Back in the not-quite-dark-ages of Android, new services and APIs were launching seemingly every other week as Google and Apple engaged in an aggressive land grab to acquire users and tempt developers. Gaming became a popular battleground, and Google was investing in new features for Play Games like an API that gave developers the infrastructure to run real-time and turn-based multiplayer games for free. However, like many other older Play Games APIs, Google will be shutting this one down in about six months and it may render some older games unplayable.
The real-time and turn-based multiplayer APIs provided the infrastructure for setting up games, waiting rooms, invitations, connection management, and even player matching — although the matching service was often criticized for pairing players with wildly different skill levels and geographical complications. In the case of turn-based games, the state of game instances was also saved for a period of time to allow for extended games.
Both APIs are scheduled to shut down March 31, 2020. In the meantime, no new games can begin making use of the APIs, and accounts that already use the service will be unable to deactivate it until the shutdown date. This will not affect other Play Games APIs for functions like leaderboards, achievements, or saved games. In Google's announcement to developers, a Firebase Realtime Database and Open Match running on Google Cloud were offered as possible migration options, although both of these may cost money depending on pricing plans or usage.
It's unknown how many games are still using either of these APIs, and Play Games doesn't currently offer an easy way to check. However, this likely spells the end of operation for those that have been abandoned or were written as hobbyist projects, many of which live on in the Play Store as zombie apps.
Unfortunately, with the policy changes that require new and updated apps target a recent API level, many developers won't be able to change just their multiplayer code to use a new service, but they would also have to update the SDK and possibly deal with a number of other unrelated changes. While this sounds good for users, it will likely amount to more work than it's worth for games that don't bring in sufficient profit. In other words, it might be coming time to say goodbye to some older games.
- Google Play Console