While there may be leagues of social gaming tools hitting the iPhone claiming to be the “mobile version of Xbox Live” at the moment, attempts to actually match Microsoft’s fabled network are so far yet to flourish. Now it would appear that Aurora Feint’s OpenFeint network, already one of the iPhone’s largest gaming communities, is ready to take on such a challenge. They’re looking to get a step ahead of the competition by offering multiplayer support for the platform in time for the busy Christmas season.
With the release of OpenFeint 2.5, developers will be able to integrate multiplayer functionality into their titles for free. The service comes with the kind of feature-set savvy gamers have come to expect from online platforms: friends’ online status, scores of matchmaking options, and the ability to share gaming stats and data with those in your network.
A few of OpenFeint’s current features, in the upcoming game Above and Beyond Air Combat.
But it’s not just gamers Aurora Feint wants to impress. The company is also looking to get a step ahead of its rivals, and as OpenFeint creator Jason Citron told us, the company is convinced that online multiplayer is the key.
‘Multiplayer increases demand for games, and will cause more sales through word of mouth,’ Citron said. ‘Historically, multiplayer games have much higher engagement and retention rates than single player games,’ Citron said, pointing to the likes of Counter-Strike and Warcraft as prime examples.
Now, of course, there are games out there already with multiplayer included, but as Citron points out, making it happen is often at the detriment of the developer in question. OpenFeint 2.5 is about making the whole process easier, for both gamers and developers alike.
‘There are lots of single player iPhone games, but not many have compelling online multiplayer. There needs to be more! It’s expensive and difficult to build multiplayer infrastructure. We are making it easy for indies, just like we made challenges, achievements, and leaderboards easy.’
‘It’s a natural progression of our social platform,’ he said, referencing the scores of social gaming networks already fighting it out on the platform. ‘Right now our millions of players can meet, chat, and challenge each other around games. With multiplayer, they can actually play with and against each other in real time, and it’s free for developers and players.’
Regular readers will be more than aware of the alternatives out there, with Plus+, Scoreloop and Agon Online all gradually pushing the boundaries of social gaming in their own way, but OpenFeint’s announcement would seem to be a big step forward. Just how its rivals react over the coming months should ensure that OpenFeint’s advantage doesn’t remain unchallenged for all too long.