Corona Labs Corrals A Cloud

Corona acquires Game Minion to help gaming app developers connect to backend services.
Corona Labs, maker of the cross-platform mobile development framework Corona SDK, has acquired backend cloud service provider Game Minion to help game developers more easily create apps that integrate with server code.

No price was disclosed. Game Minion is a Dubai-based company that relies on Amazon Web Services infrastructure, with funding from Draper Investment Company. Game Minion, which will be renamed Corona Cloud, is presently in closed beta testing and is expected to be made available in the first quarter of 2013.

Corona Cloud relies on a RESTful API, meaning that communication between a developer's app and the remote server can be coded in a way that's standardized and portable. This makes it easy to reconfigure a cloud-connected app to communicate with a different backend host if necessary.

Mohamed Hamedi, co-founder of Game Minion, said in a statement that his company is focused on offering simple backend services to developers. "Through this acquisition, we will provide the most complete end-to-end mobile development platform on the market," he said. "Features that would normally require the integration of half a dozen SDKs will be offered by Corona Labs in just one, neatly packaged API."

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Simplicity, however, isn't necessarily the best option in all cases. Some developers using Corona SDK -- Corona Labs says there are over 200,000 of them -- have been asking for a way to include only specific services in their apps, rather than the current all-or-nothing approach.

One downside to building apps with a variety of services, such as game networks, analytics, advertising and social networks, is that apps end up being larger than necessary.

For Android builds of Corona apps at least, excluding libraries for external services doesn't save that much space, at least compared to the gains made by decompiling an app built in Corona and rebuilding it using Android's apktool.

A more meaningful drawback is that external service libraries require developers to specify permissions they may not actually require, a practice that can discourage privacy-aware users from installing the app.

Corona Labs is aware that choice is paramount. In an email, COO David Rangel explained that developers are under no obligation to use Corona cloud if it doesn't suit their needs. "[A]ny APIs we add to Corona SDK for Corona Cloud will not have a 'bloating' effect on the engine," he explained. "Part of this is because of Project Gluon -- our coming plug-in framework that is making the engine much more modular (and allowing us to increase the number of third-party services available to Corona developers)."

In any event, the backend services made available through Corona Cloud -- leaderboards, push notifications, analytics, turn-based gaming and the like -- will surely be appreciated by those seeking a way to add functionality to their apps without much coding. Rangel says the combination of Corona SDK and Corona Cloud is powerful because of the potential for efficiency. "For starters, you won't have to manage separate third-party accounts and SDKs -- but that is just the beginning," he said. "There are many very compelling scenarios where a line of code in Corona would automatically provision certain cloud services and get things working with no additional work."

The extent to which this is true may determine how well Corona Cloud fares against the competition. Game-oriented cloud services have been proliferating, in part because billing for cloud services is more predictable than software license renewals and upgrades. Some of the more notable players in this market include Parse, StackMob, Kinvey and Roar Engine. In addition, developers often build their own backends -- to have more control or to save money -- using Google App Engine, Amazon EC2, Amazon SimpleDB, Heroku or on servers at some Web hosting company. So the Corona Cloud value proposition will have to be fairly compelling to keep Corona users focused on in-house services.

One advantage of using Corona Cloud is likely to be simpler regulatory compliance. The Federal Trade Commission recently scolded makers of apps for children, saying the apps failed to provide adequate privacy disclosures. New rules are being considered and many developers are reviewing how their apps collect data and how much disclosure is necessary. Corona's integration with Game Minion should make formulating a privacy policy fairly easy, at least compared to looking into several different cloud services to understand their data practices.

In November, Corona Labs announced that it had received a $2 million round of funding from Merus Capital and Western Technology Investment.

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