Immersive 3D video games
About two weeks ago, Google took the wraps off Google+ Games. The service has your basic strategy, bubble popping and gangster games. As it stands, Google+ Games is already a pretty good contender to Facebook Games. It also doesn’t hurt that Google will keep 5% of the revenue, while Facebook asks for a 30% cut from developers. But that’s not what will make Google+ Games superior to Facebook’s offering.
At every major Google+ announcement, Google keeps emphasizing that we’re just seeing a small fraction of what Google+ will become. The Google+ Games release was no different, with Bradley Horowitz saying that “this is the tip of the iceberg, this is just getting started.”
While is Horowitz’s job is to hype Google+ as much as he can, I truly think the company has the means and drive to take social gaming to a whole new level. And if you look closely enough, you can see how Google is putting the pieces together to do just that.
Native Client is one of those pieces. For those of you who don’t know, Native Client (or NaCl) is a technology Google is working on that will allow developers to run native C and C++ code inside the browser. Coincidentally, Google just announced support for Native Client on the Beta channel of Chrome. As of right now, Native Client has APIs for 2D graphics, stereo audio, URL fetching and sandboxed local file access (File API) among others. Many more APIs are coming soon–like hardware accelerated 3D graphics (OpenGL ES 2.0), fullscreen mode and networking (WebSockets and peer-to-peer connections).
Native Client opens the door for a whole new range of web apps that will be more engaging, immersive and beautiful than anything we’ve seen before on the web. Furthermore, apps that are currently PC/Mac-only–like Photoshop and Skype–will soon be able to run on the web just like they do on Windows or Mac OS.
So how does Native Client fit into the whole Google+ Games strategy? Well for one, we’ll be able to get rid of those annoying, 2D, static, Flash games that plague the social gaming scene. NaCl will allow developers to build web games that are much more than just a 2D drawing with a bunch of letters and numbers on top of it. This is how games on Google+ will look in the near future.
Having said that, don’t expect to be playing an NaCl version of Modern Warfare 2 on Google+ any time soon. While NaCl might work for games like CityVille 3D or Lego Star Wars, it won’t work for graphic-intensive, blockbuster video games like the Modern Warfare franchise.
Video games built with NaCl will still require a decent computer to run. If Crysis 2 is ever released as an NaCl game, you’ll still need a massive PC rig to play it at the maximum graphic setting since the game will run natively on your computer and not on the cloud. But as we know, Google is all about the cloud. They don’t want you to go out a buy a new graphics card just to be able to play Mafia Wars on Google+.
Instead, the company will likely turn to services like OnLive for those games that are too high-end to run natively on a device like a Chromebook. OnLive, as you probably know, is a cloud gaming company. All the games offered by the company run on a server somewhere in the cloud. The video feed from the game is then streamed to the OnLive client on your computer in real time. OnLive does this so efficiently that it feels like the game is running locally on your computer.
As of today, the OnLive client is only available for PC and Mac platforms. But with the arrival of NaCl, the next obvious step would be to take OnLive to the web as a Native Client app. All of a sudden, even my wimpy Chromebook would be able to play blockbuster video games like Duke Nukem Forever and Batman: Arkham City.
There’s something to be said about the way Google is able to iterate its products faster than the competition. Just ask Microsoft, Apple, Nokia, RIM and Yahoo. They all got left in the dust as Google moved ahead with the agility of a start-up and the resources of a mega-corporation. And now with a new, energized and ambitious CEO at the wheel, the company seems to be moving even more aggressively than before.
Just two months after launch, the Google+ team has announced more than a dozen improvements and new features to the social network, including the iPhone app and Google+ Games. Interestingly, Facebook has tried to match every major Google+ announcement with one of its own. Right after Google announced Google+ in June, Facebook came released video calling support with some help from Skype. Then the same day Google+ Games arrived, Facebook made some changes to its gaming platform. Coincidence? I’m wouldn’t be so sure.
Facebook, it seems, is trying desperately to keep up with Google. The fact that Google could very soon have a social network as full-featured–if not more so–as Facebook, is making some people in the Zuckerberg team very nervous. How nervous? Well, according to some reports, Facebook is now blocking Google+ invite links. Which is exactly what Facebook would do if they were terrified of another service stealing their users. Meanwhile, El Goog keeps pumping out new features faster than you can say “Deactivate Facebook account.”
I want you to quickly compare Facebook’s and Google+’s privacy settings. Which one do you think is easier to use and understand? Unless you’re somehow interested in digging through a sea of check-marks and countless setting pages, you answered Google+. But why is Google+’s settings page so much simpler than Facebook’s?
Because Facebook makes money from having a very confusing privacy settings page. Every time a Facebook user mistakenly shares something with the whole world, Facebook gets to sell that information to advertisers. That’s why people make such a fuss every time Facebook changes the privacy settings. More often than not, they do it to make more of your information available to advertisers.
On the other hand, Google+ doesn’t even have ads yet. In fact, we’re not even sure if it ever will. Instead of worrying about making money and pleasing advertisers, Google can focus on the users and how to make them happy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Google is some kind of angelic company that only cares about users. On the contrary, being open and user-friendly is all part of the strategy to dethrone Facebook.
Why do you think Circles is such a big part of Google+? Because Facebook sucks in the privacy department. Why do Games updates appear only in the Games Stream? Because people hate those annoying Facebook Games updates. Why is the whole Google+ team Hanging out on Google+ all the time and openly talking about the service with everyone? Because that’s the complete opposite of what Facebook does. In other words, Google is looking at everything Facebook is doing wrong and then doing the complete opposite.
Will the average person bite the user-friendly and privacy-aware bait and move from Facebook to Google+? Why wouldn’t they? At the end of the day, the only thing people care about is how happy they are using a service. Who cares if Google did it because deep down they really are a user-friendly company or because they know being user-friendly is the best way to beat Facebook and take over the world?
In the coming months, Facebook will continue to ignore and trick its users into sharing more information, while Google will continue to improve Google+ based on user feedback. We’ll see, a few months from now, which strategy worked out the best.