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This article was published on July 10, 2011

Google+ is set to take the social gaming industry by storm

Google+ is set to take the social gaming industry by storm
Francis Tan
Story by

Francis Tan

Francis Tan is the Asia editor of TNW, who is based in the Philippines. He is particularly interested in Asian Internet startups, social me Francis Tan is the Asia editor of TNW, who is based in the Philippines. He is particularly interested in Asian Internet startups, social media and e-commerce. Get in touch with him via Twitter @francistan or Email [email protected].

Google’s long-awaited social project has arrived and it has been met with general approval from the early adopters. The promising new social platform opens up many opportunities for Google, and it can now tap into the lucrative social gaming industry.

Whilst the likes of Facebook already have a solid footing in the gaming industry, it doesn’t mean that there’s no room for another platform to join in. In fact, given the fresh, unique take of Google on social networking, paired with its own mobile operating system, Android, and a micropayment system, social gaming is an obvious route for Google to go down.

Social Gaming: A Proven Success

Social gaming is undoubtedly one of the key success factors and revenue sources of Google+’s rival social network, Facebook. In a Reuters report, Kevin Ryan, a leading Internet entrepreneur and former Chief Executive of online advertising giant DoubleClick, claims that the world’s biggest social network is on course to generate $1 billion in revenue this year from social gaming, most of which would come from advertising and Facebook Credits.

Zynga, the biggest social gaming developer on Facebook, disclosed that it alone generated $235 million in revenue during the first quarter of 2011, which suggests that the California-based game developer would likely hit $1 billion in revenue this year – and this would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for Facebook. Zynga recently said:

“We generate substantially all of our revenue and players through the Facebook platform and expect to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

Given the pace at which the social gaming industry is going, the market as a whole could be worth $1.5bn by 2014 – and by that time, Google+ could well have a fairly hefty slice of the social gaming pie.

Google+ is Ready to Play

According to an Engadget report, deep within Google+’s source code are a few hints of services that we may see in the future, one of which is a gaming feature of sorts with a line of code that reads: “have sent you Game invites and more from Google Plus Games.”

This will come as no surprise to many, considering that Google was actively acquiring game developers like Slide and SocialDeck last year and has been recruiting for positions on a gaming team.

Google+ Games could be the search giant’s take on Facebook Games and Apple’s Game Center, two of the biggest social gaming portals.

Facebook has been a clear winner among the social networks in the social gaming sphere, it still lacks a centralized way to allow users to collaborate at gaming. The way I imagine Google+ would handle games would be similar to Apple’s Game Center in terms of how it single-handedly manages different social games in one platform, and this is a recipe for success if implemented well on a social network.

Developers are Impressed

So we have a platform that is very capable of running social games, and it looks like it’s getting good responses from game developers too. While Google isn’t quite ready to talk about the gaming plans for its social network just yet, it doesn’t mean that ‘gaming’ is not on its radar. Katie Watson, senior manager of global communications and public affairs at Google, said:

“We don’t have any specific details to share on our plans around incorporating games into Google Plus. But, it’s important to keep in mind this is an ongoing project and this is just the beginning. We plan to add a lot of features and functionality to Google Plus over time. We’re just excited to get started.”

In an interview with Gamasutra, Kevin Chou, CEO of core-gamer focused developer Kabam, said:

“In terms of first impressions, I think what’s impressive is that Google has dealt products that connect multiple Google properties, and that has achieved, more or less, feature-parity with Facebook. It’s a very impressive feat, and I think Google has shown that they can build a high-quality product with a high-touch user interface, with design in mind.”

Needless to say, it’s not just Kabam that is interested in what Google+’s Circles has to offer. Jonathan Knight, SVP of Games RockYou, said:

“People who play games on social networks typically have groups of people they play games with, who don’t necessarily overlap with ‘true’ friends they see socially.”

And Arjun Sethi, CEO of Ravenwood Fair maker Lolapps, said:

“Google Plus is a great step for Google. It’s clear that they’ve built it from the ground up with the idea of improving communication with the social web in mind.”

‘Circles’: Perfect for Gamers

Perhaps the biggest plus in Google’s latest attempt to create a social network is what it calls Circles, the feature that makes it easy to gain more control over who they share things with and how.

The great thing about Circles is that unlike in Facebook where relationships are required to be mutual, Google+ takes on an asymmetric approach in mapping out relationships. This can be handy for gamers who want to casually add friends, without having to let them in on their personal lives.

Ryan Hoover, Product Manager at PlayHaven, expressed the same sentiment on Quora:

“It’s very common for Facebook social gamers to friend random strangers or seek fellow game-players on various community sites to help manage each other’s crops. Unfortunately, this pollutes the user’s social graph, devaluing Facebook’s primary utility – social interaction.

Google+ puts lists (in the form of “Circles”) at the core of the user experience and on-boarding flow. This allows users to define explicit social groups to create a better gaming and social experience.”

This kind of casual relationship could very well be appealing to gamers in the sense that one doesn’t have to be mutual friends to compare scores, send invites, and chat about games with other players in a particular Circle.

The Potential of Google+

Unlike Facebook, Google has its own operating system (OS), Android, which at the rate its growing could be the market leader fairly soon. Despite trailing Facebook in terms of social gaming experience, Google holds one big advantage: a rich ecosystem of mobile games through the Android platform.

If and when Google+ becomes a gaming platform, we should probably expect an overlap between mobile and social, with a uniform payments infrastructure underlying both. An OS-level integration allows Google to innovate beyond what Facebook is capable of in certain respects.

Imagine devices running Android OS with a built-in gaming platform powered by Google+, that gives users access to all their games, achievements, and friends lists – both on mobile and on the social network – all under one umbrella. It’s going to be huge and it will be a massive threat to Apple’s Game Center.

All in all, this is great for both game developers and users because where there’s competition, there’s innovation.

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