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Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/08/07 - 03:00

Inside Social Games extends a big thank you to our sponsors for supporting the continued growth of Inside Social Games. Check them out below!

Sometrics is a provider of virtual currency monetization solutions for social app and game developers.

GameHouse is a developer, publisher, and distributor of casual games.

Offerpal Media is a managed offer network for social applications and online merchants.

Joyent provides public cloud hosting for social application and game developers.

6waves is an international publisher and developer of gaming applications on the Facebook platform.


Frima Studio develops social games for big brands.

SponsorPay provides offer-based virtual currency monetization for online games and social apps.

Kontagent is a developer of analytics solutions for social application developers.

Super Rewards is a monetization solution for applications and games running on social networks like Facebook.

AdParlor is an advertising network designed specifically for social networking sites.


SoftLayer provides cloud and dedicated hosting services for social application and game developers.

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Social Gaming Roundup: Platforms, Offers, Mafias, & More

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/08/07 - 00:09

Mafia Wars Expands into Las Vegas — Earlier this week, Zynga launched its fifth Mafia Wars expansion, Mafia Wars: Las Vegas. Features include the new “My Casino,” which allows players to look inside their casinos and purchase items, tournament-based fighting systems based on one’s number of friends, 60 new jobs, 100 new items, new art, and a “choose your path” job system.

It also has some real-world promotions running — something the company has been big on lately. Aviary’s Michael Galpert tweeted that a number of New York City car windows had been ”smashed in” with a decal resembling something being thrown or shot through the window. The decal reads, “A heist went down in your hood today. See it at MafiaWarsLV.com”

On top of this, once the game gets 10 million player visits, Zynga will blow up an armored truck, streaming it on mafiawars.com. They are also giving away $25,000, iPads, and a trip to Vegas as possible prizes just for entering and playing.

[image via @msg]

Sharing App Ideas with App Incubator — Here’s an interesting iPhone title for anyone out there with a game idea. App Incubator is an application that allows users to submit game ideas to creator MEDL Mobile. Based on originality, functionality, simplicity, revenue opportunity, and fun, ideas will be reviewed, and if applicable, MEDL will pay to make, promote, and market it, with a share of the profits going to the original idea creator.

Bigpoint Partners With Heyzap — Online-game publisher, Bigpoint announced a partnership with social games and MMO platform Heyzap this week. The first title to use the platform will be Farmerama, followed shortly by two other popular titles, DarkOrbit and Seafight with 70 million registered users combined.

DeNA Reports $279 Million in Revenue — Japanese social and mobile games company, DeNA, reported record-high revenue this week for their first fiscal quarter.  Operating income was reported at about $138 million while revenue was noted at $279 million, marking a 175% and 282% increase over the numbers from the same quarter last year.

Restaurant City Gets Dr. Pepper Brand — As part of the newest theme for Playfish’s Facebook app, Restaurant City — 50s Drive In — the social developer has integrated branded items from Dr. Pepper. Items include Dr. Pepper cooking ingredients, an unlockable vending machine, and signs.

MyTown Goes Global — More news from Booyah’s MyTown, as the company announced, this week, that the location-based title is going global. Currently, the game is expanding to the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. According to TechCrunch, it is the first location-based app to support global check-ins through “Google’s Places via the Google Maps API.”

In other MyTown news, Booyah has also announced its first scavenger hunt contest where players will trek across their towns and cities in search of their Town’s key. Implementing all of the game’s features, such as check-ins, virtual items, and stamps, players will have to beat out the competition for an iPad grand prize.

Playfish Boosts EA Revenue — Electronic Arts is reporting high revenue, as VentureBeat covers, for its first fiscal quarter: non-GAAP revenue of $539 million. A good portion of that income is being attributed to its free-to-play and social, Playfish-made, games, however. In fact, it is expected that this digital revenue will grow by 30% to $750 million for this fiscal year. The total expected revenue for EA as a whole, this fiscal year, is between $3.35 and $3.6 billion.

Ryzing Raises $1.43 Million — In funding news, a social game developer, Ryzing LLC, has raised $1.43 million, reports Gamasutra. The total is part of its $1.88 million mixed-securities offering from nine backers, including Kielvest Capital and SeventySix Capital.

Trilogy Studios Launches Firefly Partner — Earlier this week, social game developer Trilogy Studios launched its new Firefly platform that will be used in the development of social and casual online, multiplayer games. Additionally, PlaySpan has also signed on with the project and will provide  subscription and virtual goods monetization solutions for any developer that uses the platform.

SponsorPay Boosts Smeet Offer Revenue — Interesting news from across the ocean as one of Europe’s top monetization platforms, SponsorPay said it boosted offer revenues for the 3D virtual world, Smeet. Of the numbers reported, offer revenue was improved by 60% through in-game positioning. Moreover, 21% of non-paying players who completed SponsorPay offers became paying ones.

Amazon Web Services & Social Gaming Help Each Other Grow — Earlier this week, Amazon Web Services reported revenues of $500 million for 2010, and at least part of this success is due to social games, with, according to VentureBeat, Amazon hosting six to eight of the top 10 Facebook games at any one time, including titles from Zynga and Playfish, who have used the service since 2007.

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With Slide Acquisition, Google Continues Building a Credible Social Threat to Facebook

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/08/06 - 20:09

Google has not spent significant money or effort on its social efforts, relatively speaking, until recently with its Zynga stock purchase and acquisition of Slide. The company ended up not buying Twitter or Yelp last year, or investing in Facebook for that matter, back in 2007.

And now, Google is focused on growing a strong team of talent to finally build the credible social platform rival to Facebook. The product is still unclear, sounding something like a combination of Facebook’s home page and profile features and a developer platform.

But given the deep bench now coming together, along with the products and money Google has on hand, Facebook is getting its most serious competition yet — and seems to be acting accordingly, reportedly going into “lockdown” to further develop products ahead of whatever Google launches.

Google closed the acquisition of Slide today, with dual announcements on Slide’s site and Google’s main blog — a deal reportedly worth $182 million plus $46 million in employee bonuses. Joining the company to help lead the social effort will be Max Levchin and other well-known Silicon Valley executives with experience at PayPal, and a group of variably satisfied employees, who have battled to this outcome after five years of building a variety of social widgets and applications, most notably on MySpace then Facebook.

The list of incoming talent has been growing quickly. Mike Cassidy, cofounder of Xfire and his team from travel startup Ruba are possibly helping to lead social and gaming development at Google, including Angela Strange, who is now a gaming product manager at the company. Google has also been pulling in a variety of others with social experience, like open web advocates Chris Messina and Joseph Smarr.

In-house shuffling has also reportedly put top Google executive Vic Gundotra in charge of the overall effort, an escalation in priority compared to past years, when social looked more like a set of market-testing experiments — social network Orkut, OpenSocial, Friend Connect and Wave.

What we don’t yet know is what specific new products Google will introduce, and how these new teams will organize around them. It is clear, however, that the Slide team will play a central role in any new social initiatives. From Google’s announcement today:

Slide has already created compelling social experiences for tens of millions of people across many platforms, and we’ve already built strong social elements into products like Gmail, Docs, Blogger, Picasa and YouTube. As the Slide team joins Google, we’ll be investing even more to make Google services socially aware and expand these capabilities for our users across the web.

Levchin and company have built everything from PayPal’s payment system to social games, and have direct experience with the many changing social trends and platform rules that have shaped this industry. It became one of the top early developers on Facebook in 2007 and 2008, relying more on apps like Top Friends that were more about self-expression than the complex social games of today; it managed to reinvent itself, not for the first time, and has developed solid titles like SuperPoke! Pets.

Adding the Pieces Together

Given that Google is trying to create a social platform that in some way rivals Facebook, we wouldn’t be surprised to see products, platform policies, payment systems and other aspects of Google efforts reflect what Slide’s team has found optimal as a social platform developer.

A viral, internally developed social product — one of Slide’s core strengths — has been Google’s missing piece, while its portfolio of non-search initiatives has been going strong for years. Google’s string of productivity apps, like Gmail and Docs, have been getting often unrecognized traction with organizations large and small. Acquired companies like YouTube and Blogger have continued to lead in their categories. Android and Chrome, the mobile-focused operating system and browser, have in their own ways given Google another level of access to web users.

The product stitching has already begun, with the company slowly rolling out upgrades like a unified Google profile for all of its many products. Sure, Google has not had more than a middling hit with its most serious internally-created product to date, Buzz. But Facebook executives told us a year ago that Google’s forays into social are among the best threats it faces.

Beyond a strong product lineup and experienced product leaders, Google’s other advantage here is money, as it has billions of dollars at its disposal. It already has bought into leading social game developer Zynga, for example, and it could theoretically acquire any number of other independent gaming and social companies.

Add up what it has, and Google is in a strong position to silence the ongoing critique that it is only really good at search, and the accompanying sniping at its executives’ innate strategic and product abilities.

Google can redefine many of the assumptions that Facebook has made about what users want. It can easily tie in its productivity apps with a version of Buzz, for example, immediately making a social product useful to organizations in a way that Facebook and third parties on its platform have struggled to. It can take a page from Hi5, MySpace, Yahoo and Facebook’s other social platform rivals, making space for third party monetization service companies and creating clear platform polices around what developers can and can’t do. Slide, in particular, knows the pain of Facebook changes, like the removal of profile boxes, massive downgrades to news feed virality, invite request allocation changes, and a long list of others.

As with Android, providing a credible alternative could greatly benefit Google, even if some sort of advanced combination of Buzz, games, Android, Search, Apps, etc. doesn’t displace Facebook’s market share. Manufacturers and carriers who run Android, for example, can decide to include Google’s social features to help spread mobile apps — a nice stab at Apple’s unproven efforts to make its own iOS platform a faster-growing and lucrative place for social developers.

There are countless other tie-ins that a Google-based identity service and social platform can have with other Google properties and partners. It is up to Google’s expanding lineup of experienced Silicon Valley product and engineering leaders to make use of the tools that Google has to offer them.

Scenarios

Here are a few possible scenarios that could unfold:

Failure: Facebook continues to increase its market penetration where it is already strong, and nails remaining markets like Russia, South Korea, Japan, India and Brazil. Google cannot add up its pieces to be more than the sum of its parts, and we see confusing products like Friend Connect and Wave launch, but not make those visceral, photo-heavy, fun, personally relevant connections that Facebook has. In this case, it’s hard to see what else would stop Facebook from going on the attack against Google in a variety of core areas, including search products (or at least better options for search advertisers).

Indirect win: Facebook’s growth is measurably slowed in key markets around the world, including the US and Western Europe, as users across age groups and other demographics decide that they both want to use Facebook and the alternative the Google offers. You can imagine an advanced version of Buzz becoming a more important place for people to perform social productivity tasks, for example, attracting engagement and strengthening advertising and subscription revenue for Google even as Facebook stays strong in gaming, photo sharing and other “fun” areas. Google may discover that it can carve out a core part of the market, and create a multipolar world for developers instead of one social graph controlled by Facebook, without fundamentally disrupting Facebook.

Direct win: Google stitches everything it has together in a way that siphons social developers off Facebook, and grows traffic to the degree that Facebook stops growing or even falls before hitting a billion users and sees its revenue growth curtailed as a result. In this scenario, Google could simultaneously turn Android into a far more social developer platform than what Apple is managing to do with iOS. One can imagine a centralized identity for Android based heavily on the other identities that users have created through Google properties, forming the basis of how apps and information get shared — entirely separate from what mobile competitors that Facebook, Apple, and smaller startups like Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare etc. are hoping to do, and possibly creating a platform layer. One day, you can see Google’s partners at manufacturers like Motorola and carriers like Verizon deciding that they want to promote “Social Android,” a souped-up version of the Android operating system that puts users a click away from getting work done or playing their favorite mobile-social games.

We think Facebook is already too big to be displaced in the way that Google likely hopes, but we expect that Google will be able to launch a high-quality product and make it popular, partially disrupting Facebook’s growth.

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Glu Mobile Plans a Turnaround With Social Games for Smartphones

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/08/06 - 16:30

Glu Mobile has had a tough time of its past few business quarters. The mobile phone game maker ended up its most recent quarter by reporting a $3.2 million loss this Tuesday, following a year of similar losses.

There’s a plan to turn the 450 employee company back to profits, though. That plan is social games for mobile devices, according to CEO Niccolo de Masi, who joined Glu in January. The company also just raised $13.5 million in new funding to support its new focus.

By social games, de Masi means titles like those seen on Facebook, featuring mostly asynchronous play against friends. There have been few true social games on mobile devices to date, mainly because the major smartphone platforms — right now, just the iPhone and Android — don’t have the necessary scale to support massive virality and virtual goods-based games.

“Glu has unique advantages to succeed here, namely in being able to address all smartphone users,” says de Masi. Since Glu has traditionally developed its single-player games for multiple platforms at once, de Masi sees it doing the same thing with persistent social worlds, thus reaching the needed scale to support a freemium game.

Right now, of course, even the iPhone and Android combined might not provide enough potential players. But de Masi sees that changing quickly. “Starting this Christmas and on, the playing field for so-called super phones will be set — iPhone, Android, Windows and Palm [HP]  will be the big four, with maybe [Intel's] MeeGo becoming important after that. There’s already almost nothing for sale in some markets except smartphones,” he says.

Like other companies that have talked about crossing the major mobile platforms, de Masi is optimistic about the potential. “There are very few mobile games that generate more than $10 million a year,” he says. “The reason that’s not $100 million as it is online is because of fragmentation and homogenization. We think we’re the first company that can start breaking through that glass ceiling.”

While the market will have to live up to de Masi’s expectations, part of the plan depends on how well the games Glu actually produces turn out. games themselves. Glu plans to release five mobile social games this year; we’ll be reporting back on those first efforts when they’re ready.

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MySpace Reduces Daily App Invite Limits, Reporting Higher Engagement as a Result

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/08/06 - 15:42

Following up on a May blog post that said it would be reducing daily invite limits for developers, MySpace has brought down the total allowed from 100 down to 60.

Many developers want the option to have users inviting as many friends as possible, but this can lead to spam and unhappy users, so social platforms have tried to find the right balance by dialing daily invite numbers up and down. Facebook has its own limits to invites — and has plans to revamp the way invites are presented to users, although it has pushed those plans back quite a few times.

MySpace has only changed the number of invites allowed, which before May was unlimited, followed by a limit of 100 and then 40 over a two month period. It has now settled on 60 invites per user “indefinitely”.

“We have confirmed this mechanism to be effective in preventing an excessive amount of invites sent by users. And, as a result, the invites conversion percentage has gone up,”  writes MySpace on its developer blog.

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Zynga Acquires Japanese Developer Unoh

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/08/06 - 05:07

Zynga confirmed tonight that it has accelerated its plans to enter Japan by buying a local social game developer called Unoh. Nikkei reported yesterday that the price was around $11.6 million (subscription required), although Zynga isn’t saying more.

Unoh is almost a decade old, with a few hit games of its own, though nothing at the scale Zynga enjoys in the United States. One of its games, a city builder called Machitsuku, has three million users on the mobile social platform Mixi, according to TechCrunch.

The Mixi connection helps explain how Zynga may have come to acquire Unoh. Mixi enjoys a close relationship with the tech giant and mobile operator Softbank, which just invested $147 million in Zynga.

Although Zynga hasn’t a great deal publicly about its plans for Japan, it’s clear that the company is moving quickly. The company’s release tonight quotes CEO Mark Pincus calling Unoh “a perfect complement to the top-notch team we have already begun to assemble in Japan,” and refers to both localizing existing Zynga games and building new games for the market.

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InnoGames Gets Into Facebook with WestWars

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/08/05 - 23:10

Since 2007, Hamburg, Germany-based InnoGames has been a developer and distributor of browser-based games. Now the European company is getting into Facebook with a role-playing title, WestWars. Though we have known of this game’s existence for a while now, it only recently became open to the public, and has already moved north of 235,000 monthly active users.

In essence, WestWars is a typical text-based, mafia-style RPG, into which InnoGames has incorporated a number of interesting elements like character customization and gating mechanics. That said, there doesn’t appear to be much that holds everything together, and the app sort of feels like a collection of similarly themed features with no real unifying factor.

As with most role-playing titles, players start out as a nobody and have to work their way up to becoming the top gunslinger in the west. The means of doing so should be familiar to most Facebook veterans as users perform various menial tasks to earn experience, at the cost of energy. When that runs out, they utilize stamina (here, it is called “Duelenergy”) to battle other players.

Most of the standards features are present in WestWars. Jobs (quests) grant experience and cash, with many requiring random items to accomplish, and must to repeated numerous times to acquire 100% completion. In WestWars, there no real story element to this repetition (e.g. Mercenaries of War), but users do earn extra stat points.

This is where the first interesting mechanic comes into play. There are five stats to choose from and add points to (also earnable through leveling up): Energy, Duelenergy, Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence. Typically speaking, most games utilize the latter three to enhance a player’s character’s ability when battling other users. However, here, they also play a role as a requirement in doing certain jobs.

Many quests will also grant equipment rewards that can be placed on your character in the usual places — boots, pants, head, etc. — and will provide a passive boost to stats. This interesting on two fronts. The first is that most games use just “attack” and “defense” as it applies to battles. Here, players get a trio of choices, with strength increasing base damage, dexterity increasing dodge percentage, and intelligence increasing critical strike chance (there is also an armor stat granted only by equipment that reduces damage). It’s not a lot, but it does allow for a very slight alteration in play style.

Beyond this, equipment can also provide boosts to energy and duelenergy, giving players a means to increase the number of jobs or duels the do each day without having to let their other stats suffer as much. What makes this interesting is that it gives WestWars a very basic pair of tiered equipment that is normally only seen in massively multiplayer titles. High energy gear would be dubbed “PvE” (player vs. environment), meaning it is good for jobs, but bad for battles, while high, say, strength gear would be PvP (player vs. player) fights, but would disallow for many jobs getting done.

It’s a bit clunky, and a good number of items have a balance between both PvE and PvP stats, but the basics of the system are still present.

As for dueling, the game allows players to challenge both non-player and player characters. Logically, the higher level the character, the more the experience and monetary reward. Of course, this means it requires more duelenergy as well. As it stands, however, there isn’t a health system (the winner appears to be whoever inflicts more damage), nor any real penalty for losing, so all it really is, is a glorified Jobs section.

As for other social elements, there is also the “Gang” mechanic. Like Mafia Wars, your gang’s size is basically a boost to your battling capabilities. However, as in games such as Castle Age, you can also appoint members to leadership positions in your gang for passive bonuses to things like experience gain or energy. Additionally, you can duel a set number of your gang members for one duelenergy and some experience once a day.

Curiously, this core social mechanic, as well as many others, are gated by level. Normally, it is only new missions/quests that are unavailable to low levels. Here, however, it’s jobs, items, the gang, dueling, and even the virtual currency store. There is also a “Character Class” option at level 15 that we haven’t reached yet, but likely, this will fall along the lines of “classes” in other text-based RPGs that either earn more money, regenerate energy faster, or regenerate stamina (duelenergy) faster.

Despite all the interesting parts to WestWars, that’s all they really feel like: parts. The game is in Beta, so hopefully it will all come together in time, but currently, there is just no unifying factor. There isn’t really a visible goal or any gratification to doing anything. In Castle Age, there was an actual story and group boss battles. In Mercenaries of War, it was gratifying to watch your squad duke it out with enemy squads. Here, there is zero story of any sort, and the battles are static images of a noonday showdown with numbers. Again though, the game is in beta, so here’s hoping it gets better.

Overall, WestWars is a game we’ve all seen before that brings a few different concepts to the table, including some basic elements from the massively multiplayer bracket. In the end though, it doesn’t matter how many features exist if they don’t feel like they actually come together to a cohesive point. In its current state, WestWars has neither a story to drive PvE oriented players, nor a visual gratification to battles for PvP oriented ones. In time, however, that is likely to change as InnoGames continues to iterate on this western gunslinger.

Categories: Other blogs

Highlights This Week from the Inside Network Job Board: A Bit Lucky, Playfirst, EA2D, and Storm8

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/08/05 - 19:00

Recently, we launched the Inside Network Job Board - dedicated to providing you with the best job opportunities in the Facebook Platform and social gaming ecosystem.

Here are this week’s highlights from the Inside Network Job Board, including positions at A Bit Lucky, Playfirst, EA2D, and Storm8.

Listings on the Inside Network Job Board are distributed to readers of Inside Facebook and Inside Social Games through regular posts and widgets on the sites. 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.

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New Hires in Social Gaming: CrowdStar, Playdom, Zynga, & More

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/08/05 - 18:03

As has been the case in the past couple weeks, hiring at social game companies has slowed quite a bit, according to our latest look at LinkedIn — or maybe, hiring is continuing but fewer social gaming employees’ job changes are appearing publicly. Most of the activity this week centered around changing roles and titles due to the recent acquisition of Playdom by The Walt Disney Company. All the same, there was at least one major hire this time around, for CrowdStar: Kevin Driscoll, former Director of Program Management at Linden Labs, has joined the company, and in the same role.

Remember to check out our new Inside Network Job Board to see who’s hiring now.

Here is the list:

CrowdStar

  • Kelly Knotek - Formerly a human resources specialist (as well as office manager and executive assistant) at Synthasite, Knotek joins the folks over at CrowdStar as their newest administrative manager.
  • Kevin Driscoll - CrowdStar’ new Director of Program Management was, as noted, formerly the Director of Program Management, PMO at Linden Labs.
  • Gregory Wild-Smith - He takes on a new role at CrowdStar as a new Game Lead. Previously, he was a Lead Developer for the Platform & Development Team.
  • Melissa Wade - CrowdStar players get a new friend this week as Wade is one of their new Community Forum Moderators. Her prior experience stems from a governmental role for HelpDesk for the City of Albuquerque.

Playdom

  • Alan Wootton - Now officially under the Disney umbrella, the Senior Software Architect for Playdom, Wootton, is now known as a “Seriously Experienced Imagineer.”
  • Kira Maisel - Playdom User Acquisition Lead, Maisel, now becomes a Product Manager for Social Games Publishing for Disney Interactive Studios.
  • Norman Kuo - Playdom Marketing Designer, Kuo, moves to yet another part of Disney as an Associate Graphic Designer for the Disney Interactive Media Group.
  • Hays Clark - Joining Playdom from BSQUARE, where he worked as a Flash Developer, Hays is now a Senior Engineer with Playdom/Disney.
  • Ronald Corpuz - Corpuz comes to Playdom as their newest Accounting Manager. Prior to this, he was a Senior Financial Analyst for Alien Technology.
  • Joshua Lu - Another job shift, sort of, as Lu becomes Product Manager/Growth Consulting for the Disney Interactive Media Group; he had the same title at Playdom.
  • Noor Mohammed - The Senior Playdom Artist becomes a Senior Artist for The Walt Disney Company, officially.
  • Ivan Ramirez - Coming from Scrapblog, where he was a Flex Developer, Ramirez is now a Developer for Playdom.
  • Luis Valles - Last on the Playdom/Disney job-shift list is Valles whose official role at Playdom was Associate Product Manager. Now, he’s a Product Manager for The Walt Disney Company.

Playfish

  • Mike O’Connor - Electronic Arts‘ owned Playfish gets a new Lead Game Artist, officially, from their parent company in the form of O’Connor. Previously, he was a Senior Artist under the EA tag.

RockYou!

  • Vladimire Sevcenco - Sevcenco joins RockYou! as their newest Database Engineer. Previously, he was a Software Engineer for SpeedDate.com.
  • Larry Han - Formerly a Senior Software Engineer at NTT MCL, Han joins RockYou! under the same title.

Zynga

  • Thomas Tran - Graduate Student Researcher for UC Davis, Tran, joins Zynga as their newest Software Engineer.
  • Gary Ward - Ward changes roles at Zynga from QA Manager to Release Manager.
  • Suzanne McArdle - Formerly a German Catalogue Manager for Shopping.com, McArdle joins the Zynga team as their newest Customer Support Manager.
  • Alex Wu - The newest Senior Software Engineer at Zynga is Wu. Prior to this he was a Senior Technical Engineer at Yahoo!
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A Quick Look at Location-Based Developer Loopt

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/08/05 - 15:06

Five year old location based developer Loopt doesn’t get as much press as newer entrants like Foursquare and Booyha’s MyTown. But the company reports an impressive four million users, and is hard at work on adding features to its own location based apps, as well as striking branded deals to entice users.

Loopt has four big apps. The original, simply called Loopt, helps users share and broadcast locations and updates. Loopt Pulse is a rich iPad version, less mobile than its siblings, while Loopt Mix is for meeting new local friends. Then there’s Loopt Star, the most similar to today’s other successful location-based apps, with a focus on finding nearby deals and rewards.

Star can be thought of “like a virtual loyalty card,” according to co-founder Alok Deshpande. A recent deal with brick-and-mortar store Paul Frank, for instance, had users check-in for a 20 percent discount on purchases. Actions within the app can also grant badges and points, which are tracked against the user’s Facebook friends who also have the app.

The gaming elements are important, says Deshpande, but have to be balanced with tangible rewards. “We launched the app with a couple gaming features and continue to add more in the way awards are structured and the interactions you can have with friends, but we still have real world applicability,” says Deshpande. The gaming elements are a catalyst to make the social features and winning rewards better.”

One key to transferring user attention toward location apps when they’re out is offering the unexpected, like a promotion at a bar within a limited window of time. “There’s more spontaneity [to Star] than coupons, which need a long lead time,” says Deshpande. “And spontaneity is a lot of fun — people like the element of surprise.”

Of course, what Loopt really needs is scale, both with users and partners. Right now, both Loopt and the other location-based apps have multiple partnerships with big brands, but less traction with the thousands of local businesses that might find value in participating.

Early this year, TechCrunch reported that Facebook was checking out Loopt, possibly with an acquisition in mind; however, nothing seems to have come of that, at least yet. Meanwhile, it seems more likely that Facebook will introduce a federated system allowing Loopt and other location-based services to syndicate check-ins to users. So for now, Loopt should have much the same strategy as its competitors: working to gain ever more visibility, until location-based apps can finally break into the mainstream.

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Teaching Marketing in PoweRBrands on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/08/05 - 03:00

We’ve talked about the spread of educational social games in the past, but they’ve never really focused on an advanced niche. The closest would be user-generated quiz type games, with most apps focusing on young learning of math, history, or science. However, British consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser is running with a relatively new Facebook game called poweRBrands that’s intended to teach users a bit more about business and marketing.

Aside from some virtual space elements to the game, the concepts in poweRBrands haven’t really been seen before (at least not in any lime light). It’s an app that has a great deal of potential, but probably won‘t appeal to the average user.

Players start out in a scant little office with only a quick pop-up guide to tell them what they can do. The idea is to accomplish daily tasks in order to work up the corporate ladder from a mere peon to the president of a company. In order to do these tasks, however, they’ll have to refer to their all-important email box.

Each day, users are given a set number of solo tasks to complete. Unlike Facebook games that simply give players a “do task” button and everything is done for them, poweRBrands asks the user to make legitimate decisions that are based in reality. Here is an early example:

“The Senior Brand Manager wants you to decide on the promotion at your retailer for the new Air Wick fragrance. You need to decide between Buy 1 Get 1 Free (BOGOF) or a coupon. Which of these issues are most important?”

The game will then provide a slider bar with multiple elements such as ROI, market penetration, and market share. The player must then adjust each segment of the bar to mirror what they think is the correct percentage of consideration they should give each part. Depending on how accurate they are, they will succeed or fail, with greater cash and experience rewarded for greater accuracy.

Each of these tasks are pretty difficult if you know little about brands and marketing. Thankfully, if you have friends that play, you can get help from them… sort of. Each friend can provide the user with “advice,” once a day, on what the correct answer is, but what is interesting is that the accuracy of this advice will depend directly on how high level their profile is.

This is obviously one of the major social mechanics to the game, but it is also worth noting that once all email-based, solo tasks are done, users can kill some time performing “team actions” in which they recruit their friends to do various tasks around the office such as “Make the Tea.” These tasks will take anywhere from five to thirty minutes, and will earn both in-game cash and “team spirit.” However, the game never really seems to explain what, if anything, spirit does.

Beyond these task elements, users will also receive random phone calls to do tasks similar to those found in the email, and will even occasionally get a pop-up, multiple choice “bonus question” on their “smartphone.”

The more tasks completed, obviously, the higher the level the player earns. As they grow, their title continually updates, and they actually travel around the world to places such as India, Australia, and Europe. It doesn’t really appear to change much beyond what can be seen outside the office windows, but since it is tied to level, it’s pretty cool to view the map and see where friends are (of course, their offices can also be visited). Additionally, level also gates what items can be purchased for one’s office, including some shameless brand placements such as Lysol products, French’s mustard, Clearasil, and so on.

On the downside, poweRBrands, while having some good social mechanics, is a bit boring at its core. Granted, players can decorate a 2D virtual office space, but the means to earn cash to do so is very dull. The whole slider bar concept just isn’t going to be appealing to the average user, and the detailed, realistic decisions that have to be made will likely prove very difficult for most. This is a game that does not appear to be marketed to the average Facebook user in general.

Though it isn’t a direct recruitment tool, the app does have a number of links to Reckitt Benckiser (RB) careers, blogs, and various accounts. According to RB’s Global Communications Director, Andraea Dawson-Shepherd, and what she said to Worlds in Motion, “[poweRBrands] is a great way to introduce students and early careers sales people and marketers to our culture — and we hope that some of them may look further at our website and other career information.”

With this in mind, the target audience may not find RB’s app all that dull. Just by looking at the questions themselves, there is a tremendous amount of thought and problem solving to be had. Without claiming any sort of expertise in marketing or branding, many of the tasks in the game do seem fairly accurate, and those interested in such things may very well relish in the game.

In short, if you are an everyday Facebook user, then poweRBrands is very likely not the game for you. That said, if you are someone that loves problem solving and has an astute interest in marketing business and learning something about it, then this is an app that is probably worth a closer look.

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Oberon’s Blaze Looks Forward to Multi-Platform Social Gaming Supported by Facebook

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/08/04 - 23:43

Enticing Facebook’s game developers away is a popular business plan these days. A couple weeks ago, we reported on a handful of the latest off-Facebook platforms, including Oberon Media’s Blaze.

Oberon is a large and well-respected casual gaming company, so we caught back up with chief strategy officer Ofer Leidner this week to learn more. Like many of its competitors, Oberon has already been doing cross-platform publishing for years. The difference today is Facebook, which has spawned a whole new gaming segment. However, social gaming growth on Facebook has slowed this year and developers on its platform are also looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Blaze is offering an outlet in the form of 55 million unique users across its platform, according to Leidner, starting with launch partners AT&T Games and MSN UK.

Facebook developers can use Blaze to easily distribute their games to a wide new audience, along with built-in monetization and analytics. Like existing casual game portals, Oberon’s immediate value to a developer will be pre-existing business relationships, with any unique technology or IP adding value over time.

But for the moment, the plan is still centered on Facebook.

“I’m a believer in the assets that Facebook has, in terms of its social graph,” says Leidner. “But I also believe that one of the assets of Facebook is the ability to export that graph to other platforms, to enable social activities around the web.”

The plan for Blaze is to spread games across multiple touch points — not just websites, but other devices, too. Leidner is a believer in media convergence, and thinks that before long the same game will be accessible from the web, mobile devices, and perhaps even the family television.

Before that can happen, there are hurdles to cross, both in technology and market size for different devices. But even if those obstacles were gone today, the game market itself would appear fragmented, with games existing island-like on different platforms.

“Right now if you’re playing games on multiple platforms there’s no way for your friends to know what you’re playing,” says Leidner. That’s where Facebook falls short — its graph only tracks its own platform.

With that in mind, it’s not quite accurate to call Blaze a platform of its own; rather, it hopes to be the connective tissue, keeping players on different platforms in sync with each other and thus helping to create the network effect that makes social games work.

Of course, Blaze also hopes to take care of monetization for its partners, a fact that will eventually set it in opposition to the many other publishers and platforms jostling for position.

“Five years ago, when we went and spent time in Asia, we came back scratching our heads and asking ourselves how what we saw was applicable for Western markets,” says Leidner. “Now it’s not how that model is applicable, it’s how you position your business into the model, which also has become very successful in Western markets.”

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Google Buys Slide for $182 Million (or More)

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/08/04 - 21:11

Social game and app developer Slide has been snapped up by Google for $182 million and is preparing to announce the acquisition Friday, according to TechCrunch. Our own sources are confirming the story — but say the price is actually higher.

[Update: The New York Times says the deal was worth around $228 million.]

Slide is one of Facebook’s larger app developers, with 14.7 million monthly active users and a million daily active users. Compared to Playdom’s 40 million MAU and six million DAU, which Disney just picked up for $563 million, it looks like Google paid a high premium.

As usual, though, there’s more to the story. Slide’s numbers were actually much higher earlier this year; in mid-March, it briefly hit 48 million MAU, while it was well over 20 million for most of 2009. The company has proven adept at promotion and virality, which could benefit a new Google social platform; its social gaming portfolio, however, is not as large as others, and it has lower engagement as a result. Still, as games took off on Facebook, it moved past its popular apps, Top Friends and Slide FunSpace, to release games like SuperPocus and SPP Ranch!.

Those new games didn’t significantly change the picture for Slide, and the company has been fairly quiet this year, not releasing any new titles. A hunt for an acquirer could be the reason behind the apparent inaction.

Whether the price is $182 million or somewhat higher, it’s still likely far short of the reported $500 million valuation Slide had at one point, not to mention the $1.5 billion that founder Max Levchin wanted to exceed (to beat PayPal’s 2002 acquisition by eBay).

But this still looks like a pretty good outcome for Slide. It gets a powerful new owner as a possible alternative to Facebook, which has sometimes acted unpredictably for developers, as with its notifications changes earlier this year.

Google also acquired a game company called LabPixies this year — probably for far less — and invested up to $200 million in Zynga.

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A Look at Depict 1.6 on the iPhone

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/08/04 - 14:14

Though Depict was released on the iPhone back in December by MakeShift Games, the game has shown staying power, recently being recognized as an OpenFeint Gold game, meaning that it’s a title showing “exceptional” uses of OpenFeint’s social features.

Depict is essentially a slight variation of Pictionary, in which players try to guess words based on each other’s drawings. Instead of typing in random answers, Depict takes a multiple-choice approach, thus alleviating the hopelessness of figuring out a bad drawing. That’s a good thing, since the iPhone itself is a bit clunky to draw on, with a setup similar to the pencil tool in Microsoft Paint.

The game comes with two major play modes, consisting of Classic and Lightning game-types with limited time rounds. The former is the most like Pictionary in that players use their finger to draw a random object using a simple pencil tool and a basic palette of colors. On the other side, the guessers are granted a handful of possible answers of what the drawer could be drawing and must select the correct one. Sometimes they might be easy, like a “blue whale,” while other times they may become more challenging with phrases like “half full.”

The winner is the person who scores the highest number of points by the end of the game, with the drawer earning one point for drawing and one more for the total number of points earned by the guessers. The guessers earn one point for guessing correctly and one extra for each other guesser they beat to the punch (be aware that players get one guess).

As players are playing, each drawing appears to be saved and can be rated by the users in the game from one to five stars. These drawings are then used again in the Lightning mode of play which consists of only the guessers. Again, users can rate drawings here too, but they never actually draw.

In each mode, there are also three different ways to start a game. If one is looking for a quick fix, they can enter a Quickmatch and play with random individuals, or invite OpenFeint friends to join in a game. Of course, if the user isn’t feeling particularly social, they can always not invite friends to play, and opt for a simple solo game.

Since Depict is a game that utilizes user generated content, which obviously comes with a level of anonymity, there is always the concern of obscene and offensive content. It goes without saying, that if one delves into random matches, this is an inevitable eventuality. All the same, users do get the ability to police themselves by being able to “blow the whistle” (literally, it’s a whistle button) on any user who is drawing something offensive.

Curiously, the ban of drawing offensive content is actually a written rule in the game. However, this runs strictly on the honor system. The same goes with another rule that states that users cannot use letters or numbers while drawing. Since these are drawings, the system cannot identify them as such, so on some of the harder ones like “oval,” many people still just draw the oval then write “oval” when people don’t get it. In cases like this, breaking the rule may be justified, but it kills the game when people do it for something easier, like a fish. Still, there weren’t a terribly high number of these situations.

Other social elements worth mentioning are the integration of a handful of achievements and leaderboards through OpenFeint. Interestingly enough, Depict also gives players customizable avatars to play and identify themselves with. It’s not so much like traditional avatars (e.g. a person), but players actually get to draw them themselves. Moreover, they can draw a good number of them to pick and choose from as well.

Sadly, since Depict is basically Paint, the level of artistic value is very low. Everything has a pixelated look, which will be hit or miss with many potential players. The real complaint is that it’s a bit tough to draw well on the iPhone with your finger, as it is hard to see what you’re doing on such a small space (this is especially bad if you happen to have big fingers). Thankfully, the game also works on the iPad, so the latter may be a better choice.

Overall, Depict is a pretty nice social game for the iDevice family. It’s simple enough to be fun, and is very enjoyable if you have multiple friends playing with you. Of course, if you don’t have friends with an iDevice, the Quickmatches are an almost equally good way to have some fun. All the same, the fact that it does use user generated content does mean it runs the risk of housing offensive content, leaving users on the honor system to report it, and hopefully, clean it up. Nevertheless, it’s a risk coupled with anything that uses the internet, and all in all, Depict is a good title to kill some time with.

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Zapak Becomes 6waves’ Indian Partner

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/08/04 - 13:20

One of Facebook’s more international publishers is 6waves, a Hong Kong-based developer that also promotes games developed by other studios. 6waves is pioneering new markets, especially in Asia, by finding and fostering payment channels in relatively untapped markets — or, as co-founder Rex Ng recently put it to us, being a guinea pig.

Now its expansion has taken it into India, in a partnership with Zapak.com, an Indian gaming portal. Zapak just announced that it will become 6waves’ marketing and payment partner, processing all local payment options for Indian users.

India is just beginning to look like an interesting market. We’ve seen several game companies from the country appear on Facebook recently — including Zapak, which just put its own games portal on the social network.

Although similar to China in having a huge population, there are relatively few people with internet connections in India.

Still, the sheer size of India means that it’s now the 10th-largest market for Facebook, with 11,534,480 monthly active users. India’s steady growth means that it could soon be one of the more significant emerging markets for social gaming, and this partnership but the first of many.

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Learning About the Rainforest with Flutter on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/08/04 - 03:54

New Zealand-based developer called Runaway is seeking to enlighten social game players about the Amazon Rainforest first Facebook title, Flutter. With simple mechanics, a zen-like atmosphere, and educational value, it’s certainly a game that could certainly teach users a thing or two about ecology.

Flutter is broken up into two parts: exploration and virtual spaces, with the former allowing for enhancement of the latter. Regardless of preference, the game’s presentation does make for an aesthetically pleasing experience, and while not all its elements are original, everything feels well integrated. Coupled with unobtrusive awareness blurbs, Flutter, thus far, seems off to a good start.

Players start off in the rainforest as a butterfly of their choice. From here they are warped into a small section of the rainforest to begin exploring. It’s all fairly simple in an exploration-adventure sort of way. Using the mouse pointer, players fly about collecting honeydew (the game’s currency) and interacting with the various flora and fauna they find.

This is where some of the educational/awareness aspects of the game come into play. As they explore, users will find various “spirits” floating about the world that give quests (which can be solo or involve friends — starting quest is to simply visit friends). Each quest will have a set amount of things to do in the world (e.g. find two fungi) and will often give some small bit of information about the rainforest itself and the life involved in it.

Much of Flutter consists of mechanics like diet or growth cycles. As an example, players may find a specific species of beetle. They have the option to feed it, but must first find, in the world, what it eats — in this case, fungi. Once they have fungi, they can feed the creature in order to gain a chunk of experience (experience is also earned through actions within the virtual space area of the game). In addition, flowers, with a mere click, can be interacted with too.

What makes flowers interesting, however, is that they grant honeydew (you’re basically pollinating them) instead of experience, and water can be used to grow the flower bed, granting more income the larger it grows. This is where the virtual space aspects begin to come into play.

Each user is granted their own personal space (which, of course, friends can visit) called a “Grove.” Here, the game takes on a sort of animal husbandry effect. Not only can users decorate with an abundances of flora and foliage, but they can grow and care for butterflies, with the game walking them through each stage of its life cycle.

The grove also comes with a few other interesting features. One of them is a “Red Bromeliad” flower that collects water on a daily basis for the above mentioned flower beds, as well as a “Social Flower” that blooms and grows as friends care for their own groves. Beyond this, there is also a fruit tree that can be nurtured daily, which will presumably produce fruit for use in the world once fully grown.

Obviously, as a virtual space, this is the main area where level and experience comes into play, gating what can be purchased at any given time. The space appears to physically grow in size as users level up, and outside of the grove, more areas of the rainforest unlock for exploration.

Unfortunately, based on the map of the rainforest, the world seems fairly small, meaning that the exploration aspect does run the risk of getting repetitive and rather dull. While the virtual space might continue to evolve and change, the world is going to remain static without continual updates. To some, this may not matter, but a lot of the initial feel of the rainforest will be lost.

In fact, this feel, this presentation, very much warrants mention. The game looks beautiful and the music is incredibly zen sounding — with a little tweaking of the point at which it loops, the music could easily just blend into the background to create a very appealing experience.

Overall, the virtual space aspects of Flutter feel like they outweigh the exploration mechanics in the long run. Early on, they have about equal weight, but the latter feels as if it would become repetitive after a while. All the same, the game does a pretty sound job of subtly incorporating some educational facts about the rainforest and the creatures that live there. As a brand new game, it’s hard to say how it will do, but either way, it’s certainly worth checking out.

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Bebo May Revamp Itself as a Social Gaming Platform

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/08/03 - 21:02

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.

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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.

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