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Dumping Twitter Friends with iPhone App Chump Dump

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/16 - 18:00

There have only been a few games made for Twitter, and they haven’t gotten far. There was the iPhone app, Tweet Defense, and before that, the re-release of the World of Blood games back in summer of 2009. Now, a group called Big Kitty Labs is taking a rather… different… approach to utilizing the social network in its new iPhone and Android game, Chump Dump!

Let’s face it, a wide margin of social networking users – be they Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter – have more friends than they can handle. Thousands. It’s because most social games create an added benefit to having more friends that play with you (e.g. Mafia Wars). But this smartphone app rewards the player for actually dropping those superfluous “friends.”

The game can be best described as a lottery type of game with a bit of user-generated content mixed in. When users log in, the app presents them with a daily lottery - a “winner,” as it were, among the user’s “friends.” Once they’ve been pulled up, Chump Dump! digs through about a month’s worth of tweets and activities this person has been up to. This includes information such as whether or not they follow the user, how many times they’ve replied to them, number of tweets, followers, and followies, etc.

From here, the player has two choices to make: Save or Dump! Should the user Dump the individual, they will earn a set amount of points, dubbed “Karma.” If they save them, they’ll still earn Karma, but it will be a lesser amount. Additionally, once a dumping has occurred, the player gets an opportunity to earn additional Karma by giving a reason.

This is, obviously, the user-generated element of the game, and comes off as amusing (some of the time). Granted, as with all user-generated content, a good deal of it is likely pretty lame, but a few reasons are pretty good. As of July 12th, in fact, Big Kitty Labs actually posted the Top 5 reasons, which includes “Dude, it’s my BOSS!” Yeah…. In most cases, that may not be a good one to keep.

Obviously, this is the premise behind the Chump Dump’s other major social mechanic: leaderboards. Really, that’s where the user’s drive in playing comes from. That said, there is the concern of getting fewer points if you save a person. What if said person is an actual friend? Moreover, with purchasable vouchers that let users Save or Dump more than one person a day, it’s easy to earn more points more quickly.

Regardless, while the concept is quite creative, it doesn’t seem entertaining enough to warrant the noted virtual goods purchases (thus the previous concern is more or less moot); which is why the iPhone app has advertisements and the Android version, ChumpDump Unlimited is $1.99.

If users do wish to earn extra points, for free, however, they can pick up dumped individuals in the form of “adoption.” Granted, it is a bit counterintuitive to the app’s overall premise, but the concept is kind of funny. It’s almost like a hall of shame.

In addition to adoption, Chump Dump! further enhances itself with the addition of badges (achievements). Like most mobile games to make use of this traditional social mechanic, they’re nothing terribly extravagant, but they do add a little something extra in the form of longevity and “bragging rights” as players earn them through methods such as Dumping, Saving, or Adopting a set number of individuals.

As simple as the game may be, Chump Dump! is certainly a wonderful addition for the iPhone if you have a bit too many “friends” on your Twitter account. It makes for a great means to clean things out a bit, and as a free app, it’s certainly worth a download. That said, it’s difficult to judge if the Android price tag is worth it or not. True, $2 isn’t a lot, but if you’re not heavy into Twitter, it’s hardly worth it. In the end, it’s a game with a few kinks, here and there, but one with a truly unique idea behind it. We look forward to what new developments come out of Big Kitty Labs, as well as what curious machinations will utilize Twitter, as a whole, in the future.

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How to Localize Games: An Interview With Hong Kong Publisher 6waves

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/16 - 15:30

Localization, or the process of adapting a game to another culture and language, is a hot topic this year among social game developers. While the US market quickly became saturated with players in 2009, Facebook’s international audience of more than 500 million people appears to offer a vast opportunity for further expansion.

However, the process of moving a product to a foreign userbase is more complex than just translating the text. Other cultures have different expectations for the user interface and interactions, while many markets have their own peculiarities of payment processing and monetization.

Inside Social Games will be running a series of interviews over the coming weeks with some of the smartest international developers. This first interview is with with 6waves co-founder Rex Ng, who publishes over three dozen games including Mall World????? and Kingdoms of Camelot.

To start off, Rex defined three areas of localization for us: language, payment and marketing, with language being the easiest and payment hardest.

Inside Social Games: Since language is the easy part, let’s start there. What’s your process?

Rex Ng: It’s a two-pronged process for us. We have a professional translation company that we outsource to, and our core product has 10 languages already. That’s the first step. Then we also have in-house country managers who review the translations and make sure the stuff is up to par, and we’ve revised specifically for games like Mall World, which is more female-oriented.

ISG: What makes payment localization difficult?

Ng: PayPal and credit cards are very prominent in the US, but for each new country we have to go in and have a localized resource for the market. A lot of times the payment choices for micro-transactions, they may not start out as a dedicated company. Some of them are game companies with a payment channel, so we’ll reach out to them. Second to that is integrating the system — it’s not like they’ll just provide a payment API. When we integrated with Gamania we were the second or third partner, so there was a lot of work making sure it was accurate, and getting payment reports on a granular basis so we could use the data to analyze how the game is doing for the country. That’s a lot of work,. There are also a lot of new companies that are trying to break into these emerging markets and create payment channels, like Turkey, Brazil and India, but a lot of these companies are newer, so we have to be the guinea pig them to test out and see how their systems are scaling.

ISG: How are the different world regions developing, in terms of prepared payment channels?

Ng: I think the premium model has sparked a lot of companies to specialize in payments. They are coming relatively quickly. In Europe there weren’t a lot of these channels, but when we last went to Hamburg there were a bunch. They’re spawning quite quickly, but it will take a couple months to see which channels will come out on top. In the newer areas, like in South Asia and Latin America, they’re coming out as well. By the end of 2010 a lot of these companies will start to stabilize, but we always want to be one of the first to find out which companies are best.

ISG: Marketing is the last of the three pillars you mentioned. How does that work?

Ng: There are times where, let’s take Taiwan for example, the Facebook traffic there was not great until we’d pushed a lot of our games and done local marketing. A lot of the PR was from the game sites, the local media. So for a lot of Asian countries, the first time they’ve heard about Facebook is from the games. At the time our farming game was the most played, and there were a lot of articles, a TV announcement, etc — it became a pretty big phenomenon, and drove a lot of users back to the game.

ISG: Are you finding anything surprising about your revenue from specific markets?

Ng: There are certainly surprises. There are countries we expect higher but are lower, and vice versa. A good example is actually Taiwan and Hong Kong, where we expected ARPU to be lower than Western Europe and North America. But at the end of the day, it turns out that Taiwan has such a strong gaming culture, their ARPU is almost on par with the games we’re seeing in North America. A lot of times it’s difficult to say whether it’s on par because the payment stuff is still developing, but for a country that has strong support, where the payments are frictionless, they become comparable. Even with lower GDP per capita.

ISG: Given the choice today would you launch a game in the US or internationally?

Ng: Almost all of our games that we sign up have a good universal appeal, so we try to invest in as many markets as possible. For the US it’s very competitive, so we’re not trying to be #1 in that space. Some games like Mall World are monetizing and doing well, but for us we’re also trying to stagger these games. So we’re trying to launch games, one or two a month, and we try to stagger the launch for different countries.

ISG: You focus heavily on Asia. Is it OK to leave a game in English for the Asian market?

Ng: A lot of the most quality games are still in English, and the games aren’t so complicated that they require a lot of explanation. So for English games, 50 to 60 percent of our traffic could be coming from international countries. If you look at FarmVille and select the international countries, you’ll see a lot of users.

ISG: Any last comments?

Ng: Facebook’s growth will come mainly from the international market, and the English-language market is a little more saturated in terms of users, the pay rates, the ARPU — those are all going to saturation point. For international, the upside is a lot more, both from a pay rate and ARPU perspective. That’s why we’re spending a lot on our effort to optimize all of these.

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Lounge and Office Top This Week’s List of Emerging Facebook Games

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/16 - 13:30

Several fast-growing new games have rocketed to the top of this week’s list of emerging Facebook games, defined as those still under a million monthly active users. The selection is fairly diverse, as well, with a Chinese-language game leading off the mix.

Here’s the full AppData list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain, % 1. ?? Lounge Bar 833,258 +479,018 +135.22 2. Office Wars 517,611 +342,552 +195.68 3. Casino City 904,293 +283,677 +45.71 4. Fanglies 268,063 +267,804 +103,399.23 5. Horse Saga (renamed) 719,454 +242,497 +50.84 6. Birdland 858,038 +193,301 +29.08 7. Maya Pyramid 532,893 +143,304 +36.78 8. ??????? ?????? 312,856 +127,137 +68.46 9. My Vineyard 873,665 +110,811 +14.53 10. Kungfu Online 200,472 +99,803 +99.14 11. Bite Me 631,521 +92,251 +17.11 12. Country Life (lite) 219,038 +86,400 +65.14 13. EyeCandy 156,456 +84,776 +118.27 14. Golden Nugget Vegas Casino 125,360 +80,162 +177.36 15. InGenius 301,992 +79,422 +35.68 16. ??? ? 353,317 +72,373 +25.76 17. Pet World 100,824 +70,626 +233.88 18. ??? ?-???? 105,483 +64,553 +157.72 19. Crazy Taxi 391,286 +63,300 +19.30 20. Platinum Life: Web Edition BETA 503,957 +55,840 +12.46

?? Lounge Bar is the leader, with almost half a million new MAU. Though there doesn’t appear to be anything too original about this Chinese-language restaurant (or, more properly, bar) management game, it’s not often that we see the English-language offerings get beaten so thoroughly.

Second up is Office Wars, the brand-new title from Broken Bulb Studios. In Office Wars, players send their corporate peons into battle against other white-collared teams; our review is here. The game has been adding about 60,000 players per day for the past few days.

Casino City, a somewhat older title, really started to catch on at the end of June, and is now poised to break a million MAU. Beneath it are a two more newer games: Fanglies, by Playdom, which throws players into a cartoon vampire world; and Ubisoft’s Horse Saga (previously Horse Gaga), which appeals to the little girl in all of us with its focus on raising and caring for horses.

There are several more interesting games, but we’ll reserve out last mention for My Vineyard, which was originally launched by Metaplace. It’s interesting to note that the game was recently in decline, but almost exactly coincident with Metaplace’s acquisition by Playdom, its traffic has spiked back upward.

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Indian Game Portal Zapak.com Launches on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/16 - 06:28

Proclaimed as one of the largest casual gaming sites in India, Zapak Digital Entertainment is relaunching its portal, Zapak Games, on the Facebook platform.

Zapak is taking the MindJolt approach, by attempting to bridge the gap between casual and social games. In essence, the app is like any other portal, containing a number of short and simple Flash-based games. As one might expect, some are good, and others just inane, but the developers do attempt to make them social. As a result, some of the games come off as a bit trite, but thankfully they also don’t lose their casual elements.

There are about 40 games on Zapak at the moment. Very few reflect any sort of Indian flavor. For the most part, each game is a republished version of titles that long-time casual players will likely be familiar with. Nonetheless, that doesn’t make them any less fun.

For every ridiculous game that lasts about 20 seconds (e.g. there is a game called Streak Soccer, where you run, naked, from security guards for as long as you can), there is a high quality one. A particular favorite of ours is the puzzle game Bridgecraft, an overly cute title that tasks players with the construction of bridges and support systems to get colorful-looking crab people from Point A to Point B. Beyond this, there are a few other interesting games such as the rhythm game Breakdancer, the random destruction game 2012, and a very questionable action-shooter game dubbed Taliban Wipeout.

Regardless of what the player chooses, each game comes with very traditional social mechanics. The first, and most direct, is the concept of medals and challenges. As with virtually every casual portal gone social, users can challenge friends (whether they play or not) to beat their high score. Should they not accept after five days, they lose and the challenger earns a medal. Unfortunately, if one doesn’t have friends that will accept, the medals don’t exactly feel like much of an accomplishment.

Beyond this, there are various leaderboards under each specific game, and earnable trophies and items for playing them and scoring a noted score. Again, it’s basic, and common, but being able to earn trophies through beating a predetermined score for each game does bring with it a sense of accomplishment. As for the special items, it’s less clear how they are earned, but they appear to be received just by playing the different games over time. For example, we got a “Newbie” award just by playing two or three games. As these are earned, the accomplishment can be posted to one’s Facebook feed.

Currently, there are no monetization methods implemented into Zapak Games beyond advertisements. In the future, there are plans to monetize the previously stated special items that are stored in one’s trophy cabinet, according to the developer. Advergaming will be implemented as well — a market that is apparently very large in India at the moment.

Zapak is also planning for virtual goods in the near future. However, while there are plans to allow players to customize their trophy room, it’s unlikely there will be purchasable, decorative items. Evidently, such aesthetic-only purchases are rare in India, and those users are looking for goods with more immediate “value.” The best example given to us was an item that will double one’s score for the next 48 hours. Obviously this gives players a bit of an unfair advantage in challenges and leaderboards, but that is apparently both the point and driving factor behind this demographics’ desire to purchase in the first place.

Overall, there’s nothing particularly good or bad about Zapak Games. Its success, like all such portals, relies heavily on the games in its library, with the social implementations working as an enhancement — although for now they are a bit basic. So far, the new portal has steadily grown to 11,003 monthly active users.

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Speaking and Working at Casual Connect

FreeToPlay - Thu, 2010/07/15 - 23:08

A bit late on this update, but if anyone would like to "connect" at Casual Connect 2010, I will be in Seattle all week.

Here is what I'm up to:

* Speaking at a roundtable on third party development issues at the Gamesauce event on Monday

* Organizing a partnering event for a provincial interactive agency later in the week (pairing up developers in the social/casual/iPhone sectors with leaders in those sectors)

* Doing business development work for one of my clients (a large consumer electronics company) - scouting out talented games content partners

* Producing a post-show report for a multinational, multiplatform games client

* Taking any meetings that come my way!


Please drop me a line using the contact form on my consulting site if you'd like to get together during Casual Connect!

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Social Games Really Are Social — A Majority Play With Friends

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/15 - 19:53

Traditionally, players of online games have mingled freely with strangers. On Facebook, users’ real-world social connections have obviously changed this paradigm, mixing game players more with people in their existing social circles — but just how much more? Part of our most recent report, Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Habits of the Social Gaming Audience, addressed this question.

The findings were surprisingly strong in favor of real-world connections. A clear majority of people play with “friends”, while two further real-world categories claim most of the remaining interactions: co-workers and classmates. The exact breakdowns are below:

Both co-workers and classmates, of course, might also be considered friends; taken together, the three categories account for 80.5 percent of the average player’s interactions on Facebook games.

This powerful majority helps explain why the most popular games released this year, even those put out after Facebook’s infamous notification changes, contain numerous features that encourage players to interact with those from their existing Facebook network, but include very few features that encourage or allow interaction with strangers.

Players also seem to favor this state of affairs; as one told us, games serve as “a nice way to stay connected with people.”

There’s a bit more to the picture, though. As part of our research, which was conducted through surveys of Facebook game players, we also asked how players found their favorite games. Some 44.5 percent had arrived via friend invites, a number that correlates strongly with the 55.5 percent who play with friends.

Virality, clearly, is still a powerful mechanism in gaming, but it’s also one that to an extent predetermines a player’s interaction — if invited in by friends, it makes sense that players will report playing with those same friends later.

And the 19.5 percent minority that reports playing with strangers is by no means small or insignificant — especially given the setup of most Facebook games, which gives no direct way to connect with strangers.

Friends and other real-world acquaintances are still clearly the most important group for Facebook gamers, and our findings suggest that developers are justified in continuing to focus on real-world connections. However, given the diversity of Facebook’s players, our stats also suggest that interactions with strangers may be another promising avenue in the future.

In-depth breakdowns of all the data referenced above is available in our full report, Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Patterns of the Social Gaming Audience. The full report includes over 30 charts and graphs with detailed information on social gamers’ spending and playing habits, demographic differences, and brand recognition.

The full table of contents is below:

I. Methodology and Respondents

1. Introduction
  • About Inside Virtual Goods
  • About the Authors
  • Survey Objectives
2. Research Methodology
  • Target Population
  • Respondent Acquisition Method
  • Survey Structure
  • Potential for Bias
3. Survey Respondents
  • Description of Total Respondent Population

II. Overall Results

4. Favorite Game
  • Distribution of Favorite Game
  • Frequency of Play
  • Favorite Game Discovery
  • With Whom Do You Play?
  • Spending on Favorite Game
5. Payments
  • Frequency of Payment Methods
6. Play Patterns, Spending, and Brand Recall for Top Games
  • Frequency of Play in Top Games
  • Spending in Top Games
  • Aided Brand Recall for Top Games

III. Demographic Differences in Usage Patterns and Monetization

7. Regional Differences

  • Game Discovery and Spending
  • Favorite Game
  • Payment Types
8. Age and Gender Differences
  • Who are the Social Gaming “Whales”?
  • Spend Across Games
  • Analyzing the Top Two Games: FarmVille and Pet Society

Index of Charts and Graphs

  • 1.1 Survey Respondents by Region
  • 1.2 Survey Respondents by Age
  • 1.3 Survey Respondents by Gender
  • 4.1 Distribution of Favorite Game
  • 4.2 Frequency of Play of Favorite Game
  • 4.3 Method of Discovery of Favorite Game
  • 4.4 Who Players Play With
  • 4.5 Monthly Spending on Favorite Game
  • 5.1 Frequency of Payment Methods
  • 6.1 Frequency of Play in Top Games
  • 6.2 Spending in Top Games
  • 6.3 Aided Brand Recall Rates for Top Games
  • 7.1 Method of Discovery of Favorite Game By Region
  • 7.2 Who Players Play With By Region
  • 7.3 Monthly Spending on Favorite Game By Region
  • 7.4 Favorite Game By Region
  • 7.5 Most Popular Payment Types By Region
  • 7.6 Frequency of Offer Use By Region
  • 7.7 Frequency of PayPal Use By Region
  • 7.8 Frequency of Credit Card Use By Region
  • 7.9 Frequency of Mobile Phone Use By Region
  • 8.1 Top Spenders by Age
  • 8.2 Top Spenders By Gender
  • 8.3 Top Spenders By Region
  • 8.4 Number of Games on Which a Player Spends More Than $25
  • 8.5 Frequency of Top Spending By Game and By Gender
  • 8.6 Proportion of Top Spenders Who Report Spending on a Given Gam
  • 8.7 FarmVille Top Spenders by Age
  • 8.8 Pet Society Top Spenders by Age
  • 8.9 FarmVille Top Spenders by Region
  • 8.10 Pet Society Top Spenders by Region
  • 8.11 FarmVille Top Spenders by Gender
  • 8.12 Pet Society Top Spenders by Gender

Appendix

  • Survey Questions and Response Rates
  • Related Companies
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New Hires in Social Gaming: CrowdStar, Mindjolt, Zynga, & More

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/15 - 19:02

While there might be more out there, this has been a pretty slow week for new hires in social gaming, at least according to the data from LinkedIn. Five of the major social developers out there made significant hires, adding up to a maximum of five new team members each. This wasn’t much of a week for leadership changes either, as compared to last week.

Here is the list:

CrowdStar

  • Travis Gregory - Travis is the only new person to join the CrowdStar team this week,as a new UI Designer. Previously, he worked as an Art Director for Sony Online Entertainment’s Web Presence.

Mindjolt

  • Michael Twardos - Formerly an Analytics Scientist for Slide, Michael Twardos joins Mindjolt as its newest Senior Analyst.

Playdom

  • Betsy Holmes - A former Sr. Marketing Designer, she’s changing roles, becoming a new Design Manager for Playdom.
  • Alex Dragovich - Previously a Web Development Manager at InstantAction, Alex joins Playdom as a new Web Developer.
  • Tami Baribeau - Joining Playdom as an Associate Producer, Tami Baribeau was part of the Metaplace acquisition, where she was in the same role.
  • Dorian Ouer - Also formerly of Metaplace, he changes his role from Senior Software Engineer to Senior Programmer for Playdom.
  • Dan Simon - He joins the Playdom team as a new Development Lead. Dan’s prior experience was as a Senior Web Developer and Technical Lead for IronKey, Inc.

RockYou!

  • James Warren - Looks like James gets a new role within RockYou!, changing from Senior Software Engineer to a Data Warehousing Architect.
  • Sloan Sehr - As noted already, Sloan Sehr is now the Director of Sales for New York at RockYou! Previously, he was the Senior Account Exectutive of Major Accounts at Yahoo!

Zynga

  • Berto Alvaro - Alvaro has moved up in Zynga to Art Director. Previously, he was Senior Lead UI Designer.
  • Kapeesh Saraf - Formerly a student at Stanford University, Kapeesh now joins Zynga as a new Product Manager.
  • Bhushan Suryavanshi - Another new Product Manager joins Zynga in the form of Bhushan Suryavanshi. Previously, Bhushan was a Research Associate at Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Rajiv Bhatia - Another student, this time an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management, joins Zynga as Product Manager.
  • Philip Jen - Philip joins Zynga as its newest Data Analyst. Prior to this, he worked as an Analytical Engineer for Brighterion.
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Go Beyond Missile Command on the iPhone & iPad with Paratroopers: Air Assault HD

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/15 - 15:11

Bored in a waiting room? Looking to procrastinate? Let’s face it, sometimes we all just need some mindless game to kill a little time. While perusing the App Store, we found just that in the form of Paratroopers: Air Assault HD, from Software Factory, for the iPhone and iPad. As part of the OpenFeint network, it’s a quaint little jaunt through enflamed warzones where all the player has to defend themselves with is blood, sweat, tears, and a giant gun.

Air Assault is basically an arcade shooter, and if one were to go way back into gaming history, it’s probably most like 1980s title, Missile Command from Atari. Of course, it’s been a little polished up since then, and rather than shooting down incoming scuds, the user is shooting down enemy paratroopers that have about the same tactical intelligence as baddies in most tower defense games. With a good sense of style, it’s certainly an amusing game, but has a rather repetitive nature and very shallow difficulty curve that will likely make the game a bit dull for many users.

Players control a very, very large gun and have one objective: Survive. As best as we can tell, there is no real end to this game (either that or it takes a very long time), as wave after wave of paratroopers, in ever increasing numbers drop in on the player’s base. In order to take them out, the player must either tap the enemy itself to blow it up into gratifying tiny bits, or hit the parachute itself, sending them splattering into the earth. Either way the user chooses, score, money, and experience are racked up.

Experience is perhaps the most important aspect of Air Assault. This, as with most games, is what is used to gate the different upgrades in the armory. Obviously, the money is also needed, in tandem with this, to actually make a purchase. Regardless, as more and more waves of enemies appear, upgrades become a must.

The basic gun is one tap, one shot, but with infinite ammo. Once the player starts getting a couple dozen guys on the screen at any given time, however, this just doesn’t cut it. So to make things interesting, Software Factory incorporated a few nifty toys such as an AK47 turret, a shotgun, a gatling gun, a flame thrower, and even a missile launcher. Each weapon has its own purpose as each comes with special abilities such as rapid fire, killing units on the ground, or even blowing up the aircraft dropping the enemies to begin with.

The only downside is that the more powerful weapons have finite ammo, that must also be purchased, and the player must manually switch between them, on the fly, as necessity demands.

In addition to ammunition, the user must also purchase health for their turret and the occasional bomb. Should an enemy reach the ground, they will start draining the player’s hit points, and should the proper turret not be available, then only a precise air strike bombing can take them out. Granted, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and feels like using a shotgun to kill a fly, but hey, whatever works.

As for the score, the user accumulates it over the course of his or her play lifetime, along with stats such as money earned, military rank (based on level), and so on. However, it is only the current scores – per Campaign or Skirmish mode – that is applied to the OpenFeint leaderboards.

Obviously, this is the big social mechanic of the game, as it comes with five leaderboards that are based on the paratrooper kill count, and scores during Skirmish mode (a quick play mode where the player sets the difficulty themselves), or the Campaign mode’s City Assault, Sand Storm, or Blizzard levels. Moreover, as this is integrated with OpenFeint, achievements are also prevalent, with about three dozen to unlock.

On the negative side of things Air Assault is, first and foremost, repetitive. It does have a nice cartoon style to it, but unlike tower defense games, there is no real strategy involved. Touch the paratrooper, and it dies. That’s about all there is to it. Part of the issue is that it takes a very long time to unlock the different weapons (which are a lot more fun than the first one), but even then, there is just no real challenge.

Perhaps that is the biggest complaint of all. The pacing is surprisingly slow for an arcade style game. True, the screen can fill up with paratroopers, quickly, sometimes, but unless you play in Skirmish mode on a harder difficulty, you barely have to pay attention. Moreover, in tower defense titles, there are different types of enemies. Here, they are all the same. Yes, they look different, but they don’t do anything different. Also, once the game does get challenging, you usually end up unlocking a turret upgrade, and it becomes easy again.

All in all, Paratroopers: Air Assault is amusing for a $1.99 app whether you prefer it on the iPhone or iPad. Whichever way, you choose; it’s more or less the same experience. Unfortunately, despite the style and potential of the game, that experience is a bit drab. It’s fun for a little bit, but it takes entirely too long to get to any real challenge outside the Skirmish mode. Moreover, any fun brought on by the new and bigger guns is quickly squashed as they make the game even easier most of the time. In the end, it’s an interesting game, but it really needs a bit of work in the challenge and game-balancing department.

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Sony Ericsson Lands in the Gutter With Emusicon Pinball on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/15 - 06:05

Though Sony as a whole has long been involved in social games with applications like The Agency: Covert Ops, a new segment of the media company is getting involved: the communication’s branch of Sony Corporation, Sony Ericsson. Its new Facebook app is called Emusicon Pinball, a title reminiscent of its classic predecessor and not unlike the type of app you might find on the Ericsson mobile device.

Though pinball itself is one of the oldest modern games, it has survived the test of time, evolving into new translations along with new technology and platforms. Moreover, as a game style that was always centered around high scores in the first place, it marries well to competitive social gaming. Ericsson hasn’t fiddled much with the basic formula; its creation is not unlike a digital pinball game one might play on any mobile device, using a mere three keys to control the flippers and launcher.

The start in a level, called “Spread Good Vibes,” is rather simple, with basic bumpers that do light up and make all the nostalgic sounds, but really come off as a bit uninspired. One of the draws of the analog game was flashing lights and the constant din of sounds and music, but while there is some of that here, coupled with a view vocals, it’s not all that exciting.

Socially, the game does have a more unique element in that it imports all of your friends’ profile pictures into the game board as obstacles. If the player hits them, the image spins wildly and displays an “Emusicon” of the player’s choosing, before turning back into another random friend.

For those unfamiliar with Emusicons, they are basically stylized emoticons that represent various music genres such as samba, pop, rock, country, and so on. They are cool to look at, but they’re also a source of disappointment as the player gets to choose which style represents them. One would expect this to influence the design of the level itself or at the very least, tailor a soundtrack to the player’s tastes. Sadly, neither possibility is met.

In the end, Emusicon Pinball feels like it’s just a catalyst to promote Sony Ericsson devices. Of course, this isn’t the first time Sony has used that trick; Covert Ops, in fact, is merely a precursor to the upcoming massively multiplayer online game. That said, Covert Ops has done decently well due to its high quality with 214,000 monthly active users.

Emusicon Pinball, on the other hand, while clean and technically sound, is rather dull by modern social gaming standards, failing to do anything that is going to interest the average Facebook user. With one level, no real point to the Emusicons themselves, and a very dated social mechanic of high scores, it’s a one time experience. Moreover, with a concept as old as pinball, the design is going to have to work twice as hard to be interesting. Emusicon Pinball — or, for that matter, any pinball game on Facebook — needs to discover a flair of its own.

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Preview: 3G Studios Bringing First-Person Shooter, Brave Arms to Facebook

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/07/14 - 18:00

For a good while now, we’ve been hearing about a rather interesting and in-depth endeavor coming to Facebook from console and core-game developer 3G Studios. The game is Brave Arms, and it is set to be one of only a few first-person shooters on the Facebook platform. Scheduled for an open beta release on July 15th, we decided to take a look at some of the buzz a day or so prior.

From what we know, it is a 3D, cartoonish shooter (think Team Fortress or Battlefield Heroes) in which users will be able to create an avatar of varying styles (there’s a guy in a banana suit, if that gives you any idea on the level of variety), and compete with Facebook friends in Death Match and Team Death Match modes. Furthermore, players will also be given the ability to change out accessories of both the aesthetic and functional variety. This includes hair, hats, and clothes, as well as gun clips, scopes, and gun barrels.

While the specifics of purchasing the virtual goods is not completely clear yet, 3G Studios has unsurprisingly said that these will be available for real currency. Perhaps, the final version of the game will take a page from Electronic Arts‘s Battlefield Heroes, and provide earnable currency for playing and virtual currency for direct purchase but making the more useful weapon items cost significantly more?

In addition to these features, the developer has also noted that the game will be supplemented with a mobile rendition as well. It won’t exactly be the full game, but users will be able to customize their weapons and avatar, make purchases, or view the game’s leaderboards from a supported mobile device. The company hasn’t said which devices will be supported, yet.

As for the game itself, it feels a lot like your standard first-person shooter’s multiplayer mode. Be it a Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch, it’s really just kill everything with a red name. All the basics appear to be covered too as far as weapons go: Sidearm, machine gun, shotgun, grenades, and sniper rifle. The real uniqueness will come in to play with the weapon customization and how unique a player can make them.

For what it is, Brave Arms looks solid, but it will be interesting how the game ends up differentiating itself from the rest of its ilk. As it stands, it feels a lot like Battlefield Heroes, only on Facebook, and with simpler objectives. That said, such games can still do quite well, as Facebook’s first FPS, Paradise Paintball from Cmune still earns north of 250,000 monthly active users. Moreover, its MySpace version even won an award for “Best New MySpace App,” signifying that there is certainly a social networking interest for the shooter genre.

Be sure to check out our full review on Brave Arms when we check out the fully fleshed-out version later this month.

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Office Wars Gives Corporate Peons Some Much-Needed Comic Relief

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/07/14 - 16:00

White-collar boredom and ennui are a favorite pop-culture theme, with expressions running from Office Space to Dilbert. On Facebook, the theme’s latest incarnation is Office Wars, a new title from Broken Bulb Studios.

In Office Wars, the player takes on the role of an unseen manager of a small, but growing office. Starting with a single employee, the goal is to build up a small army, equip them with a variety of tongue-in-cheek weapons, and then sally forth to beat the tar out of the employees in other offices. With its fun, offbeat art style and attention to its make-believe world of corporate competition, Office Wars definitely feels like it has hit a winning formula.

However, it’s also a slightly unusual title for Facebook, in that it involves both direct competition with other players and concepts that will be most recognizable to traditional gamers, like levels and character training. When you first enter Office Wars, you’re presented with your empty office, where you can log onto your computer to find your first employee.

Although each potential employee shows a personality, there’s no indication of what the actual differences are between each hire. That comes soon after making a choice, though. In the management room of your office, you can delve into the specific traits of each employee: health, strength, agility, defense and critical hits, not to mention the clothes (effectively armor) they wear and the weapon they wield.

That’s quite a lot to juggle for a Facebook game, especially considering that you’ll eventually build a team in which each employee can have a different characteristics.

Luckily, Office Wars isn’t a particularly punishing game for the ignorant. Once you’ve got your employee outfitted, it’s time to head off to battle against another player. This is done through another “door” in the office, which presents you with a menu of potential opponents.

After picking one, it’s time to sit back and watch the fight. Like other games of its type on Facebook, Office Wars takes the actual fighting out of the players’ hands, and you can even skip watching — although there’s some amusement value to seeing your peons line up for the fight wielding an odd assortment of potted plants, staplers, giant shrimp and other paraphernalia.

As the fight rages, some of your employees will lose all their health and disappear. This is where Broken Bulb tied in a time management aspect to the game; your office has a combined health bar that must regenerate after each battle, unless you spend coins to instantly regenerate with the first aid kit. For now, though, health regenerates quite quickly.

If you lose the fight, no sweat; there’s no real negative, beyond losing a lot more health. If you win, you get two set rewards, experience and coins. There’s also a set of surprise rewards, including items dropped on the battlefield — a great way to get new weapons in the beginning — and achievements from accomplishing certain feats, like winning a fight against particularly high (or low) odds.

Achievements and levels are the source of the second in-game currency, brownie points. While coins are used to purchase equipment and new employees, brownie points are the only way to train your characters to higher ability levels. They’re also the game’s premium currency, and can be used for most things that coins can.

Although Office Wars isn’t terribly original, it does push a few new concepts for gamers whose sole experience is on Facebook. And in this case, originality isn’t the key; the real attraction to Office Wars will be the humorous artwork and references to cultural icons like Office Space, especially for players who already work within the gloomy confines of a corporate office.

And there’s probably no shortage of those. Since it began growing at the beginning of last week, Office Wars has picked up 415,338 monthly active users — an impressive gain for a small developer like Broken Bulb, which also did well with its previous titles, Ninja Warz and My Town.

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Steady Gainers Keep Rolling on This Week’s List of Fastest-Growing Facebook Games by DAU

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/07/14 - 15:50

This week’s list of fastest-growing Facebook games by daily active users is a mix of new, fast-growing games and older games that appear to be rallying their DAUs. But we’ll spare you any suspense — PetVille, Pet Society and Texas HoldEm Poker, all near the top of the list, haven’t made any real gains. The first two, especially, are simply making up for more intense drops earlier in the month.

Here’s the full AppData list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name DAU Gain Gain, % 1. FrontierVille 5,984,845 +594,505 +11.03 2. ?? Lounge Bar 405,471 +400,164 +7,540.31 3. PetVille 2,890,066 +284,888 +10.94 4. Pet Society 2,769,562 +270,161 +10.81 5. Texas HoldEm Poker 5,353,074 +190,502 +3.69 6. Millionaire City 706,365 +175,815 +33.14 7. Baking Life 821,542 +143,877 +21.23 8. Office Wars 126,396 +126,294 +123,817.65 9. Fashion World 521,040 +98,979 +23.45 10. Nightclub City 868,738 +70,475 +8.83 11. EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars 744,830 +69,225 +10.25 12. Resort World 233,015 +67,076 +40.42 13. MindJolt Games 2,447,123 +63,637 +2.67 14. SuperFun Town! 177,185 +55,826 +46.00 15. Games 651,461 +54,755 +9.18 16. Monster World 231,260 +42,799 +22.71 17. Wild Ones 526,715 +41,926 +8.65 18. Birdland 138,037 +39,300 +39.80 19. ???? 693,204 +38,626 +5.90 20. Fanglies 35,933 +35,910 +156,130.43

FrontierVille is doing fine, if not gaining heaps of DAU anymore (at least by Zynga standards). The real story for the game, though, is that Zynga appears to have done a fantastic job with user retention — the game’s DAU as a percentage of MAU is steadying around the 30 percent mark, half again as high as many other games.

At number two,  ?? Lounge Bar is a restaurant-management game that, obviously, is in Chinese. Way down at number 19, ??? ? is Chinese-language as well, but it’s a Texas Hold’em game.

Millionaire City, by Digital Chocolate, is still growing like mad, as is Baking Life, though the latter is a bit slower and older. The same applies to Fashion World and Nightclub City, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that all three of these titles have continued steady growth for longer than the average title.

Finally, Office Wars is an interesting new title from Broken Bulb Studios, which was previously successful with My Town and Ninja Warz. We’ll be reviewing the new game a bit later this morning.

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RockYou: The Latest Big Developer Planning to Use Facebook Credits Exclusively

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/13 - 21:57

Facebook has been busy meeting with large developers on its platform, trying to get them to sign deals to exclusively use its virtual currency, Credits, in their applications. So far, it has CrowdStar and LOLapps using Credits exclusively as the direct payment method, with rivals like Zynga participating but also using alternatives.

Now, there’s another big developer joining the exclusive list: RockYou. The company said say in a post about using virtual currency in its big social game, Zoo World. Here’s the key part: “RockYou is NOT doing away with Wildlife Point items to be replaced by Facebook Credits ($0.10 each). But all CASH purchases will require facebook credits within a year (Facebook requirement).”

In other words, while Zoo World will use a virtual currency system, the only way to buy anything is through Credits — not directly through PayPal, mobile payment services, etc.

After seeing this change, we followed up with RockYou to learn more about its plans; it has until now not said what its intentions are. Lisa Marino, the company’s chief revenue officer, tells us that it has been working with Facebook to figure out how to best implement Credits.

The bottom line is that Facebook is in the first inning of the ball game as it relates to Credits. We as an industry have a lot of use cases regarding payments that we are actively working through with them, since the major developers have optimized around different elements of payments flows. Some rely more on credit cards while others leverage PayPayl more aggressively, for example. RockYou is being very open with Facebook, as are other developers, to help get it right. Facebook will require Credits as the only top up method once we get it right.

Many developers have said that the problem with the virtual currency hasn’t just been the 30% fee that Facebook takes — it’s the “breakage,” the loss of control over pricing, and other issues that increase the costs even more. Some have said that the total cost of Credits comes out to something like 50% of a game’s revenue, although Marino says it’s less than that.

Marino says that Facebook is taking a few steps to make Credits work better, like testing new purchase interfaces in apps, and trying to seed free Credits to get more users interested. So far, while Credits hasn’t performed as well as pre-existing payment methods, it is improving — and Facebook has a lot of new tests to run which will make it substantially better during this quarter, Marino says. Conversion rates in some tests are proving to be much higher than the 3% to 5% that developers typically see, for example. She hopes that by working with Facebook early, RockYou will be better positioned to take advantage of the currency as it evolves; the company already took this with a test of offers for Credits, back in March and April.

There’s still the question of when Credits will become more profitable for developers than their existing payment services. Marino expects this to happen sometime around the end of this year or early next year, at which point she says she wouldn’t be surprised to see Credits used for more experiences on Facebook, like buying real goods.

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iPhone & iPad App, Modern Conflict, Raises Mobile Strategy Gaming to New Standards

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/13 - 17:19

It has been a while since we’ve seen a mobile strategy game of high merit on the iPhone platforms. The wait, however, is over as this past weekend hosted the release of Modern Conflict for both the iPhone and iPad platforms. Developed by clickgamer (a division of Chillingo) and Russian developer Gaijin Entertainment , it first caught our attention as a lite version that had made its way to Apple’s top free app charts. Since then, we’ve had an unsated craving as this simple, yet deep, real-time strategy game now eats up a truly absurd amount of our free time.

Fluidly controlled using the devices’ touch screens, it’s a strategy game centered around conquest, with the objective being to destroy all opponents on any given map. With just tanks, helicopters, and the only control being tapping, one would think it boring. Modern Conflict is far from it, however, and with the incorporation of an internal social network called Crystal, it is a title with basically zero flaws.

The game has three modes associated to it: Campaign, Survival, and Spec Ops. As Campaign mode is likely where most users will start out, it seems as good a place as any to begin. In this mode, users can play as the United States, Russia, or China and proceed through a basic storyline. To be honest, the story is a bit simple, and hardly immersive (especially with some of the borderline-corny dialogue), but the play is so fluid, no one is really the wiser.

For each mission, players are presented with a birds-eye view of a war zone that is speckled with shapes, numbers, and lines. Each shape represents a base, with a hexagon being a tank base, and a circle being a helicopter base. On each map, there are typically three factions representing the player, the computer opponent, and neutral bases (with only the first two actually attacking – neutrals just defend). Now, within each base, there is a number which displays how many tanks or helicopters are at that locale.

Here’s where the fun begins: In order to take a base, a user must tap a base they control - one tap will select half the units at that base; two will select all of them – and then tap the location they wish to attack. Should the number of units attacking be greater than the number of units defending, the base will be taken over. The only catch is, for tanks, the various bases must be connected by paths, meaning that if there are bases A, B, and C, with B being in the middle, tanks from A or C must first stop at B.

Helicopters, on the other hand, are not bound by roads and can travel anywhere at any time. They also tend to be faster. This makes them ideal for counterattacks, but it is worth noting that helicopters suffer double losses when attacking a tank base (e.g. over 16 choppers are needed to take a basic tank base with 8 tanks in it), and visa versa.

Now each base, depending on its visible size, can produce a maximum number of units (though an infinite amount can be sent to it from other bases), so the idea is to capture neutral bases as staging areas or choke points for both attack and defense. Moreover, there are usually a dozen or more bases on a map, so the entire game is in constant motion.

To add further depth to the strategy, some bases will also offer various defensive capabilities. Not only will tanks and helicopters that are traveling from location to location shoot at enemies (reducing their attacking numbers) who are also on the move, but anti-armor and anti-air turrets will also attempt to thin the ranks. In a more passive means, some bases are also fortified with a wall which causes x2 casualties to attackers, and others doubly fortified, causing x4 casualties to attackers.

As if the game wasn’t fun enough with all the chaos, Modern Conflict has any number of events that can happen to change up the game. Sometimes these are triggered by a quick counter attack or retreat, while others are random such as the arrival of reinforcements, artillery blowing up enemies, or one of your bases becoming heavily fortified. Typically, these occur when the player is in danger of losing, and with the exception of reinforcements, they only ever help the player.

The only time reinforcements even arrive for the computer is in the Survival mode. Choosing from the U.S., Russia, China, or some resistance guerrilla group, players are given an infinite form of replayability, through procedurally generaged maps. Each level the player plays in this mode gets increasingly difficult with multiple opponents (that fight each other as well), more enemy reinforcements, and seemingly more intelligent AI. The only saving grace for the user is that each level rewards them with passive “skills” that are the noted special events, extra units, extra guns, and so on – just don’t try it on the hardest difficulty. It won’t end well.

As for the last game mode, Spec Ops, it’s really just more of the Campaign mode; just different maps and colors.

Already, Modern Conflict is a fantastic game, but it’s made even better with the inclusion of social mechanics. Upon downloading, users can actually sign up for, and connect to, a gaming social network called Crystal. With it, players can find other friends that use it through Facebook, Twitter, or email and get any number of recommendations for other games based on what is popular, features, or, most importantly, free.

The social features directly integrated into Modern Conflict are a bit basic at the moment, but they do work well as the emphasis is not on them. They are merely an enhancement. The game comes with a metric ton of leaderboards for players to compete amongst as well as dozens of achievements to unlock. Moreover, the game also advertises direct multiplayer challenges. Unfortunately, they do not appear to be active in the game as of yet, so it’s impossible to say whether it will be synchronous or asynchronous. However, considering the very fast paced nature of the game, the former is highly likely.

Truth be told, if you own an iPhone or an iPad, and you like strategy games, even a little bit, then you need this game. No, it’s not recommended. You need it. Of course, make sure you have nothing important to do for a few hours. That said, the game is currently $0.99 for the iPhone and $1.99 for the iPad, but the price is only an initial launch sale. As far as which device to get it on, the larger screen size and longer battery life of the iPad makes the game moderately more enjoyable. Suffice to say, we look forward to any and all upcoming Modern Conflict updates.

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Hi5 Raises $14 Million Round, Continues with Social Gaming, Virtual Goods Plans

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/13 - 16:16

Over the course of 2009, social network Hi5 transitioned from being a plain-vanilla social network with a very international audience to being a social gaming destination site, of sorts. This year, aside from some verbal fireworks courtesy of new chief technology officer Alex St. John, a small acquisition, and the launch of an upgraded developer program, the company has been quiet.

It’s not talking about results from its strategy shift, but it is announcing a second round of $14 million in funding led by Crosslink Capital, with previous investor Mohr Davidow participating. This follows a $20 million round in 2007 — which, for those interested in the company’s financing, had included a $3 million convertible note we mentioned in April. The fact that Hi5 is bringing past investors back suggests that some progress is being made.

Going forward, the San Francisco company’s strategy continues to be this: provide the best possible platform for social games and other social entertainment applications, even as market leader Facebook aims to be a more general platform for developers. We’ll be covering how well Hi5′s plans work for itself and for developers as we learn more.

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MyTown Creator Booyah Talks About Its Hit Facebook Game, Nightclub City

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/13 - 11:06

Not long ago, we published a list of the best Facebook games of the year. Heading it up was a title called Nightclub City, which we attributed to Booyah, the company that owns the location-based game MyTown.

But there was something curious thing about Nightclub City: despite the title’s obvious success, Booyah wouldn’t admit to owning the game. Only this morning has the company finally opened up to talk about NightClub City.

Booyah, of course, is already famous for MyTown, which is the largest location-based app around. NightClub City, at first glance, is completely different. While MyTown is a mobile app, Nightclub City is a Facebook game; MyTown has players buy up virtual versions of real places, while Nightclub City is all about managing a virtual club.

Keith Lee, the CEO of Booyah, says that the differences are only on the surface. “Our premise is the intersection of the virtual and real worlds,” he says. “The platform doesn’t matter.”

In MyTown, that intersection is pretty obvious, but you have to play Nightclub City for a few minutes to get it. A large part of the game is about playing music, chosen from one of several categories. The “real world” part is that all of the artists you’ll hear in Nightclub City are indie musicians that you could just as easily hear in a real club.

“All of us are really passionate about music — personally I’m a DJ, so this is the heart and soul of our company,” says Lee. “We didn’t want to go to a large label, we wanted to connect indie artists to a lot of new users. People haven’t necessarily heard of them.”

The music component has helped Nightclub City to expand. When first releasing the game, Lee says that the indie artists whose music was used reached out to friends and fans, telling them to play.

In turn, as the game grew, the artists themselves found new fans. “Some of these people might have spent a week getting 5,000 fans, while we were able to do that overnight,” Lee says.

The feedback between artists and users has so far helped the game to grow to 4.4 million monthly active users over two months, despite a surprising omission: Nightclub City never encourages players to invite their friends, beyond the almost obligatory friend bar at the bottom of the screen. That means no random pop-ups, no incitements to give friends gifts, and relatively few requests to make wall posts about in-game developments.

Lee also says that Booyah didn’t do any advertising for Nightclub City in its early days, and has still kept its ad budget minimal. So by itself, Nightclub City can stand as evidence that a game from a new developer to Facebook can still succeed solely on its merits as a good game.

As for why Booyah didn’t announce Nightclub City sooner, Lee claims that the main motivation was simply making sure that it was a viable title worth associating with the brand — although he also points out that competition is still a concern on Facebook, with other companies able to quickly imitate a product.

The interesting speculation for the future is how Booyah will integrate its cross-platform products. Lee says that development was simple — MyTown and Nightclub City use the same backend, with only the interface being different. But there’s more to do in terms of tying the products together, or moving them across to each other’s respective platforms.

Lee isn’t saying much about Booyah’s plans yet, but he promises more soon. “I think strategically it doesn’t make sense to be on just one platform,” Lee says. “If you start to consider where everyone is going, the mobile companies want to be on Facebook, and Zynga wants to be on mobile.”

For now, Nightclub City players can at least use MyTown to earn Facebook Credits to use in-game — a tie-in that we expect to see more in the future from other companies, since Facebook is itself interested in spreading Credits more widely.

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More Massively Multiplayer Games Consider Free to Play Model

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/13 - 09:06

Over the course of this year, we’ve seen several traditional gaming companies trying to figure out a free-to-play model. The latest may be Cryptic Studios, which is reportedly considering the merits of free-to-play for its massively multiplayer game Star Trek Online.

Star Trek isn’t the only brand-name game looking at free-to-play. Earlier in June, Lord of the Rings Online announced that it would become free this fall, relying on a mixture of purchased game expansions and virtual goods to make money.

Although social games on Facebook are obviously successful, their connection to traditional hardcore games isn’t always obvious. So free-to-play MMOs have retained significant differences from their cousins on Facebook — entire sections of the games may require a purchase to open, while dedicated players will often be offered the same sort of simple monthly subscription most MMOs use already.

Figuring out exactly how serious traditional game companies are about using a free-to-play model is also made more difficult by the size of the titles involved; it can sometimes be difficult tell whether move to free play because of genuine faith that it will work, or because of vanishing userbases that force desperate moves.

However, titles like Lord of the Rings Online have the necessary brand cachet to draw in subscribers, so these recent moves seem more significant. LOTRO is also owned by Turbine, which last year made another branded title, Dungeons and Dragons Online, free — and reported much higher revenue to the industry as a result.

Despite Turbine’s success, other MMO makers have said they won’t move to free-to-play anytime soon (most notably Blizzard, the owner of World of Warcraft). But there will be more announcements later this month that could significantly rock the boat for traditional gaming companies, pushing all online gaming further down the road to free.

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Fowlplay HD Brings Pigeon-Bombing to the iPad

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/13 - 05:02

Though the iPad has proven to be a strong platform for gaming, not all the titles we see on it are serious. Fowlplay HD from Happynin Games is proof enough of that, with a comical approach to bombing. Rather than taking airplanes out to the range, Happynin decided that pigeons in the park would be a much more amusing premise.

In case you haven’t deduced Fowlplay’s aim yet, it’s to take control of a particularly mischievous pigeon and drop a number two on every park-going human you can. Though the concept is a bit gross, it’s still kind of funny, and certainly enough to get this OpenFeint-enabled title into the App Store’s top 50 free applications list. Amusing and easily controlled, Fowlplay is a nice game for the price of nothing, but doesn’t have tremendous longevity — even with its social features.

Fowlplay starts with a top-down view of a very blocky-looking park, where the player controls a tiny pigeon by tilting the iDevice. A simple tap will release the bird’s “payload” on unsuspecting victims below. It’s a very simple concept, but unlike other games that use tilt controls, Fowlplay actually feels very fluid. The bird continually flies forward, and the user must avoid any trees in their path (hit three and it’s game over). The degree to which one tilts left and right determines how fast the pigeon moves in those directions, making it very easy to get out of the way.

As the player floes overhead, the idea is to drop as many “bombs” as possible atop the conveniently square heads of park goers. Each hit racks up points, with bonuses for streaks and accuracy. The endless level appears to dynamically spawn trees and bonus rings that can be collected for added points, ensuring that it never looks exactly the same. Moreover, as the player does better, the automatic forward flying speed increases, keeping the challenge level on par with player ability.

Beyond this, there are also a set of three humorous power-ups that can be snagged, including hot sauce, a football helmet, and a taco. The first gives the bird flaming “bombs,” though they really only add a visual effect, while the football helmet allows you to crash through trees, unharmed, for a short while. The taco, on the other hand… let’s just say it gives the pigeon a bit of an upset stomach, prime for rapid discharge.

As amusing as all of this may sound, the novelty of Fowlplay does not last long. A play session is at best a few minutes long, and despite changing levels, the play is always about the same. This limited longevity is barely improved by the incorporation of the OpenFeint social platform, with its usual addition of global leaderboards and, of course, sharable achievements.

Thankfully, the iPad version of Fowlplay is, again, free. It’s powered through ads, but they’re hardly intrusive, and if they really bother players, they can be removed for $2.99. The only downside is that since the primary controls are tilt-based, the weight of the iPad can almost guarantee the noted, short, play sessions. The iPhone rendition would be better, but since that full version costs $1.99 (though there is a lite version), the free iPad one is, obviously, the better bargain.

Overall, Fowlplay HD is a quaint and amusing app for iPad owners. It has a good deal of novelty, and for a free game, it’s pretty fun for killing a few minutes here and there; the developers have aksi noted a coming “Time Attack Mode,” which will perhaps add a little more diversity. That said, it’s likely a game that won’t get picked up that often, once the initial flavor is gone.

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Offerpal Responds to Facebook Credits With Employee Layoffs

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/13 - 00:26

In-game offer and monetization company Offerpal Media has laid off an unknown number of employees today. Posting on the company blog, CEO George Garrick blamed the layoffs on Facebook Credits, the in-house game currency that Facebook is asking developers to use exclusively instead of using other payment services.

Facebook has been testing its own advertising offers for Credits, in partnership with TrialPay and RockYou/Peanut Labs, through a selection process that has left out companies like Offerpal and competitor Super Rewards. That didn’t present a problem as long as game developers held onto their own in-game currencies, but there has been more movement toward adopting Credits of late — including large developers signing exclusive deals to use the virtual currency, even as many worry about costs. Writes Garrick:

But like any good business, we must balance our costs with our revenues by business area.  This means that we must downsize our Facebook operations in order to adjust to an anticipated lower scale of Facebook user traffic. At the same time, we will re-focus our resources on our growth areas including other gaming platforms, open web gaming, new Internet verticals, and most importantly mobile through our Tapjoy subsidiary.

Offerpal is not left totally defenseless — in May, the company finalized its own proprietary currency system, called Game Points, which can be used across hundreds of games on Facebook and elsewhere. Everywhere but Facebook is now more of a focus.

But Facebook is still by far the largest social gaming portal, so Offerpal is in the uncomfortable position of having to hope that other ecosystems will grow quickly enough to make up for the developer exodus toward Credits. It recently signed a deal with Yahoo, it is already working with many other gaming sites, and we expect it to continue expanding outwards.

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The World Cup on Facebook: Among Many Competitors, Quality Social Games Win the Users

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/07/12 - 18:51

The World Cup is over, and for the first time, Spain takes home the trophy. Even after the spectacle, however, its events can still be felt; from Donovan’s 91st minute goal to favorite Argentina’s devastating loss to Germany. But how has it faired in the social world? Beyond a wave of virtual goods tailored around the tournament, a torrent of social games and applications saturated the market for the past few months. From chart toping games to simple venue finders, there has been an app for every type of World Cup fever.

Typically speaking, whenever a major event (Super Bowl) or holiday (Christmas) has come about, there have been a handful of games associated with them, but namely they focus around special, limited edition virtual goods. Never before have we seen such an influx of social games oriented around a specific sporting event. The general reasons, of course, are the global popularity of the soccer and the World Cup tournament, and the rise of social gaming. But as we see below, it was an individual game’s quality that helped it win audiences, with soccer games from Playdom and Playfish coming out with the most users.

The First

It may or may not be considered the first “World Cup inspired,” game as we had come across it back in early May, but Playdom-owned Three Melons‘ Facebook title, Bola, was one of the first soccer-titles to really go all out. At the time, the game didn’t function too well, and was a marriage between team management and an actual, though awkward, user-controlled soccer match. Nevertheless, the Argentinean developer set the stage for soccer games. Moreover, with a steady growth up to, now, 4.6 million monthly active users (MAU), it showed how the theme could work.

Traditional Media, New Games

Electronic Arts/Playfish brought in the the biggest EA title to date on Facebook. FIFA. EA Sports FIFA Superstars is a highly stylized, manager simulation, featuring a professional soccer team of the player’s choosing. It is simple in nature, but it manages to truly grab hold of its intended audience, and has now climbed north of 4.5 million MAUs. Additionally, it has even appeared, multiple times, on our Fastest-Gaining Facebook Games (#4) charts as well. The game was well done, and it even made our list of the Best Facebook Games of 2010, coming in at #9.

As a matter of fact, another soccer app, Epic Goal from Watercooler, in tandem with Fox Soccer Channel, also made that list, at #3. While the game has slowly grown, its MAU total is only just over 300,000. Regardless, it is certainly one of the better games out there, with a highly stylized, cartoon aesthetic and an action element to playing the soccer games - with its contextual, point and click interface - that is beautifully fluid and entertaining.

Getting into June saw the first major brands get involved in the World Cup social gaming hype in the form of CBS Sports.com with Galacticos South Africa from Fantasy Moguls. Virtually identical to its predecessor, Galacticos Football, the new soccer app took on a simple, text-based form that allowed players to manage teams that were specifically oriented around the South Africa-hosted tournament. Unfortunately for CBS, the text-based elements just weren’t quite cutting it, as the app has been dropping steadily lately, with around 159,000 monthly active users.

Worldwide Development

Seeing as how the World Cup is, well, international, it wasn’t surprising to see more international game developers pounce on the event. Beyond Three Melons, Shanghai-based company The9 tried its hand as well releasing its Facebook title, Winning Goal.

Though not as simple looking as Galacticos, the Chinese title was a bit overwhelming interface-wise, and most of the management aspects fairly standard. The only thing it really brought new to the table was set of earnable skills – reminiscent of talents in World of Warcraft – that would be used randomly in matches. According to the numbers, however, it wasn’t interesting enough, as the past few days have led to a staggering decline in MAU numbers for Winning Goal, dropping it to below 17,000.

For good measure, it is also worth pointing out Gamevil’s iPhone app, Soccer Superstars. The franchise successor of the Korean developer’s successful Baseball Superstars 2010, this role-playing and action-sports combo made for a truly addicting and aesthetically pleasing mobile experience. With its anime-style and modes ranging from exhibition matches to full-on seasons where the user customizes a single player, it’s a game that is worth the $5 price tag. The only downside, is that the social elements we loved in Baseball Superstars got left, at least for the time being, on the cutting room floor.

Along with Gamevil, Slovakian developer InLogic Software also updated their iPhone app, Footballz with what they called the “Africa Update.” In truth, it’s not like any of the other soccer games we saw, but this OpenFeint enabled title was more of an overly cute, arcade-style game, prompting players to collect yellow balls, while avoiding enemy (red) ones. Unfortunately, the update didn’t provide much in regards to the South Africa-hosted Cup. All it really did was play on the environment, creating three new levels and a savannah background. Nevertheless, it is still a pretty fun soccer game.

Scheduling Apps

Even though soccer games were a highly popular development choice, not everything we came across could be considered one. A very common trend that was noted, though not entirely unexpected, was the simple apps intended to, in one way or another, help or enhance the World Cup experience itself.

The biggest one of note was from official sponsor Visa, on Facebook, with the Visa Match Planner, developed by AKQA. It is basically like it sounds, allowing (well, “allowed”) users to actually plan out, on a calendar when their teams would play, set up reminders, and even view match results.

Even MySpace got some love with this concept, with the creation of an entirely dedicated profile page wrought with live tweets, games, and commentary.

Of course, such apps and pages are oriented around staying home and one of the joys of such a large international event is finding a place of like-minded people to cheer with. Though we never got deeply involved in location-based apps, a London-based application called Vauxhall Corsa Venue Finder did cross our table. It was nothing terribly extravagant, but it did allow users to search real world locations and find brick and mortar venues to cheer on their favorite teams.

Psychics & Supporters

Taking a page from a gambler’s point of view, a number of smaller devs also focused on creating apps that made use of some of social gaming’s oldest mechanics: Leaderboards. These were the prediction games, which, in a nutshell tasked users with predicting the outcome of games (and more specifically, the final score) and ranking friends based on their accuracy. The first of these that comes to mind is an app we heard about back in early June.

The game is called Goal World from Replayful, and while it looked crisp and clean, its innovation was a bit lacking. All the same, and considering its lifespan was likely only oriented around the duration of the World Cup, it did get to about 9,000 monthly active users towards the climax of the event. Unsurprisingly, it has dropped drastically since its conclusion.

A similar app stemmed all the way from Berlin. Developed by Quoobs, Fans2010 is also a clean looking prediction app for Facebook. Clean or not, however, the market for prediction apps just doesn’t seem in the cards for social apps these days, as the game never passed 1,600 monthly active users.

Perhaps, though, these apps aren’t completely about numbers. A lot just appear to be fun means to support one’s team. Such is the case with another curious game called CrazyFoosball from iThink Labs. The concept is simple enough, asking players to choose the international team of their preference to support. From there, they play a simple game of foosball (although the controls are a bit slow and clunky), and score goals to support their team. Moreover, as users play, they will garner further support for their team, recording it in a set of leaderboards based on players who chose that team, goals, and daily top scores. The app peaked around 10,000 MAUs, but since July 4th, has dropped drastically to just over 5,600.

Conclusion

In the end, the World Cup has generated more international, social, developments for the various social networks than just about any other event in times past. Ranging from high quality titles, to simple applications springboarding off the tournament’s popularity, these concepts have run the gamut as far as variety and style is concerned. While the simple concepts (e.g. prediction games) did marginally well for a time (one must take in the considerably lower development costs in these cases), they are not timeless. Well-crafted designs, on the other hand, were the ones that got big and may even continue to grow.

[Top photo via Getty Images.]

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