There's no way to beat around the bush on this. Even though many developers have gotten onboard the universal app train, a select few have implemented any cloud-based game save storage system to allow you to sync progress across devices. Of course most server-based free to play games already do this, but in your typical super-casual 99¢ time-waster, your progress is largely locked onto the device that you're playing it on. I can't really fault developers for this, as implementing such a system would largely be overkill for most games, and maintaining the entire online infrastructure to track cross-device progress in a game like Dungeon Raid [$2.99 / Free] would be silly for the developer to do by themselves. For them, there's not much benefit. It would take a heck of a lot of engineering, and servers cost can be substantial-- But that's where Apple comes in.

Monday's keynote introduced us to iCloud, an entirely free cloud-based storage system usable by everyone who owns a recent iOS device, and every developer who wants to use it. So, while it might have been entirely unrealistic for the Dungeon Raid developer to do all this himself, Apple has made it nice and easy.

I've spent most of the day today discussing the prospects of iCloud with many of the developers around WWDC and really one word can describe the temperature of each conversation: Excitement. According to developers who have attended various iCloud-centric WWDC sessions, implementing iCloud-based storage of game saves will be nearly as trivial as dealing with gave saves stored locally on the device is now. This means that as developers inevitably work on tweaking their various apps and games to make them more iOS 5 friendly over the next few months, they'll also likely switch their storage methods over to iCloud, as there's little reason for them not to.

It's still early though, and we're really just scratching the surface of what's possible on the first day of WWDC. One thing I wasn't able to get a very solid answer on was how this was all going to work between standard and HD versions of games. For instance, right now Game Center works like this: If you release your game as a universal app, you can share Game Center leaderboards and achievements for that game across all iOS devices. However, if you release the same game as a separate standard and HD version, Game Center treats those as entirely different apps, and as such, keeps leaderboards and achievements for each app individually.

It's an interesting problem, and no one is sure right now if there's a real solution. Apple obviously seems to want developers to focus on universal apps, but developers vastly prefer two different apps due to pricing flexibility, chart advantages, and several other very valid reasons. If Apple is sticking with the same restrictions as they have for Game Center leaderboards, I hope this just spurs developers to continue the trend we've started to see in offering universal compatibility in the HD version.

This truly seems to be the best of both worlds, as developers can still retain pricing flexibility for two different apps, while providing universal compatibility and cross-device iCloud save syncing while still providing a lower-priced option for those who only own an iPhone or iPod touch.

Another potential snag might be in how game saves are reconciled across multiple devices that might not always be connected to the internet. For example, if you've got a non-3G iPad and an iPod touch, and play the same game on both before returning to a friendly WiFi network. Each game will have different amounts of progress, and the developers I've spoken to so far aren't really sure how things will shake out once these two different game saves hit the iCloud.

Surely this is something Apple has considered, and I'm almost positive we'll find out the answer to all these questions and more in the next few weeks as developers delve into iOS 5. One thing is for certain, holy cow am I happy that cloud-based game save storage will practically be a standard feature in the not too distant future.

  • Psac

    I only have a single device, but I would love to be able to remove a game like Puzzle Quest 2, which takes 1.3 GB of space, off my iPhone, and then be able to reload it later and still have my saved game on the iCloud. 

    Besides, I always love seeing a Dungeon Raid mention in an article, since it really is one of the best games on IOS.  Check it out.  Really.

    • Jonas

      You will not be able to. This is the great, great waste that is iCloud, and that most have not caught on to: when you remove a game from you device, the save files are removed form the iCloud, just as local save files are currently removed from your device when deleting an app.

      Yes, this is really how the current beta of iCloud works. The only hope is that Apple will change this closer to release, but there is little reason to believe they will, as they've been adamant about removing local app data when an app is removed.

      iCloud is only a backup in case your device is stolen, lost or destroyed, or a way to sync files across multiple devices as LONG AS YOU DO NOT REMOVE THE APPS IN QUESTION. In it's current form, it does not allow us to delete a game and resume playing from where we left off at a later date.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mattmcclinch Matt McClinch

        There is no way that deleting an app from one device will delete the data saved to iCloud associated with that app.  If that is happening, it is a bug, and it is why iCloud is still in beta.

      • Jonas

        Yes, if you are talking about deleting an app from one device but keeping it on another, that's my hope. However, there is plenty of way that deleting the last copy of the app from your last device will indeed remove the app-specific data. That is how app deletion works currently, and there is little reason to think this will change even with the addition of online backups. Apple has been adamant in their insistence that we do not keep app-specific files when the app in question is removed.

        iCloud seems more intended as a way to restore old settings to new devices, and a way to keep devices in sync. Not to permanently store app data.

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9Mu1dbRZYo Triny D

        that would suck if true

  • http://twitter.com/alk3ovation Jason Pecho

    I was in the game essentials session for ios and I got the impression that the cloud was accessible by some sort of id that could be shared between two different skus. Anyone else get that impression?

  • Shadow

    It's under NDA, but based on what I'm seeing, you need a universal app if you want iCloud to share data between the platforms. Two SKUs won't do it.

  • Anonymous

    What account will be used to save the data? The Apple ID, or the Me account? If it's the Apple ID used to purchase the app, those of us sharing a single account with family or significant others could be out of luck. I hope this is tested and explained soon.

  • Sticktron

    The iCloud downloads are active in the mobile App Store already. Any app I've ever bought (or someone else has, as long as it's in my iTunes) can be instantly re-downloaded.

    Awesome for being able to access any of my apps anytime I may need one, without worrying about picking-and-choosing at sync time.

  • Art Vandelay

    Universal apps won't become standard, because people on these forums love to whine about it.

  • Adams Immersive

    Every year I wait with my game half-finished, paying $99 for nothing, I can at least be happy for all the new stuff Apple has come up with for me to use!

  • Shadow

    jindofox: It's your Apple ID. And yes, this'll cause loads of fun times for families sharing accounts. I know I've already started discussions with my wife on how we are (not) going to sync our contacts to iCloud.

  • Anonymous

    Those hangups seem to have easy solutions:

    1) Stop it with the non-Universal apps already! By the time iOS 5 is out, iPad 3 will be just around the corner. It's really time to wake up. The whole standard/HD dichotomy has been a perversion of Apple's intentions for the platform from the beginning. Maybe now that users have yet another reason to pass on non-Universal games, they'll start to die out.

    2) I assume that, as with most syncing systems, iCloud will always overwrite files in the cloud and on devices with the newest timestamped file it sees. If you're unable to sync up, and it's important to you, I guess you should stick to one device for a moment. If it's important to you, I'm not sure why you'd use multiple unsynced devices anyway, since they'd all be starting from the same place.

    I really can't wait for what iCloud should bring to gaming on iOS. It's probably my favourite part, and they even beat dedicated gaming systems to it.

  • faz

    awesome.....!!!!!!!!!!!

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

    Clever developers will be able to organize saved games by game center tag AND Apple ID right? Not all games will do this though and depending on the approach there are limitations.

    Hmm... It would really be ideal if saves could be routed this way automatically. Can Game Center accounts be moved between Apple IDs though?

  • Decoy Octopus

    Unless your on unlimited dataplan, these features will be pretty much useless as you will be hit with massive overages (unless on wifi).

    • Anonymous

      Not necessarily.  Saved game data is measured in kilobytes for most games- and if it isn't, it will have to be to use iCloud anyway (there is a size limit to this feature).  Storing/retrieving 8 kilobytes or so won't exactly break your data plan-  i mean loading one web page is several times that.  And there's nothing stopping developers from making it a manual process ie "save progress to iCloud" and "load game progress from iCloud" from the main menu.

  • Insert Coin

    developers excited?icloud should be the apple´s OnLive/gaikai "to stop piracy" and NOT ONLY THAT.apple only cares about protecting music and books.

  • Ayden

    iCloud as a backup in case your device is stolen, lost or destroyed, or a way to sync files across multiple devices sounds wonderful! 

  • http://twitter.com/chumbake Josh Ernstrom

    It's going to be very interesting for my wife and I.  We share an Apple ID, so I'm curious, are we going to have to share save data too?  I hope not.