If not, you should. And here’s why.
What is OpenFeint?
OpenFeint is a gaming network that developers can easily integrate into their iPhone games. It’s also free to Developers. They can offer it free because they take a commission from Apple for each application downloaded from iTunes via their interface. Awesome right? It comes out of Apples pocket , not yours!
How long does it take to set up?
20 minutes. I didn’t believe it myself, but there is a video from Alan Taylor that claims 19 minutes. I followed the video and it was very simple and as you probably know – nothing is simple when integrating a 3rd party product into your Xcode project. This was by far the easiest.
Configuration is a breeze.
You are probably thinking, “Good for you, but now you have to spend tons of time configuring it”. Wrong. I was surprised myself. Once you create a Developer account you have a control panel that gives you decent control over your game. They are working on more tools as I write this.
You can set up a Leaderboard in less than 5 minutes. When you create one, it gives you an identifier that you easily reference in your code. Say the identifier in the control panel is “12345″. To submit a score from your app, your code is this simple:
[OFHighScoreService setHighScore:score forLeaderboard:@"12345" onSuccess:OFDelegate() onFailure:OFDelegate()];
This will submit to the local and global high score lists and then notify the user their score was submitted. One line of code!
Achievements work the same way except when you create an Achievement you can also assign an icon and a Gamerscore value. I’ll get to Gamerscores in a minute. Once you submit, the server will be updated seemingly in realtime. All users will be able to see that high score or the achievement when they visit those screens within OpenFeint immediately.
I’m not going to touch on everything you can do, but the time it took me to get 3 Leaderboards and 5 Achievements (with uploaded icons and descriptions) configured in the Developer page on my first try was less than 20 minutes. Adding more later only takes a minute. Updating my code to hook into that took another 20 minutes because for my Achievements I had to add some tracking into my code. Again, after the initial setup updates are trivial.
Try writing something that quick from scratch. Try integrating some other 3rd party online scoreboard. Try even making your own local scoreboard. You can, but why would you? And yours isn’t going to be as elegant without lots of work. Check out what OpenFeint looks like to users:
Will users embrace it?
Most developers don’t want to annoy their users and to tell you the truth, the first time I saw OpenFeint in a game I was hesitant to use it. I didn’t want to sign up and provide an email address and username/password. But OpenFeint does not need any of this information. By default it will assign you a random username like “Player2334″. You have the option to change it to anything you want in the settings without providing any further information. All scores and achievements are saved without users having to sign up for anything. When an OpenFeint user plays another OpenFeint enabled game, it will automatically remember them as well. After the initial dip of the toe in the water, I find that users will then really get into it. You can add other OpenFeint friends and see their game stats. You can see what your friends are curently playing. Many games have a moderated chat room too, so you can converse with people. It becomes a community within your game.
When your friends get high scores or achievements, a notification popup shows up on the bottom of your screen if you are in your OpenFeint enabled game. It then elegantly goes away. This is another cool feature that users enjoy. As a developer you have control over those notifications as well. You can choose when and how to show them or you can disable them.
What else do I like?
Another major part of the OpenFeint gaming platform is Gamerscore. Each game can have up to 1000 Gamerscore points to award players with when they unlock Achievements. Your total Gamerscore for all your OpenFeint games is proudly displayed next to your name. Some people don’t care much but many gamers are very serious about getting lots of points. In fact, when I visit popular gaming forums I see a buzz about games that are OpenFeint enabled – like on DotioGames.
A great feature for developers and users is one-touch purchases. When you check out what your friends are playing, you can go to a game description page with the ability to purchase that gave directly via OpenFeint. As a developer you can create that one-touch purchase page from your Developer portal page. This is free promotion of your application that you don’t have to spend much time on. I was blown away when I discovered that feature. Users want to see what their peers are playing. Hey, if a couple of my friends are playing a game in OpenFeint then I know it must be good. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be playing it. The best advertising you can get and it’s totally free.
More free advertising. OpenFeint has optional Twitter and Facebook integration. Once the user turns those options on, every time they get an Achievement it will post to those services with an icon that you upload and the description you choose – as well as a tinyurl link to your application in iTunes. Users see it as gloating their success, meanwhile you get free advertising with a direct link for download. The amount of setup on your side is negligible.
How is Support?
Once I delved into coding and configuring I did have some questions. I went to the support site and searched for answers in the documentation. Usually though my questions were more complex. I then checked the forums. If I did not see my answer there, I posted my questions. It is obvious that the support team is overtaxed. The platform grew so fast I think they are still catching up with staff. They also have to staff the development side too so they have minor growing pains. Despite that, they are more dedicated than any other support I have dealt with – and I’ve been in software for over 15 years. They read every single post and if they don’t have an immediate answer, they tell you so and they set out to find you the answer. They NEVER leave you hanging. I posed one question that I didn’t even expect an answer to because it seemed like the current version just wasn’t set up to support it. I could tell the guy (jakob, who I’ve happily dealt with a couple times) sat there for hours in his own Xcode trying to figure out how to do it. A couple days later he sends me the solution. A solution to a problem that I figured was a shot in the dark. They are extremely dedicated and they don’t just reply with “Read the documentation” or “You can figure it out since you have the source”. Every case is tracked until it is resolved – no matter how small.
Why do I sound like a fanboy or employee?
I guess you could accuse me of being a fanboy but I have no affiliation with OpenFeint in any way except I use their product in my games. I went though my own trials as a new Developer trying to get a global high score system working before discovering the OpenFeint platform. I know how difficult it is to integrate that or anything remotely like what they offer from 3rd parties or from scratch. I initially only anticipated using the Leaderboard, but the more I used it and saw how easy it was, the more I added to my game and was amazed at the end result relative to the effort I put in. Why reinvent the wheel? They have everything I needed and then some. And they seem to be cranking out more and more.
I heard about OpenFeint months before I integrated it. As a developer I didn’t understand what it was or what was involved so I held off. I wasted my time needlessly. I don’t want you to make the same mistake.
If your app has OpenFeint and a friend is playing my game, maybe your player will download my game when they see a friend playing. The same can happen for your game.
The more games that have OpenFeint, the more users will accept it and actually look for it. That’s more users that can potentially see our games. And once OpenFeint gets the player web site ready, players will have even more visibility to our games.
And lastly, I thank OpenFeint for making a great platform that any developer can easily integrate. With all the difficulties involved in creating an app from scratch, the whole experience made my life much simpler. If you have used it in your game or will do so, I bet you will feel the same way.
Thanks for reading,
Author of DieMonstersDie!