OpenFeint investor Peter Relan reveals plans for OpenKit, open-sourced back-end services
Peter Relan is the founder of the social gaming incubator YouWeb, and he's probably most familiar to us here at TUAW as the main investor in OpenFeint, the huge social gaming network for iOS and other mobile platforms that was later bought by a Japanese company, and just this week is getting shut down for good.
Relan's seen what developers are saying and doing about the OpenFeint shutdown (a lot of major games have provided updates this week or last, mostly switching their OpenFeint leaderboards and multiplayer services over to Apple's official Game Center service), and he's convinced there's an opportunity for more solutions to online app developer services like leaderboards, achievements, and in-app purchases. He tells TUAW that he also heard from "an indie developer team" about a month ago, and they've decided to work on a new service called OpenKit. "We are going to build a platform and we're going to solve the problem once and for all."
Strangely, Relan declined to let us know just who this indie developer team was or what products they've made in the past. "I'm kind of a broker between the developer community and this indie developers," he said, so he's apparently reticent to let the devs deal with each other directly. But nevertheless, he says this team of devs is hard at work on the service already, and he hopes to have it live as soon as January.
Now, it should be clear, says Relan, that OpenKit is not OpenFeint 2. OpenFeint was a closed-off developer service, that provided an API for devs to plug in to, and charged based on the number of users in your game. OpenKit, on the other hand, is going to be designed as a completely open source solution -- Relan relates it to the popular source code distribution system Git. In other words, while using the servers for OpenKit won't necessarily be free (Relan says it will likely be some sort of variable pricing subscription model), the code itself will be completely free and open source, so if developers want to take their code and information and go to another server, they'll be able to do just that.
What Relan and his team is planning, he says, is "an open source developer platform that runs in the cloud, and provides all the important services developers need by developers for developers." It would provide OpenFeint-style services, but with open source code that anyone could access, or even help develop. On Game Center, for example, "tomorrow, if a developer wants to contribute a really cool new feature, they can't." That won't be the case on OpenKit. "What we're proposing is an extensible architecture."
Some would argue that Apple's Game Center is what killed OpenFeint -- why would developers go with a third-party service when Apple's official service does everything they need? But Relan says he believes developers are still looking for more options. "There's a number of areas where I view Game Center as very important to the iOS platform, but it's clear that even after Game Center, tons of developer came on to OpenFeint and used it. There was something there." Relan also says that OpenKit will likely be designed for both Android and iOS, so it may be a much more viable option for cross-platform apps and games.
At this point, there's no code available for OpenKit yet. Relan is doing a quick developer survey on the official OpenKit website, both to collect future possible users of the system, and to gauge developer interest in the various possible features. "We know you like Leaderboards, but what else do you like?" he wants to ask developers.
But aside from the survey, Relan says the code is already being built, and he and his team hope to have it ready as soon as January. "These guys are already working insane hours," he says. The original Aurora Feint game that Jason Citron and Danielle Cassley developed and later became OpenFeint was put together in 60 days, he says, and OpenFeint was built off of that in just 45 days. So Relan is hoping that "this one is going to be 45 days. At the end of January, this thing is going to be up. And I have 100% confidence, this team that we have is just as good as teams I've seen."
Ambitious, to be sure. It remains to be seen just what developers want out of a platform like this, and especially after they've had to spend time and money removing OpenFeint from their apps, some devs may be even more leery of investing in another third-party social service. But Relan's obviously got experience attracting developers to his fold with OpenFeint, and he's got big ideas about just what OpenKit can be. We'll have to see, come January, just what the team decides to offer game and app developers going forward.
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