News, research and discussion on virtual goods, currencies and economies globally.

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New Jobs This Week on the Inside Network Job Board: EA, Storm8, iWin, ZipZapPlay, Lionside, & More

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/22 - 20:01

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

We’re offering a special launch discount code for new listings placed this week. Just use the discount code “INSJOB30” by this Friday, July 23rd, to receive a 30% discount on all jobs you post.

Here are this week’s new listings from the Inside Network Job Board, including positions at, Electronic Arts / EA2D, Storm8, iWin, ZipZapPlay, Lionside, Lolapps, and Context Optional:

When you place job listings on the Inside Network Job Board, they’ll be distributed to readers of Inside Facebook and Inside Social Games through regular posts highlighting new job listings, as well as through widgets you see here 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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The Case For Facebook Credits

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/22 - 19:05

[Editor's note: This interview with CrowdStar chairman Peter Relan is a companion piece to another published immediately before it, The Case Against Facebook Credits.]

Among the many developers that have now tested out or exclusively adopted Facebook Credits, none has been a more vocal proponent than CrowdStar. The social gaming company first incorporated Credits into its game Happy Island last December, and has since championed the virtual currency’s ability to bring in more paying users.

We asked Peter Relan, CrowdStar’s chairman and founder, to give us his case for Credits; the results are below. Once again, if you want to take a look at our own lengthy examination of Credits, which contain many of the points in both interviews, see our recent coverage on Inside Facebook.

Inside Social Games: Give us a broad overview of your thoughts on Credits.

Peter Relan: The big picture is that Facebook Credits is all about increasing the size of the pie that we developers can participate in. That’s the single big concept that I think people aren’t getting. They’re assuming a single size of pie and fighting for every bit of margin.

Honestly, growing the market is the thing that Facebook’s trying to do. In the process they’re taking heat, but if I were in charge I’d do the same thing. They have to make sure the ecosystem has room to grow. They’re trying to increase the size by providing a single liquid currency across the userbase, and once it’s there we’ll all stop arguing. If you went to Amazon and every category had its own currency, you’d pay less — a single currency just removes friction. Why do you think, on the iPhone, they make billions? It’s because of a single system.

Let’s say that I’m in FarmVille and I buy Farm Cash. Later I have 200 of that currency left over, which I can’t use when I come to Happy Aquarium. I paid good money for it, I just can’t use it. How would you like that in Amazon? That issue is called liquidity. We have no cross-game liquidity now. That means that I’ll spend less liberally, and try to manage my spend to my anticipated purchase.

ISG: Couldn’t another company offer a cross-game currency?

PR: Why doesn’t Apple have some random company offering payment points? Generally you need a trustworthy source — it has to be a big brand, and very rarely can that brand be someone other than the platform. It’s like saying hey, in the United States, why doesn’t someone offer a point system? You want a government-backed dollar. Usually, the platform is the only stable scaled player who can provide any assurance — currencies are about consumer confidence. There are runs on banks when people lose their confidence. So Facebook has to be the bad guy.

ISG: An undertone to the debate about Credits is that it’s not fair for Facebook to push out other payment providers and promote Credits. Is that a valid argument?

PR: I think on Facebook.com there’s no question — it’s like asking whether on the iPhone Apple’s 30 percent is worth it. That 30 percent is the gold standard, for Microsoft as well.

Then there’s the question of what the market will bear off the platform when Connect is driving it. There are two arguments. One is that at the end of the day, Connect represents the tentacles of the core, meaning that it’s still one organism and 30 percent is still right.

Another is that since it’s the tentacle and not the core, the social graph is worth less. I think the market will determine that. We’re not off the platform, so it’s very difficult to say.

ISG: OK, that’s the overview. What are your secondary points?

PR: There’s a host of other things. With Credits the user’s payment experience becomes universal — you get a universal Facebook Credits user interface. For dollars, the dollar bill is the user interface. Here, there are three screens that everyone will get used to. On the iPhone, when I see something asking me to purchase from iTunes, I just say yes. That payment process is so fluid, I don’t think about it.

Fraud management and chargebacks are a key thing for consumers. If you have a payment option, you’ve got one source to deal with, Facebook, instead of seven different games and payment options.

By the way, Facebook for developers is also promoting Credits, and that’s a short-term benefit that everyone can take advantage of. If you’re playing a game in which Credits are the preferred choice, they’re willing to say, here are 5 Credits for free. This is huge in removing friction.

ISG: So you think now is the right time for developers to go ahead and implement Credits?

PR: I think the bigger developers should do it right away, and the smaller ones might want to wait — but the smaller players are also the ones who will get the promotion benefits, and they need those. The bigger players can wait this out, but it’s the small guys who need the distribution, the promotion, the help. They should definitely go for it. The big ones should go for a different reason, the size of the pie. It’s hard for a small player to say, ‘yeah, there will be a bigger pie,’  and take the hit. But my view is that they need the promotion.

ISG: If Credits really can expand the market, then by how much?

PR: We know that a user who’s paid with Credits before is an order of magnitude more likely to follow through with a purchase than one who’s never used Credits before.

I would venture to say that the pie could be three or four times larger. Today one to two percent of people in social games are actually paying users. The stat could be 5-10 percent in my opinion. When you have a 5-10x improvement, I’m not worried about the 20 percent extra I give to Credits. It’s a 20 percent delta versus 500 to a thousand percent increase. That gives you a feel for it, quantitatively.

ISG: How quickly could that 5-10x growth come about? When does it start?

PR: I’d say starting now. In 2011, maybe even Q4 of this year, you’ll start to see liquidity, and by 2012 a much larger pie.

ISG: You’ve made a few comparisons to Apple, which has a system of set price points. Could Facebook have done that to avoid the complexities of a currency?

PR: Apple’s iTunes system is a very high-level microtransaction system, but not a very granular one. Apple’s pricing came from the music industry, with 99 cents per song. Then when they came out with the App Store, they just stuck with that, going to 1.99, 2.99, etc. You can’t buy something for 5.49. Apple’s system is not like a virtual currency system, in which you can translate the money to other systems.

Apple is saying, I’m not a virtual currency, so game developers say fine, I’ll provide my virtual currency atop your currency price points, which goes to the same problem of cross-game liquidity. So I think in the long term, Apple will have to deal with this. As long as there was no virtual currency, things were working great. And there aren’t that many virtual currency games on the iPhone. But over time, if there were a billion-dollar virtual currency system, they’d have to have all the same discussions we’re having.

[Ed. note: To move on to the case against Facebook credits, click here.]

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The Case Against Facebook Credits

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/22 - 19:00

[Editor's note: This interview with Jambool CEO Vikas Gupta is a companion piece to another published immediately after it, The Case For Facebook Credits.]

Since Facebook first launched Credits, its own in-game virtual currency, for externally developed applications in May of 2009, app developers have been worried about the potential the hefty 30 percent fee Facebook charges for the currency and the potential that it might enforce their use for all apps.

But another group had been watching, and worrying about, Credits for much longer: payment and monetization companies. If Credits are made mandatory across Facebook, a whole swathe of payment companies started on the platform will be at risk.

One of those companies is Jambool, which was founded by two former Amazon.com payment executives. Despite the threat from Credits, Jambool is still hard at work with its Social Gold payment platform on Facebook and elsewhere; this morning, in fact, it’s releasing a significant update to its inventory management, Flash payment, analytics and other features.

However, CEO and co-founder Vikas Gupta has also made no secret of his opposition to Credits. Below, we interview Gupta to get an in-depth look at his arguments against the currency.

Note that some of the arguments below assume specific policies and actions from Facebook that the company has not yet made clear; we covered many of these uncertainties in our own June article.

Inside Social Games: You’ve said that you’re not completely against Credits.

Vikas Gupta: I think there are definitely some advantages to Credits, that we believe in and have always believed in. For example, I believe Credits as a store value system makes sense for certain kinds of purchases. Credits also does well at eliminating the need for a developer to have multiple different currencies around the world.

The third thing they have as an advantage is that more consumers would have trust and loyalty to Facebook with Credits. How much of an additional benefit that will have is the question, but it’s definitely an intangible benefit that we see Credits could bring. And from the user’s point of view there’s an advantage in being able to use their Credits across multiple applications.

ISG: OK, now let’s talk about the downsides. What’s the big picture?

VG: There are definitely cons to Facebook Credits as a universal currency. The first one is the way many of these games work — they’re mini-economies of their own. If you look at games like FarmVille, the currency is an integral part of the game.

Facebook has been saying that Credits will work like the Euro, which works across the European economies, but we believe that’s very wrong. Credits is a stored value system — the only people who participate are those who purchase credits.

Right now there are only 1-2 percent who will spend money to buy goods in a game. That’s a big distinction between this and a true economy. In a true economy it should be in the hands of 50-60 percent of the people. Facebook hasn’t seeded credits through its own platform — it is relying on the applications to help spread their adoption.

They have experimented with Credits on their site but we haven’t seen any of those experiments succeed — for example, they’ve even shut down the gift store. Developers are helping Facebook build the Credits, and it is evolving into a pre-paid stored value system, that as we discussed sits in the hands of a small percentage of the user base.

Facebook Credits doesn’t really work like the Euro — the applications do not contribute to the currency. As an example, problems in Greece’s economy resulted in the entire Euro being affected. However, any one application on the Facebook platform cannot disrupt Credits or any other application. Instead of a universal currency, it works as a stored value system — where users can buy credits from Facebook and spend it in applications.

ISG: What’s the difference between a real currency and what Facebook is doing, then?

VG: One example of a real currency is a [Second Life] Linden Dollar. It has many aspects in which it works like a real currency, there’s a lot more transparency into where people get it and what people can do with it. The Linden Dollar did not need an external ecosystem to build it — it evolved amongst its users and content. The way Credits work is more like prepaid cards. So how many people would buy prepaid cards anywhere?

Pre-paid systems have traditionally had limited success. They’ve had lower conversion and lower adoption because people have to commit to buying more up front, even though they don’t know how much they’ll spend or in what amounts. That leads to breakage. An example is Amazon gift certificates — you could  buy them but there’s always a large amount of remnant value on the card that isn’t used. In an economy like this platform, that will lead to developers never seeing the value even though they created it.

ISG: Let’s move on to other potential problems with Credits.

VG: The second thing that has come up a lot is the fee. There’s a 30 percent fee, and this is the first time ever on the web that someone has taken such a high a fee for payments. People have taken that fee on closed platforms, but on the web it’s the first time. And when you add in things like breakage, it’s more like 50 percent.

And fraud is a very serious issue with Facebook. It’s not that fraud gets built into the 30 percent, and Facebook won’t issue money back to developers. The assumption is that Facebook is giving the Credits earnings to the game even if they’re generated from fraud. What we’re hearing is that’s not what’s happening. If the money came from fraud it never makes it to the game developer.

ISG: Let’s talk about some of these points in more depth, starting with the last. Isn’t fraud already a problem for developers?

VG: When I am building my game and people are buying my currency, I see the complete process end to end. When I see fraud, it affects me and I can manage and control that. But when people are coming through an intermediate step, it’s very difficult to figure out who perpetrated the fraud and how it affects any game using Credits.

ISG: So transparency is a problem in fraud. Is it also a problem elsewhere?

VG: When a user is playing my game, the user comes in and spends maybe $10. I know the fact that they spent $10, and that’s how much currency I’m giving away. When it comes to using a third party system, I don’t know what they spent overall, there’s just what they spent in my game. I don’t know how much the user could have spent in the game.

When the user spends $10 today I can actually change the game experience to get the gamer to spend all that currency in the game. I can’t do that as effectively when only Facebook knows how much they spent. That’s a bigger issue when, at the end of the month, you get paid and you don’t know anything about the users. It’s more effective when developers can see the end-to-end flow of money.

ISG: You brought up breakage. What are the issues around that?

VG: Right now, when a user knows they have money that can be spent across games, they’ll become very cautious about where they spend the money. There was a promotion in Hello City, in which they gave away 5 Credits. I got them, and never spent them — they’re in my account today. That’s because I know that I can spend it anywhere.

The thing with virtual currency is that it should feel very cheap. Now you have this system of currency that you can spend in other places, so users are perceiving value in it, and they don’t want to spend it as easily in a particular game. Users will be very cautious about where they actually spend the money, because they have the option to spend it on other games, not just the game they’re playing right now.

A less obvious problem is that on Facebook there have been a lot of similar games being built, farming games and so forth. In any genre there are multiple titles. For users there have been high switching costs, because a user who couldn’t switch their currency couldn’t move. Now you can have a game that convinced the user to spend money on virtual currency, but the user can take it elsewhere. The switching costs with currency, especially, have gone down. Can games keep users engaged, or can other developers take the users away along with the money they got them to spend?

ISG: Is Facebook justified in charging 30 percent?

VG: There has never been a precedent where someone took 30 percent on the web purely for payments. If it was done in a way that developers saw value, or if it was really cheap and easy, it would be understandable. But I think that we all know at this point that Facebook is not that straightforward for distribution — we all have to spend money on distribution. So you’re not just paying 30 percent for payments, you have to spend on top of that for advertising. If all I was doing was spending for distribution, it would be a lot easier, you’d have that extra 25 percent margin.

A big difference between Facebook and Apple or Microsoft is that there’s no other distribution channel other than Facebook itself. On the Xbox, if I’m building a game, I’m selling directly to users in the retail channel, and the distribution channel is up to me; the viral channels are not dependent on Microsoft. But here’s a platform that I’m dependent on for distribution as well as monetization — that’s a problem.

I believe we’ll start seeing that there will be a lack of motivation for people to build on Facebook. That’s a big thing we’ve seen in the last few months, that every developer is much more excited about building for off-Facebook distribution.

[Ed. note: To move on to the case for Facebook credits, click here.]

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Mixpanel Releases In-Depth iPhone Analytics Tool

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/22 - 18:00

Last year, Mixpanel released its tools and found its first clients for its Facebook app analytics tool. Today the company is expanding onto another platform: the iPhone.

There are already a few iPhone analytics tools out there. Flurry is well known, as well as Distimo, and there are others like Motally and Medialets. Jeremy Richardson, the head of business development for Mixpanel, likens these other services to Google Analytics — mostly free and aimed at relatively simple use-cases.

What’s needed, according to Mixpanel, is a heavy-duty analytics program that tracks every move users make within an app, allowing the same exacting optimization that game developers employ on Facebook.

There have been bumpy spots in the past for iPhone analytics programs. Steve Jobs has spoken out against advertising-oriented analytics firms like Flurry, and in April, Apple changed the rules for analytics companies, apparently giving itself an option to kick out analytics services. Mixpanel will probably get a pass for being aimed at helping to improve apps.

“Analytics are crucial for social gaming. Our customers literally tweak their product every hour of every day,” says Richardson. “Right now social gaming people are always iterating and looking at analytics. IPhone developers may not be doing that, but once they have the tools to do it they’ll probably develop that mindset as well.”

Mixpanel’s iPhone library works much like its Facebook javascript library does; developers simply tag sections of their code with trackers that report back specific data on usage. After that, the app only needs an internet connection.

For now, Mixpanel’s iPhone analytics will use the same pricing plans as its Facebook services. Below is a video showing more:

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

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/22 - 17:37

It’s been a slightly busier week for the human resources departments at social gaming companies, judging by data from LinkedIn. Six companies have been picking up new team member, Zynga in particular. That said, as with last week, there wasn’t much in the way of major leadership changes.

Here’s the list:

CrowdStar

  • Jason Weiser - Joining from Yola.com, - where he was Director of Customer Acquisition - Jason is now Sr. Manager of Customer Acquisition at CrowdStar.

Mindjolt

  • Satori Canton - He joins Mindjolt this week as its newest Senior Software Developer. Prior to this, Satori was an ActionScript Consultant for Virtual Worlds at Zynga.

Playdom

  • Mike Cook - Part of the Metaplace acquisition, Mike Cook takes his System Architect experience over to Playdom with the same title.
  • Christopher Chapman - Also formerly of Metaplace, where he was Director of Web Development, Christopher becomes part of Playdom as a Senior Web Developer.

RockYou!

  • Pauline Reader - Formerly a Senior Manager Dealer of Business at eBay, Pauline takes her skills over to RockYou! as their new Senior Director of International Business.
  • Max Mao - Max joins RockYou! as a new Graphic Designer and HTML/CSS Programmer. Prior to this he was a Web Graphic Designer at Zipzoomfly.

Slide

  • Jason Rubenstein - Slide gets a new Senior Software Engineer this week in the form of Jason Rubenstein. Formerly, he worked as a Software Engineer at Apture.

Zynga

  • Driss Benamour - A former MBA Intern at Eventbrite, Driss is now a Product Manager for Zynga.
  • Jason Schklar - Jason joins Zynga as a new Senior User Researcher. Prior to this, he was a User Experience Specialist for Social and Community Features at Amazon.com.
  • Rick Johanson - Formerly involved with Events and Fan Relations at Lucasfilm, Rick now tailors his skill set to Artistic Recruiting and Development Programs at Zynga.
  • Parikshit Agnihotry - He joins Zynga as one of its newest Software Engineers. Before this, he was an MS Computer Science student at the University of Southern California.
  • Eric McGinnis - Zynga acquires some new Desktop Support in the form of Eric McGinnis, who comes from Tierra Technology, where he was an Administrator.
  • Anshul Dhawan - Leaving his role as a Software Engineer Intern at ngmoco, Anshul joins Zynga as a full Software Engineer.
  • Ilanit Manor - Previously a Messaging Administrator for Kaiser Permanente, Ilanit is now a Super Moderator for Zynga.
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Facebook Adds Team Focused on Games, Plans New Communication Channels System

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/22 - 15:10

More big changes are coming to Facebook’s communication channels this year, as Facebook chief technology officer Bret Taylor told us in an interview recently. They’re worth a closer look, as they’re likely to impact all developers, and especially social game developers.

The first is an automated spam filter for all Facebook communication channels. Granted, the spam problem has lessened as Facebook has removed some entirely, like notifications, or scaled back others, like news feed stories and requests. Here’s the relevant excerpt, from Taylor:

So rather than saying you’re not allowed to do X, Y, and Z with a dialog box in your game, if you’re sending useless messages from your game, we just won’t deliver them, and we’ll give you that feedback. And then you can change the way you send messages to send higher signal-to-noise content. This is something that we just haven’t invested enough in, but we now have a very large team working on spam and quality. That will touch all of our communication channels, and news feed. This is going to be a year-long project though, because we’re not going to remove the policies until we know that the system that replaces it is high quality.

Expect Facebook to start sharing more about its plans here in the coming months. If it wasn’t obvious already, given Facebook’s changes to date, developers should think about how to provide useful communication in their apps.

But it’s not just more automated punishment ahead. Taylor also said that the company is giving social gaming a new focus, describing games as a “killer app” on the platform. From the interview:

The other initiative is we have a team exclusively focused on games now. Internally, we’ve always known this, but now we’re formally recognizing it, that just like photos, just like events, games are a killer app on Facebook, and a primary part of the user experience on Facebook. We have product managers and engineers who are extremely talented now working on it.

Right now we have a Games dashboard that I would say is pretty uninspired. It works, but it’s not something that I think is revolutionary. We have a team now who is responsible for making games successful on Facebook as a category, and when we make changes to our overall product, we’re going to track the effects on that category just like we track the effects on photos and events on Facebook.

In other words, when Facebook makes larger changes — say, updates to the home page this fall — it will closely examine how that impacts social game developers. The company has no doubt done this in the past. Taylor’s point is more that it will now be very careful about how other changes might accidentally harm games. His conclusion on these changes:

Over the next 3-6 months those effects will be noticeable, I think they’ll have the effect that we won’t inadvertently affect the ecosystem by our own product changes. Then, we can slowly make our policies higher level and more “spirit of the law” instead of letter of the law because we’ll have these automated systems to enforce them in a more natural way.

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Taking a Satirical Look at Business with Office Heroes on the iPhone

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/22 - 13:30

Let’s face it, the corporate world isn’t exactly known for its entertainment value. But as satire, it’s brilliant — the routine nature and drab existence of the every day workplace provides the perfect canvas for a bit of humor. Thus we come to the brand new iPhone game Office Heroes, from Astroape Studios.

This particular game is all about moving up the corporate ladder. Well, sort of. Set in a tiny office, players perform the menial, everyday tasks of the cliché office worker as they, bit by bit, earn rapport and upgrade a brick of an office into an executive suite. Connected to Facebook, Office Heroes is a simple virtual space game with standard social elements, but its attractive visual style means that its lack of uniqueness in some areas can beeasily overlooked.

If Office Heroes were comparable to anything, it would be most similar to the Facebook farming genre. The difference, however, is that instead of crops, players do jobs, and instead of a farm, they have, well, an office.

Starting off with two functional pieces of furniture — a 1990s-looking computer and a corded phone — players begin performing their day-to-day tasks. This is where the somewhat dry and satirical office-based humor comes into play. For the most part, the work isn’t what one would consider “real work,” but users can actually take on jobs such as “Tweet,” “Chat,” or “Make a Personal Call.” Nothing that an employer would actually pay for, but all things employees tend to do nonetheless.

Each job will take a set amount of time that ranges from 30 seconds to several hours, and can earn one of two things. The first of the two is the in-game currency, “Career Points.”This is your primary pool of income used to purchase the various decorative objects needed to sate one’s aesthetic tastes.

The second is something called “Reputation,” which only seems to increase the amount of Career Points the player passively earns while logged off the game. Reputation can be increased, beyond just doing jobs that reward it, by visiting friends’ offices and helping them out. Conversely, it is lost if a player does not return to “complete” a job once it is finished (like letting crops wither).

Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like Astroape tailored this mechanic to its full potential. What Office Heroes does with Reputation is not bad thing, but it feels like it could hold a bit more style. This lack is further reflected in “helping” friends, which consists of the typical “help them” prompt upon visitation (though there is a nice feature of posting to their Facebook account from their office). The concept of having it earn more money is also fairly reminiscent of FrontierVille’s rep system, which, like it or not, is a much more interesting method of incorporating the same basic function.

Regardless, as players level up, they earn a number of interesting elements beyond just decorum. Some of the items unlocked are functional and offer more jobs (e.g. a filing cabinet). However, based on level, only so many can be owned at any given time. Additionally, as one increases their level — and, in turn, their office title (Slacker, Office Ninja, etc.) — higher rated functional items become available. This rating, indicated by a number of stars, will allow for much better paying jobs to be available once the object is purchased. It is also worth noting that the number of functional items allowed in an office is also gated by level.

Ironically, “Office Ninja” is a good example of office titles as it also has a very literal connotation. Office Heroes actually has an in-game virtual store that sells virtual goods that cost a virtual currency called “Paperclips.” This includes a myriad of themed item sets for both one’s office and avatar. Of the latter, two very cool sets include an Office Pirate and Office Ninja outfit that can truly exemplify one’s personal style.

As mentioned above, Office Heroes’ visual style is quite good, so the decoration element stands out. That said, it is a bit obnoxious to actually decorate, requiring the user to tap and hold an object to move it. It wouldn’t be that bad, except that the input seems a bit unresponsive, and when either moving a placed object or purchasing a new one (done by dragging it from the store to the office), we constantly ended up just moving the camera around. More often than not, it took three or more tries to get things where they were wanted them

All in in all, Office Heroes is still a pretty decent game for the iPhone. It has a nice visual and satirical style to it, and does work well for a virtual space sort of game. The downside for experienced gamers is that the play and social mechanics are a bit unoriginal, while the Reputation system feels unfinished. Nevertheless, the game has a strong base, and plenty of room to grow.

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Cerebral Decorating with Uber Brain Isle on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/07/21 - 22:38

While island decorating games are a newer form of social game, brain teasing puzzle apps have been around for quite a while. Popular brain training titles from companies such as Playfish and wooga have always done well, but rarely have they combined themselves with the younger genre. That’s where the Facebook app Uber Brain Isle from Fit Brains comes into play.

Uber Brain Isle combines brain-teasing titles, such as Brain Buddies, and island décor games such as Tiki Resort. Unlike the latter, however, players aren’t taking a tycoon role, but rather they “collect dreams” in order to build up a personal island the way they see fit. However, the combination of these mechanics with the brain teasers feels a bit clunky at best, and neither really feel part of the other.

Mechanic combination aside, the core aspect of Brain Isle is still the decoration of the best island one can imagine. In fact, imagination and dreams appear to be a strong premise in the game, as the primary form of player revenue are various dream factories that produce Brain Coins that can be collected after a set amount of time.

As with most virtual space type of games, placement and collection of coins earns experience (this includes placement of decorative items as well), and the higher one’s level, or Brain Rank, the more objects become unlocked.

Among the unlockable elements of the game are the brain teasing mini-games called Brain Boosts. Currently, there are five games to unlock, and playing them will earn the user a good chunk of bonus coins and experience, depending on how well they do. None are very difficult. With the first game — Lost Treasure — players of pick out which object, amongst an ever increasing set of objects, is different from the others. The second — Dream Journey — consists of replacing a missing puzzle piece to a picture based on what the current image is and the shape of the missing piece.

Though the other three are not unlocked for us yet, its probably safe to say that they are as simple as the initial two. This makes it plausible that this app is intended more for a younger audience. Regardless, what is curious about these games, however, is that the player can only play them once a day for free (or when they level up).

Initially, the game’s launch was announced on Facebook’s Credits page, and lo and behold, this appears to be the slightly more unique use of the virtual currency. Granted, there are decorative items and dream factories that can be bought with Credits, but in order to play a mini-game more than once within a 24 hour period requires anywhere from five to 200 Credits for one and 50 extra plays, respectively.

As far as complaints are concerned, the game play itself is pretty dull. The visuals feel a bit fuzzy and drab, and just doesn’t feel that interesting. Namely, it’s because the means of reaching the objective is the objective itself: Decorate your island to decorate your island. Most other virtual space oriented apps have some other aspect to make that decoration more interesting. Tiki Island was justified by drawing in tourists. Restaurant City was business oriented. Nightclub City’s décor made the club worth more. These had clear visible goals, which is not so much the case here.

The brain training games are a nice touch and an apparent attempt to make up for this lacking, but they just don’t feel integral to the game. They don’t really enhance the game experience at all, save for tossing in a few extra Brain Coins. They’re just sort of… there. If they don’t want to, the player never even has to visit them. Playing them needs a more meaningful effect on the island or the island needs a more meaningful effect on them.

The idea of combining brain-training and decorating is interesting, but this game needs to work on the quality of the mini-games and how they tie in with the overall concept.

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Inside a Small Developer’s Success on Facebook: 5th Planet’s Dawn of the Dragons

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/07/21 - 16:05

Not all successful Facebook games have to be simple, quick, or built by an experienced or well-funded developer. There’s still room on the platform for independents with original ideas, as proven by a profitable new game called Dawn of the Dragons.

We were recently introduced to one of the founders of 5th Planet Games, the company behind Dawn. Robert Winkler created the company with co-founder Steve Pladson last year with the intention of creating a massively multiplayer game — even though neither had direct experience in the games industry.

Soon enough, the MMO morphed into a social game, and took the shape of a Mafia Wars-style text-based game. However, the two had more unusual ideas on where to take the concept.

The first step was to hire a professional writer to create a comprehensive back-story for Dawn involving struggling kingdoms, scheming wizards and, of course, dragons. The story makes Dawn stand out from other Facebook games; aside from being fantastically geeky, it also assumes a level of engagement from players — regularly reading paragraphs of text — that most developers instinctively shy away from.

5th Planet released Dawn in May. Since then, it has picked up some 86,749 monthly active users and 28,638 daily active users. That means about 33 percent all players return as DAUs, a higher level of engagement than most Facebook games enjoy. (Note that the plateau at the end of the chart below is due to a glitch in Facebook’s updates to its public stats.)

MAU and DAU are available for any game. However, Winkler was also willing to share stats on monetization with us, which developers rarely announce publicly. Although based on less than two months’ worth of data, the stats suggest that Dawn is also making more than the average game:

  • Players who monetize: 2.1 percent
  • Average single transaction: $22.04 for direct pay, $3.12 for offers
  • Average revenue per paying user: $26.24
  • Paying users who have spent over $25 (whales): 24 percent
  • Paying users who return for a second transaction: 40 percent

While monetizing 1-2 percent of users is fairly typical for Facebook games, Dawn’s ARPPU is higher than we’ve seen for most other titles. Since the end of its first month when it ran a promotional campaign with Offerpal (which Winkler credits for helping make the game successful), Dawn has been making well over $1,000 per day for the company, according to Winkler.

These stats fit a broader trend that we’ve talked about recently: in-depth strategy and RPG titles can achieve higher engagement, and make more money per user, than more mass-market titles. Going for a niche audience, in other words, can be a great bet for a small developer.

Winkler thinks that Dawn’s success is in part attributable to the game’s storyline. “We knew that if we wanted to go the traditional RPG route, the story would be important,” he says. “We didn’t just want to push things together, and make the plot fit the game elements.”

Beyond the game, Winkler says there’s evidence that the story is engaging users on the application’s wall, where the company will sometimes post “lore” that’s of no real use other than giving insight into the story. “We see the same click-throughs on those that we get on patch notes and other things,” says Winkler. Some players have even started writing fan-fiction.

Contrary to what one might expect, though, not all of Dawn’s players are dedicated fantasy readers or gamers. Winkler, who interacts regularly with fans on the game forums, says that some come into the game without any background in fantasy at all. “Our number one spender, from what we know, isn’t into games like this — they’re into farming games,” he says.

In general, whether users engage with the story or not, the most engaged users and the heaviest spenders tend to be those that interact with others in the game.

While that would normally mean real-world friends, Winkler says that some gamers appear to interact mainly with people they met on the game, and that such interactions have the same reinforcing effect on players’ engagement as dealing with real-world friends.

For now, Winkler considers 5th Planet to already be successful, and is plowing the profits back into expanding the game — features to come include guilds similar to those found on an MMO — and advertising. Tomorrow, Offerpal will be detailing the effects of its promotion with 5th Planet at Casual Connect in Seattle.

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Social and Casual Game Co Zattikka Raises $5.5 Million

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/07/21 - 15:42

A United Kingdom-based game developer called Zattikka has raises $5.5 million in a round led by Notion Capital, a venture fund also located in the UK.

Zattikka is most active through nearly identical casual game portals like BadHed and Gimme5games.com, which it acquired last September. The company also has iPhone and Twitter games, though (a favorite title: Blocks With Letters On) and a Facebook game portal called Games For The Planet.

Two former Virgin games executives founded Zattikka in 2009. The company has published more than 100 games, and claims 77 million plays during its lifetime.

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Celebrating 30 Years with Star Wars: Battle for Hoth on iPhone

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/20 - 18:42

In 1980, George Lucas released the sequel to end all sequels with Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. 30 years later, FluffyLogic, THQ Wireless, and Lucasfilm are releasing the an iPhone app centered around one of the film’s most memorable scenes. No, not the father part, but the epic snow battle on the ice planet Hoth in the tower defense app Star Wars: Battle for Hoth.

Though it may be a tower defense game, Battle for Hoth brings enough new tricks to the table to keep things interesting. Coupled with classic elements as well as newer micromanagement possibilities, and very basic social features, it’s a game that is well worth the $2.99 price tag. The bad part is that it comes with a handful of usability and intuitiveness issues. The good part is that its enough to give Star Wars lovers a complete and total geek-out.

The basics are easy enough. Imperial soldiers are trying to reach Echo Base, and it’s up to you to stop them. Any troops that get through will cause damage to the base, and when its health reaches zero, it’s game over. In order to defend, players place “towers” that consist of everything seen in the movie. This ranges from cheap foot soldiers to heavy ion cannons to x-wing and snow speeder air support.

Like all tower defense games, players must manage income - Command Points - and placement. However, while both of these are similar to their predecessors in basic ways, they are also just as different. Command Points, for example, are not earned passively as enemy units are destroyed, but must be picked up (they are green wrenches), before they disappear, when they are dropped from random Imperial units; typically these are the ones at the end of a wave.

Placement is also prudent, as enemies do not simply funnel from Point A to Point B. On the contrary, many levels can have multiple entry points, and units can attack from either, or both, at any given time. In order to compensate for this, players must balance the quality (units can be upgraded) and quantity of their own forces.

To help in this, players can build trenches, like in the movie, to funnel enemies where they want them to go. Moreover, soldier units can be placed inside them to gain a defensive bonus. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, and enemy TIE fighters and AT-AT walkers get introduced, the trenches do considerably less, in that they simply get bypassed.

It goes without saying that fighting units are going to take more than soldiers, so players must begin adding various gun placements to take them out. Additionally, some can only hit ground and others can only hit air, so, again, variety is a necessity. Beyond this, Battle for Hoth also incorporates an energy mechanic. This means that any tower must have a power generator in relative proximity to work. Also, that power generator can only power a finite number of turrets (up to four when upgraded).

Another cool aspect of the game is air support. It’s not anything extravagant, but players can also power x-wing and snow speeder control towers that will send out the various air units to support the ground forces as needed.

The strategy aspects of the game don’t stop here either. In a majority of tower defense games, towers are not attackable: Not the case in Battle for Hoth. Imperial troops can, and will, destroy player defenses.

Players can actually adjust the AI of their units to attack specific targets. These commands can apply to a single unit or all units of that type and consist of attacking targets with the most/least health or the closest to Echo Base or land/air targets (assuming it can target both). Also, since the Imperials appear to use similar AI, using all units at one’s disposal is a very wise venture.

In the complaint department, the issues are minor at worst. Though the game is pretty easy to figure out, there isn’t much instruction as to what new units do when the player earns them each level. There is a separate page that explains each one, but having to stop the game and look it up really breaks the game flow. Additionally, the game’s difficulty curve is a bit awkward. Each level is not necessarily harder than the last once you figure out how to use the new, unlocked, defenses, but in a level of, say, 30 waves, it’s fairly easy until the last three to five. Beyond any of this, the upgrade and command buttons on each individual unit is a bit small for those with bigger fingers.

On the social side of things, the game comes with the OpenFeint basics, including a leaderboard for each level and a fairly sizable number of achievements. We’re still hoping for the mobile, social games to start thinking outside the box in the social department, but with the game itself already pretty solid, it’s not a big complaint.

All in all, Star Wars: Battle for Hoth is definitely a must-have for Star Wars fans. Whether or not it’s a strong recreation of one of the film’s most astounding moments is debatable, but it is fun, nonetheless. Hoth also tries its best to bring back that nostalgia by integrating clips from the movie as well, but that’s a trick seen in a majority of Star Wars titles already. Overall, with a strong amount of strategy and a depth-level  that is perfect for beginners and advanced strategists alike, it’s a game well worth the price tag.

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Advertising with Social Games: Trident’s Puzzle Smash on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/20 - 17:28

Time and time again we have seen Facebook games used as a catalyst to market something greater. With the tremendous growth of the platform, it can hardly be unexpected, but this time the company behind the game is Trident with the new Facebook title Trident White Puzzle Smash, developed by Funtank.

The game itself is quite simple, centered around the casual block-breaker puzzle style. Moderately addicting for those who enjoy that sort of game, it’s an app that doesn’t feel terribly different from its predecessors, yet the developers do make an effort to try and socialize the game in more ways than just standard leaderboards. Moreover, it’s a branded title that makes a much better attempt than many we have seen in the past.

Puzzle Smash is a game of only one objective: Beat your high score. Pairs of different colored blocks fall from the sky, Tetris-style, and players must orient them into blocks or rectangles of at least 2×2. Doing so will multiply their value when broken.

In order to break them, one of the blocks in each falling pair will periodically be a colored orb with a Trident flavor (peppermint, spearmint, etc.). These will break all blocks of the same color, so long as they are touching and, in some way, connected to the initial block hit with the orb.

This makes the basics of the game. Coupled with a Trident brand orb that works on all colors, and an every increasing speed, players attempt to last as long as possible before their stack of blocks reaches the top of the board and the game ends.

On the social side of things, the primary mechanics are typical, consisting of leaderboards. However, what is respectable with Puzzle Smash is that while leaderboards are a proven standard for games of this style, Funtank is not satisfied with it alone and actually adds some bonuses for playing with friends. It isn’t much, but for each friend added, players will receive a 2% bonus to their final score when they finally lose.

On an additional note, it is also worth mentioning that players that “Like” the game will also receive in-game power-ups that will allow them to use some “emergency” items that will break all blocks of their corresponding color.

Technically speaking, there isn’t anything wrong with Puzzle Smash, but it’s also not the most innovative or addicting game either. Granted, it might be a ton of fun for those that enjoy block-breaking puzzlers or others of that type, but there’s nothing terribly new to be had here save the added social elements beyond leaderboards. All the same, it’s a game that does not appear to be intended as solely a game, but rather, it’s a title intended to capture further customers for Trident gum itself. That in mind, the game marks a significantly better attempt at other similarly goal-oriented titles in the past such as LEGO Indiana Jones and Emusicon Pinball. It’s still not the best, but it is nice to see the quality of branded games improving.

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Offerpal Launches SocialKast to Help Games Migrate Off Facebook

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/20 - 13:00

This year is going to be a defining one for in-game monetization companies like Offerpal Media. Having been forced to shift its focus away from Facebook with the focus of Credits and its workforce layoff, the offers and payments company is now trying to figure out whether there’s a future off the social network.

Rather than sitting still and waiting for a company like MySpace or Google to offer a viable alternative, Offerpal wants to take matters into its own hands. This morning it’s announcing a new platform called SocialKast, which is designed to make it easier for developers to move off Facebook.

SocialKast doesn’t bring any major innovations to the table; instead, it simply promises to link together multiple platforms. For example, SocialKast could allow a developer on Facebook, Yahoo and MySpace to let its users send messages or notifications onto any of the platforms at once, or all simultaneously. The developer could use the same connections to reach out to new users across platforms.

This sort of integration is technically possible because almost every major platform now offers an API. The challenge is smoothly linking together multiple platforms, given the major differences between them. That’s one reason that most social game developer still exclusively operate on Facebook.

We’ve seen a number of other companies move toward a cross-platform model, including Heyzap, Viximo and Sibblingz. The difference for Offerpal is that it’s aiming specifically at large web platforms like Yahoo and Google, which have their own plans to get gamers off Facebook.

“We think that social gaming, if it’s going to continue to grow, will need to be on other platforms. The growth has been stunted on Facebook lately,” says Matt McAllister, Offerpal’s director of marketing. “Everyone realizes that the big problem in social gaming today is distribution.”

The interesting twist in Offerpal’s case is that it doesn’t want to directly benefit from SocialKast. Instead, says McAllister, the company is simply hoping to stay at the top of developers’ minds. “Our bet is that if we help you get all this distribution across all these sites, you’ll pick us as your monetization partner,” says McAllister. “Our play is still to be the monetization company.”

Of course, Offerpal hasn’t put all of its eggs in one basket with SocialKast; the company also has a separate agreement with Yahoo, and is in the process of moving into mobile monetization.

But SocialKast is also emblematic of the difficulties all the monetization companies that got their start on Facebook face this year. With Credits becoming ever more vital, and more companies choosing to use the Facebook virtual currency exclusively, it’s vital for these companies to help developers move onto the open web. If they fail, they may well face worse than a round of layoffs.

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Ngmoco’s We Farm for iPhone Launches in Canada

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/20 - 02:37

When we last left the folks over at Ngmoco, they were crafting new worlds with the god-sim GodFinger on the iPad and iPhone. But however well that game may be doing, it’s We Rule, another popular iDevice title Ngmoco released this year, that the company has chosen to become a franchise with the release of a new iPhone title, We Farm.

Ngmoco has made a habit of testing its games in Canada, which is the only place We Farm is available for now — although the company promises that it will be available on an international level soon. Regardless, the time until then is easily killed, as We Farm feels quite similar to We Rule. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but aside from the premise and visual content, not a lot feels terribly different.

Basically, rather than a kingdom, players are set to build up as large and as nice a farm as possible by buying and placing gardens of various crops, which are then sold to earn income. With more advanced levels, more crops become available, ranging in growth time from about a minute to days. Like most farming games, the crops rot if the user doesn’t return to harvest them. Thankfully, there is an option for push notifications when they are ready, for those that are more forgetful.

An important to the typical crop mechanic is animals. Players can purchase various animal enclosures, for example a chicken coop. From here, they can buy different animals that will mature over time and can be petted for added experience. What is most interesting, however, is that once mature, players can send them off to the “fair,” where they can win awards. These awards don’t appear to do much besides slightly alter the animal’s building with a ribbon, but that visual reward is often enough.

Like We Rule, We Farm is also a visually appealing game. More realistic than the more common cartoony games in the genre, We Farm has any number of decorations that can be scattered about the virtual space, and comes with a convenient redesign function that lets you pick up and move everything with a touch and drag, rather than go through a sea of menus.

When starting out, players don’t have a tremendous amount of real estate to work with. Luckily, expansion is fairly natural, as players earn gold and upgrade the farm house at their virtual space’s center. As it is improved, it not only looks better, but expands the physical amount of space on the farm itself. The additional means of expansion is through adding friends as neighbors.

This, obviously, is one of the major social mechanics, as players can invite friends that play via Facebook, Twitter, or the Plus+ network. Once invited, their farms display on an overworld map, and can be visited to help out and earn rewards. Unfortunately, as the game is only available in Canada, and we’re using a special promo code… we are very lonely at the moment, and thus cannot provide greater detail on these elements.

What we can confirm, however, is that the game is part of Ngmoco’s Plus+ platform. Working as an enhancement to the game’s core, players can share various achievements as well as take part in the games competitive leaderboards.

As far as monetization goes, Ngmoco appears to be taking a similar route as it did with We Rule. Along with advertisements and offers that appear as “Free Gold” on the overworld map, the game appears to be monetizing most with a virtual item called Gro. Purchasable in quantities ranging from 20 to 800 ($2.99 to $89.99), it’s an item used to speed up crop growth, increase animal happiness so they can be petted again, or speed up animal maturation.

Overall, there is little to complain about We Farm other than the fact that it is not all that different from We Rule. That fact may not affect the game’s success; the different flavor may appeal to a slightly different demographic, and Zynga  and others proved the tactic can work in its early years, while cloning Mafia Wars with a sea of virtually identical role-playing games on Facebook. In that light, We Farm can also serve as an experiment for Ngmoco as to whether this method will work for it, both with We Farm and another previously-announced spinoff that’s yet to be released, We City.

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Announcing the Inside Network Job Board

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/07/19 - 20:00

As Inside Network has grown over the years, we’ve received an increasing number of inquiries from companies working on Facebook and social gaming to post listings for open positions. Today, we’re excited to announce the Inside Network Job Board - dedicated to providing you with the best job opportunities in the Facebook Platform and social gaming ecosystem.

When you place job listings on the Inside Network Job Board, they’ll be distributed to readers of Inside Facebook and Inside Social Games through regular posts highlighting new job listings, as well as through widgets you see here 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 world today.

We’re offering a special launch discount code for new listings placed this week on the Inside Network Job Board. Just use the discount code “INSJOB30” by this Friday, July 23rd, to receive a 30% discount on all jobs you post.

Several companies in the social gaming place have already posted jobs. Check out these jobs posted by A Bit Lucky, a social gaming startup based in San Mateo, CA, wooga, one of Europe’s largest developers of social games, Slide, one of the earliest companies on the Facebook Platform that has moved heavily into social games, and Playfirst, a large casual game developer that is also moving heavily into social gaming.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks and months to find out about cool job opportunities at the most exciting companies in the industry!

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Scoreloop: Mobile Gamers Want Social Interactions

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/07/19 - 15:00

Scoreloop, a social gaming platform on the iPhone, Android and other mobile operating systems, has been working to figure out the motivations of mobile gamers. Today they’re releasing the first of a three-part study, based on surveys and one-to-one interviews with their target audience.

The first interesting result: a large number of mobile gamers are actually play while they’re simultaneously on Facebook, interacting with friends. Out of Scoreloop’s total pool of respondents, some 66 percent said they multi-task while playing mobile games; most of those people report social networking activities while they game:

“We see here that people don’t fully focus on the game,” says Scoreloop CEO Marc Gumpinger. However, mobile developers shouldn’t get the idea that players want chat or other heavy social features in their game; the interviewees expressed a preference for keeping those features on their computers. “Chat doesn’t make sense at all in the games,” says Gumpinger.

What the study does suggest is that mobile gamers do want to enjoy games as an auxiliary to their social life. That could mean an implementation similar to Facebook, in which games serve as an add-on to the network rather than an extension of it; players typically enjoy asynchronous interactions that aren’t necessarily content-heavy.

“The pure motivations of being in touch, having more fun, teamwork and so forth are completely independent of platform,” says Gumpinger. “They’re present on Facebook, and on mobile.”

Scoreloop also asked its respondents to rate how much they would be interested in more social interaction within mobile games, on a scale of one to five:

“Fun”, of course, was by far the favorite answer. What’s stands out in the above numbers is that players were least interested in bragging — but leaderboards, the ultimate bragging tool, are still the only social element in a great many mobile games.

It’s in Scoreloop’s interest, of course, to convince mobile developers to work with it on more advanced social features. In June, it announced that its move onto platforms beyond the smartphones; and we also ran a much longer Q&A with Gumpinger last year.

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City Builders and Strategy Do Well on This Week’s List of Fastest-Growing Facebook Games by MAU

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/07/19 - 13:30

FrontierVille once again leads our weekly list of fastest-gaining Facebook games by monthly active users with two million new users, pushing it across the 20 million MAU mark, as Zynga took pains to announce on Thursday. However, the game still has a ways to go before it reaches 27 million MAU, which marked Zynga’s high point earlier this year with Treasure Isle.

From here it’s difficult to tell whether FrontierVille will reach that point, especially since Facebook is a few days behind on updating its stats; for the same reason, note that growth falsely appears a bit low this week. Here’s the full AppData list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain, % 1. Element Analyst Creator 2,711,832 +2,150,378 +383.00 2. FrontierVille 20,735,154 +2,046,053 +10.95 3. Millionaire City 3,933,586 +697,906 +21.57 4. SuperFun Town! 1,428,240 +503,303 +54.41 5. EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars 4,892,926 +464,796 +10.50 6. Verdonia 3,584,918 +395,363 +12.40 7. ?????? 707,867 +356,098 +101.23 8. Kingdoms of Camelot 3,030,739 +315,516 +11.62 9. Baking Life 3,486,467 +309,847 +9.75 10. Hero World 1,529,422 +259,068 +20.39 11. Fashion World 2,339,798 +256,728 +12.32 12. Resort World 1,373,899 +250,385 +22.29 13. Office Wars 517,611 +211,306 +68.99 14. Fanglies 268,063 +204,378 +320.92 15. Bejeweled Blitz 10,786,832 +201,446 +1.90 16. Casino City 904,293 +194,022 +27.32 17. Gift Creator 4,601,094 +190,675 +4.32 18. ?? Lounge Bar 833,258 +185,247 +28.59 19. Horse Saga (renamed) 719,454 +172,702 +31.59 20. Zoo Kingdom 1,582,532 +164,549 +11.60

Millionaire City continues to grow, offering the promise of single-handedly making developer Digital Chocolate a major social gaming player. It’s now Facebook’s fourth-largest city building sim. Note that SuperFun Town!, the next app down with half a million new MAU, is in the same category.

EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars comes in at fourth, with decent growth and the answer to a question: yes, the soccer game can continue growing after the World Cup is over (the final match took place on July 11th).

It’s also interesting to see Verdonia and Kingdoms of Camelot coming in alongside each other — both are fairly intensive strategy games. We recently wrote more about the breakout of strategy on Facebook.

And at number eight, RockYou’s Hero World appears to be staging a comeback. It has a long climb ahead if it’s to reach previous heights, though; the app topped out in February with over seven million MAU.

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THQ Moves Company of Heroes to Virtual Goods, Free-to-Play Model

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/07/19 - 12:00

Giant game publisher THQ is taking a first step into the free to play model with one of its most successful titles ever: Company of Heroes, a real-time strategy game first released in 2006 and later bolstered with expansions. The company is working with in-game monetization company Live Gamer to make the switch.

Choosing Company of Heroes as its first title to rely on virtual goods is not a hugely risky move for THQ. Boxed versions of the original game, although still popular, can already be easily found for under $10; the two expansions, though more expensive, also appear to sell fewer copies.

However, it’s clear that THQ’s move is an acknowledgment of the success social games have enjoyed over the past two years — not least because Live Gamer is primarily known for its work in that industry.

THQ’s own losses have mounted over the same time period that social games have skyrocketed through the mechanism of virtual goods. Company of Heroes should be a good test-bed for the company to decide whether to pursue the model with newer titles.

The evidence so far has been fairly positive; in a conversation with us, Live Gamer co-founder Andrew Schneider pointed out Chinese examples like Legend of Mir 2 and ZT Online that hugely increased revenue with free-to-play versions.

Schneider said that any slowness to act on the part of large traditional game publishers is less from skepticism about the model than the inertia of the old business model, in which the company’s only contact with customers is the initial sale of a game. “They’ve been disintermediated from direct consumer relationships by the box game market, so it’s hard for them to aggressively shift the business,” said Schneider. “There’s a major inflection point in who owns the end relationship.”

Now the focus is less on proving that virtual goods sales can be done at all, and more on the specifics. Live Gamer’s role is both to provide software and insight into what works. “What’s resonating most is merchandising — advanced selling and upsell techiques,” said Schneider, comparing virtual goods sales to traditional techniques of selling goods on a site like Amazon.

THQ isn’t alone; last week, we also mentioned that Lord of the Rings Online is going free-to-play, while another branded game, Star Trek Online, seems interested. Live Gamer may also be working on other partnerships.

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This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

Inside Social Games - Sun, 2010/07/18 - 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, July 12th, 2010

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Friday, July 16th, 2010

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Social Gaming Roundup: Playdom, FarmVille, Joystick, & More

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/07/17 - 00:00

Playdom TV - According to a tweet from Playdom, there is a curious series of Playdom themed shorts on YouTube called Playdom TV. Thus far, there are shorts on Verdonia, Sorority Life, and Social City.

PopCap to Add Social Features — At the Develop Conference in Brighton, UK, Senior Designer for PopCap, David Bishop stated that the company is “looking to add social features to all our existing games going forward.” The details were not revealed, but cross-platform taunting and challenges for Peggle was one example given.

MyYearbook Expands Virtual Currency Partners - Social network myYearbook has a new service partner for its Currency Connect - a virtual currency exchange for social media sites. Teen property and social game, WeeWorld marks the second partner for myYearbook’s service, with the first being IMVU last year.

Joystick Labs Announces Mentors for Fall 2010 Accelerator Program - This week, Joystick Labs, a company focused on the development of digitally distributed games, announced the initial group of mentors that will advise teams in the Fall 2010 accelerator program for indie game developers. Of the names announced, mentors include individuals from Epic Games, Insomniac Games, Playdom, NVIDIA Corp., Republic of Fun, and The Escapist. Venture capital investors include Intersouth Partners, Intel Capital, and IDEA Fund Partners.

Owen Van Natta Working Closely with Zynga - Former MySpace CEO (and Facebook executive) Owen Van Natta has been advising Zynga, according to All Things Digital. Now, he and the company are considering bringing him in a bigger role, “like COO.”

FarmVille Adds First Branded Crop - Cascadian Farm will become the first branded, and organic, crop in the Zynga game, FarmVille. The integration, however, appears to be limited, lasting only from July 19th to July 26th. For the duration, players will be able to buy organic blueberries for their farms as well as attain coupon offers, green living tips, and the chance to build their farms up faster.

We R Interactive Seeks to Blend Films & Social Games - Financially backed by ITV’s commercial head, Fru Hazlitt, London-based social gaming company, We R Interactive is trying something new, as it attempts to marry film and social games. According to the information we have, the games themselves will be predominantly on Facebook, but also available on iPhone, Android, and other social networks. As for the film element, these are said to be live action films integrated into the games’ narrative(s).

Plants vs. Zombies 2? - When we reviewed PopCap‘s Plants vs. Zombies on the iPhone, we thought it fantastic. However, a post from Slide to Play suggests that there may be a sequel as the folks there received a cryptic message stating that they should “Save the Date” of August 2nd.

[image via Slide to Play]

Ignition to Move into Social Games - Ignition Entertainment is a company primarily focused on publishing Japanese games, but this week, the company has noted that it wishes to expand into the digital space, focusing on networks such as Xbox Live, Sony, Steam, and Facebook. The company will be rebranded as UTV Ignition Entertainment.

MATOMY Launches Engage Bar - After closing $1 million in funding, virtual payments provider MATOMY has announced the launch of its Engage Bar. In short, it is a customizable offers widget that appears within a game that utilizes it.

Mafia Wars Ad Banned - A Mafia Wars ad depicting a man with a knife and the tag line “From street thug to capo. Earn your street cred and be respected.” was banned as the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that carrying a weapon implied a literal means of earning respect and success.

[image via Guardian.co.uk]

Sony Head Starts Dire Wolf Digital Game Studio - Former head of Sony Online Entertainment Denver, as well as a handful of other SOE vets, have started up Dire Wolf Digital Game Studio. The new company will specialize in online trading card games, digital collectibles, and social games.

Startup Ze Frank Games - Video blogger Ze Frank is starting up a game-oriented company called Ze Frank Games with $500,000 in angel funding. As to what specifically the company will make is unclear, but Ze Frank does say it will involve social gaming.

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