Google+ looks increasingly poised to be the social gaming layer for Android


By Kim-Mai Cutler Comment

Earlier this week, members of the Google+ team alluded to plans for building a unified gaming network across the company’s web based properties including the Chrome Web Store and then on Android.

In a talk at the Game Developers Conference this week, Google+’s group product manager Punit Soni reportedly said, “By next year, we will not be here talking about Google+ Games, Chrome Web Store games, Games for Native Client and Android games. We will be talking about Google games.”

It was such a striking comment, because the Android team has been pretty publicly committed to being open and including multiple social graphs.

In an interview last week with Android’s design lead Matias Duarte, we talked about the social contact book integration in the most recent version of the OS, Ice Cream Sandwich. It pulls content from social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn straight into the address book. So you can look at a contact and see their latest tweets or updates.

Being inclusive of other networks sounded pretty important to Duarte. He stressed, “This is an open service. Google+ or anybody who wants to write for this can share their data, not just in address book but also in other social applications.”

We had to get some clarity. If Google is shifting to a world where it favors its own Google+ social graph on Android, it has implications for many other companies that want to do viral distribution on the Android platform like Facebook and then the gaming networks like DeNA’s Mobage, GREE, PapayaMobile, Heyzap and so on. It also has consequences for what sharing features developers should build into their Android apps.

We reached out to Soni again to get some clarity. He says:

“We are committed to ensuring Google+ is the social layer on which all Google products are built. This is slowly happening across the board including on Android. We have strong plans around extending our social ecosystem to mobile gaming, but it’s premature to go into further detail at this point.”

So it sounds like pushing Google+ on Android would be more about gaming, not necessarily other verticals. There have already been calls for Google to build its own version of Game Center.

On the one hand, pushing Google+ on Android makes absolute sense. Google+ is not succeeding as a desktop-first product given Facebook’s enormous lead. However, Facebook is fundamentally weak on mobile because it doesn’t own lower layers of the stack. It’s a hugely popular app, not an OS with hundreds of millions of dedicated devices that can support hundreds of thousands of mobile applications. And while Facebook is pursuing HTML5 as an alternative strategy, it may be years before HTML5 produces games that perform as well as native ones do. Realistically, Google+ probably should have been a mobile-first product from the start.

On the other hand, giving Google+ home-field advantages on Android compromises the platform’s original philosophy of openness. It just sounds like there is tension in deciding whether to push Google’s proprietary social graph or keep Android a level playing field for multiple social networks.

Stay tuned on this one. It will be interesting to watch.