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Chrome Web Store's rocky road

Chrome Web Store is a bold and ambitious project - it's identified a hole in the market, and it's using the weight of Google's clout in searching and browsing to fill it. Even leading digital distribution platforms such as Steam aren't equipped for that single crucial thing Google does so well - information retrieval.

Recommendations and reviews are absent from desktop application stores, which thus deny them the viral spread that the App Store's greatest successes have so publicly benefited from. For indie and casual games to break out, at least beyond the profile accorded to them by those few gaming sites that cover them, something like Chrome Web Store is sorely needed.

The trouble is it's a part of Chrome, and more to the point an attempt to further promote Chrome. It's a fine browser, and the huge marketing spend earlier this year pulled out of geek-niche into something people at large might at least have heard of. But the mainstream terror associated with installing new things, and especially of going off-piste from the software provided with Windows, means it's really going to fight to dent the market.

It's on 9 per cent now, and Google claim 70 million people have installed it. Big numbers, superficially.

Unfortunately that last figure in particular doesn't mean that much - just because someone's installed it doesn't mean they're using it. It's also exactly the kind of software that someone who runs multiple computers would install, so a significant amount of that number will be multiple downloads by single users.

Which begs the question of exactly how many people will be welcoming Chrome Web Store into their lives in October. Google's absurdly low cut of 5 per cent for all sales means developers may well flock to it, but the take-up may labour. If this was happening in Internet Explorer, nasty bloated thing as it may be, the story would be different.

Prompts for these web apps, these clever games made to run within a browser with just a click and (hopefully) no installation prompts, would creep onto the PCs of untold millions, to people who felt the Microsoft endorsement important, and even to people on office PCs that otherwise forbid software installation. Internet Explorer doesn't need awkward and embarrassing television ads about how to disguise filth-browsing habits to remain unassailable.

The Web Store is going to launch a bold new idea to a limited audience. While I'd love to see it work, I worry it's too much, too late and in the wrong place. Google has hinted it may be possible to access it from other browsers - at least while Flash and HTML5 rather than native client is its focus - but the heavy G-branding means it's unlikely that either they or other browsers will be shouting about it.

Google's games guru Mark DeLoura stepped down last night, claiming some sort of unspecified incompatibility with the company. Could this belie doubt about Web Store, and the sheer amount of risk involved for what might just turn out to be another of Google's niche experiments - Lively, Wave, Buzz... It's a company defined by ambitious ideas but laboured implementation.

Web Store is, at least, easier to define to a passer-by. And, as Unity's David Helgason observed in our story yesterday, perhaps it's a way to increase Chrome installs. Even some direct-user revenue is better than the current none, and will afford Google the resources to increase awareness of the browser - and, in turn, the store.

The real question is just how much it's integrated with Android Marketplace and Google's upcoming game-centric social network. At the moment, it seems to be its own project, careening off in a brave direction all of its own. A consolidated attack could well make web app purchases work. As just a tangent within a browser that comprises less than 10 per cent of the market, it's going to have to fight constantly for attention.

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Alec Meer

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A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.

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