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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."

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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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