GDC begins this week in San Francisco, and Google seeks to improve its reputation among game developers with a handful of new ads. The most important is "Google Play Instant", which allows game demos to be played on Android devices by simply clicking on a link, rather than installing the game completely. It also points to improvements in its game ad ecosystem and a new way to configure multiplayer gaming servers.
The goal of Google ads, as far as I can tell, is not to beat the conventional belief that iOS is a more powerful platform to play than Android. Google, of course, does not agree with that characterization, noting that it offers the "great majority of the main mobile games" along with a large number of tools for developers to improve the performance of their Android games.
When Sameer Samat, vice president of product management for Android and Google Play, talks to developers, he says "the number one thing on your list is the distribution." Instant applications will facilitate distribution. But a better way to think about Google ads today is to scale. Google operates differently than other companies in the gaming ecosystem simply because it is very large. Has to.
Even if you're just looking at Android, that scale is massive. More than one billion people in 190 countries have used Google Play. In games, even more than 200 million users have used minor features, such as pre-registration for a game (launched in 2015). Google notes that the number of Android users who have installed a game last year has doubled, and much of that growth comes from emerging markets.
Google wants to provide game developers with some of the tools it has developed to help deal with all those users. And so we have today's news: applications that are downloaded as web pages, ads that are easier to buy and sell, and a server infrastructure that works around the world.
Google Play Instant
Instant applications are an amalgam of how the web works and how regular applications work. They can be executed simply by pressing the "Test now" button within the Google Play Store instead of waiting for a full installation. There is a brief download process, then the application simply runs. They are like web pages because you can link them. In addition, if it is removed from the application, it simply disappears instead of leaving an icon in the drawer of the application, like a tab in your browser. They do not look like the web because they only work on a single platform: Android with Google Services.
Today's news is a bit of an expansion of Instant Apps and a bit of brand change. Here is the expansion part: now they work with more games. You can enter Google Play Store right now and try it if you have an Android phone running at least Lollipop. Google has a page where the few games that support the try now button are already shown. He also recently redesigned the Google Play Games app, and "Instant Gameplay" will be a new section in that app as well.
The reason for doing all that effort is because users abandon when they have to wait for a load bar. Jonathan Karmel, product manager of Google Play Instant, cites a game that has been using Google Play Instant and has seen "25 percent more clicks on the pages in the store list and more than 30 percent of users they install the game in the instant experience. "
To make Instant Applications more compatible with games, Google needed to update some APIs to make them work better for that context, even to work better with OpenGL. Google is working with Unity and Cocos to provide IDE support for instant applications later this year. The program is still in a closed beta version for now, but its goal is to open up to a wider set of developers later this year.
The demo of the instant app for & # 39; Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire & # 39; He has less than a minute of play.
However, for the most part, Google has encouraged game developers to reduce the size of files, so that the version of the instant application of a game is less than 10 megabytes. Sometimes that adds up to a demo of a game that you can play for a few minutes, but in other cases, the demo of the instant application of some of these games is less than 30 seconds of play.
Here is the brand change part: "Google Play Instant." The new name makes it clear that instant apps only work on phones compatible with Google Play services. That's important: a full application can have more permissions on your phone than a simple old web page. Limiting instant applications to games that have been researched by Google provides some reassurance. (Google says it is "exploring" ways that Instant Apps could work in China someday). The team is also exploring by providing game developers with deep links so that an instant application link can send you to a specific part of a game.
Announcements and Infrastructure
At GDC, Google will talk with game developers about the services it offers, some of which are not limited to Android.
From the point of view of advertising, Google recently announced a series of features for game developers, both for those who want to advertise their games and for those who want to make money with ads within their games. None of these features will make users feel much better about how the videogame ecosystem, particularly in Android, generates money. But there is no way to avoid the fact that advertising is the way that most games on Android generate revenue, so Google is doing everything possible to optimize the entire system.
Google Play Store will launch video ads (they will not play automatically, thank God), but more importantly, they've been working to perfect the "Universal App Campaign" platform. The company is using machine learning to target potential customers. So, if you like card games, you're more likely to see an ad for another card game. Beyond that, Google can also use machine learning to place that ad on the most effective platform. Google says that UAP can automate where a particular ad could appear, for example, in Google search, YouTube, within another application, or in the Play Store.
Within the games, the Google advertising system is called "AdMob" and is doing a lot of things to improve what it can do for game developers. It is presenting open offers so that "the networks can make offers to publish ads in their application simultaneously in a single unified auction". It is also driving the idea of "rewarded ads" over, which is the concept of getting a small bonus in your game by looking at an ad or playing a demo in the game. Now the games can offer you a choice of two different video ads.
Is this advertising unpleasant (at best) for users? Yes. Is it likely that the ecosystem of the game application will go back to a world in which people only pay a fair price in advance at any time? Nop.
Agones could be a big business for multiplayer gaming infrastructure
Last but not least (but certainly more nerdy), Google recently announced a new technology for game developers called "Agones". It is an open source project to host game servers for multiplayer games. If you are a developer of scalable server solutions, there are a lot of buzz words to dig deeper here. Optimized (but not restricted) to Google Cloud Platform, Agones is based on Kubernetes, the most popular in container applications since … wait, you're not even reading this, are you?
Anyway, the point is that Google believes that Agones ("Greek for & contest; & # 39;") will make it easier for game developers to set up and scale their multiplayer games. For developers, their goal is to simplify the hassle of configuring servers and maintaining them. For users, a system based on Agones should reduce the time it takes to access a game server.
This is an oversimplification, so you can read more here. Meanwhile, Google is actively developing the project and has been working with Ubisoft on it.
Google will be in force at GDC to promote the benefits of all of the above, and we are likely to hear more from the company about instant apps, announcements and Kubernetes at the Google I / O conference in May.
Disclosure: my wife works for the Oculus VR store. My complete ethical statement is here.