Falling further behind Android and Apple with its BlackBerry phones, while also struggling with its new PlayBook tablet, RIM has acquired Scoreloop in hopes of picking up enough skills in social gaming and in-app purchasing to catch its rivals.
Scoreloop offers a software developers kit (SDK) that lets games developers add social content such as achievements and awards, along with revenue-generating services like in-app purchases and virtual coin packs.
Some apps built on Apple’s iOS platform already offer these sorts of revenue-generators. In one of the most popular games in Apple’s App Store, Tap Pet Hotel, players can make in-app purchases of goodies for their cyber pets with “vials of coins” and “trunks of treats,” for example.
For its part, RIM runs an online app store called BlackBerry World. According to a just released survey by Cahners Instat, however, users are much less likely to download apps for RIM smartphones than for either Android or Apple iOS devices. Another recent report, released by comShare, shows RIM and Microsoft losing ground in the smartphone market, while iOS and Ancroid keep gaining more users.
Historically, RIM has focused much more on business than consumer apps. Last year, however, the company launched the BBM “Social Platform,” aimed at letting developers incorporate the native messaging capabilities of the BlackBerry OS into other apps.
In another obstacle to RIM, the company’s new PlayBook tablet runs QNX, a different operating system (OS) than the BlackBerry OS used on its phones. QNX is expected to start supporting Android apps, but that hasn’t happened yet. RIM now plans to merge QNX with BlackBerry OS, but not until next year.
Scoreloop supports apps that will run in Blackerry, QNX, Android, and other environments, including Apple’s AirPlay. It’s still unknown, though, how much support Scoreloop will continue to give to non-RIM platforms, in light of the acquisition. “We’ll continue our cross-platform approach [but]you’ll see that our BlackBerry solution will be unparalleled,” wrote Scoreloop CEO Marc Gumpinger, in a post on the Scoreloop site.
Meanwhile, in a somewhat ironic twist, some analysts see RIM’s BBM as the competitive impetus behind the iMessaging feature just announced as part of Apple’s forthcoming iOS 5 for iPhones and iPads.