GDC 2009: GameSpy Multiplayer on iPhone

We met yesterday with GameSpy, the online multiplayer infrastructure providers, to discuss real-time multiplayer’s future on the iPhone. The short answer is that it’s looking bright.

GameSpy is one of the biggest players in the multiplayer gaming space; its servers and technology power all of Nintendo’s multiplayer games on the Wii and DS, and several marquee franchises like GTA4 also rely on GameSpy to deliver smooth online multiplayer.

We learned that GameSpy is in the process of bringing that exact same technology to iPhone gaming. Select iPhone games will soon be running off of the same servers that run GTA4’s multiplayer crime sprees. The company’s taking all comers, from huge triple-A games to unknown indie titles. In order to make that feasible, GameSpy’s offering two licensing plans: big publishers can pay a one-time per-game fee for multiplayer, while smaller outfits can give up a revenue share.

So what’s this stuff do, anyway? In addition to standard stuff like leaderboards, buddy lists, and profiles, GameSpy’s bringing over some much-needed features like matchmaking, win streaks, and cross-platform messaging from the console gaming world. One cool ability built into the toolkit is the ability to randomize your opponent by shaking your iPhone.

And the real-time multiplayer itself seemed to work well. We played a simple tech demo game called Tap Race to test it out, losing horribly to GameSpy’s demonstrator in the process. The two phones kept in sync seamlessly over 3G, although not all games are guaranteed to work as well–latency depends on how complicated the game is, among other factors.

The first GameSpy-enabled games should be hitting the App Store in the next few weeks. We’re excited to see if more developers start to add real-time multiplayer to their games going forward.

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