By Stephen Schenck | April 24, 2013 7:02 AM
Google has proven time and time again that it’s so much more than just a company that can find you the search results you’re looking for; over the years, we’ve seen it branch out into dozens of new directions, not the least of which has been Android. That said, every once in a while the giant falters, and there’s been a fair share of missteps: what was it thinking with last summer’s Nexus Q?
There’s some new, pretty compelling evidence suggesting that Google is gearing-up to unveil an Android gaming service – not just selling games like it’s been doing through Google Play, but linking gamers together with achievements, online leaderboards, messaging, match-making, and everything we’ve come to expect from the likes of Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network.
Honestly, that makes a whole lot of sense; for all the talk there is of smartphones and tablets becoming the new consoles of choice, they’re still a long way off from delivering the same sort of gaming experience we see from dedicated hardware, and an online service laser-focused on on gaming could go a long way towards bringing them up to speed.
In spite of the potential benefits, the idea of running such a service sounds like it could be an utter nightmare, and I’m not sure this is a can worms Google is necessarily ready to open.
What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
So, what could go wrong? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is what absolute jerks gamers can be. Anyone who’s spent any time playing a little Halo with a headset is no doubt well versed in the sort of awful, bigoted, homophobic, and just downright immature behavior that can come from gamers. I realize that the vast majority of gamers are normal, well-adjusted folk, but it only takes a fraction of bad apples to potentially ruin everyone else’s good time.
What about hacking? Once you get public leaderboards going, pride’s going to drive some users to try and give themselves an unfair advantage. We don’t hear much about Android game hacking at the moment, because frankly, why bother? Once a big online service like this starts ratcheting-up the level of competition, you had better believe that we’ll start seeing a rise of rooted phones and trainers designed to give their users an edge. Sure, Google would likely come up with its own countermeasures, but this could easily become one big headache of a cat-and-mouse game. Is that really where Google wants to devote its resources?
There’s also the problem of gamers connecting to the service through so many different devices, with wildly varying capabilities. This is nothing that PC gamers aren’t familiar with, but it could be a big source of frustration for those raised on console gaming, especially if we’re talking about kids that may have hand-me-down or otherwise underpowered Androids. Losing a fierce firefight only because your phone struggled to keep up a decent framerate could quickly get on some gamers’ nerves.
I can see solutions to at least some of the potential problems that concern me. Whether or not they’re practical is a different question; take, for instance, my fears of abusive language and general trolliness. Google’s already taken steps with things like YouTube comments and Google Play reviews to tie public comments to a user’s real name. If you’re playing online as Donald Quigley and not KRADSmashBlazter, you’re probably less likely to make an ass of yourself.
The problem there is that gamer culture isn’t really down with the whole full exposure thing. While casual gamers won’t think twice about tying use of this service to their Google+ accounts, I imagine that there could be some significant resistance from certain, more “hardcore” sectors of the community. Of course, there’s a fair chance that such users already shun touchscreen-based gaming in general (making any apprehension about gaming under one’s real name a moot point) but that’s an argument for another day.
Ultimately, I really hope this works for Google. It’s a fine idea, and while simple enough on the surface, the devil’s in the details. If Google sticks with it and stays on top of any issues where they crop up, there’s a lot of potential for success here. I just hope Google appreciates what it’s getting itself into, and is ready to do what it has to to make the service a success.