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Bebo May Revamp Itself as a Social Gaming Platform

Inside Social Games - 23 hours 14 min ago

After its spectacular, mostly-cash $850 million sale to AOL in 2008, social network Bebo didn’t really work out for the acquirer. It sold to Criterion Capital Partners for a price reportedly between $5 million and $10 million earlier this year.

Now, it’s hiring again — and an industry source tells us that it is looking to become a social gaming platform, a move reminiscent of another social network’s strategy recently. Hi5, like Bebo, found traction with millions of users in several different countries, but ultimately stagnated as rivals like Facebook and Twitter expanded. Over the past couple of years, it has added a virtual currency, avatars, and most recently a special set of features for developer partners

While we don’t have many more details on Bebo’s new gaming initiative, there are a few reasons why the move makes sense. One is that the company has hired a founding Hi5 executive, Akash Garg, to be its new chief technology officer. He likely has some insights into how or how not to make that type of transition.

Another reason is that Bebo itself continues to have millions of users — although exact monthly usage is not clear — so it has people it can funnel to new gaming features. And finally, Bebo also has experience operating a developer platform, including for games. While it never attracted social gaming companies to the degree that Facebook and MySpace have, it does have a set of APIs to keep building off of. As you can see from the company’s landing page screenshot, it is promoting social games today.

CCP has also hinted at the new direction. Managing partner Adam Levin described the acquisition this way: “The young, highly active user base, revenue history, presence in countries throughout the world and solid technical infrastructure make it an attractive media platform both as a standalone entity and in the context of our broader investment objectives.”

Facebook, and to some degree MySpace, have been able to offer compelling social networking platforms both because they have highly engaged users and because their products include communication channels that make it easy for users to share gaming activity with friends. Hi5 was the first large social network to try to refocus as a gaming platform, and it’s not clear how well the effort has gone so far. Bebo’s new social gaming strategy seems reasonable given the circumstances — we’ll be covering it as the plans materialize.

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Facebook’s Latest Global Audience Growth, via the Facebook Global Monitor August 2010 Edition

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/08/03 - 19:08

We’ve just released the latest numbers tracking Facebook’s audience growth around the world in our August 2010 edition of the Facebook Global Monitor.

The Facebook Global Monitor is a part of the Inside Facebook Gold data membership service.

The Global Monitor tracks Facebook’s international metrics, and provides both historical data and forward-looking projections to enable developers, marketers, and analysts to spot trends and opportunities.

Each month, the Facebook Global Monitor provides the latest comprehensive data on the expansion of Facebook’s audience in approximately 100 global markets. It also includes alerts on breakout and cooling markets, and our latest in-house projections on Facebook’s growth in each country 30 days, 90 days, and 12 months into the future. See the full table of contents below.

All data in the report are based on primary research by Inside Network using data from Facebook, and each section is designed to elucidate key actionable trends. In addition to the Facebook Global Monitor, membership to Inside Facebook Gold includes monthly editions of the Global Monitor, in addition to access to our other data reports on Facebook’s top languages, user demographics, and more.

We believe big opportunities exist for developers and marketers to reach and engage the Facebook audience in these rapidly emerging and expanding markets. As always, we’ll continue to use data from the Facebook Global Monitor data power our coverage of this growth here on Inside Facebook, but if you’re looking for even more numbers, please check out Inside Facebook Gold.

The Facebook Global Monitor

Tracking Facebook in Global Markets

August 2010

Contents

I. Introduction: The Year That Facebook Went Global

II. Global Market Report

1. Audience Size Today

2. Fastest Growing Audience

  • Last 12 months
  • Last 90 days
  • Last 30 days

3. Market Penetration Today

4. Largest Market Penetration Increases

  • Last 12 months
  • Last 90 days
  • Last 30 days

III. Emerging Market Analysis

1. Growth Projections

  • Next 30 days
  • Next 90 days
  • Next 12 months

2. Technical Alerts

  • Breakout Markets: Last 90 Days
  • Cooling Markets: Last 90 Days

IV. Regional Summaries

1. Africa

2. Asia / Pacific

3. Europe

4. North America

5. South America

V. Country Updates

1. Argentina

2. Australia

3. Austria

4. Bahamas

5. Bahrain

6. Bangladesh

7. Belgium

8. Bolivia

9. Bosnia & Herzegovina

10. Brazil

11. Bulgaria

12. Canada

13. Chile

14. China

15. Colombia

16. Costa Rica

17. Croatia

18. Cyprus

19. Czech Republic

20. Denmark

21. Dominican Republic

22. Ecuador

23. Egypt

24. El Salvador

25. Finland

26. France

27. Germany

28. Ghana

29. Greece

30. Guatemala

31. Honduras

32. Hong Kong

33. Hungary

34. Iceland

35. India

36. Indonesia

37. Ireland

38. Israel

39. Italy

40. Jamaica

41. Japan

42. Jordan

43. Kenya

44. Kuwait

45. Lebanon

46. Lithuania

47. Luxembourg

48. Macedonia

49. Malaysia

50. Maldives

51. Malta

52. Mauritius

53. Mexico

54. Morocco

55. Netherlands

56. New Zealand

57. Nicaragua

58. Nigeria

59. Norway

60. Oman

61. Pakistan

62. Palestine

63. Panama

64. Paraguay

65. Peru

66. Philippines

67. Poland

68. Portugal

69. Puerto Rico

70. Qatar

71. Romania

72. Russia

73. Saudi Arabia

74. Serbia

75. Singapore

76. Slovakia

77. Slovenia

78. South Africa

79. South Korea

80. Spain

81. Sri Lanka

82. Sweden

83. Switzerland

84. Taiwan

85. Thailand

86. Trinidad and Tobago

87. Tunisia

88. Turkey

89. Ukraine

90. United Arab Emirates

91. United Kingdom

92. United States

93. Uruguay

94. Venezuela

95. Vietnam

Learn more or get the report at Inside Facebook Gold.

Categories: Other blogs

Watercooler Changes Its Name to Kabam, Focuses in on Deeper Social Games

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/08/03 - 15:45

What’s in a name, anyway? For a gamer expecting a particular kind of experience, perhaps a lot. That’s why Watercooler, long known as a publisher of applications for sport fans, is changing its name to Kabam today.

Kabam’s foray into game development began last November, with Kingdoms of Camelot, a relatively complex strategy game on Facebook. It seemed like an unusual bet during the heyday of farming and fishing games, with a geeky fantasy theme and lots of traditional gaming concepts like taxing a population and invading other player’s kingdoms.

Nine months later, Kingdoms is still an unusual title for Facebook — but it has also grown steadily to just over four million monthly active users. That’s proof enough for Kabam that there’s a market for Facebook games that aren’t light or simple experiences.

“We think there’s space in our market to challenge the existing games out there,” says Chris Carvalho, the chief operating officer at Kabam. “When we look out, we really see two trends on Facebook. One is the segment of users that’s really engaged and want more on Facebook, and there are also core gamers who are migrating in. We’re capturing both.”

Kabam is a better name because it’s “impactful”, says Carvalho, but the really meaningful change is to Kabam’s business model, which will be focused almost entirely on games from now on.

The distinction that they must be engaging games sounds a bit tricky at first. It’s clear what might be called non-engaging; a farming game that is little more than a proxy for users to send invitations and share gifts would be a good example. However, most popular Facebook games have now progressed beyond that point, if not always by much.

Carvalho points to some of the features that have made Kingdoms of Camelot successful. “For us, the engagement comes from all the features we’ve put in the the game, like the quest system, the global chat, the high level of competition, and the back-end nature of how we’ve set up the game to level the playing field.”

More features, of course, also add up to more time actually spent in the game, with the average player spending over 30 minutes per session and some staying for an hour or more. “What really distinguishes Camelot is the amount of things to do, and the way it’s set up, like a traditional MMO [massively multiplayer online game]. You can set up alliances, there’s a lot of strategy … we have the same kind of feature set as a traditional MMO.”

Not all players will find that MMO style attractive, of course, but Carvalho thinks players searching for a deeper experience are underserved. “I feel that we can be competitive with the top five industry players. We won’t ever have the reach that they have — we’re not focusing on the mass market titles … But right now we feel there’s a big opportunity with deeper games, and we don’t feel anyone else is filling that.”

In the future, Kabam won’t limit its oeuvre to fantasy games; this year, in fact, it also released the soccer game Epic Goal. That game’s live-action sports theme has only picked up 350,762 MAU so far, but Carvalho says the company will keep working on the game; Kingdoms, also, took a long time to grow.

For its forthcoming titles, Kabam is looking at branded opportunities. Epic Goal itself was launched with Fox Soccer, but the company won’t necessarily stay in sports. Carvalho, who spent a decade doing business development at Star Wars creator Lucasfilm, thinks brands will take on a greater role. “We think they’ll be very important in general for the social gaming industry, and for us,” he says.

We’ve written about other companies betting on deeper gameplay. Earlier this month we noted that strategy games are breaking out on Facebook (led by Kingdoms of Camelot), and we also recently covered Dawn of Dragons, a professionally-written RPG.

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Fantasy Football Throwdown Combines Strategy, Role-Playing and Facebook

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/08/03 - 15:45

Fantasy football is popular because it reflects week-to-week events on the gridiron, and because it allows you to beat your less-informed friends as a result. A small outfit of two developers, Doord, has developed an online title that adds a pretty interesting layer of strategy and social interaction on top of the usual game-play. It’s called Fantasy Football Throwdown.

To draw parallels, it’s a sort of a combination of Fantasy Football and some of the basic, strategic elements of Electronic Arts’ Madden franchise. Though it’s a game of simple visuals, it comes with a core play that could greatly appeal to both casual and social gamers alike, whether they participate in Fantasy Football or not.

It may look simple, but this game actually comes with a surprising number of features and strategy. Players are given a team of NFL players to start with and each turn they must choose offensive or defensive plays to play. There are eight possible plays to choose from: for offensive it is running plays (plunge, pitch, etc.) and passing plays (shotgun, play action, etc.); for defense it’s plays such as blitzes or man coverage.

Regardless of which you choose, there are potential counters for that play. These risks are represented in an expanded play book that displays up to three red or green arrows. Red favors defense and green favors offense, with the number of arrows depicting by how much. Of course, this is only influential and represents chance, and does not mean either guaranteed success or failure. Once you’ve selected a play, you then have to choose yardage and any special tactics.

This is where how players do in real games comes into play. As an example, let’s look at a running play: Each running back has a set number of yards that they have run in a real life game. Each drive can be used once unless coupled with an “R” (repeatable) icon. If you select a “3” then depending on the chosen offensive and defensive plays, that player will run roughly that distance; maybe a little more, maybe a little less. The higher the number, the further they are likely to go.

As far as passing plays goes, this combines half of the running distance of a player with a throwing distance of your quarterback. This is then combined with their real world pass completion rate, and it can be further augmented for success by selecting a yardage with a “T,” which represents a real touchdown play at some point. Again, there are no guarantees, but it’s all about choosing the best options to give you the best result; like in real football.

Defensively, this all works roughly the same way, except that you have the added option for special tactics to force turnovers via fumbles or interceptions. Like offensive, your defensive line’s set of prevented yards are chosen, but for every fumble or interception they got in reality, the player gets three attempts to force a turnover. Should you get lucky enough to cause one, those three attempts vanish. It’s only one turnover per three possible tries.

Granted, this all sounds quite complicated, but it’s actually exceedingly easy to learn. If ever you’re left wondering, the tutorial can be accessed at any time and you can practice forever against AI in single player mode. Once you are confident, you can begin earning money (TD$) from single and multiplayer matches to expand your team.

Obviously, the better the player, the more expensive they are, so building the best possible team is the form of progression in Fantasy Football Throwdown. That said, depending on how players do in reality, will augment how they perform in game. As with the running play example, say your team did well defensively in a recent game. Based on how many yards the defense allowed, those will become the numbers you can choose from when on defense, with that team, in game. Of course, if it is the off season, that obviously happens less, but it appears that stats used from the prior season remain.

In order to build up a nice wallet of in-game money, players need to play in multiplayer matches as they pay out more than single player and/or invite friends to their “League.” In short, the more friends that play with you, the more bonus TD$ you earn per game. As for the play itself, it comes in both asynchronous and synchronous format.

The asynchronous will likely be the most appealing to social gamers as users can actually play via email — but be ready, because an email is sent whenever it is the player’s turn. With this method, so long as a player responds within 24 hours, games can last for days. If you’re looking for a quick match, you can play random people who are currently online in a more synchronous fashion, taking turns until someone leaves or the game is finished (it is also worth noting that the game only ever tries to pair players up with teams that have roughly the same quality of players). Moreover, in classic Facebook fashion, users can always send out the time honored friend challenges as well.

Regardless of what you choose, however, the games feel exhaustingly long. Each game is 60 turns with one turn representing one minute. Even though the strategy and fantasy aspects are pretty in-depth, the basic visuals grant no real stylistic reward and synchronous, and especially single player, games get very boring very quick. That said, it’s mitigated some in the asynchronous email mode, but playing one game over the course of many days, and only then getting a reward, is a bit monotonous as well.

All in all, Fantasy Football Throwdown is a simple looking app that has tremendous potential as a fun and in-depth sports game. It’s connection to reality is a great hook for NFL fans, and its strategic and planning elements are enough to attract even the less hardcore audiences. Unfortunately, the low level of style and the tremendous length of each game wears on players and after a while, makes the app a bit boring. Nonetheless, as a title with a strong core, such superfluous aesthetics and balancing issues are generally much simpler to improve.

Categories: Other blogs

Crazy Snowboard HD Brings Social Shredding to iOS Devices

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/08/02 - 21:15

Crazy Snowboard HD, from Ezone.com, is a recently updated iPad and iPhone title that might be what you’re looking for, if you need an unrealistic but fun snowboarding game to help you cool down this summer.

The title is good to play here and there for short bursts of time, and intuitive enough for even the most casual of players to catch on quickly. Filled with social integrations through the Plus+ network that work perfectly with the game’s design, and any number of unlockable items, its positives outweigh some negatives.

Essentially, Crazy Snowboard most closely resembles early Tony Hawk skateboarding games. Using simple controls, players slalom down snow-covered hills, under a time limit, in an attempt to earn the highest score possible. As you shoot down the course, steering is done through tilting and turning your iDevice, and jumping with a mere touch (higher if you press and hold first, or hit a ramp).

Once in the air, context sensitive controls appear that allow you to rotate in any direction as well as perform up to four user-set grabs and tricks. The only stipulation is you have to be upright and no longer performing a trick before you hit the ground, lest you wipe out. It does take some getting used to — namely realizing when you are back upright — since the camera tends to face an all-white ground, but the game is forgiving enough to automatically land you unless you are about to land flat on your back or on your head. Expectantly, the more tricks you perform, the higher your score.

Realism is further tossed aside in that, for whatever reason, you can still steer while in the air, and grind on various objects that appear around the course despite how you hit them. Granted, being able to grind an object with your board is realistic, but landing perfectly from 20 feet in the air, and coming straight down on it, while still earning forward momentum… not so much.

The levels get more complex as you advance, with various obstacles (i.e. trees), more ramps, more turns, and so on appearing. To add to the difficulty, the maps have added tasks to accomplish that range from scoring raw points to collecting X amount of Y item. Depending on how well the player does, they will either fail or earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal. Of course, if you don’t wish have any pressure, you can always just mess around with Freestyle mode, where you just do whatever you want.

The social integration through Plus+ also lends itself well to Crazy Snowboard. True, it is a bit basic in that it is just sharable achievements and awards, but considering that the whole point to this game is about high scores, the 30+ leaderboard systems work quite well. The only social feature that would be even better here would be if the game had a time trial mode that allowed users to race “ghosts” of each other ala games like Real Racing HD.

In addition to the Plus+ mechanics, the game has any number of unlockable characters, snowboards, and even tricks. For the most part, these are purchased with points earned in-game, and while many of the characters are quite interesting (knights, yetis, etc.), they certainly don’t lend themselves helping the lack of realism. In fact, some of the tricks are just as bizarre, such as one that looks like you’re falling off the board, holding on for dear life, and still manage to rotate in all directions flawlessly.

Regardless, realism means little in most games, so long as its fun, and truth be told, Crazy Snowboard is pretty fun. At least for a little while. As players continue to play, it does get kind of old; the 30 or so levels, despite challenges, do feel a lot like more of the same. It’s also worth mentioning that while the game is on both the iPad and iPhone, it’s a toss up as to which makes for the better platform. On the one hand, the iPad gives you a bit more room to see what’s going on, but on the other, since all the controls are done while holding the device upright, the added weight of the newer Apple device gets a bit heavy during longer gaming sessions.

On another note, the increased screen size for the iPad is actually a bad thing, because it makes the visuals look even worse — apparently the developer hasn’t fully optimized for the device. While the game -play matters the most, one can’t help but wonder how many people are turned off by the visuals before they even think of buying the $1.99 app (though, at least, there is a free version too).

Overall, Crazy Snowboard is a pretty fun game for a more casual player, but it does get a bit repetitive and the 30 missions don’t feel all that new or fresh from the others. In the end, the game is decent, but it is certainly recommended that you try the Lite version first, and decide for yourself if you want the full version or not.

Categories: Other blogs

Top 25 Facebook Games for August 2010

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/08/02 - 17:15

With so many apps losing users this past spring — mostly due to a variety of changes made by Facebook to the platform - the big question has been whether or not developer growth is leveling off for the longer term. Last month, losses seemed to be lessening, but they were still apparent with 18 of the 25 applications falling in monthly active users. However, this month has already proven to be slightly better as, this time, 15 of the 25 are in the red, with drops generally less than in prior months.

Note: given that this list looks at the top 25 applications by MAU, it is not taking into account any significant growth by smaller apps, or stellar daily active user gains by any app.

There’s also a qualifier for some of the higher growth numbers visible today — the massive surges among a few big Zynga games could be due to a Facebook statistical reporting bug. We’re asking Facebook for more details, and we’ll update this post as we get them.

All that said, here are the highlights for the top 25 Facebook Games for August 2010:

  • The once mighty FarmVille has continued to lose players this month with a loss of nearly 4 million monthly active users. However, that is approximately 3 million less than the losses last month, so the Zynga title’s decline may be tapering off.
  • Other Zynga games, however, made big gains including Texas HoldEm Poker (11.8 million more MAU) Cafe World (13.9 million more MAU), Mafia Wars (12.8 million more MAU), FrontierVille (10.5 million more MAU), and PetVille (3.1 million more MAU) — with the qualifier here being the possible reporting bug that is exaggerating growth.
  • Treasure Isle, on the other hand, may be running its course as it dropped from #3 to #7 with nearly  4 million MAU loss.
  • Playfish‘s Pet Society is reaching equilibrium, having only lost 660,593 MAU compared to the 1.5 million last month. It remains at #9.
  • RockYou‘s Zoo World saw a huge boost this time around, moving up from #17 to #10 with a just over 12.6 million MAUs; it may be growing for the same reason as the Zynga titles, though.
  • Restaurant City is another game to move out of the negatives. The Playfish title went from #13 to #11 with almost 12.4 million MAUs. It had gained just over 1.4 million — again, a possible bug could be at play here.
  • PopCap is also doing well for itself. Though Bejeweled Blitz has rarely found itself in the negatives, its gains this month were nearly 1.5 million more than it was last month, bringing it up to #12 and 12.2 million monthly active users.
  • Playdom doesn’t do too hot in the Top 25, as its sole entry, Social City lost another million, down by about a million, to 8.9 million MAU.
  • Though Zoo World is doing well, Birthday Cards plummets to #14 (from #6) with a loss of 7.6 million MAU.
  • CrowdStar‘s Happy Island finds itself in the positives, having gained about 1.1 million monthly active users. It moves up from #19 to #17.
  • Though most of the list’s tail end is losing players, recently claimed Nightclub City from Booyah makes its debut on this monthly list at #25 with just under 5.3 million MAUs.
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Top 25 MySpace Games for August 2010

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/08/02 - 16:57

The biggest games continued to gain users on MySpace this past month, although, as in past months, the growth was not too significant.

Also, Zynga appears to have removed some of its smaller role-playing games from the list, including Gang Wars and Dragon Wars. As of yesterday, the apps were not found through MySpace searches, nor through app gallery browsing, nor were they available as MySpace titles on Zynga’s website either — these titles appear to be among the many smaller ones that Zynga has been shutting down lately.

Here are the highlights for the Top 25 MySpace Games for August 2010:

  • Playdom has continued to top the MySpace charts with the long-running role playing app, Mobsters. It earned a total of 14,663,713 users this month. Other top Playdom titles include the less game-like Bumper Stickers and Own Your Friends at #3 and #4. However, the latter lost approximately 2,000 users this time around.
  • Keeping at its #2 positions, Zynga‘s Mafia Wars saw a small gain with 23,157 new installations.
  • Virtual pets keep their spots with SuperPoke Pets from Slide and RockYou Pets from RockYou. The two games earn around 7 and 6 million installations this month.
  • Of the Zynga RPGs still milling about on the social network, Vampires and Street Racing continue to earn just shy of 5 million users. That said, Street Racing has seen a loss of around 5,000 users.
  • Playdom’s Poker Palace has been re-dubbed WSOP (World Series of Poker) Poker per its re-branding of the title and earned 3.4 million installations.
  • BitRhymes‘ Whats my Impression on friends moved up from #17 to #16 with a gain of over 130,000 installations, to overtake Overdrive.
  • As was noted already, Gang Wars and Dragon Wars were nowhere to be found yesterday, thus allowing Fashion Wars to move up to #20 from #22.
  • Heroes, from Playdom, also falls off the charts to make way for WonderHill‘s GreenSpot and Bloodlines (Playdom) at #21 and #22 with about 1.8 and 1.7 million installs respectively.
  • Rounding out the list is the return of three older MySpace titles: At #23 is Grong!’s What My Friends Think About Me; at #24 is Zynga’s Special Forces; at #25 is Playfish’s Pet Society. The games earn around 1.7, 1.5, and 1.4 million users, this month, respectively.
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Zynga, Other Developers See Big Growth In this Week’s Fastest-Growing Apps by MAU

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/08/02 - 13:20

[Update: Facebook has responded to let us know that the below stats are due to a bug in their reporting, which they're currently working on fixing.]

Each Monday we run a list of the fastest-growing games on Facebook by monthly active users, and this morning is no exception. However, we’re also seeing some very unusual stats today, starting with a 15 million MAU gain for Zynga’s Café World.

Going down the list, several more games appear to have added huge numbers of users, including Texas HoldEm PokerMafia Wars, Zoo World and Restaurant City. While Zynga is the publisher of many, the gains aren’t limited to that company; Zoo World, for instance, is by RockYou!, while Restaurant City is owned by Electronic Arts.

There are, however, two things that unite most of these games. The first is that they’re months old — meaning growth is typically lower for them than a new game like FrontierVille. Second, all of them appear to have made their huge gains over just the past three days.

We’ll show you a growth chart after the AppData top 20 list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain,% 1. Café World 35,324,196 +15,100,354 +75% 2. Texas HoldEm Poker 41,597,080 +13,612,033 +49% 3. Mafia Wars Game 24,142,623 +6,429,541 +36% 4. Zoo World 12,857,340 +6,053,805 +89% 5. PetVille 17,823,978 +3,861,130 +28% 6. FrontierVille 24,984,631 +3,598,109 +17% 7. Restaurant City 13,017,032 +2,289,626 +21% 8. Happy Island 8,681,928 +2,044,392 +31% 9. Sorority Life 4,978,879 +1,750,713 +54% 10. Market Street 1,828,168 +1,674,500 +1,090% 11. Friends For Sale! 3,377,538 +1,402,706 +71% 12. Pirates Ahoy 1,472,230 +916,416 +165% 13. Bejeweled Blitz 12,269,911 +854,981 +7% 14. ???2012 856,566 +838,705 +4,696% 15. ???? 872,822 +836,817 +2,324% 16. ???? 2,934,574 +782,991 +36% 17. Fashion World 3,642,194 +775,090 +27% 18. Baking Life 4,728,301 +640,790 +16% 19. Fanglies 1,466,779 +626,714 +75% 20. Pregunta a Pulpo Paul 957,599 +541,437 +130%

Now here’s the MAU chart for Cafe World; note the hockey stick growth at the end. It looks about the same for each game listed above:

What’s going on? It’s possible that Facebook is just experiencing a temporary bug in its stats reporting. The growth occurred over the weekend, so we haven’t yet had a chance to catch up with the company.

Zynga, also, has not yet responded to let us know whether it has really gained 47 million MAU. However, among two developers we’ve checked with, one said the growth spikes seemed consistent for their apps — and another said, no, the growth did not seem consistent.

The other possibility, besides a bug, is that Facebook has changed or updated its reporting tools. This would not be the first time. The most recent was on June 21st, when Quiz Planet! suddenly reported 15 million new monthly active users, while other apps like Twitter and Facebook for Android also showed big, unexplained gains.

Those June changes turned out to be revealing accurate numbers for apps that had been mis-reporting their stats for months. If that’s the case here, then the social gaming world will need to reconsider its thesis that Zynga, which is by far the largest and most powerful company in the space, is losing large numbers of its users.

Other companies also appeared to gain a few million MAU, but Zynga is the only one showing a monster bump in user numbers. We’ll continue trying to get an official statement this morning.

Just for reference, Zynga’s MAU chart is below; it has risen from 206 million MAU to 253 million MAU. Its highest MAU count ever was also 253 million, in mid-April of this year.

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This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

Inside Social Games - Sun, 2010/08/01 - 15:00

Check out the top headlines and insights this week from Inside Facebook— tracking Facebook and the Facebook platform for developers and marketers.

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Friday, July 30th, 2010

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Social Gaming Roundup: Poker, Booyah, gWallet, & More

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/07/31 - 00:33

PokerBuddy Pro - With the popularity of Zynga Poker, a new application called PokerBuddy Pro, from EV-Plus has come about. Consisting of three advisers (aggressive, versatile, or tight aggressive play), the app will give advice when playing Zynga Poker based on your hand, pot size, and the rest of the table.

Booyah Introduces Product Check-In - Location-based iPhone title, MyTown, from Booyah is getting an update with its new product check-ins. Using the iPhone camera, players will be able to scan in bar codes of products in order to earn points and exclusive virtual goods.

Dark Roast Media Uses Sweepstakes API - Dark Roast Media, the developer behind Exorcists vs. Demons, launched a new campaign using the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes API, dubbed PCH Boost. With the offerings of instant win opportunities, the company reports a monthly active user growth of about 15,000 (it now has 20,000 MAUs) and claimed a 30% reduced user acquisition cost.

gWallet Guarantees Publisher Results - Virtual currency platform gWallet is guaranteeing publishers revenue growth this week with cash in the “gWallet Challenge.” According to the company, premium publishers that participate will get 30 day performance test of their current solution versus the gWallet platform ” if the desired results are not achieved, gWallet will pay the publisher $20,000.”

Major League Baseball Stands Up To Cancer - Major League Baseball (MLB) and Stand Up To Cancer have teamed up to offer MLB fans an interesting take on virtual items. Fans can now purchase virtual stadium seating from 30 different MLB stadiums. Of course, these are replications and will be turned into a memorial for those affected by cancer. Moreover, the site in which they are bought also offers other items beyond a seat such as a suite, base, or the pitcher’s mound. With prices ranging from $5 - $500, users will be able to purchase and moderately customize (photo, name, and message) these with all proceeds benifiting Stand Up To Cancer.

Itsmy Opens its Mobile Social Network - European developer and gaming network itsmy stated this week that it will be relaunching its itsmy mobile social network this August as a “pure and open mobile web gaming network.” Thus far, itsmy has developed over 50 differently free-to-play social games over the past year for the network.

Second Life Continues to Thrive - According to a report from Media Post, Second Life is doing quite well for itself with anywhere from 680,000 to 820,000 active users so far this year. However, these users are spending increasingly more time online with 126 million hours logged for the second quarter of this year (a number 33% larger than the same time last year). Additionally, active users are spending an average of 100 minutes online per session, with virtual goods sales on course to be around $700 million for 2010.

Poker Palace to be Re-Branded - Playdom‘s social game Poker Palace is getting a re-branding on Facebook as they and Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment are set to relaunch the title with the World Series of Poker brand. While the game goes live this week on Facebook, it will also be expanding to other social networks, such as MySpace, in the near future.

China Computerworld Brutalizes Tencent - China’s internet gaming goliath, Tencent fell victim to a brutal assassination of character in China Computerworld this past week. In the explicitly named report, critics hammer the company from a competitor’s perspective, accusing them of never taking risks and merely muscling out the competition in matured online spaces with “unscrupulous” imitations.

[image via Danwei.org]

Snooki Comes to Social Games - Social game developers are certainly stretching for ideas as Snooki, and the rest of the Jersey Shore cast have come to Facebook. Simply called Jersey Shore, the game is a simple Flash-based RPG filled with comical versus battles and everyday jobs and items centered around the show.

Project: MyWorld is Set to Change Social Games - From Grand Theft Auto designer, Dave Jones, Project: MyWorld is a combination of social networks, social games, and virtual worlds. Set in 3D replicas of real-world locals, players will be able to receive all their regular updates from networks such as Twitter and Facebook, while exploring a virtual world that they build up themselves.

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Zynga Hires New CFO From Allen & Co

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/30 - 22:33

Zynga has made its first major executive appointment in several months: Dave Wehner, formerly a managing director at the investment bank Allen and Company, has taken over the role of chief financial executive, while Mark Vranesh has moved on to become chief accountant.

That the new hire is significant on some level is clear. Wehner will bring a wealth of knowledge and connections, and he could not have come cheap. But what will he be doing? Maybe he was was brought in for an IPO, or maybe more acquisitions — at least according to speculation from TechCrunch and VentureBeat.

Wehner could also serve as an all-around dealmaker. Allen and Co’s investors are known for their deep connections, going far beyond tech to movie companies, high-level investors and major brands.

But there are likely already ties between Zynga CEO Mark Pincus and Allen and Co. At the bank’s annual power broker conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, the NY Post reported that Pincus was the star of the show this year. And Zynga has had no trouble attracting attention from big brands.

At the end of the day, it’s not unusual for a high-profile company like Zynga to put an experienced banker in charge of the CFO role, so any further speculation is simply that. Zynga is also very new to the world’s biggest investors, and the country is still coming out of a recession; and, most importantly, the company is well financed through its previous deals.

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Growing International Populations on Facebook Are Appealing, But Still Present Challenges

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/30 - 21:16

[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Inside Facebook and uses data from Inside Facebook Gold, our data membership service tracking Facebook's business and growth around the world. Visit Inside Facebook Gold to learn more about our complete data and analysis offering.]

English is still by far the most-used language on Facebook, with some 231 million users. However, Facebook just crossed the 500 million user milestone — which means that over half of all users are accessing the site in another language. With an increasingly international audience, where should marketers and application developers focus their attention?

Earlier this week, we detailed the growth of Facebook’s top 10 languages. In a sense, our findings provided an easy answer to the above question. Spanish, with 68 million users, is Facebook’s second-largest language; that’s roughly the population of France. In turn, French is third-largest, with 26 million users. These user groups are easily large enough to warrant attention.

However, large groups of foreign-language users can also be a double-edged sword. On the positive side, people in a particular language group are now together on one platform in a way that they never before have been.

The negative, at least for some purposes, is that the geographic distribution of these users is extremely wide. Very few Spanish-language users are in the United States; meanwhile, even the top five countries for the language only represent about 50 million of the total group:

It’s easy to imagine scenarios in which it would be desirable to reach all of the users of a particular language; educational products, for instance, know no borders. However, a company that can only effectively distribute its product in a certain region — continental Europe, for example — may find it more worthwhile to focus on a concentrated language group like Turkish, in which all but handful of the 23 million users are in Turkey itself.

For application developers and others who want to maintain an online-only contact with their audience, Facebook’s language stats still present some challenges. For instance, Indonesian is now the fifth-largest language on Facebook with 21 million users. Appealingly, the country’s population is known for a willingness to spend online, albeit in smaller amounts than people in richer countries.

However, in an interview on Inside Social Games, Wooga CEO Jens Begemann told us his gaming company has stopped targeting Indonesians, among other Asian groups, in part because the Indonesians who are online are likely to have basic fluency in English anyway, obviating the need for his company to do extra translation work.

Wooga’s plan is to add other language groups in the future, including Portuguese, which grew 11.8 percent over the past month due to new Brazilian users, but for the moment still has only 7.2 million users — not quite enough for the company to invest in the market.

In the end, the decision of which market to invest in should mainly balance the number of potential users, their likelihood to monetize well, and the unique situation of the company planning to localize its product or application. But there are many more potential considerations, including the average age and sex of users in each language group; those metrics are available as part of an Inside Facebook Gold subscription.

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Shooting Intergalactic Hoops with StarDunk for iPhone

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/30 - 16:48

There’s something to be said about classic arcade games. They’re simple, nostalgic, and it’s always fun to try and beat the next guy’s high score. Of course, in the modern era, such games are less analog and tend to find themselves revamped for platforms such as the iPhone. At least that’s what developer Godzilab is doing with its Plus+ enabled, basketball-shooting space adventure, StarDunk.

Okay, so it’s not actually a “space adventure” but it does take place in orbit around Earth. It’s a simple game reminiscent of those basketball shooting arcade games, but rather than using an actual ball, players use a mere finger and some basic physics. What makes it better though, is that all of this takes place in live, synchronous matches. All the same, like any game that relies heavily on multiple players, it does run a risk of falling short of its potential.

The idea behind the game is simple enough. Players are given two minutes to score as many baskets as possible. Using their finger to drag and direct a half-arc for aiming, users try to guestimate how much force and arc is needed to make it to the spacey hoop. It does take some getting use to, but the physics are pretty accurate and it’s fairly easy to catch on (the game also gives players a full arc when they start doing poorly).

For each basket scored, points are obviously gained, with extra earned for not using the basket’s four-sectioned backboard. Curiously, this does not mean the backboard should go ignored. In addition to making shooting a bit easier, as each of the four sections are hit, they light up. Once all four are illuminated, a random power-up will be enabled such as a flaming fireball for more points or multiple balls shooting at once. As one would expect, this means there is a small tactical choice to be made when playing a round, for hitting each backboard light may require some intentional misses, but could pay off in the long run.

The most attractive, and addictive, part of StarDunk, however, is its synchronous online play. Dubbed “Contests,” a match will start every two minutes, apparently with any players currently logged in. You don’t actually see any of them shooting, but there is a nice feature that displays their names, score, and location upon the rotating globe in the background. Once the round is over, a leaderboard pops up of all participants in the Contest (there are also overall global and regional leaderboards) that not only displays their score, but where they hail from as well (we keep losing to some guy in Germany).

Unfortunately, this is where the biggest downside comes into play. As with any online game of this nature, the fun factor of the game directly correlates to the number of people playing. In truth, it’s less devastating here, as it is just as much fun to play with a few people, as it is a dozen, but with more competition, it does tend to be more enjoyable. Unlike SGN’s newer EXO-Planet Elite, iDevice, title, the synchronous multiplayer is more of an enhancement than a necessity.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at jumping into a contest right away, its also possible to play offline for some additional practice. However, the long list of achievements, stemming from StarDunk’s integration with the Plus+ network, are not earnable in this mode. Additionally, an equally long list of unlockable balls are also unavailable.

As a matter of fact, these different balls do add an extra level of interest to the Godzilab title. When first starting out, users get a basic ball with no special properties. Nevertheless, the more they play, the more they will unlock; each with their own unique attributes that will tailor themselves to virtually any play style.

Each of the balls are tied to some corresponding achievement and have their own stats of size, bounce, and speed that is visible via the main menu. Some examples include the Star Ball which gives four, instead of three, balls whenever one gets a multiball bonus as well as increases the chances of getting said bonus. The Ying Ball is more accurate with minimal bouncing. And then there is the Moki Ball (earned by logging into another Godzilab app, iBlast Moki), which increases points earned when a shot is scored without using the backboard. Obviously, this can give veteran players a slight edge over newer ones, but it isn’t all that noticeable. For the most part, it is the level of skill and accuracy of the player that is most apparent.

It is also worth noting that StarDunk is a game with a wonderful presentation. It may be a simple concept, but the visual effects and sound are quite gratifying, down to the slow motion close up of the player’s final shot of the round. Additionally, Godzilab does an excellent job of optimization in that the game never seems to slow down, despite how many effects might be going off.

Overall, for $0.99, StarDunk is a pretty fun time killer and a quality addition to one’s iPhone game collection. Granted, it’s a game that might not be suited for everyone, but it is a fun remake of a classic arcade title.

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Chinese Tower Defense Tops This Week’s List of Emerging Facebook Games

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/30 - 13:30

Earlier this week we noted the rapid growth of ????, a Chinese-language variation on tower defense games. Since then the game has really taken off, landing atop this week’s list of emerging Facebook games, defined as those still under a million monthly active users.

It’s rare for a Chinese-language game to beat its English peers, but ???? actually appears to be a pretty good game. Here’s the rest of the AppData top 20 list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain,% 1. ???? 725,370 +708,996 +4,330% 2. Market Street 547,474 +547,416 +943,821% 3. Jewel Box 433,987 +423,273 +3,951% 4. Office Wars 932,738 +415,127 +80% 5. Cafe Life 676,692 +376,976 +126% 6. Crazy Taxi 635,996 +244,710 +63% 7. Knighthood 373,002 +234,580 +169% 8. Four in a Row 301,561 +232,625 +337% 9. Bingo Island 2 449,900 +226,752 +102% 10. Tellywood 219,609 +218,679 +23,514% 11. Platinum Life: Web Edition BETA 719,711 +215,754 +43% 12. Ask Paul the Octopus ! 201,077 +197,016 +4,851% 13. ?? ?? ????? 194,200 +194,115 +228,371% 14. WestWars 208,938 +186,656 +838% 15. Maya Pyramid 716,237 +183,344 +34% 16. Country Life (lite) 376,207 +157,169 +72% 17. Bouncing Balls 458,654 +152,714 +50% 18. Fantasy Football 2010 182,840 +137,951 +307% 19. Bloom Town 161,556 +137,808 +580% 20. Retail Therapy 132,439 +131,731 +18,606%

Coming in at second we see Market Street, the newest title from Playdom — or should we call it Disney? It’s unusual for a new Playdom game to grow so quickly, but the company’s new owner may be pumping in more advertising dollars in the future. Knighthood, which Playdom also has through its own acquisition of Hive7, has suddenly taken off as well.

Jewel Box, a fairly simple collection game by Mob Science, is also showing a spike in growth following a long plateau; the growth suggests that, like Knighthood, the game is either getting new advertising, or that Facebook has corrected a bug in the reporting of some older apps, making them appear to have huge single-day gains.

Next up is Office Wars, the new office-based team combat game from Broken Bulb Studios, which is also the only game on this week’s list that’s about to cross the million MAU threshold.

A couple of even simpler games have also emerged this week. Crazy Taxi is an old casual game that involves just dodging other cars on a straight road; here, it appears to be growing as part of a new game portal of some kind that also includes number 17, Bouncing Balls. At number eight,  Four in a Row is just the popular decades-old game Connect Four, but that appears to be enough for a few hundred thousand new players.

Finally, down at number 18 you can see the first fantasy football app of the season, titled, simply enough, Fantasy Football 2010. Expect to see more as the college football season gets underway.

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New Hires in Social Gaming: Playdom, PopCap, RockYou, & More

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/29 - 19:00

Social gaming hiring activity was relatively subdued this week among top developers, according to our latest look at LinkedIn. Nonetheless, RockYou and Playdom are still seeing some significant additions with veteran game developer Raph Koster taking his official position as Vice President of Creative design at the latter, and Mia Kang beginning a new job as Director of Sales at the former. Additionally, we have expanded our coverage of hiring changes to encompass the top 20 social game developers, based on our AppData leaderboards.

Here’s the list:

CrowdStar

  • Marius Pieniazek - Now a Billing Support Representative at Crowdstar, Marius previously worked as an MMORPG Billing & Accounts Specialist at GOA Games.

MindJolt

  • Sunli Guo - Formerly an Engineer Intern at Tealeaf Technology, Sunlie Guo gets a new role as a full Software Engineer at MindJolt.

Playdom

  • James Robbins - James joins Playdom as its newest Senior Flash Developer. Before this, he worked as a Web & Flash Developer at Brooks Bell Interactive.
  • Nicole Jacks - Previously a Recruiter at ACS, a Xerox Company, Nicole joins Playdom under the same title.
  • Anupom Syam - Anupom joins Playdom as a new Development Lead. His prior experience stems from MIT Media Lab, where he worked as a Contributor.
  • James Gauthier - Part of the Metaplace acquisition, and formerly a Client Lead, James joins Playdom as a Senior Engineer.
  • David Kozlowski - With experience as a Producer at Gazillion Entertainment, David Kozlowski becomes a Senior Producer at Playdom.
  • Raph Koster - As noted already, the former Metaplace President, Raph Koster, joins Playdom as its new VP of Creative Design.
  • Derek Valerio - Formerly an Architectural Intern at Gensler, Derek joins Playdom as their newest Artist.
  • Kim Liu - Kim is now an HR Analyst for Playdom. Prior to this, Kim was a Financial Analyst Intern at USAA.

PopCap Games

  • T. Carl Kwoh - Though technically not a new hire, T. Carl Kwoh is the newest Producer at PopCap Games, having moved up from his previous role as Associate Producer.

RockYou!

  • Mia Kang - Mia Kang marks another major hire in the social world, joining RockYou! as its new Director of Sales. Previously, she was an Account Executive at SocialVibe.
  • Alex Sink - Formerly a “Technical Yahoo!” at, well, Yahoo!, Alex joins RockYou! as one of its new Flash Developers.
  • Matt Tenenbaum - Mat is now a Front-End Engineer at RockYou! Previously, he worked as a Researcher at Earl Industries.
  • Kelli Dragovich - Now Head of HR at RockYou!, Kelli Dragovich was formerly the HR Director for Yahoo Global Platforms Engineering.
  • Anatoli Fomenko - With prior experience coming from Oracle as a Java and Java FX Architect (Consultant), Anatoli joins RockYou! as a new Facebook Application Developer.

Zynga

  • Panayoti Haritatos - Though not a new hire, Panayoti Haritatos changes roles at Zynga from Lead Developer to Executive Producer.
  • Mary Ann Bailey Sharp - In another job shift at Zynga, Mary Ann is now a Research Recruiter for the social company. Previously, she was a University Relations Manager.

And, for a closer look at what jobs are opening up in the industry, be sure to check out our new Inside Network Jobs Board.

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    How to Localize Games: An Interview with European Developer Wooga

    Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/29 - 17:30

    In two previous stories on developers internationalizing their games, we’ve focused on the big Asian markets. This week we’re turning our attention to Europe in an interview with Wooga CEO Jens Begemann.

    Wooga is a German company, but its target market includes most of the Western world. From the beginning of development, Wooga works on localizing its content for a half-dozen languages, reaching almost 400 million of Facebook’s total 500 million users. The company currently has three games out: Bubble Island, Brain Buddies and Monster World.

    Inside Social Games: How many languages do you localize your games for?

    We used to do more than we do today, including the Philippines and Indonesia. We’re not doing those anymore for three reasons.

    First, most users in these countries don’t monetize so well; second, many of those people use Facebook in English; and third, the user numbers are huge, but many people use Facebook on mobile only, not the web. So at the moment we’re doing English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Turkish.

    ISG: Are there any more markets you’re potentially interested in?

    All of our current translated language also give us South America, Canada and so forth. What we’re watching most closely at the moment is Brazil, but Facebook doesn’t yet have critical mass there yet.

    ISG: What about Russian or languages from the Eastern European countries?

    My impression is that the people in those countries are using English, and the markets also aren’t very large. The markets of interest in that region would be Poland and Russia, but Facebook is not as large as their own local social networks.

    ISG: What are the components to localization for those markets?

    Localization is about translation, then about local customer care. We do local fanpage management and community management. We don’t do local payments, because we use Facebook Credits exclusively.

    The one thing we do that’s very special is localizing virtual goods. For example, a football in America is an egg, in Europe it’s round – there are plenty of differences. We believe that translating isn’t enough — local tastes and culture adoption are really important.

    ISG: How do you handle translation?

    We’re a big believer that you shouldn’t develop the game in one language and then translate. Translation and adapting to local culture is part of development. We’ve got six native speakers, one for each language, who are part of development.

    We do everything in-house. That’s what I learned at my last company [Jamba] – if you want really high quality and speed, do it yourself.

    ISG: Do the same people who handle translation do the community management?

    They’re not alone, but for every language we’ve got one country manager running a team.

    ISG: What’s the strategy behind localizing virtual goods?

    If there’s a national holiday that’s only in one specific region, we do virtual goods for it. At the moment we target it country-wise – we don’t make it more targeted because experience tells us that people travel. Someone might have grown up in Bavaria and moved to Hamburg, for example.

    ISG: Does localizing from the beginning cost a lot more than just building a game for one language?

    Our goal from day one was to be an international company. If we create a new game, we immediately consult our country managers on what the specifics should be.

    The biggest problem if you’re not doing it that way is not the added investment of localization, it’s slowing down your core team. If you build a game and then ask how you can adapt it to another market, there are all kinds of features that come up that require you to reposition.

    For example, English is a very short language – all the words in German are longer, and you need more space for them. If you build your company with localization in mind, I’d guess the added investment is 10 to 20 percent. If you have to go back later to change the game, it can really be a problem.

    This interview is part of an ongoing series on localization. Past coverage includes:
    RockYou: Working in Japan
    6waves: Localizing for Asia

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    New Jobs This Week on the Inside Network Job Board: Ohai, Neoedge, HumaNature, & More

    Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/29 - 16:30

    The Inside Network Job Board is dedicated to providing you with the best job opportunities in the Facebook Platform and social gaming ecosystem. When you place job listings on the Inside Network Job Board, they’ll be distributed to readers of Inside Facebook and Inside Social Games. That way, you can be sure that your open positions are being seen by the leading developers, product managers, marketers, designers, and executives in the Facebook Platform and social gaming industry today.

    Here are this week’s new listings from the Inside Network Job Board, including positions at EA2D, MeYou Health, HumaNature Studios, Neoedge, Ohai, and Days of Wonder:

    Check out more top Facebook Platform and social gaming jobs on the Inside Network Job Board.

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    Playdom Signs Five-Year Contract With Facebook, Will Exclusively Use Credits

    Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/29 - 13:30

    Following on the heels of Playdom’s acquisition by Disney for $563.2 million, we’ve learned that the social game publisher has sealed a five-year contract stipulating exclusive use of Credits, Facebook’s in-house virtual currency, across all Playdom games.

    Although we’ve been covering the gradual acceptance of Credits by the big game developers for several months, this deal has an added significance: with Disney as Playdom’s new owner, Facebook now has the support of a major media company for its virtual economy. Playdom’s contract also means that Facebook is one step closer to unanimous acceptance from its most important social game developers.

    Facebook confirmed the deal to us this morning. According to a Facebook spokesperson:

    Facebook has entered into a five-year agreement with Playdom for the company to use Facebook Credits as the exclusive way to transact in its games on the Facebook Platform. The agreement will give Playdom’s millions of players an easy, convenient and trusted way to buy virtual goods in popular titles like Social City, Sorority Life, Market Street and Bola.

    As part of the relationship, Playdom will receive the same revenue share as other developers on Facebook.

    CrowdStar, which is about the same size as Playdom, was the first to use Credits exclusively for a game, and recently signed its own five-year contract with Facebook. We’ve also been told by LOLapps, RockYou and Wooga that they’re on board with Credits, while a number of smaller developers have also switched over, sometimes through Facebook promotions that benefit their games.

    At this point, Facebook is only missing exclusive deals with the two biggest developers on the Platform, Zynga and Electronic Arts - although Facebook did sign a five year “strategic relationship” with Zynga two months ago. Both offer Credits as payment options in their games, but Zynga also handles payments itself, while EA has other partners like TrialPay.

    From here it should be interesting to see what Facebook’s next move will be. The company has steadfastly refused to make a firm statement on whether or when it plans to make Credits mandatory — in part because of opposition from developers who don’t want to pay Facebook a 30 percent cut, the set rate for any company using the currency, as well as loss of control, breakage, and other issues.

    Facebook advocates that Credits will create network and ease-of-use benefits that will cause more people to buy virtual currency; with enough exclusive partners in the virtual economy, Facebook should soon be able to make a convincing case for that bigger and better market.

    CrowdStar chairman Peter Relan recently listed all the potential positives of Credits in an interview with us, saying that the market could eventually be five to 10 times larger with a single currency; separately, CrowdStar has claimed that it already sees benefits. In time, other developers may also be willing to cheerlead for the currency.

    But for now Credits are still a new idea. There are also features and policies that Facebook has yet to make totally clear, like how it deals with fraud, and whether games utilizing its social graph through Facebook Connect would have to use Credits. For more on the issues, also check our interview with Social Gold co-founder Vikas Gupta detailing the downsides of Credits and our own analysis of the remaining questions around it.

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    It’s Happy Hour Somewhere in Bar Society on Facebook

    Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/29 - 13:06

    For most, it’s probably still a bit early to drink, but you know what they say: “It’s happy hour somewhere.” At least, those are the words that appear to be behind RedAtom’s Bar Society game on Facebook. Published by Playdom, it’s a game that made its appearance on our fastest growing games this past week and now holds over 907,000 monthly active users.

    A combination of virtual business and space games like Nightclub City and Café World, Playdom’s new title tasks users with building a successful bar. Between mixing drinks, serving tables, and dancing patrons, there’s a satisfying potential. All the same, it’s a game that feels a bit slow on the uptake, and just doesn’t feel like it has the same level of style that its competitors have.

    Right off the bat, players are introduced to Bar Society’s primary social mechanic of hiring friends to work for you. In this case, it’s as a bar tender. Like the cooks in Café World, users task them with creating everything from a simple Gin and Tonic to a rather pricey Washington Apple, with the more valuable drinks requiring higher levels to unlock.

    Evidently, your friends aren’t too good at mixing drinks, as they’ll take anywhere from five minutes to a day or so to prepare them. Of course, with behind the back tosses and various animated bar tricks, they at least look good doing it. Once ready, players must use one of their waiters (their avatar plus whatever friends they hire as one) to place the finished drinks onto wheeled drink carts. These work exactly the same as counter space in Café World, as whenever a patron orders a drink, one of the waiters will serve whatever drinks are on the cart(s). Also, like the Zynga app, the carts have a finite number of servings and only one type of drink may be on any single cart at any given time.

    This is where the Nightclub City elements come into play somewhat. After guests have ingested a little bit of “liquid courage,” they’ll haphazardly make their way over to any dance floors the player has set up. Like in Nightclub City, these are required to keep guests happy (though we doubt they’d be happy if they knew how badly they danced). Additionally, when a character starts dancing, users can click on the music cleft floating above their head, which will begin to fill up a music icon in the upper right. Five clicks from five different customers will increase the bar’s rating.

    The bar rating is the typical rating system seen in these virtual business apps. The higher it is, the more guests will visit. This rating is also affected by a number of elements such as serving guests quickly, better décor and having dance floors. The rating even tells the player exactly how many guests they can expect an hour. However, unlike others of games of its ilk, Bar Society is extremely slow to get started.

    Ratings go up extremely slowly based on customers approving things like service, but at the start, users will get only around 100-120 guests in one hour. The game states that rating only goes up while the user is actually logged in and playing. Additionally, even basic decorations are surprisingly expensive, running the player out of their initial starting cash after three or four purchases. As one can imagine, between both of these aspects, improving that rating is painstakingly slow. To draw a parallel, in our review of Playdom’s new Market Street — which follows a similar rating mechanic — our store was brimming within about 15-20 minutes. An hour later in Bar Society, and there’s maybe two or three guests at any given time.

    It might seem irrelevant, but this also effects the game’s economy in that an hour later, we’d made a grand total of $175 (with only three decorative purchases), whilst in the Market Street example, the store was already growing and looking fresh and new, while still earning a couple thousand dollars, in half the time. It may all be relative under the surface, but the Market Street example is far more gratifying.

    Though the game is comparable to some of the most popular virtual business and virtual space type titles out there, the visual style is pretty hit or miss. The avatars are all very blocky looking and don’t really do much beyond a handful of basic animations (save for the dancing). Additionally, the décor feels very bland when compared to games like Nightclub City. There, things light up, move, blink, and generally feel alive. A few things do that here, but based on what we could afford, the numbers are few and far between.

    On the social side of things, it is nice to be able to hire your friends without them having to play, and those that don’t “work” for you will periodically walk in and buy some drinks too. If they do play, it’s possible to visit them and help out their bar on a daily basis. Beyond this, there are special tasks that can occasionally be performed where your friends must help by sending ingredients. Currently, if you get enough from your friends, you can create a “Spirit of the Seven Seas,” for a “BIG,” yet unspecified, reward.

    Neighbors are also a necessity for expanding one’s bar as well (unless virtual currency is used), which has always been an obnoxious mechanic. Essentially, if one likes a game yet their friends don’t, they either have to add a bunch of random people they don’t know or be limited in the game they enjoy. However, Bar Society does create more perks for this neighbor requirement by allowing the user to unlock different types of music based on their neighbor count. Music isn’t needed, beyond the initial tracks one starts with, but it’s a very nice plus.

    Overall, Bar Society is an alright game as far as virtual business apps go. It’s got a few quality ideas, and has the tremendous potential of some of the most popular Facebook games of the past. That said, it tends to fall far short of such examples with the incredibly slow progression to be had early on, and an overall style that just doesn’t feel as gratifying as its predecessors. All the same, its monthly active user count continues to steadily rise. Whether or not keeps going, is yet to be seen.

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    Zynga Confirms $150M Investment From Softbank

    Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/29 - 10:09

    Coinciding with Softbank’s stock earnings release today, Zynga has finally put out a press release confirming a $150 million investment from the Japanese tech giant. The partnership first came to light through VentureBeat in April, and by last month a $147 million investment was being reported.

    Although there’s not much new in the release, it does note that Zynga will “leverage Softbank’s cutting edge mobile and Web technology,” which confirms that Zynga not only intends to localize its existing games but also work to tap into Japan’s lucrative mobile market.

    Taking a mobile-heavy approach in Japan makes sense for the market, but it could also have implications for Zynga’s operations at home.

    Since Softbank is the only distributor of the iPhone in Japan, it’s reasonable to expect that Zynga will be porting its games to that platform (besides which, many Japanese feature phones wouldn’t be suitable for Zynga’s games). It would make sense, in that case, for Zynga to release any iPhone versions of its games not only in Japan, but in its other home markets.

    Zynga has put very little effort into mobile in the United States, with the recent exception of FarmVille’s release on the iPhone; however, we did recently notice that the company was hiring for a high-level mobile management position.

    So far, there’s still no official word on the exact amount of Zynga’s investment from Google, which was reported as being $100 to $200 million earlier this month.

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