Google Play Games – The Good and the Bad (Google I/O Keynote 2013)



Rumors about this service have been circulating for no less than a year, but it’s one thing to hear a rumor – and another entirely to see something come to life… and; in essence, it’s everything that Android gamers have been asking for!
Google Play Games attempts to do a job that has been long since necessary, and does a fine job! If you need convincing that this service has caught on, compare the current number of titles enabled to the four it launched with. Enough core components are there such that gamers wanting to go on an achievement hunt, game online, trash talk amongst their gaming pals and compare progress in leaderboards can do so… but there’s a few surprising annoyances.

1. Lack of User Friendliness: Regardless of whether you’re in-tune with Microsoft’s “Xbox Portable” facsimile that lies hidden in Windows Phone 7/8, or a part of Apple’s ever-popular GameCenter, you probably don’t pay too much mind to the game login portion of getting your network-oriented gaming sessions in… and you’d have no need to either because it’s all done in a very automatic fashion. Google takes a different approach where every individual game must be logged into in a manner that feels a lot like pairing a bluetooth device… and there’s even some games that require you to sign-in per session before your achievements or leaderboard progress counts. Without a doubt, it’s a minor quip… but all the same, it’s odd that such a measure of convolution would be added when so many other services have already paved the way for others to follow.

2. Lack of a Hub: Something a tie-in to the lack of user-friendliness is that this service also lacks a hub. Again… strange behaviour seeing as no other network-oriented gaming service launched without a hub. It’s yet another thing that we could go forever without thinking about until it’s not there. Without it though; it doesn’t seem like this service comes together. We don’t get to see an accumulation of our achievements, we don’t get to see or brag about a cumulative gamerscore, lack of a hub also leaves us having to aimlessly hunt for which games will support Google Play Games, and all of our landmarks must be compared on an individual game-by-game basis. With so much integration into Google+, it’s made even more strange that they didn’t take the obvious initiative to make Google+ their hub.

screenshot_2013-05-22_17193. Lack of Predictive Planning: This is by far the biggest and most bothersome of them all. If you’re one of those people (like myself) who obsessively manages their phone storage,  it’s easy to notice that each and every game linked to Google Play Services is sucking away phone storage in increments numbering 2-6MB of uncontrollable, immovable Application Data. Fast forward about 30-something games, and that’s over 100MB of storage consumed directly off a given device. With support going all the way back to Eclair (where phones would typically have less than 400MB of phone storage), this does two heavily detrimental things; it shows a clear lack of predictive planning for the future of anyone using this service and punishes users for using the service. Even more staggering is that there’s a real simple solution to this that was established back in the birth of smartphones… send the data mongers to the SD card. We have enough control over that such that we can extend up to 64GB… while whatever this data consumption is could arguably be something we should never see to begin with (ala – store it on the cloud!) the very least courtesy we could have is that this ever-growing chunk of data be sent to external storage.

All qualms aside, this is a very nice service. Watching it come to life while they wow’ed us with the 2013 Google I/O Keynote was very exciting and it’s already done a bang-up job at taking Android gaming to the next level. Seeing the “Achievement Unlocked” screen is just as addictive as ever, and it’s all too enjoyable to fight with the global lead-holders for the number one spot. Add in a centralized hub application (or integrate it into Google+), and send what would go to Application Data to the SD (or the cloud!) and this will be simply grand.

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