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RealNetworks launches social-game platform

Fusion will enable gamers to keep track of scores, achievements, and friends while they play, while giving developers a way to track what players are up to.

RealNetworks may be best-known for its audio- and video-streaming technologies, its stake in the Rhapsody music service, and the recent drama of its RealDVD software litigation, but the company hopes to be just as well-known for its new social-gaming platform.

Officially launched at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco this week, "GameHouse Fusion" is a platform for developers to build social features into their games with minimal effort. Think of it like what companies like Aurora Feint and Ngmoco have done for iPhone games--but for every platform.

The service creates a profile for gamers based on information from their social-networking profiles, as well as offering things like top scores, leaderboards, and trophies to game developers who want to build those features into their titles. Developers also get things like in-game currency for micropayments, advertising, and an analytics engine which can show how gamers are playing their creations.

Beyond the social-profile aspect, RealNetworks is also offering developers an easy way to have their creations ported to other platforms without having to do that extra step of work. When games are submitted through Fusion's SDK, they're then readied to be deployed elsewhere--a step that GameHouse takes care of using its "Emerge" technology.

GameHouse is a separate tentacle of RealNetworks' business, and was acquired by the company back in 2004.

CNET on Tuesday met with Matt Hulett, who is GameHouse's chief revenue officer, to talk about the new technology. Hulett explained that one of the big things the company is going for it with Fusion, compared to some of the competition is scale. "As a start-up, if you don't have scale, you're not going to offer developers a lot because you don't have the plumbing to distribute their games through," Hulett said. "We've seen people do something similar and as verticals, but never as cross-platform."

That cross-platform approach means users are able to carry over their high scores, profile information, and even progress from title to title, no matter what device or service they were playing it on. However, the current iteration of the platform has been designed mainly for use on social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

Fusion can already be found in the Web version of UNO, which GameHouse built, however it's not yet available to any old developer. Hulett says that besides the partners it has launched with (which include Mattel, Qualcomm, PopCap Games, MySpace and Comcast), developers will have to apply to a private beta to use the Fusion SDK. After that, the company plans to open it up.