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New Groups Functionality Offers Potential for Gamers

Inside Social Games - 8 hours 9 min ago

Facebook’s product announcement today, a major change to Facebook Groups, was touted by Mark Zuckerberg as a big shift for real-life social units like families and business colleagues. However, there’s also an important potential for game-related groups.

New groups will be created and administrated by individuals on Facebook. Each will come with three potential settings: Open, Closed and Secret. The last two options are for private groups, while all the content and members of Open groups will be publicly visible.

We’ve covered the new features in depth over at Inside Facebook. In brief, there are four important points to note: ease of creation, notifications about new messages, group chat, and API access for developers.

Here’s how Groups could end up helping games:

  • More communication channels for players. While this point seems obvious, having to coordinate channels off Facebook has been a barrier that has kept all but the most hardcore players from having real interaction around a game.
  • Real-time coordination between players. While most Facebook games are built for asynchronous play, some have experimented with in-game chat and groups. Facebook is now offering another channel for real-time communications, left under the control of players.
  • Potential benefits to retention. Once players have  formed tightly-knit groups around a certain game, they’re less likely to stop playing. Users shy to talk about games in their main feed will now also have another outlet.
  • Fewer spam apps. Hundreds of apps built specifically for players of large games like FarmVille have popped up on Facebook; most have subsequently been banned. Groups provide a good alternative.

There could also be downsides to the new groups. Players will find it easier to coordinate activities meant to break or circumvent the structure of games, for instance, and unlike the communication channels on MMOs, game administrators won’t be able to secretly tap into their communications.

And since the new Facebook Groups functions are designed for smaller social units, the functionality may break down when a group becomes larger. Facebook has addressed this to a degree; for instance, the company already plans to turn off group chat when a group has over 250 members. But there will ultimately still be a need for forums, blogs and other external communication channels.

Overall, the Groups changes look positive for games. How useful Groups will be depends on users, who will how to show how far they are willing to take the new features.

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Highlights This Week from the Inside Network Job Board: Playdom, Wild Needle, Lolapps, & More

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/10/06 - 19:57

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 Playdom, Wild Needle, and Lolapps.

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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Metrogames Continues to Grow With Mall Dreams on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/10/06 - 18:00

With over 8 million monthly active users, Metrogames has become a strong, mid-sized social game developer. Their new title for Facebook,  Mall Dreams, recently appeared on our top emerging apps list and currently has more than 860,000 monthly active users.

Following recent city-building games, Mall Dreams contains aspects of  Mall World, but players run an entire mall rather than just one store. It’s certainly a logical extension of the mall concept, and Mall Dreams proves entertaining. Unfortunately, the game play requires significant micromanagement and its requests to publish information becomes repetitive, both of which bring the game down a bit.

In Mall Dreams, your goal is to construct a successful mall. You build various stores and after a period of time, collect the income they earn. The time it takes to collect income from a store depends on the amount of stock items it has to sell. After you collect a store’s income, you must pay a set amount of money to refill sold wares. The higher the restock value of what you purchase, the longer it will take to collect money, but the more the store will earn. The amount of stock depends on the level of the store as well and many can be upgraded.

As patrons file into the mall, thought bubbles will show what they are looking for. They are often searching for stores, but sometimes other items including ATMs, benches and so on. To benefit from the needs of your customers, you must click the NPC and issue “help” (or drag them to what they’re looking for). Doing so will earn you extra experience and expedite the time it takes to collect income from stores.

You must also be vigilant of trash and moles to clean up. Moles function the same way trash does, and we’re not sure why the designers chose moles per se.  Anyway, “cleaning” the space grants small monetary rewards. Not cleaning will prevent you from placing of any new items where the  trash and moles exist.

Many of the stores take up a lot of space and this sometimes feels completely arbitrary. For example, the game’s pet store requires four empty spaces in front and two behind. No part of the building fills these squares, they’re just there. Perhaps these areas are to accommodate upgrades at some point, but for now they feel like wasted space.

Customers in Mall Dreams also seem completely helpless, requiring assistance every couple of seconds. Granted, you don’t have to continually assist them, but it is annoying to see dozens of thought bubbles littering in your space. This becomes particularly acute when you purchase extra transportation hubs (e.g. bus stops, airports, etc.) that increase the number of patrons. We’d like to see these NPCs be a little bit more independent.

Beyond these qualms, the game prompts you to make a wall posting every time a new store is built or upgraded. Since building is a big part of the game, this pop-up becomes annoying quickly.

To run your mall, you hire workers in shifts. Stores will only earn revenue so long as someone is working and some shifts earn more revenue than others. To reduce the cost of workers friends can be hired to work the stores for you.

Additional social elements include basic gifting and leaderboards. You can visit friend’s malls to clean up trash and help customers. Much more interesting, however, is the concept of “investments.” With this mechanic, you can spend money on a friend and when they reach a certain level, they will pay out a return to you. For example, if you invest 125 coins in a friend and  they reach level 20, you will earn 1500 coins back.

As for any final features worth mentioning, Mall Dreams has a nice quest system to give the player some direction and monetary reward. You can also use Facebook Credits to start a “Sale” that will dramatically increase revenue for a set period of time.

Overall, Mall Dreams is an decent game, with familiar but solid core mechanics. Some of its less important features and mechanics can get in the way of  the overall experience, but players who enjoy shopping or city-building games should give it a look.

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Several New Titles Reach This Week’s List of Fastest-Gaining Facebook Games by DAU

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/10/06 - 14:57

If there’s any theme to this week’s AppData list of the fastest-growing Facebook games by daily active users, it’s that several of the titles are new — if not to Facebook, at least to our top 20 lists. Here’s the list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name DAU Gain Gain,% 1. Millionaire City 2,073,078 +256,585 +14% 2. ESPNU College Town 253,552 +202,834 +400% 3. ???? 234,727 +170,501 +265% 4. Mafia Wars Game 4,269,328 +103,525 +2% 5. Pet Society 2,266,755 +72,402 +3% 6. Madden NFL Superstars 249,067 +70,013 +39% 7. Fantasy Kingdoms 115,846 +53,066 +85% 8. Hunch 54,511 +50,946 +1,429% 9. Bingo Island 2 91,873 +46,129 +101% 10. MMA Pro Fighter 365,816 +45,550 +14% 11. Pacific Poker 42,409 +37,988 +859% 12. ????(???) 932,239 +33,880 +4% 13. Critter Island 121,086 +29,409 +32% 14. Car Town 1,141,883 +26,621 +2% 15. Crime City 70,366 +26,213 +59% 16. Mynet Çanak Okey 87,365 +24,977 +40% 17. Party Central 28,766 +22,358 +349% 18. Cupcake Corner 121,673 +19,526 +19% 19. Birdland 227,844 +18,863 +9% 20. War Of 2012 19,068 +18,485 +3,171%

Millionaire City has finally hit the top of the list, and crossed two million DAU, making it Facebook’s tenth-largest game by that measurement.

In second, ESPNU College Town is the latest from Playdom. The game essentially repurposes the Social City / Age of Wonder concept to a college campus, using ESPN’s branding and real team and school names. Like the titles it takes after, ESPNU is growing fast.

Skipping past a few familiar titles, Fantasy Kingdoms is one of the games that’s newer to our list. The Sneaky Games title has been around since May, when we first reviewed it. Just under two weeks ago, it began growing, and has since doubled in size. This new growth is likely due to new promotion of the title by the company.

Bingo Island 2 and Pacific Poker have an obvious thematic connection, and they’re also by the same developer, Mytopia. As with Fantasy Kingdoms, the growth of the two virtual gambling apps looks like the result of new promotion.

Finally, Crime City is a brand-new game. While the name may make this game sound like another Mafia Wars retread, it’s actually fairly unique, combining the popular crime theme with city building and missions. Some effort obviously went into this title; unfortunately, we’re not yet sure who the developer is.

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Offerpal Changes Its Name to TapJoy as Mobile Payments Grow in Importance

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/10/06 - 13:00

Offerpal Media has chosen today to take on the name of a company that it acquired in March: TapJoy, a former game developer that eventually moved on to in-game offers.

It’s more difficult to categorize Offerpal / TapJoy (we’ll refer to it as the latter from here on) today than it was a year ago, when the company was almost exclusively dedicated to providing advertising offers on Facebook games. Today, it has three distinct businesses, and even its Facebook offers have grown beyond what they used to be.

“Right now, the majority of our business is still in the the previous core, the social side, but we do see the mobile side quickly gaining ground,” says Matt McAllister, TapJoy’s director of marketing. “I think it will be pretty well balanced pretty soon between the two, and that just reflects the market itself.”

In mobile, TapJoy is building its business mainly around pay-per-install offers. Game players will agree to install a new game or app in exchange for virtual currency, earning their points only after they’ve tried out the new app. The installed game pays 35 to 50 cents per install, which McAllister says is a far cheaper and more reliable way to get users than advertising.

There are a few brand offers mixed in with TapJoy’s mobile platform, but for now they’re still far more limited than its Facebook offerings, where the company also offers surveys, videos, Mechanical Turk tasks and other options. Like Social Gold, Offerpal is still quite active on Facebook, despite the ongoing rollout of Facebook Credits (which uses other payment options).

The third arm of TapJoy’s business is SocialKast, which gives games the ability to cross-promote and send notifications across multiple social services. We covered SocialKast during its July launch, but McAllister says the company will be sharing more details soon as the product leaves beta.

By combining the three businesses, McAllister says that Offerpal just recorded record revenue for the third quarter of 2010 — contrary to rumors that the company is a sinking ship, started when it laid off some employees, also in July.

Of course, the name change to TapJoy may also bring up accusations that the company is trying to scrub away bad associations with the name Offerpal. “We understand that the name Offerpal carried some baggage, but that’s not why we’re changing it,” says McAllister. “It’s to reflect that we are a new company now, and the name was a bit limiting in terms of what it described about us.”

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Playdom & ESPN Launch ESPNU College Town on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/10/06 - 02:12

Playdom and ESPN are getting into the football movement with a new title called ESPNU College Town on Facebook. Of course, football is only half of the battle, as the new social title also features college basketball. But with the college football season well underway, the timing looks focused on football.

ESPNU is not the type of game one might think. Rather than being a football-centric app such as Ultimate Fan, Playdom is doing what it seems to know best, creating another themed city builder to join both Social City and City of Wonder. Although ESPNU is certainly of a different flavor than the previous two, it’s also essentially more of the same.

Players start out in ESPNU with a two-fold goal. First, to build a successful college campus, and second, to create a top set of college sports teams. Right off the bat, players get to choose their school affiliation, by selecting any actual college to associate with their virtual school. This choice doesn’t appear to do much functionally, but it does give the user access to that school’s colors as well as a few virtual goods associated with it (e.g. their mascot). There is also a nice section that grants access to the top college team leaderboards, letting players see how their affiliated team is doing in reality.

Once their team is selected, users can get down to the core of the game. To veterans of any of Playdom’s past city-builders, the game is rather familiar from here. Though the names and visuals have changed, players still build structures to complete contracts (here they are venues such as a football stadium), housing to increase population, and decorative elements to increase happiness. Additionally, there are entertainment structures that will periodically earn small sums of money.

As one would expect, contracts are mostly sporting events and the longer they take, the more money is earned. There’s also the basic resource management element of what structures to buy, as when the students aren’t happy, population (enrollment) cannot grow. Thus far, the only noticeable difference is the idea of upgrading certain buildings.

Tying upgrades to happiness is a new concept for Playdom city-builders as, typically, gating systems are controlled by level. Here, better payout opportunities from events require a structure to be upgraded to a certain point.

This upgrade system also applies to many of the decorative, or academic, structures as well. This element, in particular, is a nice change, as each upgrade not only changes the visuals, but increases the amount of happiness it creates. This makes it less necessary for the player to constantly redesign their campus in order to accommodate newer, better buildings and reduces the number of overall structures to select from.

Of all the aspects of ESPNU, the social elements are the most different. “Different” doesn’t necessarily mean better. As the game does revolve around college and college sports, the primary social mechanic is to challenge other players in either football or basketball. While this sounds well and good, it’s actually quite disappointing.

The games consist of issuing a challenge to a player of similar level and selecting players from the user’s roster to pit against the opponent. Each player has stats such as strength, endurance, speed, leadership, and so on. In order to win, the stats need to be higher, but a sort of slot machine will select which stats to use, meaning that if the user has a player with high strength and that stat doesn’t come up in the slots, it does no good.

At first, users can only put one of their players in for a game, but as they level up, games using more players will also become available, and once more than one team member can be chosen, a little bit more strategy (though the term is used loosely) emerges.

In order to improve the team, users must also buy (“recruit”) new players as they level up. The higher the level of the user, the better the players available. That said, this mechanic seems quite shallow: level up, then buy new players. If luck favors the user, they’ll win and earn some extra experience. This would be all well and good for Playdom in the past, but in comparison to City of Wonder where players could choose their rewards by selecting specific types of engagement (trade, cultural, or war) as well as augment the results by building certain structures, ESPNU’s social mechanics feel very boring.

Regarding friends, this feature is underused. Granted, they can be challenged the same as any other player, but it has no different effects. Otherwise, all one can do is visit their campus and click the standard “help out” button for some extra coin.

In the end, ESPNU College Town is a pretty good application, but it’s basically a spin on Playdom’s past two city-builders. In fact, it feels like a downgrade from the most recent, City of Wonder. The only truly different, and significant, mechanics are the social challenges against other users, but even then those feel not only basic, but shallow and arbitrary. There’s just no depth to it. Yes, the depth might appear in time, but the first impressions, for a Playdom title, are surprisingly weak.

Despite our gripes, ESPNU College Town is currently growing with around 500,000 monthly active users.

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GSN Quietly Grows Large on Facebook With Game Shows and Tournaments

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/10/05 - 21:37

For 72 million American cable subscribers, the Game Show Network is a household name. But on Facebook, the company has been a relatively unnoticed presence, quietly growing to eight million MAU as GSN.

It’s relatively easy for a new competitor to slip up the rankings on Facebook — growth to a substantial size can come in just a few short months, sometimes almost by accident. But GSN is just embarking on a larger strategy that’s based on a years-old winning formula from its web business.

“In the last year or so we’ve gotten very aggressive in social games,” Peter Blacklow, the executive vice president of GSN Digital, said when we checked in about the company’s plans. It’s pursuing three separate strategies, which we’ve broken out below.

Mesmo Games

The driving force behind GSN’s growth so far has been Mesmo Games, a portal that, at first glance, looks a lot like MindJolt Games. Players are presented with a choice of several dozen games to play, most of which are short, casual affairs.

What isn’t immediately obvious is that Mesmo is the successor to WorldWinner, a cash games business that GSN has run successfully for years. The basic idea is that most of the games are based on skill or reaction time; players train up on the games and then enter tournaments that return prizes to the winners. GSN essentially takes a cut of the tournament entry fees, which some players will have to buy virtual currency to pay.

After WorldWinner started up in 2000, other companies followed suit. King.com, the largest single portal, reports hundreds of millions of plays each year. It’s a big business, and one that GSN wants to bring to Facebook.

White-Label Tournaments

The rest of WorldWinner’s history, not mentioned above, is that the company went on to serve as the technology back-end for others who wanted to run tournaments in their own games. Blacklow says that the tech requirements can become quite significant — fraud and cheating detection, fair matching systems, automatic tournament creation and much more goes into the business.

GSN is just starting to work with other Facebook developers, but over time it hopes to become the tech platform for a burgeoning skill-game business. That could eventually extend into more typical social games, where players aren’t usually capable of entering a real-time, head-to-head match. “What we’ve found is the majority of tournaments and revenue is coming from asynchronous play already,” says Blacklow.

How much are tournaments worth? GSN is a private company and thus won’t share figures, but Blacklow says that a lifetime value per consumer of $400 to $600 was reported when GSN was still a public company (it’s now owned by Sony and DirecTV).

Branded Game Shows

Everyone sat up and took notice when Family Feud topped seven million MAU. That game wasn’t developed by GSN, but it was a branded property of the sort that GSN has easy access to.

So in September, GSN released its first game show property, Wheel of Fortune. There’s already a version of Wheel in Mesmo Games, but now there’s also a standalone app for real fans.

So far, Wheel of Fortune has gained about a quarter of a million MAU, following in the footsteps of other game show-based social titles like the Price is Right. The latter also isn’t a GSN title, but the company does have more tricks up its sleeve, including Jeopardy, which Blacklow expects to release early next year.

In the model that Feud started, most game show games are following a similar model of giving players a couple “episodes” to play each day, and charging for more. GSN, of course, can also create tournaments around the property.

What GSN is doing is just the start of a wider migration of casual games onto Facebook. A competitor and partner, Arkadium, has already released some of its content on the social network, and others will follow. “Our players thus far have looked a lot like traditional casual game players,” Blacklow says of his Facebook users. “There’s no doubt that the casual game player has migrated, I wouldn’t say exclusively onto Facebook, but they’re certainly spending more and more time there.”

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Zynga Buys Bonfire Studios, Creating Its Sixth US Studio

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/10/05 - 17:00

Following up a string of social and mobile game developer acquisitions, Zynga has branched out in Dallas, Texas by buying Bonfire Studios, which is run by developers best known for their PC and console gaming work.

Bonfire won’t be a recognizable name to most social game companies. The studio was one of two that emerged in early 2009 from the collapse of Ensemble Studios, a Microsoft subsidiary that created the Age of Empires and Age of Mythologies series, as well as the Halo real-time strategy spinoff Halo Wars.

Unlike its sibling Robot Entertainment, which is continuing work on Microsoft’s RTS titles, Bonfire’s name hasn’t been attached to any new games since it was founded. The company has reportedly been doing third-party work on multiple platforms.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave much to say about Zynga’s buyout of the group, other than that the social gaming giant has picked up a few more high-profile names from the core gaming world to join Brian Reynolds, the famed designer of Civilization II and Alpha Centauri who now heads up Zynga’s Baltimore studio and work on FrontierVille.

David Rippy, the CEO of Bonfire and former lead producer of Age of Empires 3, will become the general manager of Zynga Dallas. Two more Bonfire co-founders, Bill Jackson and Scott Winsett, will become creative director and senior art director at the new studio, essentially holding onto their previous roles.

With Zynga Dallas, there are now six Zynga studios across the United States. Many of those come from acquisitions made this year. Here’s a quick recap of Zynga’s buys this year, including its international acquisitions:

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Football Games Continue With QUICKHIT NFL Football

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/10/05 - 15:01

Football titles on Facebook aren’t limited to major games from Electronic Arts and CBS Sports. There’s also Quickhit NFL Football from QuickHit Inc., a stand-alone football-game website that has been around since early September. While not as big as its predecessors, Quickhit does come with a multi-year license from the NFL, granting them legal rights to use NFL trademarks, teams, and names.

According to the developers, Quickhit has already picked up more than a million users on Facebook. With the start of the NFL season and a Madden’esque type of play, we can see why Quickhit grew so rapidly.

Quickhit is very good at hooking new players. About 10 seconds after jumping onto the website, you pick an NFL team and are thrown into the top-down view of a game’s forth quarter. Unlike other social titles,  this game is not automatically played and decided solely by statistics. Rather, you actually direct the action, play by play.

The game works similarly to the console Madden titles. You are given a play clock and a set number of plays, and must choose one before receiving a penalty. Each play is a legitimate football play, but it’s up to the player to choose the best one. If you don’t  know that much about football, there is also a “Coach’s Pick” that typically represents one of the better options — but perhaps not the best.

Once you choose the play, then the computer takes over and automates the process. How the individual players on the team perform, however, is determined by how high their “Training” is, and what “Skills” they have.

Before these stats can be set, you actually have to sign up for Quickhit — the first game was a quick ploy to get the new user interested. You can connect using credentials from a number of social networks including Facebook Connect. Once you’re signed in, you can access the rest of the game features.

The Training in Quickhit will be familiar to social sports-manager game players. But Quickhit doesn’t focus on signing new player contracts. Instead, the game allows you to spend a currency called CP (Coaching Points) to improve the lineup you already have. These points are earned by playing games and completing various challenges. The higher your level, the more you can train an individual team member.

Each individual player on your team has a set level, which indicates their training level. As this number increases, the CP cost also grows. Higher levels also unlock new skills. These skills become passive abilities that improve an individual team member’s performance and include bonuses to breaking tackles, catching, passing, running, and so on. If you ever finds yourself short on CP, you can always “Untrain” players to earn some back.

The game also has a number of interesting challenges for you to overcome. Beyond just random, quick games, you can take part in Season, Division, Coaches’, and Draft Showdown Challenges. Each of these are single-player challenges that pit you against your chosen team’s actual 2010 schedule, both NFL divisions, the league’s top coaches, and teams made up of the top draft picks respectively. These add a great deal of longevity to the game.

Facebook Connect isn’t utilized all that much, but you can compete with other players through online matches. These play more or less the same as the single-player matches. Players are also sorted by their relevant skill levels (Easy, Medium, or Hard). Once in a game, there is a built in chat system, and there are competitive leaderboards for both the single and multiplayer brackets.

Monetization for Quickhit is a bit unusual. There is a virtual currency called Quick Cash, used to buy new plays and the occasional Free Agent Player. You can also upgrade your account to a subscription base ($3.99/month) and play online in 3D. The subscription comes with a monthly allowance of Quick Cash and Coaching Points. If you don’t wish to subscribe, you can opt to pay about $15, one time, and get just the 3D. For some, this might be worth it, as the top-down, 2D view is rather drab and highly pixilated.

For those that love Madden, but don’t want to spend $60, then Quickhit may be worth checking out. However, the games in Quickhit are not particularly complex: pick play, watch play, repeat. Even picking a play felt a bit empty, because you can  choose the Coach’s Pick and come out alright most of the time.  But this probably changes as you level up and opponents get tougher.

In the end, Quickhit NFL Football is a nice, socially connected, title for those that enjoy the sports game genre. It has a decent balance of management and in-game playmaking. Also, it’s multiple single player challenges and multiplayer segments do add longevity. It isn’t as good as its console counterparts, but it is free to play and low-cost to upgrade.

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RockYou Aims at a Younger Audience With Toy Land

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/10/04 - 22:30

Social developer RockYou! recently launched Toy Land, a new game for Facebook. Appearing last Friday on our top emerging apps list, the new beta-build title has already found itself with close to 600,000 monthly active users.

Despite its hodgepodge of virtual space, treasure hunting, and board game elements, Toy Land feels very different from other current games. But though it’s unique as a whole, many of Toy Land’s aspects are yet to be optimized or fixed -perhaps to be expected at this stage.

Long story short, an evil scrooge has destroyed the toys of the world, and it’s up to the player, as the “toymaker,” to bring happiness back to the land. Of course, doing so is hardly free, but seeing as this is a sort of children’s fantasy premise, cash is replaced by hearts, and jobs by promises.

As the toymaker, the user’s “employees,” as it were, are a collection of elves. These are the primary source of income for the user, fulfilling contracts called “Promises.” Just like other games, such as Social City, that use contract system, players pay a small cost to fulfill a promise, which will pay out a profit after a set amount of time. The longer the promise, the higher the payout, dubbed “Hearts.”

Once a fair amount of Hearts are collected, the user can then build any number of children’s toys including cars, board games, doll houses, and so on. Each toy also has a set amount of happiness it provides, so the idea is to make enough high quality toys to keep the children of one’s land happy. The happiness level is pretty easy to discern, as an emoticon in the upper right displays the current mood. Furthermore, the player’s virtual space — creatively portrayed as a game board — has random children popping in to play, and their thoughts can be viewed via thought bubbles.

If the children are bored, they will flat out tell you, but they have a few other quirks as well. For one, if they are happy, they’ll produce extra Hearts, or if they are looking for specific toys, they’ll ask you to direct them to them. They can also produce even more Hearts when they are fed treats like ice cream. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that this is hardly a lot of income, and is only a bonus.

As the virtual space is a game board, players also get to play a mini-game in which they periodically earn “Rolls.” Using these rolls, the user can move about the game board and earn extra items such as toys, more hearts, more elves, or even collection items.

This is where the treasure hunting element of Toy Land comes into play. Players are able to visit a handful of themed locales and search for “treasure” in a similar fashion to Treasure Madness and Treasure Isle. Consuming a small bit of energy each time, users can search houses, trees, and various fantasy creatures for collection purposes. Like in the noted games, certain objects require certain tools to be purchased before they can be searched, but rather than a monetary reward, completing a collection will earn a new type of toy to be placed in the virtual space.

Unfortunately, the virtual space itself can be seen as a negative elements. Usually the key to virtual spaces is being able to decorate so that it feels aesthetically pleasing to the player. In Toy Land, this becomes a daunting task, since the items that can be purchased and placed are randomly selected. Granted, some are nostalgic spoofs on things like Gumbi, which is amusing, but placing them just makes the space look like a cluttered mess. There are also “decorations” like blocks or toy trees, but they still feel like everything else. But this complaint may be irrelevant, since Toy Land does appear tailored to a younger audience.

The only other issues with the game are those that one might expect from an early beta build. As it stands, not all the features are rolled out yet, including the social mechanics. Thus far, we have been unable to invite any friends to play.

As for any remaining features of note, it’s all fairly standard. The only other aspect is a quest type of system that gives the player direction in what toys or tasks they should specifically build or do. Other than this, toys also tend to get dirty and worn after a while, which lowers happiness, and must be “cleaned,” at the cost of energy.

RockYou does appear to have a nice new app on its hands. Though Toy Land is a little clunky in its current form, it feels like it could appeal to the younger crowd effectively and seems rather different from most other Facebook titles despite having many familiar mechanics. Although there are issues for RockYou to work through, Toy Land seems like it could turn out to be a decent title.

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Playdom CEO John Pleasants Named Disney Interactive President

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/10/04 - 16:01

Disney signaled over the weekend that it’s ready to make social games an important part of its online strategy, appointing Playdom CEO John Pleasants co-president of its interactive division along with former Yahoo vice president Jimmy Pitaro.

Only two months have passed since Disney acquired Playdom for $763 million, but Pleasants is being given an important role, with responsibility over Disney’s entire video gaming business, including console, online and now social elements. Pitaro, meanwhile, will oversee the non-game elements of Disney Interactive Studios.

Rather than taking over a stable, well-defined role, Pleasants will likely be expected to shake up the interactive business, which Bloomberg points out is Disney’s only money-losing division.

However, Pleasants also won’t be moving into a totally corporate position — he’ll instead stay at Playdom’s Mountain View headquarters, from which he’ll run that company as well as Club Penguin, Tapulous and other acquired companies.

In the social game market, most have been paying close attention to Disney since it picked up Playdom. Pleasant’s move up chain of command should serve as a signal of much more to come from Disney — although future moves likely won’t be confined to Facebook, as CEO Bob Iger suggested during Disney’s August earnings call. Exactly what that will mean remains to be seen.

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It Girl, Madden, Warstorm All Do Well on This Week’s List of Fastest-Growing Facebook Games by MAU

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/10/04 - 15:08

This week’s AppData list of fastest-growing Facebook games by monthly active users is led by Café World, an older game from Zynga, but CrowdStar’s new title It Girl isn’t far behind:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain,% 1. Café World 22,220,457 +1,391,378 +7% 2. It Girl 3,399,833 +1,022,812 +43% 3. Millionaire City 9,161,643 +714,326 +8% 4. FrontierVille 32,102,030 +700,935 +2% 5. ????(????) 640,167 +619,199 +2,953% 6. Pop Boom 2,091,483 +535,735 +34% 7. Madden NFL Superstars 1,599,238 +465,779 +41% 8. MMA Pro Fighter 3,806,855 +435,389 +13% 9. Car Town 5,121,088 +420,839 +9% 10. Happy Aquarium 12,960,338 +379,332 +3% 11. Warstorm 895,482 +347,629 +63% 12. Backyard Monsters 2,256,970 +307,975 +16% 13. Mall Dreams 825,834 +285,522 +53% 14. Casino City 1,768,025 +211,478 +14% 15. Cupcake Corner 688,745 +207,452 +43% 16. La Ferme 443,790 +189,419 +74% 17. Texas HoldEm Poker 35,573,826 +175,116 +0.49% 18. Toy Land 574,738 +174,851 +44% 19. ???? 285,889 +169,461 +146% 20. Critter Island 1,264,615 +160,017 +14%

Cafe World is rebuilding from a recent dip in its traffic; the past week’s gains put it about where it was a month ago. It Girl, on the other hand, is brand new and shooting upward. The one drawback to this fast growth is that It Girl’s stickiness is low; only 10 percent of players are currently staying around as daily actives. We reviewed It Girl when it was released.

Millionaire City, at number three, has become quite a sizable hit for developer Digital Chocolate. Another week or two should put it past 10 million MAU, which will make it the only game by a developer other than the largest four to pass that point this year. MMA Pro Fighter, at number eight, is also by Digital Chocolate.

Coming in just ahead of MMA Pro Fighter, Madden NFL Superstars is showing its muscle, although it’s still not clear whether the game is living up to what were probably fairly high expectations from Electronic Arts. And after both is Car Town by Cie Games, which has become a successful mid-sized developer based on that title alone.

Finally, as we pointed out last week, Zynga’s Warstorm is showing respectable growth. This is a title that Zynga picked up through its acquisition of Challenge Games; while Zynga has gotten rid of most games from its acquisition targets, this one appears to have survived the cull. Warstorm’s previous peak was just over 900,000 players in May, a point that it should pass today.

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Preview: Fantasy University on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/10/04 - 14:50

For a long while now, we’ve been hearing about a coming Facebook game from Simutronics called Fantasy University. Tailored towards the “hardcore gamer,” this title is not intended for the average Facebook user. We recently got the opportunity to take a look at the game’s closed beta, and even though not everything was working, the game still came off as a quality title.

Fantasy University is a role-playing game, but don’t let the genre fool you. This is no Mafia Wars. It’s still text-based, but the game is more similar to turn-based RPGs that traditional gamers will be familiar with. The big difference here, however, is that the game is set in a world that pokes fun of everything and anything that is fantasy or pop culture, in the style of The Kingdom of Loathing.

Players start out as a student joining the school of “F.U.” or Fantasy University, choosing from five different character classes such as the Dodgebrawler or Emomancer (these essentially translate into a “warrior” or “necromancer” in classic RPGs). Regardless, players then get moderate character customization control, which was particularly amusing when each hairstyle and facial expression had some satirical wit to them. A favorite was the Dragonball Z hair dubbed “Over 9000.”

Once in the world, the user immediately runs into a parody of Johnny Depp called “Mad Willy Jack” that’s essentially a cross between every character the actor has ever played. From here, players begin the basics, which are the standard for virtually all current MMOGs: pick up quests, complete them, and return to the non-player character for a reward. In this specific example, Mad Willy Jack has Krabs that must be killed… on his ship, of course.

The quests are all pretty easy, and thus far have consisted of either “Find X Person” or “Kill Y Monster.” In the case of the latter, it’s pretty simple, as players use different attacks to fight random, satirical creatures (such as Spongeblobs — that live in parents’ nightmares, evidentially). Depending on the power of the attack, it uses up “Ability Power” (mana) that recharges over a period of time.

As players gain experience and level up, new abilities will unlock, and not all will merely cost more power. Some actually have specific criteria to be met, such as being low on health.

When defeating enemies, loot is also collected. This loot can then be either sold, used if it’s a consumable item, or crafted into more powerful equipment.

For now, it’s unclear what social elements Fantasy University brings to the table. Since the game is in closed beta, invites aren’t possible, but parts of the game suggest a party and guild system (we found something called a “Guild Vault” for storing items). The party system appears to be called “BFF”, where users can assign friends to fill class roles and, presumably, play asynchronously together. If someone is a BFF, apparently, they can earn rewards from that friend’s game in addition to their own.

As for the style of the game, it looks fantastic. Satire on virtually every fantasy or pop icon you can think of is here. Just to name a few, the game makes fun of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Captain Crunch, Top Chef, Hannah Montana, and lord knows what else we haven’t seen yet.

Thus far, Fantasy University inspires no real complaints from us. The real concern comes from the platform itself. With the majority of Facebook users not being hardcore gamers, it leaves one to wonder if Fantasy University will still attract any significant numbers of players. Furthermore, as funny as the game is, it doesn’t feel as fluid as a traditional gamer might like, as every action essentially loads a new “page” in the web browser. Granted, that’s a small problem, but such little things can sometimes wear on hardcore gamers.

Games that have pushed for the traditional gamer on Facebook generally don’t do well, regardless of quality. One such example is the MMOG, City of Eternals. While a decent game in its own right, it too tried to tailor itself around a more traditional audience and has yet to really gain any traction on Facebook. That said, it is a more serious game, while Fantasy University is much more tongue-in-cheek comedy. Whether or not that will make a difference… well, we’ll know once it’s out.

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Virtual Justice

Terranova - Mon, 2010/10/04 - 14:36

So, apologies for the self-promotion, but my new book, Virtual Justice, is now on sale in the bookstores.  It was also recently featured in a short segment of NPR's On The Media, which you can find here

The book is subtitled "The New Laws of Online Worlds," and that's pretty much the topic.  I start out with a pretty in-depth overview of the past and present of virtual worlds.  I cover history, business models, the various genres, demographics, and technology.  Then, around Chapter 4, I jump into the law, covering the law & legal theory surrounding issues like jurisdiction, gaming, property, computer hacking, and copyright.

It has always been the stories that have fascinated me about law and virtual worlds, so I tried to fit as many of the best ones as I could into the book.  There's the Vendroid Scam, the Cally Eve Scam, the EQ dog dupe, Bragg, Qiu Chegwei, Mr. Bungle, Twixt, etc.  But I use them all in support of the book's overarching theme: that virtual worlds offer private alternatives to standard legal ordering.  I restate that theme in the conclusion as follows:

All of this suggests that virtual worlds are becoming, in essence, separate jurisdictions governed by separate rules. As a matter of legal doctrine, these rules may not qualify as “laws,” given that no territorial government has recognized the formal sovereignty of virtual worlds. But as a matter of effective legal practice, the doctrines of contract, property, hacking, and intellectual property all serve to greatly empower those who own and administer virtual worlds, effectively insulating their actions from legal review.

The metaphor I use for this point is the castle, which, although in essence a technology, effectively became a new jurisdiction and source of law during the Middle Ages.

I'm also happy to say that Yale University Press has agreed to let me release the text of the book under a Creative Commons BY-NC license.  That means that (hopefully very soon) I will be able to post a link to the final PDF here so that anyone interested in saving a tree can (legally) download and share the book for free.

Finally, as I stated in the acknowledgement, I owe a profound debt of gratitude to the TN community for educating me over the past seven years about all aspects of virtual worlds.  And with virtual worlds getting bigger every year, I think these issues will only be getting more interesting, so I'm looking forward to more conversations.

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This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

Inside Social Games - Sun, 2010/10/03 - 14:00

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

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Friday, October 1st, 2010

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Highlights This Week from the Inside Network Job Board: CafeMom, Fuel Industries, OneRecovery, & More

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/10/02 - 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 CafeMom, Fuel Industries, OneRecovery, Storm8, Toy Studio, and Electronic Arts.

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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Microsoft Buys Vivaty For New Project, May Be Looking For More

Virtual Goods News - Sat, 2010/10/02 - 05:35

The rumor that Microsoft is bidding on troubled virtual world Second Life just got a bit more interesting. It turns out that Microsoft is the previously unnamed company that acquired Vivaty, a virtual competing with Second Life that went out of business in April. The terms of the deal remain undisclosed but Microsoft definitely paid less than $75 million, according to Microsoft Managing Director of Corporate Development Marc Brown.

The acquisition was confirmed by Vivaty founder Keith McCurdy, in an email to paidContent.org. When Vivaty closed earlier this year, McCurdy said that the company acquiring Vivaty intended to use it as the foundation for an unnamed new project. Given the details that have just emerged, it seems like Microsoft is working on some sort of virtual world or possibly a game-like service with a persistent 3D world. 

McCurdy did not disclose to paidContent why Microsoft acquired Vivaty on its deathbed, but ZDnet is reporting that Microsoft is making acquisition overtures to a variety of companies involved in the social gaming and virtual world sectors (including Linden Lab). Microsoft was rumored to be in talks to purchase CrowdStar earlier this year, though no deal went through. While it's obvious why Microsoft might want to own a social game developer at this point, why Microsoft might want a virtual world is unclear.

While the youth virtual world sector is relatively healthy, this year has seen a string of adult-oriented virtual worlds-- Metaplace, There.com, and Vivaty-- all shut down. All of those companies launched to compete with Second Life, which isn't doing so well itself these days. The dominant theory regarding why Microsoft might want to develop its own virtual world ties in with its Xbox Live platform and its success with virtual goods sales.

Vivaty did monetize through sales of virtual goods and its own virtual currency, VivaBux. Xbox Live sells both virtual goods and a broader range of digital content, but has users make all purchases using a virtual currency called Microsoft Points. Microsoft's competitor Sony has a virtual world for its PlayStation 3, Home, and reports virtual goods sales that are "quite profitable" despite pricing all items in real world denominations (which is generally believed to depress sales). 

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Thanks To Our Sponsors

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/10/02 - 04:00

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

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

RightScale provides cloud computing management for social application and game developers.

Polygon Magic provides social games to the Japanese market.

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

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


AppStrip is a network of game developers that provides game distribution and promotion.


Frima Studio develops social games for big brands.

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

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

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

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

Alchemy provides management and optimization tools for creating and buying ads on Facebook.

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Social Gaming Roundup: Intel, Zynga, Microsoft, & More

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/10/02 - 03:20

Café World Turns One — A year after its launch, Zynga has released some amusing factoids about it’s popular Café World title. Thus far, the game has seen over 82 million new restaurants, hired over 135,000 waiters a day (with 49.3 million for the year), 10 million gifts per day, and served approximately 7 trillion dishes.

Zynga To Build New Headquarters — Announced at the TechCrunch Disrupt, San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, confirmed that Zynga will be building a new headquarters to house as many as 2000 employees. Zynga is signing a seven year lease for 270,000 square feet in the city’s Townsend Center.

Tonchidot Raises $12 Million — Earlier this week, Tokyo-based company, Tonchidot announced the raising of $12 million in a Series B round of funding. The company, centered around mobile augmented reality (AR), will be using the funds to expand their AR social gaming platform globally.

Will Microsoft Acquire a Social Developer? — Interesting information from ZDNet as Microsoft may be sniffing around to acquire a social developer. The most recent rumor has been a possible acquisition of Linden Lab, but while Microsoft has made no comment on the matter. Nevertheless, ZDNet also notes that Microsoft has been looking at more than just the Second Life creator. In fact, it was back in February that a rumor of a possible CrowdStar acquisition had begun floating about.

PopCap vs. Zynga - At the WTIA TechNW forum, commentary from PopCap’s CEO Dave Roberts suggests that Zynga may not last the test of time, stating that great games will beat out great marketing, reports TechFlash. To reinforce the commentary, he notes that Bejeweled Blitz garners more daily active users then Mafia Wars without spending money on advertising.

[image via TechFlash]

RIM Announces Social Platform for BlackBerry Messenger — As CNET covers, Research In Motion announced, at BlackBerry DEVCON 2010, the BBM Social Platform. It is said to allow developers a means to take advantage of BBM’s social elements such as chat, content sharing, and invitations.

Intel & The Game Creators Hold Game Making Competition — Though not officially social, Intel and The Game Creators are teaming up to host a competition encouraging people to submit their games for notebooks. Of the prizes available, entries can win up to a $5,000 vacation.

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Happy Fruit Takes the Prize on This Week’s List of Emerging Facebook Games

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/10/01 - 22:32

Chinese developer Boyaa scores the top position on this week’s AppData list of emerging Facebook games, measured as those still under a million monthly active users. Boyaa’s game ????(????), which translates roughly to “Happy Fruit”, gained almost half a million new MAU:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain,% 1. ????(????) 494,158 +479,742 +3,328% 2. Warstorm 740,434 +326,815 +79% 3. Mall Dreams 707,953 +326,590 +86% 4. La Ferme 380,401 +299,454 +370% 5. Cupcake Corner 583,244 +216,739 +59% 6. La Tomatina 574,022 +211,226 +58% 7. Toy Land 495,512 +185,422 +60% 8. ???? 287,189 +168,791 +143% 9. ???? 695,226 +144,696 +26% 10. Green Farm 362,747 +143,151 +65% 11. i Like Slots 650,126 +139,122 +27% 12. Crime City 197,122 +136,047 +223% 13. Fantasy Kingdoms 509,413 +135,551 +36% 14. Robot Unicorn Attack 464,645 +128,247 +38% 15. Candy Shop 479,796 +103,369 +27% 16. Writer’s Blox 232,889 +101,259 +77% 17. Gone Amazon 225,697 +99,933 +79% 18. FantaBook 689,554 +95,664 +16% 19. Chucke la taupe 464,681 +93,378 +25% 20. Ranch Town 888,040 +89,578 +11%

As the name suggests, Happy Fruit is more or less a farming / plant raising game. However, it looks and feels significantly different from most of its English-language counterparts, as you can see below:

Zynga’s Warstorm, which is picked up with its June acquisition of Challenge Games, has been on the rise for over a week. Zynga may have some plan for Warstorm, a fantasy strategy title; many of the other games that Zynga picked up with its buyouts were closed, but the company seems to be promoting this one.

At number three, Mall Dreams by Metrogames is the latest competitor to girly titles like Mall World, which have in the past picked up millions of mostly female users. It’s also worth pointing out here that Metrogames is becoming a significant mid-sized developer, nearing eight million MAU and 1.5 million DAU.

Also keep an eye on Cupcake Corner, by OMGPOP, and Toy Land, by RockYou. The latter title just showed up, and appears to be growing at an increasing clip.

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