ability to send virtual in-game gifts to people in their circles or through multiplayer search. The Play games app now supports multiplayer invites. And the Google Play Store now supports 18 additional categories to enhance game discoverability.
[Need to get a handle on your kids' digital shopping sprees? See Google Tightens In-App Purchase Process.]
Apple last year made it clear it didn't want people sharing virtual gifts. The makers of Line, a mobile messaging application popular in Asia, last May said that Apple had directed the company to remove the ability to transfer virtual stickers, bought via in-app purchase, to other users. Google's decision to implement this feature is likely to make Android development more appealing for apps where this particular mechanic makes sense.
Google Play will soon support iOS for both turn-based and real-time multiplayer interaction, a feature that would otherwise require the implementation of a game server. The service's plug-in for Unity, a popular cross-platform game development framework, is also being updated to add these multiplayer capabilities. And Google is introducing a Play Games C++ SDK to support achievements and leaderboards.
Google is expanding the Play games statistics, available through its Google Play Developer Console, to help developers better understand how Google Play games features are being used. It's also augmenting its AdMob mobile advertising interface by adding access to Google Analytics and introducing in-app purchase ads, which allow developers to target users with promotions that encourage them to buy in-app goods.
Whereas Game Center works only on iOS, Google Play works with Android, iOS, and Web-based games, making it potentially appealing as a way to make a game's codebase more easily built for multiple platforms.
Mobile-game developers still tend to focus on developing for iOS first, because it's more lucrative, but the growing size of the Android ecosystem makes cross-platform code desirable when possible -- Google says it paid out four times as much money to developers in 2013 as it did in 2012. And even when developers opt for entirely distinct native code bases, having a common backend can simplify the maintenance of these apps.
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