Google Play Games will be at core of Android TV gaming

Google's mobile gaming hub has grown by 100 million users. Now, its ready to span all your devices with Android TV.

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Google Play head Ellie Powers onstage at Google's I/O developers conference in San Francisco on June 25. James Martin/CNET

Google is making more than just a play for the television and movies people watch in their living room. Android TV, the company's latest crack at dominating larger screens, was unveiled Wednesday at Google's I/O developers conference in San Francisco, and Android gaming on the big screen is part of the push.

With 70 percent of the more than 1 billion devices running Android worldwide accessing at least one game over the course of a single month, Google knows that mobile gaming has room to grow -- figuratively and literally -- outside the confines of people's pockets.

To do that, Google is utilizing the growing adoption of Google Play Games. The hub application for Android-based gaming, similar to Apple's Game Center, was announced last year and 100 million users have already signed up in the last six months.

"It's growing at a tremendous speed," said Greg Hartrell, who heads up product management for Google Play Games, in an interview with CNET. "We've been out for a year, so we have quite a few more users that have come onboard." The company is not disclosing how many active users of the app it has, but Hartrell says it is in the hundreds of millions.

Android TV will be baked into new television sets from electronics makers like Sony and also new streaming boxes from companies like Razer and Asus. The focal point of Android TV's effectiveness for gaming will be its ability to span devices, or else it will fall prey to the syncing and cross-play messiness inherent in a fragmented network of screens. Aiding Google in clearing that hurdle is Play Games, a singular hub and profile that is layered over all the potential Android gaming portals.

"It [Google Play Games] has the effect of uniting these devices," Hartrell said. "Play Services has proven on the mobile and tablet space with pretty high adoption the capacity to solve that possible issue. That Android TV is coming out with that type of principal attached to it, it's going to have that type of user experience."

Google Play Games is being beefed up with features to make that process easier, with saved game states customizable by developers that can follow you from your television to your tablet and on to your smartphone. There's also new ways to keep players hooked and compete with friends, including new achievement point systems and player profile customization options.

"We can take that metadata and display it. In a world when you're moving from multiple devices, we can use that as a digital bookmark," Hartrell said.

More importantly, however, is that Google's game network is being bundled into the Android TV developer preview, says Google spokesperson Iska Hain. That's important because it means new and current game experiences -- those that will in the coming months be optimized for larger screens and Google's preferred playing distance of ten feet from the screen -- will also be incorporating the Play Games hub from the get-go. This ensures Android TV experiences will be built to bring the most up-to-date features of mobile and tablet gaming to Android's big-screen stage.

"One of these advantages of Android TV is that there is just such a wealth of content on Google Play and developers, with a little bit of effort, will have to think, 'What will my experience on a mobile or tablet be like in a living room environment?'" Hartrell explained. "That means looking at the input mechanisms or the layers of your menu and the input of how you get into the game, which is a different from, say, a touch screen."

Those input mechanisms also underscores the need to move beyond touchscreens and simple d-pad input interfaces that you'd get with a sideways remote control. Though the games we saw demoed on Android TV onstage at I/O were controlled with Android tablets, Google is leaving the ability to develop input form factors -- like game controllers -- completely up to its hardware partners.

"I think in a lot of ways, when the Android TV platform gets adopted, OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] are going to push out a game pad kind of form factor," Hartrell said of partners like Razer and Asus. "Really what we're saying is that OEMs will bring a variety of different form factors. They'll continue to grow the ecosystem."

 

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