For many Google+ pioneers, one of the most redeeming qualities of the nascent social network was the lack of games. The bad news is that it didn't last long, though, because now Google+ does have games. The good news is that Google+ is using a different approach that should make the games less annoying for those who choose not to partake.
At the top of the Google+ screen there are five icons to click on. From left to right, they are Home, Photos, Profile, Circles, and Games. When I click on the Games icon, I am taken to the Games screen which has a huge rotating banner of "Featured Games". On the left, there are links for Featured Games, All Games, and Game Notifications, and below that a section that shows games I have recently played.
What I Like
I've been on Facebook long enough to get my share of "Join my Mafia Wars family" requests from friends and family. I have learned to deplore many games, including Mafia Wars, FarmVille, and CityVille, and developed a healthy distaste for Zynga without having ever even played any of the developer's games.
I understand some people love the social gaming aspect of social networking, but I don't really. So, as far as I'm concerned your polite invitation for me to join your game is just spam getting in the way of my social networking.
Thankfully, Google+ has learned a thing or two from the backlash on other social networks, and it has implemented games in a way that lets social gamers enjoy all of the things they like about gaming on a social network, without imposing on the social networking activities of those who aren't interested in the games.
A post from the Official Google Blog explains, "When you're ready to play, the Games page is waiting--click the games button at the top of your stream. You can see the latest game updates from your circles, browse the invites you've received and check out games that people you know have played recently. The Games page is also where your game accomplishments will appear. So you can comfortably share your latest high score--your circles will only see the updates when they're interested in playing games too.
In a nutshell, gamers can still game, and non-gamers can still use their social networks without being spammed. I may still get invites to various social networking games, but they won't clog my Google+ Stream. The only way I will see invite notifications, or updates from people in my Circles about their latest gaming achievements and exploits is if I go to the Games page myself.
What I Don't Like
There are two things that stood out for me as things that make me want to steer clear of Google+ games. The first is lag, and the second is privacy.
I have Angry Birds (and Angry Birds Seasons, and Angry Birds Rio) on my iPhone and my iPad, so I thought I would give it a whirl in Google+ Games. I have to admit that it was sort of cool being able to see how others in my Circles scored on each level and introduce some competitive spirit. But, as the game progressed, it got progressively slower and had significant lag.
Granted, this is a problem with Web-based games in general, and not necessarily unique to Google+. I don't know if the problem is with Google+, or my ISP, or my PC, or my choice of browser (in my defense, though--I was using Chrome), but the game got to the point where it was essentially unplayable.
Shooting a bird from a slingshot is a simple matter of choosing a trajectory and dragging the mouse and then everything else just happens. With other games, though, the lag could impact precision and response time and make games very frustrating and annoying.
The second issue I have is with the permissions games ask for regarding access to my social network. I thought that Dragon Age Legends looked like a cool game to check out, so I clicked on it. The Bioware game requested permission to view basic information about my account, view my email address, and view a list of people from my Circles, ordered based on my interactions with them across Google.
I'm sorry, what? Why? I just want to play a game--we're not getting married. Why is it Bioware's business who I communicate with on Google+, or what interactions I have with my Circles across other Google sites and services? Why does Bioware need access to my email address?
Instead of just listing out the permissions being requested, the developer should be required to also explain each one. I'd like to know what each permission has to do with playing the game, and how my granting permission will enhance or facilitate the game. If the developer can't tell me how the permissions will impact or improve the game I am trying to play, then I am not granting permission.
Admittedly, I am not one who generally chooses to partake in online game or social networking games. Don't get me wrong--I play my share of games. I am not a hardcore gamer per se, but I have two folders of games segregated by category on my iPhone and iPad because I have too many game apps to fit in a single folder. I have my own Xbox 360 with Kinect because I want to be able to play Madden Football without having to share console time with my kids.
I just prefer my games to just be games. I am not even a privacy fanatic. I willingly accept the tradeoff between privacy and functionality for many aspects of mobile and social networking. I draw the line, though, and giving game developers unnecessary access to sensitive information.
The bottom line for me with Google+ Games is that Google has definitely improved on the basic concept. There are still some things I don't like about it, but at least Google has structured it so that I don't have to be bothered with it at all if I choose not to.