Mar 27th, 2013

Mobile gaming has taken the traditional gaming industry by storm. While the heavy hitting console makers previously ruled the gaming world, this year’s GDC (Gaming Developers Conference) is packed with hundreds of indie devs creating games for smartphones and tablets. Mobile gaming is now a huge revenue driver, and as all publicly traded companies have an obligation to their stock holders, manufacturers and carriers are following the money.

Verizon Bloatware?

Considering this trend, the announcement of Verizon’s Playphone initiative doesn’t come as a surprise, right? Essentially, Verizon Playphone is a replacement for the Google Play Store called “Games Portal”, allowing the carrier to bypass Google, thereby preventing a percentage of each game sale from seeping into the Big G’s pockets. Many Android enthusiasts will immediately write Playphone off as revenue driving bloatware that does little more than drag down your phone’s efficiency while raking in money.

Not so fast.

We attended the Verizon Playphone event at GDC 2013 and got a first hand look at exactly what customers can expect from the service. It may surprise you, but there are some pretty cool features of Playphone that extend functionality beyond what the Google Play Store offers, and I’d be surprised if Google doesn’t take note and follow the same course.

The Verizon Playphone Games Portal is accessible through a very simple icon labeled “Games” that looks (unsurprisingly) like a gaming controller. It’s a very subtle factor, but having a separate shortcut/entity to access all your games is pretty convenient. I appreciate the breadth of the Google Play Store – offering everything from apps and games to music and magazines – but there is something about the simplicity of a dedicated gaming hub that is relieving.

Sure, Google could add a “Games” icon to every Android installation, instantly funneling you to the gaming section of the Google Play Store, but the icon is only where things begin. Nevermind the fact that Playphone not only decided to name the app “Games” for the simple straightforwardness, but also because that would alphabetically land them on the first default page of the apps drawer. Google has icons for Books, Music, etc… why are Games overlooked?

Pointing out the app icon and naming convention may seem petty, but it’s illustrative of the bigger picture: Google doesn’t have it all figured out. Verizon’s partnership with Playphone looks a lot like the Play Store on the surface, but it incorporates a couple major feature that Google is lacking with the Playstore, and one that they’ve been chasing with Google Plus: the social dimension.

Social Gaming

Two main features help Playphone differentiate from the Google Play Store: interaction with friends and purchases.

The Verizon Games Portal includes a “friends” page that lists the current game activity of your friends. A quick scan will not only show what friends are playing what games, it also allows you to easily challenge them in the games they’re playing or invite them to the games you’re playing. This occurs far too often on Facebook, as witnessed byt he dreaded Farmville status posts, but done subtly it adds a lot of value for consumers and will increase downloads, play-time, and revenue for developers.

We’ve seen this concept work brilliantly as a feature within downloads such as Words with Friends and Draw Something, but providing social interaction regarding the actual download of games and challenging of high scores prior to downloading is something not currently found on the Google Play Store. The closest thing would be +1ing the app’s page… neat, but it doesn’t really encourage more gaming with your friends.

Exactly how the stream displays recent game activity is something that will have to wait until Q2, but the idea sounds fun and interactive. There’s also a homescreen widget with various options and notifications to draw you back into active games with your friends.

Dollars and Sense

Verizon’s partnership with Playphone also removes a few layers and barriers to purchasing games. When you buy something through the Google Play Store, you’ll see a confirmation screen and a payment screen and have to confirm your purchase and before proceeding. From a consumer standpoint, it’s not too hard to jump through these hoops, albeit perhaps unnecessarily tedious. With the Verizon Games’ Portal, push the buy button and you’re done, with the billing going directly to your monthly carrier bill. The same goes for in-app purchases.

This accomplishes two things:

  1. For the consumer, it provides a more seamless and continuous gaming experience
  2. For the developer, it prevents the consumer from second guessing their purchase, allowing impulse buys to fly right through the system

You could argue that second point is bad for consumers, but let’s face it, businesses are always looking at ways to maximize revenue and simplifying the shopping process is helpful to consumers and smart for service providers. I’m sure there are concerns regarding children and parental controls, but I doubt these are issues which Verizon and Playphone haven’t figured out.

Coming Q2 2013

Verizon’s Game Portal will be coming to new Android devices starting sometime in the first half of 2013. The move is probably a business decision at heart, but it doesn’t come without some interesting benefits to consumers, and it will be interesting to see if Google attempts to incorporate any of these social features into their own product.

Google’s Android model was initially founded on the principle that more smartphones means more Internet means more Google ads which means more revenue, a “Don’t Be Evil” concept of which many questioned the genuineness. Now, as the mobile OS with more installs than any other platform, the store (like iTunes) has got to be a huge revenue driver.

The Verizon Playstore is just the latest in a string of manufacturers and carriers attempting to offer their own portal for Android apps and/or games. To date, most would argue that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are the only two players to enjoy any success in this area, but could Verizon’s Games Portal be join them?

While you ponder that question, check out one of the Playphone girls who was roaming the party (above), with pretty cool gaming shirts made for GDC. And if you haven’t guessed, Playphone’s goal at GDC was to sign up developer’s to submit their games to the new Verizon Games Portal.

local_offer    Playphone  Verizon Games Portal