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Google Web Store: new business model or gamble?

Unity, InstantAction, PopCap and Google execs discuss the possibilities of the desktop App store rival

Leading industry figures have been speaking out about Google's Chrome Web Store, the browser-based App Store equivalent for PCs and Macs slated for launch this October – but in an increasingly crowded online marketplace, what can it offer and how much room for manoeuvre does it have?

Speaking at GDC, Google's developer advocate for games Mark DeLoura described the service's primary use as a quality filter for less informed gamers: "If you search for chess games, you may stumble across a chess-based flash game but you don't know if it's good, if it's bad, even if it works." With Web Store, a chess game is recommended to you, and has user ratings attached.

The necessary wrinkle is that it's tied to Google's Chrome browser – a relative new kid on the block, but one that enjoyed a massive advertising blitz earlier this year. "Chrome as a browser is up to 70 million users," said DeLoura, describing its growth to around 9 per cent of the market as a "steep, steep upward [graph] slope."

Google is trying hard to lure developers and publishers, dropping its cut to a bare minimum while the service beds in. "For web apps we really want to see this take off we're not going to take 30 per cent from your revenue, we'll take a 5 per cent processing fee," said DeLoura.

Income can come from in-game and in-browser ads, but "you can have free apps, you can have paid apps, you can have a subscription model. The one thing that we don't do is we don't have support for in-app purchases of any kind for our systems. So the solution is to use the solution that you have. Further down the road we'll have one as well, we'll hope that you'll like ours better," he added.

Perhaps key to Chrome's success, however, is its eventual support for native client games – no plugin required. Losing installation requests is a big deal for Google: "You lose 50 per cent of your audience because people are scared."

HTML 5 and Flash 10.1 are now integrated into the browser, while the same will soon be true of the Unity engine, and eventually of OpenGL ES 2.0/WebGL – and C++. "It makes a lot of folks nervous, but you can create an executable that runs at the speed of the hardware, but is still secure within the browser," said DeLoura.

Google's Sunder Pichai explains Chrome Web Store (starting at 3m20s in)

Senior industry figures at GDC seemed divided about the Web Store. Unity boss David Helgason whose 3D engine will play a major part in Google's browser gaming takeover plan, felt that the plugin "has held people back" but that being native to Chrome wouldn't change things on its own.

"Chrome has such a low penetration that it only nudges the margins a little bit," he told GamesIndustry.biz.

"Let’s say Chrome has 10 per cent of the market, which it doesn’t, but if they go to 10 per cent in six months. That doesn’t really change your outcome if you plug-in with a 90 per cent success rate, with Unity in Chrome we only go to a 91 or 92 per cent success rate. It doesn’t change the final numbers, really."

However, Helgason was excited about the possibilities of the Web Store. "If they execute that well it becomes really exciting. Then we can talk about changes.

"If they get the Web Store right, and it’s kind of a bold statement, but what may happen - and I’m not completely bulls****ing - but it may for the first time ever create a browser with a strong business model, a real business model, like an Average Revenue Per User browser.

"Firefox with 400 million users has an annual revenue supposedly of around $100 million, which is actually a 25 cent ARPU, which isn’t bad. But if you can go from a 25 cent ARPU to a $2 ARPU then suddenly that changes the economics because you can’t really acquire users aggressively at 25 cents per year, but at $2 then you can acquire users and hire a guy to knock on doors with a USB stick an install it."

However, he didn't feel things were currently quite so rosy for Google's gaming plans. "You really need to lure content in and with Google taking a 5 per cent cut it becomes more like a transaction fee. I wouldn’t be surprised that most people with web properties are spending around 5 per cent on payment and other infrastructures. It’s almost like Google might not make a lot of money from it.

"They’re supposed to not be making money in the Android market at all. The Android marketplace takes 30 per cent, however Google is only supposedly taking a few per cent of that and they carry the transactions charges and costs like that, so I suspect they are losing money."

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Titles demonstrated thus far include PopCap's Plants vs Zombies and a Unity-powered version of Lego Star Wars.

While Chrome Web Store is directly targeting the iPhone App Store model, including one-click payments and application recommendations, it's also rivalling a number of other streaming and browser gaming services.

However, InstantAction boss Louis Castle, who is preparing to launch music game InstantJam for Facebook and also intends to release major games streamed to a browser, doesn't see Chrome as a real threat.

"The interesting thing about Google and native client and all that is games still have to be written or ported to a native client solution," he told GamesIndustry.biz at GamesCom last week.

"Which is fine for small games and things like that, but I really don't think there's the financial incentive, that the guys who are doing the next Medal of Honour or the next Call of Duty or the next Crysis are going to be racing out and writing it for a browser."

For developers who do stick to smaller titles, Chrome is just one more platform to consider, in an era when they're being aggressively courted from all corners – mobile, social, console and browser.

"We're trying all these things," confessed PopCap CCO Jason Kapalka. "They're all experimental right now and we don't know which will work and which will end up falling by the wayside.

"Generally PopCap has tried to be fairly catholic and not jump on any one bandwagon. It's very hard to predict the future."

Useful for both developers and consumers is Google's tendency towards fast updates – no seasonal firmware updates here, but instead silent and regular background downloading. "I'm a realist," admitted DeLoura at GDC Europe. "I think it's a really well-designed system, but if we discover there's a problem Chrome updates itself automatically and we'll fix the issues."

The battle is likely to be uphill nonetheless, and the key questions are both audience and game library sizes. "When this launches and there are 70 million people there, we want to have some really great games."

Chrome Web Store is open to developers now, and will support Google Checkout as a payment system at launch. Google's Mark DeLoura has confirmed it's a separate entity to the company's social network project, but some manner of convergence seems likely eventually.

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Latest comments (5)

Kim Pallister Director of Content, Intel11 years ago
>The necessary wrinkle is that it's tied to Google's Chrome browser

From the Chrome web store FAQ (first question in fact):

>Does this only work in Google Chrome?
Because web apps listed in the Chrome Web Store are regular web applications, built with standard web tools, they can be used by anyone using a modern browser that supports these web technologies. Users accessing the Chrome Web Store through Google Chrome will have the ability to create convenient shortcuts for easily accessing their apps.

So it seems it works *better* with Chrome, but isn't tied to it?
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Aurélien Dussalve11 years ago
I wouldn't be so exited about this service since, speaking of games , both casual and AAA ones have their "online Stores". So platforms like Steam will be very hard to challenge.

And I completely disagree, with its initial postulate concerning how hard is to find apps that are reviewed and where we can discuss about it with others users. For instance, go to metacritic and you'll get all the "chess games" sorted with your specific criteria, reviews and easy-access forums to discuss about it.

Now, this Google stores can be very handful for those who rely entirely on Google in their everyday web-life. But I am not too fond about it , though.
Having saying that, I have to admit that I am one of those persons who fears the hypothetical future, where your real-national ID would be merged with your google account. But that's another topic.

To sum up, I definitely don't think that "this G-store" have a place in the pc-app-market.

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Victor Perez CEO, Games GI11 years ago
If Steam works... why not the Google store? I believe it is a market and more than any a payment platform. Who doesn’t trust in Google?
It will be the main competitor for Bigpoint and others web browser games editors… but with much better dimensions as you will be not only for PC, also Tables, Mobil… I think it will be a great business if they do it well.

Google is moving to that, an application platform… that is positive for all.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Victor Perez on 26th August 2010 2:45pm

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John Blackburne Programmers 11 years ago
I can't see how this will work. The existing platforms out there (Steam, the app store, Flash portals) succeed because they serve up one platform: users know they go to Steam to get PC games, to Kongregate (say) to play free Flash games. In the latter case there's no messing around with different plug-ins, no need to worry what browser you're using, no need to pay for 99% of the content (with payment in-app - something Google won't do yet). These sites could do HTML, Unity, etc. but none do - because of the extra work but also the user experience I think.

People make Flash games because it's ubiquitous - anyone can play the games, attractive to developers and advertisers. This is less true of HTML/JS and Unity (or Silverlight, though I can see why they won't support that), but almost non-existent for native client. That's got a long way to go to even come close to Flash and yet another app store's tied to the third most popular browser is not going to help much.
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Victor Perez CEO, Games GI11 years ago
Guys, in ten years what it will be very well know is Apple has invented the cell telephone with its iPhone series… believe me, it is how it works. Chrome will be a great game platform and a browser, so everybody will load it. Videogame is pure content in the big fight between those who want to control internet access and the giant advertising pie…
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