• Author arn
  • Posted On2009-07-24 23:39:08
  • News

We were pretty excited when we first heard that developers were beginning to offer various Xbox Live-like social networks. These networks promise to offer players the ability to follow online achievements, play against friends, chat and more. Over time, however, the number of networks has blossomed with many of the major developers offering their own version. Chillingo and Gameloft are the latest companies to announce/launch their network.

crystal_big_headerJust a couple of weeks ago, Chillingo announced CrystalSDK which is an open social network platform that promises "a host of innovative features", though no specifics have been revealed. We asked Chillingo's Chris Byatte how Crystal SDK is going to be different from existing networks. Byatte was unable to give details yet but said, "We've listened to player feedback and aim to bring new standards of usability plus we'll be addressing the developer community with A1 support and feedback."

Meanwhile, just tonight Gameloft released a version update to Uno [$4.99] which adds Push notifications as well as a much enhanced Gameloft Live feature which also offers friends, trophies, chat and personal messaging for players.

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Gameloft has made no announcements on whether or not they would open up their network to other developers, but we'd suspect not.

Meanwhile, we've been reluctant to offer much of an in depth analysis of each system since we don't feel they actually affect consumer decisions yet. At this stage, no one is going choose one game over another based on the social network they support. Here's a list of the various options available. (Crystal SDK is not yet available, and Nmogco's PlusPlus is not yet open to 3rd party developers.)

The decision lies in developer's hands at the moment, though some we've spoken to have been reluctant to make the "wrong" decision at this early stage. Meanwhile, many other developers have already taken steps to adopt one of the various networks available.

  • exodus

    Right now, with the games I play, I seem to see Open Feint the most.

  • exodus

    Right now, with the games I play, I seem to see Open Feint the most.

  • Chad

    Many networks is fail. Apple should just come up with one and have an API devs can use.

    • John B.

      I wash just about to post the same thing. Kind of like what Live is to the Xbox. I played around with Gameloft's today on UNO. It's nice but I feel like Apple's would be infinitely more elegant and I love the idea of a single sign in and unified interface for all online games. It's really a no-brainer IMO.

  • Chad

    Many networks is fail. Apple should just come up with one and have an API devs can use.

    • John B.

      I wash just about to post the same thing. Kind of like what Live is to the Xbox. I played around with Gameloft's today on UNO. It's nice but I feel like Apple's would be infinitely more elegant and I love the idea of a single sign in and unified interface for all online games. It's really a no-brainer IMO.

  • Adams Immersive

    Why is more networks a problem? (I'm not denying it, just want to understand.) Do people mind signing up for more than one? (Each game often as its own account system anyway--it's easy to submit your email.)

    • http://scifly2.com Josh Rosen

      Well, think about how successful XBox Live has been. The critical advantage that has over all these networks is that its provided by the hardware manufacturer - a unified "governor".
      XBox live is useful because you know all your friends are on the network, so you can quickly see who's online and who's ready for a challenge, etc.. If there's 10 different networks, you will end up with 3 friends on OpenFeint, 3 on Plus+, and Crystal. There's really nothing useful about that. Chances are, if you're playing a Plus+ game, you'll only have one friend online and they're probably on OF.
      (and so on...)

      Apple, of course, is in the position to solve this - the same position as Microsoft on the XBox. However, they have been very slow to implement such features. The closest thing on their part so far has been to provide developers with a Bluetooth multiplayer framework. But, even that is very very basic.

    • jonathan

      In short, many networks sucks. To have to sign up all over again, find out what your friends signed up as all over again, add them, re-add your player picture (if possible) and then you work from zero because this new account has no reputation, with your friends or random challengers.

      It's good to have one network. I can invite any friend to a challenge in any game because it's the same network. Random people can see how big of a threat I am at a glance. I don't have to possibly make a different name on every account.

      It's just better.

  • Adams Immersive

    Why is more networks a problem? (I'm not denying it, just want to understand.) Do people mind signing up for more than one? (Each game often as its own account system anyway--it's easy to submit your email.)

    • http://scifly2.com Josh Rosen

      Well, think about how successful XBox Live has been. The critical advantage that has over all these networks is that its provided by the hardware manufacturer - a unified "governor".
      XBox live is useful because you know all your friends are on the network, so you can quickly see who's online and who's ready for a challenge, etc.. If there's 10 different networks, you will end up with 3 friends on OpenFeint, 3 on Plus+, and Crystal. There's really nothing useful about that. Chances are, if you're playing a Plus+ game, you'll only have one friend online and they're probably on OF.
      (and so on...)

      Apple, of course, is in the position to solve this - the same position as Microsoft on the XBox. However, they have been very slow to implement such features. The closest thing on their part so far has been to provide developers with a Bluetooth multiplayer framework. But, even that is very very basic.

    • jonathan

      In short, many networks sucks. To have to sign up all over again, find out what your friends signed up as all over again, add them, re-add your player picture (if possible) and then you work from zero because this new account has no reputation, with your friends or random challengers.

      It's good to have one network. I can invite any friend to a challenge in any game because it's the same network. Random people can see how big of a threat I am at a glance. I don't have to possibly make a different name on every account.

      It's just better.

  • crsrc

    I was excited originally at the thought of an xbox live like social network for the iPhone but now with 736 different versions I wish it just never happened. I hate having to sign up for new things.

  • crsrc

    I was excited originally at the thought of an xbox live like social network for the iPhone but now with 736 different versions I wish it just never happened. I hate having to sign up for new things.

  • kirothak

    wow this is getting retarded, we need 1 network period having endless amounts of these things poping up does no one any good. Aple need to either make there own, or throw their support behind the best one and end this idiocy. though i wonder how good this new one is? imo OF is very weak for how long they have been working on it.

    in the end if there is not 1 to rule them all they all fail.

    this goes double for the oncoming onslaught of proprietary game pads/controllers we will soon be seeing i am sure, apple step in and straighten this out for the sack of the consumers

  • kirothak

    wow this is getting retarded, we need 1 network period having endless amounts of these things poping up does no one any good. Aple need to either make there own, or throw their support behind the best one and end this idiocy. though i wonder how good this new one is? imo OF is very weak for how long they have been working on it.

    in the end if there is not 1 to rule them all they all fail.

    this goes double for the oncoming onslaught of proprietary game pads/controllers we will soon be seeing i am sure, apple step in and straighten this out for the sack of the consumers

  • Darwiniandude

    Don't forget Firemint's 'Cloudcell'

  • Darwiniandude

    Don't forget Firemint's 'Cloudcell'

  • Thomas

    The largest network not even mentioned is Facebook Connect. In not sure why developers aren't including this even if they still want their own unique version?

    The great thing about facebook is that you can even incorporate an online version of your game for desktop users to play against iPhone users like Scrabble does. It's awesome!

  • Thomas

    The largest network not even mentioned is Facebook Connect. In not sure why developers aren't including this even if they still want their own unique version?

    The great thing about facebook is that you can even incorporate an online version of your game for desktop users to play against iPhone users like Scrabble does. It's awesome!

  • ddn

    The biggest difference between Xbox live and all these social networking backends is Xbox live acts as a matchmaking service to hook people up into network games. These backend social services only offer offline challenges, leaderboards and some achivements.

    Without matchmaking ability even if you had your entire facebook friends list on their service and knew who was playing there isn't any support for stetting up a network game between them. Best you can do now is challenge them to an offline contest.

    Maybe they will offer that soon, I bet the first one which does, will have a big advantage.

    -ddn

  • ddn

    The biggest difference between Xbox live and all these social networking backends is Xbox live acts as a matchmaking service to hook people up into network games. These backend social services only offer offline challenges, leaderboards and some achivements.

    Without matchmaking ability even if you had your entire facebook friends list on their service and knew who was playing there isn't any support for stetting up a network game between them. Best you can do now is challenge them to an offline contest.

    Maybe they will offer that soon, I bet the first one which does, will have a big advantage.

    -ddn

  • Mark

    So game company A signs up with social provider B.

    The game does well and is pirated in the thousands. Those pirates sign up to B. But the arrangement between A and B involves money. More users use B and the more A pays.

    So how does that work out for the game company? Do they have to pay using income they never got? It may be small money per user but it adds up.

  • Mark

    So game company A signs up with social provider B.

    The game does well and is pirated in the thousands. Those pirates sign up to B. But the arrangement between A and B involves money. More users use B and the more A pays.

    So how does that work out for the game company? Do they have to pay using income they never got? It may be small money per user but it adds up.

  • Hugin

    Again the community gets screwed by not creating a standard.

  • Hugin

    Again the community gets screwed by not creating a standard.

  • Dan

    -.- This will ultimatly lead to an all-in-one app and quite pointless really. =/

  • Dan

    -.- This will ultimatly lead to an all-in-one app and quite pointless really. =/

  • http://www.activewin.com Byron Hinson

    Open Feint seems the best out of all of them so far - works great, looks good, integrated chat etc - really is excellent. That and the fact that it seems like a lot of devs are using it already compared to any other

  • http://www.activewin.com Byron Hinson

    Open Feint seems the best out of all of them so far - works great, looks good, integrated chat etc - really is excellent. That and the fact that it seems like a lot of devs are using it already compared to any other

  • TGR

    Personally I think the more the merrier. Competition helps ramp up quality levels. I couldn't give a rat's ass about OF though... poorly integrated games, horrible UI, bad chat, really clunky and hard to navigate.

    • Michael Hay Stevensen

      I completely agree... out of the different networks that I've seen live, OpenFeint is the most clumsy, disconnected mess! The very little chat that goes on is usually profane and useless.

      I can't stand that every single tab I press in that amateurish UI gives me a "loading from server" indicator... All the other two platforms I've seen (AGON Online and Scoreloop) run much smoother and look better... why would any developer want to put OpenFeint into their game?? They're all free, choose a better one please!

  • TGR

    Personally I think the more the merrier. Competition helps ramp up quality levels. I couldn't give a rat's ass about OF though... poorly integrated games, horrible UI, bad chat, really clunky and hard to navigate.

    • Michael Hay Stevensen

      I completely agree... out of the different networks that I've seen live, OpenFeint is the most clumsy, disconnected mess! The very little chat that goes on is usually profane and useless.

      I can't stand that every single tab I press in that amateurish UI gives me a "loading from server" indicator... All the other two platforms I've seen (AGON Online and Scoreloop) run much smoother and look better... why would any developer want to put OpenFeint into their game?? They're all free, choose a better one please!

  • AttackOfThePwned

    I doubt Apple will invade this space. They have enough going on with the app store and firmware updates. It comes down to profit for them and they would only do it if they profit from it.

    I don't see how having more than one hurts consumers or developers. Keep in mind these social networks cost money for the developers, from what I know. Competition keeps prices in check. Personally I haven't used these social networks all that much and it isn't a deciding factor on if I buy a game or not. I personally love how Baseball Slugger works with online matchups. Simple and easy. No entering log in info or navigating a bunch of poorly placed menus.

  • AttackOfThePwned

    I doubt Apple will invade this space. They have enough going on with the app store and firmware updates. It comes down to profit for them and they would only do it if they profit from it.

    I don't see how having more than one hurts consumers or developers. Keep in mind these social networks cost money for the developers, from what I know. Competition keeps prices in check. Personally I haven't used these social networks all that much and it isn't a deciding factor on if I buy a game or not. I personally love how Baseball Slugger works with online matchups. Simple and easy. No entering log in info or navigating a bunch of poorly placed menus.

  • Sambo110

    Why do people keep using Xbox Live as an example? There is the Playstation Network which is free and the only bad thing is that there are no parties.

    • jonathan

      because Xbox Live is more unified. Metal Gear Solid requires you to make two new accounts to play online.

    • George

      Because PSN is positively archaic in comparison. I can't even enjoy playing games online on the PS3 due to this very reason. Sure, PSN is free, but so is a hanjob by drunken hobo on meth.

  • Sambo110

    Why do people keep using Xbox Live as an example? There is the Playstation Network which is free and the only bad thing is that there are no parties.

    • jonathan

      because Xbox Live is more unified. Metal Gear Solid requires you to make two new accounts to play online.

    • George

      Because PSN is positively archaic in comparison. I can't even enjoy playing games online on the PS3 due to this very reason. Sure, PSN is free, but so is a hanjob by drunken hobo on meth.

  • http://www.buzzabit.com/aaron Aaron Sullivan

    I'm a developer and am working towards releasing my first app on the iPhone. I looked into these and was quickly frustrated by the options. Even if I had the time for it, I wouldn't want to produce my own solution because we don't need many solutions, we need one good one.

    For Apple to get involved, it needs to embrace the gaming side of the iPhone market as a true gaming platform, like Nintendo's DS or Sony's PSP. Debate the hardware and store logistics all you want, Apple has the potential to be a real competitor in that market if it wants to. It hasn't shown that type of initiative yet, sadly.

    As someone above mentioned, there are two key areas Apple could enter to boost the game worthiness of the platform.

    1. Provide a flexible API and basic starting controller layout for add-on gamepads.
    2. Provide a back-end service for social networking and matchmaking.

    #1 is so easy it truly bothers me that it hasn't happened. It could just be a suggested layout or a required set of buttons, control pad to get a certification or something and that would suffice, wouldn't it?

    #2 takes more resources, but it boggles my mind that Apple hasn't jumped on this. So much opportunity for expanding and popularizing mobile me and advertising. I just don't understand why Apple is keeping hands-off and letting the market get muddled. Furthermore, if they jump in now, there is more competition and possibly some ill will from devs and gamers... though I wager most of us would embrace it, anyway.

    My least favorite part of the way the social networking is going is the proprietary solutions by the publishers. I get the attraction, I understand the need to compete after one or two have begun, but... it's just not right for the gamers. It's not a good solution.

  • http://www.buzzabit.com/aaron Aaron Sullivan

    I'm a developer and am working towards releasing my first app on the iPhone. I looked into these and was quickly frustrated by the options. Even if I had the time for it, I wouldn't want to produce my own solution because we don't need many solutions, we need one good one.

    For Apple to get involved, it needs to embrace the gaming side of the iPhone market as a true gaming platform, like Nintendo's DS or Sony's PSP. Debate the hardware and store logistics all you want, Apple has the potential to be a real competitor in that market if it wants to. It hasn't shown that type of initiative yet, sadly.

    As someone above mentioned, there are two key areas Apple could enter to boost the game worthiness of the platform.

    1. Provide a flexible API and basic starting controller layout for add-on gamepads.
    2. Provide a back-end service for social networking and matchmaking.

    #1 is so easy it truly bothers me that it hasn't happened. It could just be a suggested layout or a required set of buttons, control pad to get a certification or something and that would suffice, wouldn't it?

    #2 takes more resources, but it boggles my mind that Apple hasn't jumped on this. So much opportunity for expanding and popularizing mobile me and advertising. I just don't understand why Apple is keeping hands-off and letting the market get muddled. Furthermore, if they jump in now, there is more competition and possibly some ill will from devs and gamers... though I wager most of us would embrace it, anyway.

    My least favorite part of the way the social networking is going is the proprietary solutions by the publishers. I get the attraction, I understand the need to compete after one or two have begun, but... it's just not right for the gamers. It's not a good solution.

  • jonathan

    This is stupid! One network or none, 800? No thanks.

  • jonathan

    This is stupid! One network or none, 800? No thanks.

  • Adams Immersive

    I guess I just don't care about a "social network" at all--I want to GAME. I want matchmaking and stats for a particular game. Anything "between games" isn't that important to me. Maybe that's why I don't understand why it's so terrible to have more than one company doing this.

    If 3 of my friends sign up for one, and 3 for another, who cares? What I care about is if they own the GAMES I have, not the social network used. If they have the games I have, and that means we're all signed up for several networks, all I care about is that we can game together.

    So bring on the matchmaking! That's the only feature I NEED, and it seems to be the last to come.

  • Adams Immersive

    I guess I just don't care about a "social network" at all--I want to GAME. I want matchmaking and stats for a particular game. Anything "between games" isn't that important to me. Maybe that's why I don't understand why it's so terrible to have more than one company doing this.

    If 3 of my friends sign up for one, and 3 for another, who cares? What I care about is if they own the GAMES I have, not the social network used. If they have the games I have, and that means we're all signed up for several networks, all I care about is that we can game together.

    So bring on the matchmaking! That's the only feature I NEED, and it seems to be the last to come.

  • http://www.buzzabit.com/aaron Aaron Sullivan

    @Michael Hay Stevenen: I wonder why you think they are all free. They aren't.

    No one wants to charge the gamer directly, but not only does the gamer have to put up with advertising in some of these, but the dev has to pay for some of them (and I'm not just talking development time, though that is a cost, too). Those costs DO trickle down to the gamer as well when it comes time to price the game.

    This mixed reaction to the features found here is one of the reasons I, as an iPhone developer, resist pursuing any of the solutions. Can I justify higher costs/time for something that many gamers don't want or aren't satisfied with? A unified platform would help in both regards.

    Anyway, in the end I just want to make a fun game, but I _would_ like to pursue this in the future. Hopefully, things come together nicer in that future.

  • http://www.buzzabit.com/aaron Aaron Sullivan

    @Michael Hay Stevenen: I wonder why you think they are all free. They aren't.

    No one wants to charge the gamer directly, but not only does the gamer have to put up with advertising in some of these, but the dev has to pay for some of them (and I'm not just talking development time, though that is a cost, too). Those costs DO trickle down to the gamer as well when it comes time to price the game.

    This mixed reaction to the features found here is one of the reasons I, as an iPhone developer, resist pursuing any of the solutions. Can I justify higher costs/time for something that many gamers don't want or aren't satisfied with? A unified platform would help in both regards.

    Anyway, in the end I just want to make a fun game, but I _would_ like to pursue this in the future. Hopefully, things come together nicer in that future.

  • Nonny

    @ Aaron Sullivan...

    Completely agree with you on both counts. I think Apple have been caught napping on the sheer success of the iPhone as a gaming platform and as a result dont have these key tools in place to really take advantage of the lead they now obviously have in the mobile gaming space.

    The basic fact is most of the great games on the iPhone right now are ones that are single player offline that use the accelerometer/touch controls in a simple/effective way. Unfortunately though that simply isnt enough to become a gaming platform that compliments all gaming genres.

    Puzzlers, RPGs, Racing games etc... yep they're all easily replicated on the device but where it falls over in in genres that need precise movement and more complex UI. The main obvious one is FPS, the second is arguably platformers with fighting games perhaps 3rd.

    What the iPhone absolutely needs right now is a unified control scheme that is married to some additional hardware. We've all surely seen the icontrolpad.com prototype and that is a huge step forward. Its a step Apple should be taking for all developers to then use going forward. Support a controller device, have an API that perhaps lets you assign touch screen areas to be mapped to a specific button and then you have an optional extra that lets serious gamers play games the way they are meant to be played.

    We all know Quake/Doom are coming to the iPhone, imagine playing those with an actual controller... I think John Carmack would be pleased.

    The next step from there is online gaming. Yes support local bluetooth and Wifi but get online gaming working as well. For that of course a unified social network for matchmaking is the key.

    I guess we will see if Apple are serious about the iPhone as a gaming platform soon enough. The sheer amount of Game app sales will surely have it on their radar by now?

  • Nonny

    @ Aaron Sullivan...

    Completely agree with you on both counts. I think Apple have been caught napping on the sheer success of the iPhone as a gaming platform and as a result dont have these key tools in place to really take advantage of the lead they now obviously have in the mobile gaming space.

    The basic fact is most of the great games on the iPhone right now are ones that are single player offline that use the accelerometer/touch controls in a simple/effective way. Unfortunately though that simply isnt enough to become a gaming platform that compliments all gaming genres.

    Puzzlers, RPGs, Racing games etc... yep they're all easily replicated on the device but where it falls over in in genres that need precise movement and more complex UI. The main obvious one is FPS, the second is arguably platformers with fighting games perhaps 3rd.

    What the iPhone absolutely needs right now is a unified control scheme that is married to some additional hardware. We've all surely seen the icontrolpad.com prototype and that is a huge step forward. Its a step Apple should be taking for all developers to then use going forward. Support a controller device, have an API that perhaps lets you assign touch screen areas to be mapped to a specific button and then you have an optional extra that lets serious gamers play games the way they are meant to be played.

    We all know Quake/Doom are coming to the iPhone, imagine playing those with an actual controller... I think John Carmack would be pleased.

    The next step from there is online gaming. Yes support local bluetooth and Wifi but get online gaming working as well. For that of course a unified social network for matchmaking is the key.

    I guess we will see if Apple are serious about the iPhone as a gaming platform soon enough. The sheer amount of Game app sales will surely have it on their radar by now?

  • http://www.ti-studios.com Vanessa

    As a developer, I find the AGON Online service to be excellent. Not only is it free, but it is very easy to implement into games and does not contain any advertising. They've integrated both Facebook Connect and Twitter, and they also use geolocation so that you can see the scores of other players within your area or around the world.

    If you'd like to check it out, it is currently used in Prolix. We haven't implemented the ability to post on Twitter yet, but that will be coming very, very soon.

  • http://www.ti-studios.com Vanessa

    As a developer, I find the AGON Online service to be excellent. Not only is it free, but it is very easy to implement into games and does not contain any advertising. They've integrated both Facebook Connect and Twitter, and they also use geolocation so that you can see the scores of other players within your area or around the world.

    If you'd like to check it out, it is currently used in Prolix. We haven't implemented the ability to post on Twitter yet, but that will be coming very, very soon.