After more than two years without an integrated gaming network to compete with Apple’s Game Center, at its sixth annual Google I/O conference in San Francisco, the Android company today introduced an application programming interface (API) called Google Play Game Services as part of a new update, available for Android version Froyo and up.
The service makes gaming more of a social experience. The vice president of Android product management, Hugo Barra, said players can now pick up and play with the convenience of cloud saves, which maintain player progression and game states across devices. Players can complete one level of a game on their phone and then switch to a tablet without missing a beat.
Google also announced achievements–or in-game awards for completed actions–and two types of leaderboards that encourage “friendly competition”: public and friends-only, Google+ supported lists that show how you rank compared to other players. The company used developer 2D Boy’s World of Goo as an example of how the latter feature works–all without forcing players to exit the game.
In an interesting move, Google is launching this service for iOS and the web as well to maximize cross-platform gaming experiences. This could position the service as an even bigger rival to Apple’s Game Center.
Google Play Game Services also includes comprehensive matchmaking to enable multiplayer sessions, independently handling the labor of peer-to-peer connections to take some of the load off developers. Via Google+, players can find friends or new people to play with or compete against.
Google showed off a preview of developer Vector Unit’s Riptide 2, a racing game launching this summer, but encountered network problems and had to skip over the multiplayer demo. Despite these issues, the audience could see how three players were able to invite each other from their Google+ circles to go head-to-head.
Google announced that games, such as World of Goo, Super Stickman Golf 2, Beach Buggy Blitz, Kingdom Rush, Eternity Warriors 2, and Osmos, are already using these capabilities. The service also builds in APIs for monitoring piracy, which is a big concern on Android. These track whether games were purchased from the Google Play store. Developers can then take appropriate actions if desired.
We’ll soon see whether players engage better with Google Play Game Services than they have with Apple’s Game Center.