Google takes on Game Center with Google Play game services

A significant announcement for game developers emerged from the Google I/O keynote in San Francisco this morning: Google officially launched Google Play game services, a framework to help facilitate social play, cloud-based storage of saved games and multiplayer gameplay. What's more, they're taking it to iOS - a challenge to Apple's own Game Kit frameworks, the technology that enables iOS games to tap into Apple's Game Center app.

While games have been plentiful on Google Play, Google's actual gaming Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) have lagged behind, so Google Play game services comes as good news to Android developers. Developers have either had to roll their own services or rely on third-party tools to add things like achievements, competition ladders and public leaderboards. Now that all comes as an API package from Google.

Several game developers have been let in the door early, so Google also announced Android games already making use of the new technology: World of Goo, Super Stickman Golf 2, Beach Buggy Blitz, Kingdom Rush, Eternity Warriors 2 and Osmos.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that each of these games is available for iOS. iOS games have been a huge focus of energy for developers and are key moneymakers for many of them, so Google's decision to make Google Play game services cross platform is a smart one.

Apple has had its own frameworks for managing much of this for quite some time - Game Center was introduced way back in 2010 with iOS 4.1. It's been widely adopted by iOS game developers, but it's an Apple-exclusive technology. Game Center provides both Mac and iOS games with a frameworks for managing social connectivity, multiplayer, achievements and more, but if you're a cross-platform developer, you're out of luck. In that respect, Google Play game services may be a better choice for developers looking to maximize their potential player base.

It's worth noting that Google isn't limiting this to iOS and Android, either. The company is providing an API that works with web browsers, with libraries for JavaScript, Java, Python and other technologies.

Google Play game services isn't the first time a cross-platform social platform for iOS and Android games has been produced. One of the highest profile examples of this was OpenFeint. OpenFeint preceded Game Center and built up a good head of steam before being sold to a Japanese company, which promptly shut it down in favor of its own technology.

If there's an Achilles' heel in Google Play game services, it's the fact that it isn't mandatory for Android developers to use, and it is, of course, purely optional for iOS developers to work with.

So there's no way to tell today how well-received or widespread the technology will be. Then again, neither is Game Center, though it's become the de facto standard for iOS games. Google understands the importance of game developers to the Android ecosystem, so I doubt that Google Play game services will end up on the scrap heap like so many other Google projects have.

Will Google Play game services take over Game Center's territory, or is it likely to end up like OpenFeint did? Let us know what you think in the comments.