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Zynga May Be Readying a City-Building Game

Inside Social Games - 1 hour 56 min ago

Zynga has been in the news twice already this week, between the acquisition of Conduit Labs and a Chinese-language version of Texas Hold’em Poker. There’s another, unofficial item, though: the company’s next game may be called CityVille, according to a new forum spotted on Zynga’s website by Games.com.

There’s nothing except the name of the forum so far, but it doesn’t take a great imaginative leap to figure out that it could be the name of a city-building game like Social City or My Empire. Earlier this year, Zynga also ran player surveys asking if they’d like to see a city-builder.

One might also take Zynga’s past history into account. Although the days of cloning another game’s look or mechanics are long past, Zynga has still paid close attention to trends that work with its releases this year. Treasure Isle may have been modeled on an earlier game called Treasure Madness, while FrontierVille combines FarmVille with a dash of city (or homestead) building and a Western theme, which has been prominent in other media.

We called the nascent city building trend in February, and Social City proved it could draw the crowds when it hit its peak of 12.6 million monthly active users in April and May. Zynga has had longer development cycles this year, so the timing looks about right too.

Zynga declined to comment, so we’ll have to wait and see.

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OpenFeint Takes the First Step Toward Facebook-Style Virality in Mobile

Inside Social Games - 8 hours 42 min ago

Today OpenFeint, the social platform for mobile games, announced its latest version and an interesting new feature: cross-platform invites between users with iPhone and Android phones.

OpenFeint hasn’t launched for Android yet, so this feature won’t be available for a few months. However, it’s clear that the company is putting effort into mobile invites. One big problem starting out will be that only a few hundred of OpenFeint’s thousands of games will have both Android and iPhone versions.

So if an iPhone user invites an Android-using friend directly through OpenFeint’s in-game network, for example, the invitation simply won’t be sent if there’s no Android version. If the invitation is sent by SMS (another choice available to users), the link reaching the Android user will send the developer a request to port over the game.

For games that are cross-platform, the invitation feature offers the first possibility of growth through virality. Like Facebook developers, the game creator will have the option of popping up an in-game box asking users to invite their friends through OpenFeint.

At the same time, Aurora Feint’s CEO, Jason Citron, thinks that mobile invitations will be able to avoid Facebook’s spam problems. “The way that we provide the box, the user actually has to go through and decide who to [invite], picking phone numbers. I think it makes people think about what they’re doing more … than on Facebook. You know if you send someone 400 text messages, that sucks.”

Of course, there’s one major viral feature missing from the picture: the ability to broadcast the fact that you’re playing a game to all your friends, as Facebook allows with wall posts. Citron says his company is working on something, but won’t offer up any more details. Also, most mobile games still lack overt social features, beyond leaderboards, challenges and a few other features that services like OpenFeint add.

There’s another similarity to draw between mobile games and Facebook, though: scale. By back-of-the-envelope calculation, Citron estimates 200 million users between iDevices and Android by the time his company is on both platforms — about where Facebook was when social games started to take off.

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Golden Nugget Vegas Casino Places a Bet on Facebook

Inside Social Games - 10 hours 46 min ago

Casinos are increasingly interested in Facebook. Following last month’s partnership between Harrah’s Interactive and Playdom to launch WSOP Poker on the social network, the Las Vegas-based Golden Nugget brand of casinos and hotels has brought on Last Legion Games for a branded Facebook title, Golden Nugget Vegas Casino.

Gold Nugget is certainly a game that’s more visually pleasing then many virtual spaces, with its display of lights, character, and overall atmosphere. More than that, however, its social interaction is a step above the rest — even if reminiscent of a prior title from RockYou, My Casino. All the same, Golden Nugget does suffer from some usability problems and holds an art style that many may not care for.

Like most virtual space oriented applications, the objective of Golden Nugget Vegas Casino is more or less whatever the player makes of it. If one had to give it a label, however, it would be to build up a successful casino.

Doing so is easy enough, as the players can make income from a very wide variety of casino games. First and foremost, this is where the game stands out most. Unlike others of its ilk, there is just about every Vegas game one can think of, including Red Sushi Bonsai Express Slots, Golden 21 Blackjack, and Spin Cycle Roulette. Moreover, as the player levels up, others unlock including dice at the bar, video poker, craps, and a boat load more.

Each game has three elements as well: Operation Cost, Run Time, and Revenue. It isn’t enough to merely purchase a game, but players must actually pay money to keep it up and running, with the higher revenue machines costing more. Of course, the higher cost also means that the machine will run for longer. For example, the Red Sushi slots will only run for 30 seconds, while Calamity Jane Poker runs for 24 hours. Once the time is expired, the profits must be collected right away or they will decrease, and the game will earn no further income until reactivated.

Another interesting aspect to the games is a feature called “Luck.” The more one operates their machines and tables, the more this statistic goes up, and the higher it is, the more coins one earns from their various games.

Luck can also be increased by visiting friends’ casinos. In fact, this is where the social elements take a step above the rest, creating a whole other level to game play. Like in My Casino, players can actually play the different games their friends have set up, betting the money they have on hand. However, whereas the RockYou app only had one game to play, Golden Nugget has a trove of them. They’re not all active yet (though likely, they will be at some point), but currently players can participate in roulette, dice, blackjack, poker, video poker, slots, and probably a few more we haven’t found yet.

This is, however, where some of the usability issues come into play. When one clicks on the machine or table, the mini-game does not immediately pop up — the player’s avatar has to walk over to it, which one might not realize in a busy casino. A bigger problem comes from in-game purchases. Bigger and better décor and games are gated by level, but players can’t even see what will be available in the future. Unfortunately, players might think the game just doesn’t have much to buy (we did), without which there’s no obvious reason to play more and earn specific rewards.

As for visuals, the environment looks great with all the style, flashing lights, and moving objects. The characters themselves have a bobble-headed, stretched face isn’t particularly appealing. Thankfully, there’s at least a wide variety of them walking in and out of the casino, although all have just three basic animations: stand, walk, and cheer.

All in all, Golden Nugget Vegas Casino is a pretty amusing game, and a welcome change from the constant stream of farming clones. Granted, it does have some rough edges still, but the core concept and the Golden Nugget brand really do help to differentiate it quite a bit. Whether that will resonate with players remains to be seen; it has about 48,000 monthly active users, but only 1,522 that return on a daily basis.

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Zattikka’s New US Representative Talks Game Publishing and Raising $100 Million

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/08/18 - 16:45

In the new world of social and mobile gaming, one character is mostly missing from the new mix of developers, marketers and service firms: the game publisher. Without the high production costs and rigid distribution hierarchies of the traditional gaming industry, companies that brand and publish games created by others have seemed like they might be a third wheel.

Aside from a few counter-examples, like 6 Waves, successful social game companies have typically developed and publish their own games.

Zattikka is out to change that. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of the company — it’s based in the United Kingdom, and has only been around for a year. But it also has $5.5 million in fresh funding, co-founders who previously headed Virgin Interactive and Rambler Media, and plans to raise between $50 million and $100 million for its publishing model.

The main connection between Zattikka and Silicon Valley is Joel Breton, the newly-hired head of North American operations. Breton, who was previously director of content at MTV’s portal, Addicting Games, will be looking for teams of developers to work with.

Breton’s focus is wide: he’s looking for online, social or mobile games to publish. The key is finding startups that have the right expertise, but need enough money to get their ideas off the ground. “The publisher is there to provide funding and backing so that the team doesn’t have to throw all its resources into one game,” says Breton.

Some have discounted the idea of publishers on Facebook or mobile platforms because there’s less of a defensible position for them — Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins, for example, told us in a recent interview that EA’s ability to lock up the early game publishing market depended on its control of shelf space in physical stores.

Obviously, there’s no direct equivalent to shelves in virtual markets. Breton, though, points out that there are still plenty of startups that not only need money to build their game, but can’t handle marketing or promotion once it’s done. “It’s on a different scale from an Ubisoft or Electronic Arts right now, but I think with the growth this market is experiencing, when we get down the road we might see that publishing for social network games really starts to pop,” he says.

Within the next couple of weeks, Breton will be setting up Zattikka’s new office in San Francisco and starting to look for his first external partners. Zattikka’s first round of funding has also just closed, so the company will soon be back on the fundraising trail, he says.

http://www.zattikka.com/team.jsp
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TeamLava Launches City-Building App, City Story, on the iPhone

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/08/18 - 14:40

The folks at TeamLava are expanding their repertoire of social iDevice titles with the recent launch of their new city-builder, City Story, for both the iPhone and iPad.

Adapting many of the mechanics found it the developer’s popular Farm Story application, City Story also resembles its Facebook counterparts. But despite being quite similar to games like Playdom’s Social City, City Story feels like it has even greater social potential than some Facebook games. It has succeeded so far on those merits, being the current #2 app on Apple’s top free iPad app list, and #5 for the iPhone. All the same, it’s far from a perfect game, with some unfortunate issues stemming from a very low progression curve.

Like all city-builders, the object of the game is to create a thriving, bustling city. The core game play is no different than any other social version, save being on a mobile device. The success of one’s city is broken up into two major elements: Population and Happiness.

These two statistics translate into three major types of structures that can be created: residences, businesses, and decorations. As one would expect, residences build up one’s populace. The higher the population, the more happiness is required, which comes from businesses like schools, cafes, and shops, as well as decorative elements such as parks and roads. Larger, more effective buildings will also become available as players level up.

The big issue with this population vs happiness mechanic, however, is there does not appear to be any real reason to concern oneself with either stat. It is possible that one would be unable to increase population should happiness be too low, but due to a very low difficulty/progression curve, the issue never presented itself. Also, once a building is placed, its value appears to be set, with no forward effect. In Social City, every house continually produced more population while businesses produced small amounts of income. However, the former could not be done without enough happiness. That does not appear to be the case here.

In City Story all revenue stems from contracts, fulfilled at factory structures, that take a period of time (a few minutes to a few days) to complete and will expire if not “harvested,” so to speak, after they finish. Moreover, as one levels up, more factories will be available for construction and better, more lucrative, contracts as well.

Despite the importance of revenue in the game, it’s almost pointless early on. When starting out, players are given a moderate amount of land in which to build upon, as well as an almost absurd amount of starting money. This suggests a progression problem. In less than 15 minutes or so, it was possible to fill the entire virtual space with structures and décor and still make it look quite good. At that point, there was nothing more to really strive for.

This potential flaw is mitigated slightly by unlocking expansions, but by then, starting money is more or less gone, and factory income will take some time, leaving users with the very little to do.

Eventually, the players will only be able to expand with virtual currency or the use of in-game money and a set number of neighbors. Luckily, neighbors aren’t hard to come by in City Story, as players can interact with the whole of the community, and after creating a Storm8 ID, can add any other players as neighbors.

Of course, if players don’t wish to add random people as neighbors, the social features of City Story still shine, for they can visit any other person’s city and help them out by cleaning up to five buildings a day (10 if they are a neighbor). For the player being helped out, they will receive a claimable bonus to income and experience, Additionally, helping others out will also earn the user Star Ratings.

Like in Farm Story, when players visit the social tab of the game, a list of random individuals appear that can be visited. The higher one’s Star Rating, the higher the chance that they will appear first in that list, effectively improving one’s growth in the game. In addition to this, players can also send messages and comment on each others’ walls within the app.

As if there were not enough social elements to City Story already, the game also has Facebook Connect integrated into it. With it, users can take photographs of their and other users’ cities and not only save them to their iDevice, but post them to the social network as well.

Overall, City Story is not a bad game, with a design that’s quite visually satisfying when one builds up their city. Unfortunately, it is so easy to progress early on that it’s easy to feel that the game’s possibilities have been prematurely exhausted. Honestly, it just gets boring once the space is full, and while the social features of the app are phenomenal, we wonder whether or not that will be enough.

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Zynga Releases Chinese-Language Version of Texas Hold’em

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/08/18 - 05:46

Three months ago, Zynga Beijing was created with the acquisition of XPD Media, a small developer in the Chinese capital. Now its first product is out, a translation of Zynga’s Texas HoldEm Poker for the Chinese-language markets.

Right now, those only include Taiwan and Hong Kong, because Facebook is mostly banned in China itself. Other reports incorrectly state that Zynga’s game will be available in China.

Combined, Taiwan and Hong Kong account for 11 million of Facebook’s 500 million users, as measured by our data service Inside Facebook Gold. This morning, we looked into Taiwan’s user demographics and found that its users, many of whom visit Facebook for the games, tend to be in their mid-twenties — not a bad market for Zynga to tap into.

But a potential base of 11 million users, whether good gamers or not, isn’t enough to swing the needle for Zynga, which still has over 200 million monthly active users. Further, Zynga is going up against established titles like Boyaa’s ???? (translated, simply Texas Hold’em Poker), which is Facebook’s largest Chinese-language game with 3.2 million users (we looked at it and two others this morning).

So at best, Zynga can expect a few million users for its localized version of Texas HoldEm. Zynga probably isn’t trying to capture a lot of users at this point, though.

The Chinese version of Texas Hold’em is the company’s first localized game ever, and as such likely serves two purposes. The first is as a tester to see how worthwhile it is to localize big games like Texas Hold’em for any foreign market.

Second, the release should give Zynga a better idea of how its games will do with Chinese-language users, for a potential advance into mainland China at a later date. Doing so is quite difficult, as foreign companies need a Chinese partner with some ownership interest.

As with Zynga’s acquisition of Conduit Labs, announced this morning, the company didn’t offer any official statement.

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Dynamo Games Releases Soccer-Oriented Tycoon Title on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/08/18 - 01:11

In the wake of the World Cup, there are still a few soccer-oriented titles popping up around Facebook. The latest to be released is the soccer management sim, Soccer Tycoon from Dynamo Games.

Similar in some respects to the successful Bola soccer title from Three Melons/Playdom, this app takes on a more tycoon-game approach, making team management feel almost secondary.

Overall, the game is solid. The questions are more about the market potential. World Cup timing aside, it may skew too far away from any actual soccer-playing to be attractive to fans of sports games. And it may be too sports-themed for people who prefer other types of tycoon titles.

The matches themselves are simple enough. Players are pitted against random opponents (presumably non-player teams) and a match will play out automatically, displaying a skippable, jumbo-tron visual of what’s happening. You get a little control before the match, though. You can view the overall skill level of both teams, and a blurb of notes from their NPC manager, suggesting how to play.

Users can select a team strategy to employ such as Stonewall, That’ll Do, Crowd Pleaser, etc. Unfortunately, these look to not visibly affect the outcome of the game itself, but rather, they augment the amount of coin and fans (experience) earned for a win, loss, or draw. Moreover, as one levels, new, “better” strategies become available.

There is a risk associated with higher level strategy, however. First off, the team only has a set amount of energy, and higher strategies consume more (once it reaches zero, it must slowly recharge over long periods of time). In addition to this, there are increased risks of injury or red card bans.

Injuries and bans are where Soccer Tycoon tends to take a different approach in that players can sort of manage their team. From an in-game shop, players can purchase first aid to heal injured players and legal appeals and bribes to reinstate banned ones.

Player training also follows this same route. Rather than doing exercises, trading players, or buying new contracts “training aides” are purchased and applied to them. These increase that player’s skill by a set amount and, in turn, makes them more effective in games. Also, as a side note, energy can be refilled as well with items purchased from the shop using both virtual currency and in-game currency.

In-game currency is where the tycoon aspects of this application comes into play. Though matches earn the largest chunk of change, players can further increase their earnings by building up and decorating their virtual stadium. The term “decorating” has to be used loosely, however, as everything one constructs is placed in a set spot. Nonetheless, the field itself and its surroundings can be upgraded with seating, trees, lighting, and so on. These are more than just for aesthetic appeal as well, for they increase the amount of income earned when playing a match.

Another tycoon aspect to increasing revenue is a rather wide variety of concessions and attractions that can be built around the outlying lands as well. These consist of burger stands, drink vendors, and even hotels and casinos. Passively, these structures earn the player money, and must have their stock refilled periodically (for free) by the player. Furthermore, they can be replaced or upgraded at anytime.

Initially, only four of these money-making buildings can be constructed, but players can expand their real estate at the cost of virtual currency or five friends and a chunk of in-game coins.

While on the topic of social elements, these mostly consist of leaderboards and visiting one another’s virtual spaces. As per the typical, visiting also entails the “helping” of a friend by clicking a help button when some random event is happening to their space. On a more useful note, friends can also play each other in friendly matches once a day to earn a chunk of change, and doing so did not appear to drain any energy, thus making multiple friends prudent for a budding soccer entrepreneur.

Soccer Tycoon is a fun game but on the negative side of things, players might be surprised by the lack of soccer-playing. There is no real training and nothing that really says “soccer,” or sports for that matter, other than the theme. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it may lead to a number of disappointed potential players.

Conversely, its heavy tycoon elements will appeal more to the wider portion of non-soccer fans. Unfortunately, these players may not be heavy sports game fans (very few sports titles have done well on Facebook), and thinking this is another one, they may flat out ignore it. Moreover, when the World Cup came around, there was a massive boom in soccer titles, as people less interested in the sport became so. Now, with it long past, that enthusiasm is gone so these noted players are even less likely to try.

In the end, Soccer Tycoon is a pretty good game as is, yet it still has features coming down the pipe. It’s an app that is technically sound and with no significant game play complaints. All the same, the biggest issue stems from premise and timing.

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Facebook Apps in Taiwan Dominated by Younger Users, with Some Surprises

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/08/17 - 19:48

[Editor's Note: The following article presents analysis and data excerpted from Inside Facebook Gold, our research and data membership service tracking Facebook's traffic growth and demographic landscape in global markets. It was originally published on Inside Facebook.]

Each month, we’ve been digging up and reporting on the application demographics for international markets, focusing on Facebook’s biggest countries. For the past two months that has meant the United Kingdom and Canada, which are relatively similar to the United States.

Today, though, we’re looking a bit further afield, to Taiwan — a small island nation off China’s coast that nevertheless sends seven million monthly active users to Facebook (and that’s out of a total of 15.1 million Internet users in the country, according to 2008 estimates from the CIA).

Taiwan provides an interesting case study on East Asia’s social networkers. Although its users no doubt like to “stay connected to family and friends,” as Facebook’s motto proclaims, the real motivation for many to join Facebook, and return day after day, is the platform’s popular social games.

Not just “Facebook users,” the Taiwanese are first and foremost social game players; we get the distinct impression that if Facebook weren’t the platform, users would still find a way to connect to their favorite social games elsewhere. Thus, Taiwan gives a more accurate view than most other countries in that region of what the average social game user looks like, and how they engage with social properties on the Web. Due to both that difference and cultural variations, Taiwanese user demographics for games are sometimes quite different from nearly identical games in the West.

We chose three games for our sample: ???? (Texas Hold’em Poker) by Boyaa, ???? (Happy Farm) by Five Minutes, and ?? Lounge Bar by Happy Elements. These three play much like their poker-playing, farming and restaurant sim counterparts in the US, like FarmVille, Zynga’s Texas HoldEm Poker, and Restaurant City.

Unlike the American versions of those games, though, which often bring in many older users, Taiwan’s average age for all three games is impressively close, coming in at around 27:

(A note on methodology: to arrive at the average age, we used the means of each age group we measured.)

Another significant difference from Western app demographics comes up when comparing the gender distribution. While popularity between males and females did vary slightly between each app, they all showed fairly even splits where Taiwanese users were concerned.

It’s often said that the average social game player in the US is female and in her 40s. By contrast, Taiwan’s demographics suggest that Asia’s app users will be much younger, and include members of either sex — useful knowledge for both developers and marketers looking to reach certain groups.

Of course, averages can also be misleading. Our data on age splits for each of the three games, across six age groups shows some stratification in age distribution of Texas Poker players, while other games like Happy Farm, are seeing more even distributed. Complete data for this story is available via Inside Facebook Gold.

In the US and most other Western countries, farming games draw nearly twice as many women as men. Here, men have actually edged women out, 50.2 percent to 49.1 percent. Where women rule is in the more nightlife-themed game Happy Lounge Bar.

Some stereotypes do persist across cultures, though. Take note of the greater number of men playing poker, some 61.7 percent; Zynga’s own Texas HoldEm isn’t much different, at about 67 percent male to female (data for many more apps is available to AppData subscribers).

For companies hoping to work in Asia, it will be important to keep the subtleties of the audience in mind. As demonstrated above, there are significant variations in some user behaviors and relatively little in others; we’ll return to the subject in future posts to further define those differences.

The above analysis presents a sampling of the data that’s available through Inside Facebook Gold, Inside Network’s research and data membership service. Inside Facebook Gold also includes monthly global traffic stats, demographic data for over 15 of Facebook’s top country markets, and data on the site’s top languages worldwide. To learn more or join the membership, please visit Inside Facebook Gold.

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Zynga Buys Music Pets Developer Conduit Labs

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/08/17 - 16:41

In its fifth acquisition of the year, Zynga has bought Conduit Labs, the developer of Super Dance and Music Pets. Fittingly, Conduit will become Zynga’s fifth American office, taking the name Zynga Boston.

The Conduit acquisition looks quite similar to Zynga’s buyout of Challenge Games in June, with that company being renamed Zynga Austin. Challenge, like Conduit, started with good prospects and interesting ideas, but didn’t produce any huge hits on Facebook.

It’s fairly clear that Zynga bought Challenge for its talent, not its games. In less than two months, Challenge’s games have declined precipitously; its biggest, Warstorm, went from 560,170 monthly active users on June 2nd to 152,261 today.

Conduit may have been anticipating this acquisition for a while. Its first effort, the music site Loudcrowd, was shut down on July 29th, according to its homepage. Music Pets has evidently received little promotion, already having fallen from an April high of 1.2 million users to 362,053 today. That title was also the last released by Conduit, all the way back in February. [Update: Conduit writes on its company blog that both Music Pets and Super Dance will be shut down.]

However, it seems unlikely that all of Conduit’s efforts to date will go to waste. The company’s games stood out for their music-focused design, which incorporated licensed content from some some of the biggest names in pop.

Licensing music from the record majors isn’t easy, but Conduit put special effort into hiring former music industry execs and building connections. The company also has several designers who worked on Rock Band.

Could Zynga use this talent? You bet. While Conduit’s titles didn’t become particularly large, Zynga won’t have missed the example of Nightclub City, another music-heavy game, which was built by MyTown creator Booyah. That game has now reached 6.5 million monthly active users, growth that CEO Keith Lee told us came more from word of mouth between music fans than advertising.

Zynga’s pace of new releases this year has been molasses slow, with only FrontierVille, Treasure Isle, and the ill-fated Poker Blitz appearing since January. But we’re fairly certain that it won’t have its new studios sitting on their hands, either.

One more interesting detail about Conduit: its CEO, Nabeel Hyatt, founded [ed.: correction, see comments below] was a founding member of a cross-promotion effort for small social game developers called Applifier this May. We hear that Applifier has become quite successful — so much so that Hyatt relinquished his leadership role to Jussi Laakkonen, another founder and now CEO, a couple months ago. Hyatt could also bring some interesting perspective on promotion to Zynga.

Before Playdom was bought by Disney, we got into the habit of listing out its previous acquisitions each time it made a new one, to help keep track. Here’s the 2010 list for Zynga, excluding Conduit:

For the Conduit Labs acquisition, the investors were Charles River Ventures, Prism VentureWorks, and possibly other, unknown investors. Conduit had raised $8.5 million since its founding in 2007.

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Scoreloop Lands Mobile Platform Deal With Taiwanese Carrier, Predicts Many More to Come

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/08/17 - 14:00

Every mobile phone carrier and manufacturer in the world is trying to reproduce Apple’s iPhone; that much is obvious. But are they also trying to anticipate Apple’s moves in software? Yes, at least according to Scoreloop CEO Marc Gumpinger.

Scoreloop is a social platform for mobile phone games, providing leaderboards and other social features to downloadable games. What makes it stand out from a competitor like OpenFeint or Plus+ is that it sells a white-label version of its platform to anyone that wants it. Today, that’s a major Taiwanese carrier called Chunghwa Telecom.

Tomorrow, it could be any other carrier in the world — or all of them. Gumpinger says he’s talking to firms around the world. However, he’s willing to credit Apple, which is planning a mobile social effort called Game Center, as much as his own company.

“Apple Game Center has alerted everyone from operators to OEMs that there needs to be some focus on gaming,” says Gumpinger. “It’s pretty obvious that the success you’re seeing on Facebook is moving to mobile. But in mobile there’s none of the infrastructure that developers are used to on Facebook.”

While the iPhone itself will have Game Center, other phones will need some equivalent. Android may eventually get one, depending on Google’s social plans. But in the meantime, Gumpinger says that mobile carriers are starting to see a social platform as a way to show value to their customers.

“What the operators are looking for is a deeper relationship with their subscribers,” says Gumpinger. “[The companies] need to offer their customers something they really want. Games turn out to be the most interesting market to re-establish end user relationships.”

Down the road, that may mean that each mobile carrier has its own social network that gamers sign into when they start playing. That could result in a fragmented market, but in its current form Scoreloop connects to various other networks including Facebook, and Gumpinger says that data on user activities is currently shared across all the white-labeled versions.

Scoreloop itself is getting pretty big. The company says it gets 100,000 new signups per day, driven mainly by Android gamers. That’s up significantly from May, when it claimed 300,000 per week (or about 43,000 daily).

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Why Casual Game Publisher Arkadium is Doubling Down on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/08/17 - 09:52

Yesterday, game publisher Arkadium announced the addition of 20 new employees to its workforce of 80 people. But while Arkadium is usually still identified as a casual gaming company, all 20 will work in social gaming, along with some existing producers who have switched to social.

We talked to CEO Kenny Rosenblatt to learn why, when many Facebook developers say they’re looking for ways off the platform, Arkadium is looking for ways in.

Other casual developers have had trouble on Facebook because they don’t fully understand user metrics and the design process, according to Rosenblatt. “The importance of analytics and the notion of games as a service, an ongoing, iterative process of making your games better and better … a lot of companies didn’t realize how important those things were and gave up,” Rosenblatt says.

Now Arkadium has begun using its existing casual game network of six million users to as a testing ground to find the best candidates for Facebook. To help experienced casual producers understand how to build for Facebook, the company also has an internal “boot camp” that employees who are switching over can enter.

Arkadium is also building a platform, Arkadium Connect, to make it easier to place its games on Facebook, with built-in monetization and analytics. Although only for its own games for now, the platform will be opened to outside companies in three to six months, Rosenblatt says.

Overall, Arkadium seems happy with its progress so far on Facebook. Its biggest hit so far, the Chinese tile game Mahjongg Dimensions, hit a high of 1.5 million users and has since declined by a third, but Rosenblatt thinks it and similar games can become permanent fixtures on the network.

“That’s the myth we were looking to bust, that social games need to be built from the ground up to be social. That’s true to build a FarmVille, but we do think that popular game mechanics work on every platform,” says Rosenblatt. “We have a lot of evergreen games in our library that you can play over and over, and that’s what we think really lacks on Facebook right now.”

And, at the end of the day, Facebook is the place to be, even for avowed casual game companies. “I understand that there’s this reliance on Facebook and people are scared of that, but that’s where the users are,” says Rosenblatt.

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Kabam and Sports Illustrated Launch SI Fantasy Football on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/08/17 - 06:45

Earlier this year, the folks over at Watercooler (now Kabam) and Sport Illustrated released a Facebook version of fantasy football for the short spring football season. With the fall 2010 NFL season getting ready to start up, SI Fantasy Football, presented by GMC and Finish Line, has reappeared in its latest incarnation. It’s a simple enough app to learn, with a lot of familiar features for all the fantasy football players out there.

Obviously, the biggest concern with a fantasy football title is the sea of other clones and imitators circulating the web. However, SI Fantasy Football does manage to stand out with what the developers claim is the first, and only, multiplatform rendition, not only designed around social mechanics, but playable on Facebook, SI.com, and any mobile device.

Starting out, players have two choices. They may either start their own league, or join an existing one. If the league is public, anyone can join so long as space is available (20 people is the max), and should it be private, the creator has exclusive invitation rights. From here, it’s all fairly straightforward as a date will be set for a “draft” and players will pick and choose who they want for their fantasy football team, so long as at least four teams are present.

Once that’s done, the team owners in each league face off against one another in head-to-head matches, and based on typical fantasy football rules, a winner is determined. To clarify these rules for anyone unfamiliar with fantasy football concepts: as drafted “virtual” players progress through real NFL games, their stats, such as yards rushing, passing touchdowns, sacks, etc., are translated to the virtual game. The better your draft picks do in reality, the better they do in cyberspace.

In addition to initial drafts, players also have to be aware of potential trades and free agents. Obviously, this requires a lot of monitoring of both what’s happening in the NFL as well as in your own SI Fantasy Football league, so Kabam has integrated a means to keep track of your team directly through a mobile phone. Since the game is in conjunction with Sports Illustrated, it also conveniently incorporates both NFL news with the fantasy football tips. It even has a downloadable “Fantasy Football Draft Kit” containing top 100 player profiles, position rankings, strategies, and even a mock draft.

Of all the game’s elements, the biggest differentiator is the fact that it is on Facebook. Traditionally speaking, fantasy football can be pretty hit or miss when it comes to social elements. Some people play just to play, while others like to rub their victories in other peoples’ faces. Well, it’s no different here, except that Facebook makes it exceedingly simple to do the latter, allowing players to share their fantasy going-ons, post trash talk to walls, and even take part in local discussion boards.

Overall, SI Fantasy Football doesn’t bring a lot of new concepts to the table, but it’s still an evolution of the game. In truth, building it out socially on Facebook seemed like a logical place for it to go in the first place, and now, fans can play the game, communicate with friends, and get some of their sports news all in one centralized location. Already the game is north of 117,000 monthly active users, and the NFL season hasn’t even started yet. How it will do, once it does, will be the real test.

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A Look at Recent Social Gaming Deals in Asia

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/08/16 - 22:14

One of the dominant themes for social gaming companies this year has been the desire to move into new markets. Often the destination is Asia, where gaming, especially online, is far more common. Last year, when we were predicting a $1 billion virtual goods market for the United States, Asia’s was reportedly worth $7 billion.

But how quickly are developers actually setting up operations across the Pacific? It’s true that many developers have set up social gaming studios in mainland China, and are localizing titles for particular markets, like Japan’s Mixi social network.

But overall, Southeast Asia has generated the most traction for social gaming companies — on Facebook. Social networks in mainland China tightly control third-party access, and byzantine government gaming regulations make the market even less accessible. Mixi and other Japan-based sites are lucrative, but smaller than some others in the region and have a reputation of being culturally impenetrable.

The story isn’t so much that social game developers are leaving Facebook for Asia-based social networks. It’s that these companies are following Facebook’s expansion to Asia — and taking advantage of regional talent and markets on the side.

Zynga in Asia

The most active American company, by far, has been Zynga. In some ways its first Asian deal was its acquisition of GoPets last November, which although a California-based company, had its roots in South Korea.

Zynga started its Asian dealmaking in earnest in late spring:

In July, we were reading in the Chinese press that Zynga had acquired two more companies in Chengdu City, but a Zynga spokesperson denied that any such deals had taken place. For the moment, the company is probably focusing most intently on Japan.

Everyone Else

Softbank hasn’t just bet on Zynga; the Japanese tech giant also placed a $10 million investment with RockYou in June, following an earlier $50 million round. Those investments aren’t one-way for Softbank, which probably hopes that the companies will create Japanese games that it can profit from through its web or mobile services.

Among the few other deals what we’ve heard about, there is also a partnership between Japanese mobile developer DeNa and the social platform OpenFeint, and various publishing deals between small Western developers and 6waves, which is based in Hong Kong.

As with Softbank, those are both cases of Japanese companies reaching across to American companies — a trend that may turn out to be more prominent than the reverse, given the larger and more entrenched market in Asia.

In April, we also reported that two of China’s biggest gaming companies, Tencent and Shanda, were looking at acquiring Crowdstar and RockYou, respectively. Tencent itself has also built Facebook games, while there are a number of smaller Chinese companies on Facebook who likely aren’t sizable enough for large acquisitions but could enter other deals, including 5 Minutes, Boyaa and Happy Elements (links go to our coverage).

There’s one more, somewhat unquantifiable measure of activity from American companies: studio operations in Asia. Most major companies have a presence, including CrowdStar, Playfish, PopCap, Playdom, RockYou, Slide, Kabam, and Zynga.

It may be challenging to get visibility into what these companies are doing in Asia. As RockYou cofounder Jia Shen commented in a recent interview with us, Asia’s social networks place little value on transparency, making it a guessing game as to which companies are doing well.

But it’s difficult for any company to cross the Pacific and expect to do well alone. During the rest of this year, we’re likely to see more acquisitions and partnerships, as well as the first signs of success from the most serious efforts at internationalization.

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Bravo Connects to Facebook with Top Chef Basic Training

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/08/16 - 17:42

Top Chef Basic Training is the latest social game designed to help promote a television show. Hosted on Bravo Network‘s Top Chef site, it uses Facebook Connect to get people making food and sharing the action back to Facebook friends.

The last major Facebook Connect title of merit was the Science Channel’s quiz-app, Head Games late last year. Top Chef Basic Training, developed by Animax Entertainment, is also centered around the theme of its show. The game-play is rather dull, but the title a better job than most have so far with promotional social titles.

Learning the game is simple enough, as the process of making a dish is broken up into three major sections which consist of gathering ingredients, preparation, and presentation. Each one can be accessed as a practice drill, but only when the player plays all three sequentially can they earn any real score or reward.

Recipe Recall is the first of the three, and is basically a stylized game of memory. Here, users are given a dish containing random ingredients (cabbage, onion, cheese, etc.) and must remember the ones that appeared after they’ve been covered by clicking on a set of images below. As users get them correct, more and more ingredients will be added to the dish to be memorized with the objective being to score as many points as possible in 60 seconds.

Once finished, it’s time for the second 60 second mini-game, Knife Skills. This segment requires a bit more twitch skill as the objective is to chop up as many of the ingredients as possible. Moving a knife back and forth, players try to time when to chop as the food slides back and forth on the screen at varying speeds. Eventually, more than one food product will appear at a time, and cutting both will earn bonus points (note, that there is only one try before the next food item appears). It’s moderately amusing, but rather tough to get used to. The knife is at an angle, so there is no real focal point for chopping, thus making accuracy difficult.

The last game is the final preparation for the dish aptly called Presentation. It’s probably best described as a problem solving game, as users are presented a burger or sandwich of some sort and must pick the correct foods that comprise its layers. This includes the bun, meat, cheese, toppings, and so on, with extra layers added as the player moves along. Like the previous two, this game, as well, is timed at one minute.

Once players finish an entire game, the points they earn in each drill will accumulate to produce a final score that will be posted within three leaderboards - All-Time, Weekly, and Monthly. These are, as one might expect, made up of all Facebook connected players, but the user can adjust it to only show friends. Beyond this, though, the only other social element is earnable medals and badges that can be posted to one’s feed.

In truth, Top Chef Basic Training is not really all that much fun of a game. The different segments it is comprised of are just too simplistic and merely food variations of very dated game concepts. That said, it’s not really a title intended to garner millions of monthly users, but more a promotional piece for the Bravo show itself. To that end, the title does better than most as the game does, at least, look good — good enough to make you hungry — and is technically sound.

Overall, it’s not a game that players are likely to come back to, although if it gets people paying more attention to the show, it will accomplish its purpose.

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Happy Elements Takes to Bartending with Lounge Bar on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/08/16 - 14:15

It’s been some time since we’ve seen anything from social developer Happy Elements. In fact, it has been a while since we caught wind of any major apps out of China as a whole. However, the social game maker is doing quite well with its new virtual space/business title ?? Lounge Bar, which appeared in our fastest-growing Facebook games list last month.

Currently, the Restaurant City’esque title has 1.1 million monthly active users running virtual bars. Filled with the features that made the Playfish game popular, Lounge Bar has the right elements for growth. However, quality is also a major issue, and many aspects of the game feel a bit too inspired by its predecessor.

Unfortunately for us, the game is pretty much entirely in Chinese (save part of the title), but it is still easy enough to figure out. The theme is similar to Bar Society, in which the objective is to build up a successful bar. Unlike that game, however, Lounge Bar feels a bit more like a classy metropolitan lounge than a typical bar, hence the name.

Using themselves as an avatar, players assign themselves and their workers various jobs such as waiting tables, cleaning, or mixing drinks. Like most business oriented virtual spaces, customers file in to purchase drinks. Should they receive them in a timely manner, the rating of the bar will go up, which, in turn, equates to more paying patrons. Like in Restaurant City, customers having to wait too long for service, trash on the floor (trash appears while the user is logged off), and insufficient seating will lower the rating.

The biggest impact to ratings are wait times for drinks, which can be alleviated by adding decorations and hiring friends to work for you. Unfortunately, the game takes a step backwards socially with that feature, as it requires the friend to start playing the game before the user can hire them. In most virtual space games like this one, friends can be hired regardless.

Other social elements are still intact though, such as the ability to trade ingredients for new drinks. This is prudent as these aren’t all that easy to come by. Thus far, we’ve gotten new ingredients for logging in daily and completing various “tasks”, one of which was to upgrade a particular drink on the menu.

The menu itself, sadly, feels pretty much identical to the original Restaurant City in that players serve different types of drinks, upgrade them to make them worth more, must collect ingredients to make them, and can even post to their feed asking for ingredients. More than this, it just feels the same visually, down to the user interface elements.

As a matter of fact, many UI elements in Lounge Bar feel taken from Restaurant City. We’d estimate that over half the game derives from the Playfish title, including some of the décor (which if not a direct copy, is still very close). Even the “hire a friend” menu is the same, as well as the exterior 2D street of bars that represents the player’s and their friends’ virtual spaces. Even the shack “invite” buildings are there.

As for the décor, there is actually a massive volume of items one can decorate with. The app does have items, such as dividers and toilets, that are identical to Restaurant City, but it also has some very unique ones such as scuba divers, hula girls, and giant coral. Overall, it does provide a very wide palette of decorative potential.

On the social side, the hiring of friends has already been mentioned, but there are other, more minor aspects, such as the gifting of a round of beer, although it’s hard to say if this has any real benefits beyond normal gifting. Annoyingly, friends are also needed to expand one’s bar (in addition to level and money), so Lounge Bar effectively penalizes players whose friends choose not to play.

Lounge Bar is still doing well, and continues to grow. Regardless, it’s disheartening to see what amounts to a cloned app, rather than any effort at innovation. In the end, Lounge Bar is technically a “good” game, but it certainly isn’t an original one.

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Slide’s History Points to Google’s Social Plans

Inside Social Games - Sun, 2010/08/15 - 17:26

Why did Google buy social application developer Slide? A main line of speculation has been that the company wants to build a social gaming platform, and there are many reasons to assume that.

But we’re hearing that the search leader is focusing on creating general social products first, and it is still just at the start of doing that. Specifically, Slide founder Max Levchin will be personally responsible for leading the design and launch of a new social product, including some form of third-party platform around it.

Social games could become part of the plan later, and it’s easy to see why people are assuming that. They generate a substantial minority of Facebook’s site traffic and create substantial revenue in the form of virtual currency purchases. Gaming companies, other social networks, widget developers and everyone else has been trying to get in on this action already, as scarcely a day seems to pass without another self-described “social gaming platform” launching.

For its part, Google has shown many signs that it wants to get in, too. Within the last several months it has reportedly bought a stake in social gaming market leader Zynga, acquired virtual goods payments service Jambool and small widget and game developer LabPixies, and has been hiring product managers to focus explicitly on games.

The problem, as many other would-be platforms have already been discovering, is that the “social” part of social gaming has to come first. Then, games can be developed on top that use people’s social identities and the communication channels around them. Facebook has been able to create a social gaming ecosystem because it already convinced users to establish real-world identities and make online connections representing real-world relationships, all based around easy-to-use sharing features.

Google, we’re told, understands what the order of operations needs to be here. It is trying to fill the “social” product hole that it has until now either ignored or deprioritized. Somewhat-popular social network Orkut has not disrupted Facebook in most major markets, somewhat-used platform standard OpenSocial has not fully lived up to its potential, and none of Google’s social products overall have contributed significantly to Google’s revenue.

So what will this new social network thing look like? Google has not yet decided, and in fact the company has been busy sorting out the organizational structure around it. This was part of the reason that Google’s top executives decided to purchase Slide. But it was not just a talent acquisition.

Look more closely at Slide, along with the other social companies that Google has been buying, and you can see pieces of its plans coming together.

Slide’s History of Self-Expression

Slide has not been the most successful social game developer; Zynga, along with Playfish, Playdom, CrowdStar, and others, all have much larger and more engaging games on Facebook. Instead, its first big success was with photo-editing slideshow widgets on MySpace, in the earlier part of the decade — before the social network had a formal developer platform. Even though MySpace didn’t want third parties using its service at the time, users wanted to decorate their photo albums with sparkles, neon colors, cute icons, and the other self-expression options that Slide offered. And Slide, in turn, developed its expertise in this area, figuring how to get viral growth from the widgets, and hosting millions of photos and other media. The company still makes 40% of its revenue on its MySpace widgets, from things like branded virtual goods in slideshows and other types of ads, we’ve heard from industry sources.

Following the launch of Facebook’s platform in May of 2007, Slide quickly used its expertise to amass millions of new users. At the time, Facebook’s interface was a natural fit. Third parties could let users install application boxes on their profiles. Slide, along with long-time widget competitor RockYou, basically ported over many of their leading MySpace widgets, and not just slideshows but other self-expression winners like Top Friends.

But Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his product team decided that they wanted information-sharing, not so much self-expression. The company had already been going this direction with the launch of the news feed in late 2006, but in a series of platform policy changes over the course of 2007 and 2008, it went further. The biggest was that it hid then ultimately removed third-party boxes from user profiles.

It also refused to introduce a key component of MySpace widgets: the option to auto-play Flash. On MySpace, Slide and RockYou were able to have their highly visual, audio-powered content playing as soon as users load a page. Facebook understandably didn’t like this user experience, even though it had proven an effective way for developers to get users engaged. Here’s how RockYou chief executive Lance Tokuda described the issue to us, back in June of 2007.

The lack of auto-play with Flash almost kills the viral loop around friends visiting your profile. We’ve received a number of requests for this feature and we’re still hoping that Facebook will find an auto-play solution at some point. They are considering an opt-in solution. Without opt-in, I’m sure they would meet strong resistance from their loyal users. With opt-in, I think the experience might be positive by adding more engagement to their site.

Yet Facebook’s sharing focus has proved massively successful in the last few years, making the service becoming the default way for millions of people to consume information from around the web. The news feed has also proven to work great for social game developers, who relentlessly have users sharing gaming activity to their friends.

Slide, RockYou, and other companies that had built their businesses around self-expression, struggled to adapt to the changing ecosystem. They developed social games, often via expanding on themes from their earlier successes and cross-promoting the new titles to their existing users. Some titles, like SuperPoke Pets, have gained decent traction. But not nearly as much as Zynga, Playfish, Playdom and the other social gaming market leaders of today — these companies made gaming the focus from the start, and grew significantly over the course of 2008 and 2009 as the platform shifted.

What Will Slide Do Now?

Many developers we know in the industry have considered Facebook’s platform changes and policy enforcement to be purely subjective, if not mercurial. That view is perhaps inevitable, considering that Facebook has constantly been redefining its core features, and figuring out how to deal withthe spectrum of developers (some of whom have been described as spammy, and in some cases scammy). Facebook itself has been working hard to move past the conflicts of the past, redoubling its efforts to provide developers with clarity around products and policies, as company chief technology officer Bret Taylor recently highlighted to us.

We believe that Levchin and his team will craft the rules of the platform to be extremely clear, in some places copying the best practices that Facebook’s platform has evolved to, and in other places making the platform work differently. Google has the incentive to play up any contrast it can to what Facebook has done — expect lots of spin around how it is more open and friendly to third parties than Facebook has been.

In sum, Slide has been through most of a decade’s worth of social development, across a variety of platforms, and it has dealt with severe platform changes. Now, Levchin and his team are getting the chance to pull all their lessons together and create what they hope will be a viable platform alternative to Facebook. Dozens of employees got large retention bonuses, ranging from six to seven figures, specifically to retain their skills in building massive non-gaming social applications.

We would not be surprised to see Google Me (or whatever it is called) making self-expression a priority, maybe even ways for users to do things like customize and auto-play slideshows on their profiles. And we also expect to see Levchin and his team to integrate the most social, self-expression focused parts of Google, like YouTube, Picasa (sort of), Blogger, Orkut and whatever else it can.

For Google to develop successful social products, it will not only need a different approach to product development, but a different worldview towards user behavior, we’ve heard from former employees. Slide is charged with going beyond the engineering and productivity-focused mindset of Google, creating a meaningful social alternative to Facebook — that does things users want, that Facebook can’t or won’t do. It might not work, but the combination of a veteran team and high-level prioritization means Google has the best shot yet at creating a meaningful alternative for users and developers.
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This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

Inside Social Games - Sun, 2010/08/15 - 14:00

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

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Friday, August 13th, 2010

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Social Gaming Roundup: FarmVillain, gWallet, Cie Games, & More

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/08/14 - 01:53

FarmVillain Gets Approved for the App Store — After four attempts, the FarmVille spoof app, FarmVillian is finally available in the iPhone App Store. Now, users can take revenge on their friends for spamming their feeds with fertilizer requests with funny and in some cases offensive jokes.

gWallet Forms Advisory Board — Social media monetization firm, gWallet, announced a new advisory board this week. With executives, brand marketers, and entrepreneurs such as Marc Ruxin, Eric Bader, Joe Hyrkin, and Doug Chavez, the board is intended to drive the company’s overall strategies, moving them forward, as it applies to what big name advertisers are looking for. The hope, is to better bring big brands into the social gaming space.

Cie Games Officially Launches Car Town with Big Brands — Cie Games has officially announced the launch of its virtual space game, Car Town, on Facebook. However, the game doubles as a business opportunity, with automakers earning a licensing fee each time a player buys one of their cars in game. Honda is among the first to join, and will provide an in-game showroom for its CR-Z sport hybrid and will advertise via virtual, in-game, billboards. Other noted licensing partners include DeLorean, Dodge, Fisker, Ford, General Motors, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Lotus, Mazda, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Opel, Ram Truck, Scion, Toyota, Vauxhall, and Volkswagen.

HeyZap Launches HTML5 Support — The embeddable, social games distribution platform from HeyZap got an upgrade this week as the company has announced that it will now support HTML5 games. Until now, HeyZap has focused exclusively on Flash-based titles.

MySpace Gets New User Homepage — MySpace is getting a new design for its user homepage, as Mashable covered this week. The new look will focus on content discovery through the stream and better sharing tools. Currently, only a handful of people have access to the new layout, but all users will have it come August 16th.

[image via Mashable]

Doubloon Launches iPhone Support — The virtual goods optimization service from Doubloon is coming to iPhone this week. Announced Wednesday, the company will provide Cocoa libraries for iOS developers who wish to add a ready-to-go virtual goods transactions platform to their games. Additionally, the beta iPhone Library will allow for easy integration with the Doubloon API.

Buy a Pet Society Mayor Today — Pet Society fans can now take a piece of their game home with them as Playfish has made available a limited edition figurine of the Pet Society Mayor. The item can be purchased in both the US and UK Playfish stores on Amazon.com for about $25.

PayPal Seeks to Improve Virtual Goods Transactions — According to the Associated Press, PayPal is looking to make it easier to purchase virtual goods. Typically, digital goods are bought with some form of virtual currency that is bought in blocks of money such as $5, $10, or $20. Since many goods cost less than this, PayPal is planning to allow people to purchase such items with a sort of tab, then charging them once they accumulate a set amount.

In addition to this, eBay Inc. is currently in talks with Google to possibly bring the PayPal payment service over to the Android smartphone, according to Bloomberg.

Germany-Based Entreprenuer Dives Into Social Games — Germany-based entrepreneur, Ibrahim Evsan (or “Ibo”) has teamed up with Thomas Bachem to start up Up Web Game, reports TechCrunch. Founders of the European video sharing site, Sevenload, the pair is seeking to get into social games with their first project “Fliplife,” a 2D variation of the Second Life concept and built on its own proprietary platform.

PopCap Buys Intriguing Domains — PopCap Games has purchased dozens of gambling-oriented URLs for some of their most popular games such as Bejeweled, Plants vs. Zombies, Peggle, and Zuma. A full listing can be found at superannuation. As for what “plantsvszombiescasino.com” will be used for, your guess is as good as ours.

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Note on Facebook’s Application Stats Reporting Bug

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/08/14 - 01:53

As many developers may have noticed over the past couple weeks, starting around the beginning of the month, Facebook began reporting some suspect traffic numbers for certain applications. For example, some applications have seen steep increases in reported traffic numbers that do not match stats that developers themselves are seeing in their own logs.

We’ve been in detailed conversation with Facebook about the issue, which they confirmed was a bug when it first appeared two weeks ago. Facebook says they are still working on correcting the bug, though they don’t know exactly when numbers for the affected apps will be corrected.

In the meantime, we’ve taken the step of flagging applications on AppData that have clearly had suspect gains reported by Facebook. For those apps which we’ve flagged, we are instead using the last accurate numbers from before the bug appeared in calculating developer totals. We’ll let you know as Facebook resolves the issue.

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Jambool Confirms that It Has Been Bought by Google

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/08/13 - 21:30

Although Jambool and Google weren’t offering comment about the report this week that Google bought the virtual currency service provider, cofounder Vikas Gupta has now confirmed the deal — although the company’s not saying anything about the reported $70 million to $75 million price.

Joining Google has been a long road for Jambool and its monetization product, Social Gold.

Like other companies in the same space, Jambool has been getting squeezed out of Facebook as that company introduces its own virtual currency, Credits. Gupta responded at length to Facebook’s aggressive introduction of Credits in a lengthy interview with us last month.

Despite the Google acquisition, Jambool says that it’s still doing business as usual, and will continue to operate all its accounts and work on Facebook.

Here’s the message that the Jambool homepage is currently displaying; it doesn’t provide detail on what the company’s plans with Google are, although one can easily assume that those plans have something to do with Google’s new social product efforts.

A Letter from our Founders

August 13, 2010

We are excited to announce that Jambool is becoming a part of the Google family today.

Jambool started as a social collaboration platform in 2006. In 2007, we shifted our focus to build applications on social networks. Along with success, we found fun and lucrative ways to monetize our apps - specifically virtual currency and goods. That led us to create a platform to help developers create, host, manage and monetize their virtual economies.

Social Gold has grown by leaps and bounds since it went live in 2008. In the first half of 2010, we’ve processed more than double the entire payment volume we processed in all of 2009. And we’ve welcomed hundreds of developers to our platform. The fact that our highest revenue day was in the last week attests to the continued growth of online gaming.

Our vision is to build world-class products that help developers manage and monetize their virtual economies across the globe. When the opportunity arose to join forces with Google to execute against this vision, we couldn’t pass it up. We are thrilled to bring the Social Gold platform to Google’s global users. And we invite you - our customers, partners, and friends - to continue on the journey with us.

Over the last few years, we have had the great fortune of working with an incredible team. Every day, we are amazed and humbled by what they have accomplished. We have had terrific support from our partners, investors and advisors; and we are lucky to have worked with each of them. Thank you!

As a team, we remain passionate about innovating on behalf of our customers. We aim to deliver the most frictionless, seamless transaction experience inside applications and games on every platform. We are thrilled to be part of Google, and we look forward to the exciting road ahead.

The game has only just begun.

Vikas & Reza

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