Say Goodbye to OpenFeint, Amazon Introduces GameCircle for Kindle Fire

One of the biggest problems with making games for Android devices like the Kindle Fire is that it can be very difficult to create a framework around them.  Yes, there are plenty of stand-alone titles to choose from, but if you’re talking about anything competitive or social then that means potentially huge investments in technology beyond the app itself.

Many app developers have found shortcuts around this problem.  Among the more popular is a service called OpenFeint.  The service provides a relatively easily integrated social gaming platform with a fairly large established user base ready to draw on, but it also runs into issues.  The company running the service has been accused of privacy violations, sharing user personal information with advertisers, and monitoring user activity outside of games.

The lawsuits regarding those complaints and more are still pending.  Whether you believe that the company is a problem or not, though, clearly the adoption of the platform can cause problems for a developer.  You need only look at some of Amazon’s previous “Free App of the Day” selections to see how it affects reviews, especially among Kindle Fire users.

Many have felt the need to incorporate that platform, or something similar to it, in order to provide features like competitive scoreboards and other social features without the need to create an independent support structure for them.  Amazon, fortunately, has provided a better option.

On July 11th, they announced the new GameCircle service.  A series of APIs are now available to developers that allow them to build in achievements, leaderboards, and cloud saving.  It has already been included in a number of popular games, including Temple Run and Triple Town, thanks to a successful beta run involving those developers.

Achievements are a natural way to increase time spent in a given game.  They have become common enough that just about any user will recognize them and they provide arbitrary goals within games that can both guide and reward players in a variety of situations.  The potential for increased engagement that they provide is well known and far more effective when made into a socially shared experience rather than an in-game checklist.

Leaderboards are excellent for any potentially competitive title.  Timed games, anything point-based, and progress competition are all possible.  The implications are obvious.

The most important part of this update, however, is the sync feature.  By allowing a user to sync their progress in a given game without requiring that files be left behind even after the deletion of a title from the device, GameCircle extends the lifespan of games.  Even if you don’t finish a given selection on your phone tonight, you can always pull it up on your Kindle Fire tomorrow and pick up where you left off.  You can even forget about a game and not have to start unlocking levels again from the beginning when you think about it a year down the line.  It’s highly appealing.

Overall, GameCircle meets a need.  It eliminates the need for potentially shady alternatives and further incentivizes development specifically for Amazon’s Appstore.  That will be essential for the continued popularity of the Kindle Fire, but anybody with an Android device stands to benefit.

Kindle Fire Social Gaming Support to be Expanded

Anybody who has spent time on any tablet, including and perhaps especially the Kindle Fire, is likely to have at least tried out a game on it.  Tablets are perfect for casual gaming in many of its forms.  Since this is the fastest growing segment of the game market there will only be more people looking into ways to exploit the expanded user base as time goes on.  Part of this is simply the fun of the games, but much has to be attributed to the prominence of social games such as those we find on Facebook.

Zynga, the elephant in the room when you’re talking about Facebook games, has formed their own social gaming hub where users can play games and spend money in an interconnected web shared between their friends and anybody else they desire to have contact with.  They’re not the only ones looking to cash in on the social networking aspects of gaming.

The fastest way for a free app of the day in the Amazon Appstore for Android to lose a high rating is to include OpenFeint, a third-party social networking platform that allows for the incredibly simple addition of social features to any game.  Due to some concerns about the company’s practices, specifically information indicating that their business plan involves data-mining mobile devices without authorization, the service is much less popular with potential customers than many developers might like.

Amazon is going to essentially make them irrelevant when it comes to the Kindle Fire, though.  By the end of July, presumably roughly coinciding with the launch of the Kindle Fire 2, a platform will be in place to allow developers for the Amazon Appstore to include everything from high score boards to in-game achievement badges.  No information has been mentioned yet about actual communication between social connections, but it seems unlikely that they would go to the trouble of creating an achievement system that didn’t allow for competition.  Nobody is going to drive sales that way.

This seems to be yet another attempt to lure in developers who might otherwise choose not to deal with Amazon.  While the Appstore has over 43,000 apps in it at this point, up from 4,000 slightly over a year ago, it still lags behind every other major store including that for Windows Phone 7.

It has already been shown that Amazon’s Android developers make more for their work than their counterparts working exclusively on Google Play releases, but the rate of increase is going to have to speed up if they are going to have enough apps available to make a real iPad competitor out of the eventual Kindle Fire 10” sequel.  It’s doubly important since they will also be competing with the newly introduced Windows 8 tablets by that time.

I don’t think anybody doubts that in a Microsoft vs Apple flight Amazon is practically sitting out, but even without taking over the market they can still make a big impression if there is still enough to interest new customers in a media-consumption-driven tablet at a good price.  That’s really all the Kindle Fire has ever done.