As I am sure you know all to well, today the folks over in Cupertino have a bit of an event planned.  It is suspected that they will be discussing new Apple gaming initiatives such as their recently announced GameCenter. While you would think that larger over-arching services like this would be good for the iOS platform, it may spell doom for smaller cross-game communication platforms like OpenFeint.  So how do such niche services hope to survive?  The keyword of the day is: Diversify.

Earlier this month the leadership over at OpenFeint let slip of plans to open their platform to Android users.  This was a complex system of inviting friends to play games via email and to put it quite frankly, seemed a bit cluedgey.  Well it looks like they were listening and went back to the drawing board a bit, as today they are ready to announce their newest development for cross-platform gaming: PlayTime.

Cross-Platform gaming is no big deal, right?  Wrong!  This is a huge step forward that looks to dodge the earlier stumbling blocks of exchanging emails and the like.  Here is what the platform is bringing to the table:

  • It’s the first ever real-time multiplayer gaming system that functions between Android and iPhone.
  • Unlike Apple’s Game Center which is planning to provide a real-time gaming solution and requires peer to peer connections, PlayTime will keep games in play even if one gamer drops  connection due to AT&T for example. The game continues with artificial intelligence computer opponent. This is the ideal scenario for mobile game play due to inconsistent network connectivity. Apple’s solution will disconnect the entire game if one player loses connection.
  • The one-day install SDK makes this technology available to the masses i.e. indie and mid-level developers who otherwise couldn’t implement it.
  • It enables voice chat for trash talking between Android and iPhone gamers.
  • PlayTime is fully compatible with Apple’s Game Center

The first point that just jumps out at me is the odd irony that thought his is a product that will compete with GameCenter, it still will be fully compatible with it.  I am guessing that this will help to take the guess work out of matchmaking between other iOS devices.  But this product isn’t about just competing with Apple, it is about expanding the reach of the mobile gaming community and unifying them under one platform.

Initially PlayTime will launch in two tiers: Casual and Core.  The “Casual SDK” as it is being called, will allow you to either turn traditionally single player games into a multiplayer experience by adding in leaderboards, or compete in turn-based games such as what you would find in a game like Words With Friends.  This will also integrate into OpenFeint’s existing Achievement system, which will in turn handle the heavy lifting of integrating into Apple’s GameCenter.  When you consider that they are also adding in voice chat between devices and a unified matchmaking platform, this is beginning to look like a fairly intriguing package.  The scary part is that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

With the “Core SDK” developers will be getting the identical feature set of the casual tier, along with a more impressive multiplayer offering.  Partnering with networking engine developer Exit Games, PlayTime Core will allow for up to sixteen players to simultaneously engage in multiplayer action.  OpenFeint is trying to get their new service as close to par with Systems like Xbox LIVE by also roping in VoIP service to these matches as well.

“The most successful games have one thing in common: they bring people together. Whether a simple board game or a stunning 3D console game, games are always better when shared with family or friends. Traditionally, multiplayer technology has been accessible only to top tier developers. It’s just too complicated and time consuming. So we invented PlayTime, which literally takes one day to integrate into a casual game.” – Jason Citron, CEO of Aurora Feint.

If in fact PlayTime is something that can be integrated into an application in less than a day this is something that everyone should be excited about.  Just think of it this way: If you are a developer and you have the option to down the road expand your application’s install base to the Android, with only a day worth of work for the netcode, you would be insane NOT to.

The most appealing part of this entire package is that the SDK will be scalable to the needs of an individual developer.  Prices have not been announced yet, but I am guessing that they will scale accordingly as well, with the “Core” level being the more expensive of the two.  Either way, this looks like it could be an impressive development to multiplayer gaming on the iOS, as long as Apple doesn’t do something to elbow them off the platform all together.  But then that would be a monopoly, right?  And we all know how much corporations love anti-trust lawsuits.  Here’s looking at you Microsoft.

At the end of the day it comes right down to wondering if this is the wave of the future with respect to the portable gaming platforms.  I would argue that not only is it the future, but it is an inevitability.  The Android and iOS platforms are close enough in form that they could easily compete against one another.  I guess we will have to see what happens then PlayTime launches as part of OpenFeint 3.0 later this year.

If you are a developer that is interested in seeing what all the hype is all about, you can sign up to evaluate a beta version of PlayTime at the OpenFeint Developer Connection.

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