Why Hasn't Google+ Opened The Game Dev Floodgates?
Having just started hosting games a couple months ago, Google+ still has a long way to go before it can even begin to measure up to what Facebook can offer as a games platform.
Google is taking a methodical approach to the ramp-up of games on its fledgling social network. With the launch of games on Google+ in August, the web giant has focused on the biggest games in social and casual, including Rovio's Angry Birds, PopCap's Bejeweled Blitz, Electronic Arts' Dragon Age Legends, and others.
But despite the strict "quality over quantity" approach that Google has initially adopted, the company assured Gamasutra that it certainly intends to open the floodgates and get more developers on the platform.
"The reason we started with a closed platform at the moment is simply because the system couldn't handle a thousand games at once," said Todd Kerpelman, game developer advocate for Google+. "You look at the fact that we're still kind of at the beginning of creating a platform. We've made some changes. It's easy to call just say, 10 developers, and tell them, 'stuff has changed.'"
"Just in terms of where the UI is at, and where the platform is at, we wanted to make sure we're working with a small number of developers before we start opening it up to everybody," he said. "And that is our larger goal, to bring in more developers, and eventually open it up to anybody that wants to develop on Google+. Just right now the system is not ready to handle that."
Wild West Or Curated?
To what degree Google will open its network is still up in the air, Kerpelman said. Currently, Google's own mobile Android Market is a Wild West of app and game development. Where an Apple App Store developer must submit a game and wait a few days for Apple's approval, Android developers need only to create an app, submit it, and it's live on the Android Market in just a few minutes - the floodgates are truly open.
That Android approach may or may not be the direction that Google+ will take. "I'm not sure what our plans are - to be completely open versus something like an Apple-style, curated business - that's still to be determined, and we're still working it out," Kerpelman said. "...The platform has only been out a couple of months, so we've got a way to go."
If Google does decide to open Google+ to the same degree as the Android Market, it almost certainly means that the company will have to react against counterfeit games and apps. The issue is something that Kerpelman is well aware of.
"I can't speak to much for the Android Marketplace or the Chrome Web Store, but that's obviously a concern [for Google+]," he said. "Sometimes you have a fine line between a game that is awfully similar, then you get the direct rip-offs. We don't want that to be common on our online marketplaces."
"So, it is a balance of how you keep the platform as open as you can, while making sure bad stuff like that doesn't happen. And we're still working on finding the perfect solution," he added.
Rise of HTML5
One trend that Google is certainly keeping an eye on is the rise of HTML5, the latest revision of the open format web standard that promises more flexibility in multimedia features. The specs are still technically in development and are scheduled for publishing in 2014.
"We've been working with Rovio on the version of Angry Birds that's available on Chrome Webs Store and the version that's on Google+," said Kerpelman. "Both of those are done in HTML5."
"They generally work pretty well. They're fun games and we like HTML5. That said, a lot of our games are right now on Google+ are in Flash, and that's fine with us too," he added. "We're really taking the attitude of 'Let the best technology for the job [prevail].'"
"So we're looking at HTML5, WebGL and also native client stuff that you probably see out there, as well as Flash, which is very common for social games out there right now," Kerpelman said.
"I think there's generally the feeling that HTML5 as a platform is growing and is becoming much more of a legitimate platform than it was even 36 months ago. So it's good to see the rise of HTML5 as a gaming platform."
Kerpelman also said he sees little reason why HTML5 can't coexist with established technologies like Adobe's Flash. But he said, "I think there's probably a limit in terms of the number of plugins a user wants to have to install, and from a developer's perspective, they don't want to have to port a game to four different technologies, obviously."
"That being said, I do think it's possible for all these technologies to live together. I guess we don't take the approach of 'in order for one technology to succeed, others need to fail.' It certainly is possible for several technologies to be viable and workable," said Kerpelman. "If the players are happy, and the developers are happy, there's no reason why they can't all be successful."
That Other Social Network
Of course, the biggest competition that Google has in social network gaming is Facebook, which introduced a number of new changes a few weeks ago during its f8 conference. Some of these changes included Facebook's Open Graph, which has features that re-open some of the viral channels that are so important to a social network games' success.
Facebook partnered with a number of high-profile game development partners who will be making games to leverage the impressive new features.
"We definitely have been looking at the changes [to Facebook]," Kerpelman said. "Personally, I think the Timeline is really cool. It's been interesting to see what they've been doing with games. We'll certainly see what our [game] developers are saying, if something works really well [on Google+]. Or if the development community asks for us to do something similar [to Facebook], we'd certainly consider it."
Asked if developers have pointed out advantages that Google+ has over Facebook, Kerpelman laughed, "They're definitely happier with our transaction fees." (Google charges only a 5 percent transaction fee on in-app purchases, compared to Facebook's -- and for that matter Apple's -- 30 percent.)
But the fact is that currently, only a select few can take advantage of those rates, and other opportunities that Google+ will offer, until Google starts to let more game developers in.
"I know we've had a lot of interest in developing games on Google+," said Kerpelman. "I know the developers that haven't been able to get on yet are a little frustrated. So I ask just to please be patient. We're trying to expand as fast as we can, and we want to make sure the developers that we have now are happy, and that the system can handle it. So thank you for your patience!"