OpenFeint launches Groupon-style game buying network

Dec 17, 2010
Games

Even though Apple (AAPL) ramped up its Game Center service with iOS 4.2, OpenFeint, a sign-in network that supports leaderboards, achievements and other online services for iOS games, still continues to draw new apps into its fold every day. OpenFeint was the online leaderboard service of record before Game Center came around in September, and […]

Even though Apple (AAPL) ramped up its Game Center service with iOS 4.2, OpenFeint, a sign-in network that supports leaderboards, achievements and other online services for iOS games, still continues to draw new apps into its fold every day.

OpenFeint was the online leaderboard service of record before Game Center came around in September, and because it was so dominant for so long, there are now something like 50 million players with OpenFeint accounts. The service counts the number of downloads of OpenFeint games at more than 125 million.

There are a lot of people playing OpenFeint games.

So OpenFeint’s newest idea, an app called Game Channel, looks to leverage some of that player power. The app has two functions: it spotlights a single OpenFeint game that’s free for a short time (the app used to be called OpenFeint Spotlight, in fact, and that was all it did), and it allows users to participate in a new function called Fire Sale.

Fire Sale is a group-buying opportunity for players, working on the same logic as other, similar services like Groupon. When Fire Sale is updated, it offers a low price on a game — the first example was the $2.99 game Jaws being reduced to $0.99. Players then vote on whether they’d want to spend a buck on the game, and if the Fire Sale receives enough votes, the price is dropped. Everyone buys the app, everyone leaves happy, including the game developer.

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It’s an interesting concept and one unique in the App Store — OpenFeint is shifting its gaming social network in such a way that those players now have a monetary incentive to be a part of the community.

Gaming networks on iOS are interesting creatures, because while many games support online multiplayer, players are actually inherently shut off from one another. You can make “friends” on OpenFeint and Game Center, but it’s really more about connecting with people you actually know than meeting new players in games — because how would you “meet” them? How could you communicate other than to just play the game?

OpenFeint’s Fire Sale idea helps to create a little community and camaraderie among players. They’re all working toward a common goal — save a little money — but the system probably won’t really advance beyond that. You’ll never hear anyone say, “I’m an OpenFeint player,” because no one even thinks about being such a thing.

ngmoco and DeNA have plans…

Game makers ngmoco and DeNA might change that mentality, and if not, they’re certainly working on creating one massive gaming network. The two companies, the former having been purchased by the latter not long ago, are working on a network called Mobage, which will likely absorb each of their individual game networks, Plus+ and Mobage-town. There are 13.5 million or so players already using Plus+; Mobage-town, which is based in Japan, boasts 20 million.

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Unlike Game Center, which incorporates players’ real names and e-mail addresses in order to find friends using your Contacts list, Mobage will let you add a made-up handle to be your in-game name. It’ll likely work the way all the other gaming networks do, with the ability to add friends and little to no communication inside games.

Where Mobage is potentially different, however, is that it’s planned to span multiple platforms. The companies are currently releasing beta software development kits for the network that will allow game developers to basically create their games one time — write a game for iPhone using Mobage, apparently, and it should work correctly on a Nexus S (a Google (GOOG) Android phone), without any extra work.

Inherently, Mobage is going to bring formerly disparate players together for the first time. You’ll be able to play with Android users, friends on different networks, and maybe in the future, friends who are playing the same social game on a platform like Facebook.

Mobage might be the next step for games on mobile platforms by providing some unity to players and developers, all in one shot. If ngmoco and DeNA, or OpenFeint, or even Apple can find a way to make mobile gaming more social, it could draw more players and alter the experience in such a way as to reshape gaming — on more platforms than just mobile devices.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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