Google Play is setting the stage for a big year of growth in mobile and cross-platform gaming, with several new initiatives to help and encourage developers to build even more exciting and engaging gaming experiences.
The increased power of modern smartphones as gaming powerhouses has allowed for the creation of more sophisticated mobile games, many of which can easily be called “console-quality.” However, this has also given rise to more demand from players to be able to enjoy these gaming experiences on a larger screen.
The ability to run Android apps on Chromebooks, introduced in 2016, partially addressed this, but limitations in Chrome OS and lower-end Chromebook hardware meant this didn’t always provide the best gaming experience.
Nevertheless, gameplay on Chromebooks has been on the rise over the past year, with Google reporting that Android usage on Chrome OS grew by 50% in 2021 over the previous year — and that this was driven primarily by games.
So, it’s probably not a big surprise that Google wants to take that experience even further. At The Game Awards 2021 in December, Google surprised us with a teaser video, revealing that Google Play Games would be coming to Windows PCs in 2022.
While that very brief announcement didn’t offer us much detail, it wasn’t long before the first Google Play Games for PC beta arrived. In January, Google opened sign-ups for gamers in Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to begin testing the new service with a handful of games.
The number of titles available may still be small, but it’s an impressive collection to kick things off, including Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Summoners War, State of Survival: The Joker Collaboration, and Three Kingdoms Tactics.
More importantly, this isn’t just a way to play your favorite Google Play games on a Windows PC. Rather, it’s part of Google’s new embrace and extend philosophy to “meet players where they are.”
Specifically, Google wants to ensure that gamers get a seamless, “pick-up-and-play” experience as they move between platforms, whether that’s on a Google Pixel 6, Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, Chromebook, or Windows PC.
To kick off this week’s Google for Games Developer Summit, we had the opportunity to speak with Leo Olebe, Google’s Managing Director of Play Partnerships for Games, about his vision for the future of Google Play Games, and what Google is doing to empower developers to build even better gaming experiences.
Olebe came to Google last May after serving for nearly six years as the Senior Global Director of Games Partnerships for Facebook. He also sits on the board of Games for Change, an organization that aims to empower game creators and social innovators to use their games to drive real-world change and help make the world a better place.
Needless to say, Olebe understands the mobile game industry and the needs of both gamers and developers quite well. He had some interesting things to share about how Google is working to help developers succeed on Google Play, and in turn, build even better gaming experiences for their players.
A surprising number of developers began expressing interest almost immediately following the teaser announcement at The Game Awards, and it’s “grown exponentially” since then.
Although Google Play Games for PC has been rolling out slowly with only a few games, that shouldn’t be taken as a sign of poor uptake by developers. According to Olebe, a surprising number of developers began expressing interest almost immediately following the teaser announcement at The Game Awards, and it’s “grown exponentially” since then.
It’s not just the big game developers that are on board, either. Olebe tells us that Google has many smaller indie devs who are already working on optimizing their games for PCs, and Google is actively working to provide them with the resources and tools they need to accomplish this transition.
While the amount of effort required to adapt mobile games for PC will likely vary widely between games, Olebe shared that they’ve had some developers “onboard in as little as a week.” Others take a bit longer, but again, the Google Play team is “there to support developers every step of the way.”
As any long-time mobile gamer knows, moving a game between such different platforms can often result in a less than ideal experience. The early days of mobile gaming demonstrated how many PC and console games didn’t always translate well to a touchscreen interface, and today the opposite is often true.
Fortunately, Google isn’t going to let developers get away with mediocre ports just to deliver more PC-compatible titles. According to Olebe, “all games that are brought to the Google Play platform [should follow] a set of standards, policies, and best practices […] to get the most out of Google Play.” Minimum standards include such things as supporting keyboard and mouse controls, and the x86 architecture. The goal here is clearly quality over quantity, and Google is making these best practices as clear and easy as possible for developers.
For larger developers, Google offers the Google Play Partner Program for Games, tailored for the unique needs of developers at this scale. However, it also has a number of other programs available to even the smallest indie developers. As part of this year’s Games Developer Summit, Google is also announcing a new Android Game Development Extension that will allow game developers to build directly for Android from within Visual Studio, including cross-compatibility with Android Studio.
Olebe also tells us that there’s already been a marked shift by developers over the past couple of years to prioritize larger screens, and “users on Chromebooks are taking notice.” This has driven increased gaming on Chromebooks and opened up more opportunities for Android game developers to “reach more players where they are.”
What’s perhaps more interesting is that Google Play Games for PC also isn’t just about supplementing the mobile gaming experience. “PC-first” gamers can play Android games on Windows without the need to ever install the game on their mobile device. “I imagine that there will be mobile games that people discover and try on PC that maybe they hadn’t tried before,” Olebe told us.
Google’s “ecosystem approach” has also been paying off in a similar way.
The Google Play team also sees a great deal of success from partnering “deeply” with game developers, Olebe notes, making sure they have all the tools and support needed in the Android Game Development Kit to build games and metrics like Android Vitals and the Developer Reporting API to keep track of how their games are doing.
Google’s “ecosystem approach” has also been paying off in a similar way. This includes the new Android App Bundle format and the Play as You Download feature introduced in Android 12 to allow players to download and start playing a new game in seconds, as well as value-added features like Play Points and Play Pass.
Going forward into 2022, Olebe suggests three priorities that Android game developers should look to: Game quality, multi-screen gaming, and advanced tools in Google Play like pre-registration, early access, and Play points. “The Android ecosystem is large, and developers get the most out of their games running well on more devices with all the tools and services we’ve made,” Olebe notes, adding for developers that “Google Play has a wealth of tools that help you with promoting and increasing the commercial success for your game.”
“Gamers are always looking for more opportunities to find and play great games,” Olebe said. “They will be happy if they can find new experiences, or continue existing ones. Google Play understands that many — nay most — are playing on multiple platforms. We want gamers to be able to find great Google Play experiences no matter what device or form factor they are on.”
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