Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Google+ Games: Positive Signs and Open Critiques


Google+ needs to make many improvements to its games platform, according to developers and Google itself, but some developers see good early returns and large potential with the platform.

Google+ is the “social layer” on top of everything the search giant now does, and games are a key part of Google+, said Punit Soni, lead product manager, Google+ Games and Mobile. Soni spoke about the future of the platform and took suggestions from developers in a session Tuesday at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Google plans by next year to bring together all of Google’s different gaming services: Android, Chrome Web Store, Google+, Native apps. ”Our vision for games centers around the idea of one Google,” Soni said. “Next year we will not be talking about Google+, Android, native client. Next year we’ll just be talking about Google games.” This would create a simpler way for developers to make games across the various Google platforms.

Punit Soni of Google+ Games and Mobile

Soni, in an interview after the session, said that Google is focusing on listening to developers and responding to their concerns. “If there’s anything I want to talk about it’s that it’s a humble platform,” Soni said. “The platform is learning from people who are the experts in the industry.” That point was emphasized by Google holding a panel with developers who were encouraged to raise their critiques or suggestions for improving the platform.

Soni explained the company’s strategy in launching Google+, saying it was a careful and measured approach. Google launched its games platform in August 2011. The company was “relatively conservative” in not deluging users with gaming invites. It later slowly added in virality–the ability to easily invite friends and request help from friends in games. In contrast to Facebook, Google has been more cautious on virality. For example Google+ has kept its overall news stream separate from the game stream, which includes notifications for games.

Google also focused on a small set of game developers with 16 games at the start, which has drawn some criticism. It was “quality over quantity,” Soni said. Google is not ignoring smaller independent developers, he said. “For us, it was a small curated group of partners to experiment and learn and iterate together. From that perspective it’s easy with more established players. But by no means are we closed to indie or smaller developers. Many have cool ideas and we welcome the opportunity to work with them.”

Soni also listed what Google learned from the launch. First, the platform needs to be responsive to both people who are gamers and people who don’t like games. Secondly, the line is blurring between mobile and desktop, and Google has much in the works for mobile gaming. “Mobile is really, really key,” Soni said. “We have a few things in the repository that’ll make compelling mobile gaming.” Finally, Google needs to make continued small improvements.

Google+ Launches Long Awaited Games Platform (Updated)

Kabam To Launch 'Godfather' Game Exclusively On Google+ Tomio Geron Tomio Geron Forbes Staff

The upshot: Google+ needs to make some significant upgrades and those changes are in the works. As far as what’s coming next, watch for deeper integration with other Google channels, new technology such as Hangouts, native clients, mobile, improved distribution for developers, better game discoverability, and improved payments.

Google+ now has more than 100 million monthly active users and 50 million daily active users, the company announced today. Google+ users spend more than one hour a day on Google products (How much of that is actually on Google+ proper is not clear because Google hasn’t disclosed that). The search giant is now seeing 5-10% uplift on ads with “social annotation,” which means things that friends have clicks as “+1″ or shared in some other way.

Mike Blanchette, manager of platform operations at Disney unit Playdom, launched two games on Google+ when it launched in August, City of Wonder and Wild Ones, and launched Gardens of Time in December. He’s happy with the Google+ platform but says the platform needs better ways to acquire users. Right now it’s not easy enough for people to discover games, he said.

One problem is notifications, which are the hooks that bring friends into games. Right now people have to click back and forth too many times to collect gifts from friends, Blanchette said. The other question is with Circles, Google’s groups. Blanchette was hoping that these would become a tool for people to share with other gamers. But that hasn’t quite happened yet, he said.

Google+ Launches Long Awaited Games Platform (Updated)

“We’re left now with a potential for a really massive gaming community,” Blanchette said. “There are really promising early metrics for time on site on Google Plus… Engagement has been really good. Communication channels have been really good. It just hasn’t panned out for the (user) acquisition portion.”
Kabam To Launch 'Godfather' Game Exclusively On Google+
Massive virality or social connections with friends are not necessarily required to have successful games, said Dan Chao, lead game designer at Funzio, which launched two games on Google+, including Kingdom Age, which launched last week. One of the big differences from Facebook is that Google+ takes a 5% fee on transactions compared to 30% on Facebook, he said. In Kingdom Age, Funzio focused on a high monetizing, high retention game, that put less emphasis on virality. Funzio is seeing higher average revenue per user on Google+ than other platforms, at least in the two games it has so far. Also, it only took Funzio about two weeks for three engineers to port a Facebook game, Crime City, to Google+.

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