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

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CrowdStar Adds Four New Members to its Leadership Team

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/06 - 16:56

One of the top social game developers, CrowdStar, announced the appointment of four new members to its executive team today. The company has recruited Pete Hawley as Vice President of Product Development, Mark Hull as Vice President of Product Marketing and Community, Mike Ouye as Vice President of Monetization and Merchandising, and Robert Einspruch as Director of Business Development.

Though we had noted the CrowdStar hiring of Ouye and Hawley already based on LinkedIn data, it appears that the social developer is making the hiring official along with Hull and Einspruch. With roughly 38.6 million monthly active users for CrowdStar games as a whole, the four new team members will be charged with the further growth of the company on a global scale.

15 year games industry veteran, Pete Hawley will be heading up the forefront of this worldwide user expansion in the games department most directly. He previously worked at major games studios for Electronic Arts and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

Mark Hull (pictured top) will focus, of course, on the marketing and user community sides of CrowdStar. A fitting role with his 14 years of experience in mass-market communities and games development. Past products worked on include Vivaty, iWin, and Yahoo.

With experience stemming from competitor Playdom (who earns around 42.1 million monthly active users, as a whole), Mike Ouye (pictured bottom), as Vice President of Monetization and Merchandising will have his role centralized around revenue-generating programs. With the millions of users the company’s apps already have, it will certainly be a full time ordeal.

As for Robert Einspruch, as the new Director of Business Development, he boasts over 15 years of finance, product management, and business development experience from Wall Street, Apple, and Amazon. Most recently, however, he worked as the Director of Digital Distribution and Business Development for downloadable games space, MumboJumbo.

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SuperFun Town: A Growing Facebook City-Builder from Iwi

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/07/06 - 15:18

The city-building boom may be slowing down on Facebook, but developers aren’t done yet. The latest is SuperFun Town from iwi. The game has been growing quickly lately, partly from advertising, from what we’ve seen, and it’s currently pulling in upwards of 429,000 monthly active users.

SuperFun Town is basically like any other city-builder as far as objectives go: Build a beautiful and successful town. Progressing through a sort of societal class system, players start with low level huts and trailers and gradually work their way up to modernist homes and townhouses. However, unlike others of its ilk, there are no resources (e.g. happiness) to really balance beyond residents and money. Moreover, and despite decently placed social mechanics, the sticky control and somewhat sluggish nature of the app makes the play more than a bit frustrating.

Since players are tasked with creating the most aesthetically pleasing town they can, you can bet the game looks quite good. With a highly saturated and bright style that players can zoom all the way in to, it is pleasing to see well made results. Additionally, when users create tileable objects such as roads, hedges, paths, and even rivers, the game is smart enough to blend them together. As an example, a concrete path will automatically connect with pavement, or if you place a river tile adjacent to another set of other river tiles, it will create a bend. Marry this with the respectable amount of land to work with, and the ability to custom paint some buildings, and it’s possible to create some great landscapes.

The play itself is a bit basic. Essentially, periodic bus arrivals ferry new citizens to the town, and there must be enough residences to hold them. If there are, and there is a road or path connected to the residences, those people will move in and pay regular rent. That said, there is no further requirements for the citizens (e.g. attractions to make them happy).

That isn’t to say there aren’t other types of buildings. On the contrary, there are, in fact, shops and factories. However, all these do is earn more money. Factories and shops are used to fulfill contracts that will take anywhere from five minutes to eight hours. Unlike other city-builders such as Social City or My Empire, these structures have no purpose other than income, essentially meaning that the player has no reason to build them, if they do not want to.

In fact, the only buildings that have any real sense of purpose beyond money are the “Publicworks” structures and “Attractions.” The latter earns coin passively over a set amount of time, and increases the number of visitors your town receives (though it doesn’t seem to stated clearly anywhere). As for the former, it doesn’t do a thing. It is merely “required” to reach a certain level.

As a matter of fact, leveling is where another irritation comes to mind. Every time a user levels up, they get the typical congratulations screen. However, rather than a quick pop-up that asks them to “share” or “skip,” along with everything they unlocked, iWi tries a more epic approach by showing the user what they earned, one dramatic piece at a time. The whole process takes about 10-15 seconds depending on the level, but it is the longest 10-15 seconds ever.

It seems minor, but the game feels slow overall. As the most basic example, the player can moves about the map with the expected click and drag, but it takes a good second for the app to respond. This delay applies to most actions and gets old, very quickly. To move and rotate objects, the player has to click them to sort of pick them up, but at the same time, there is a rotate button that covers a good portion of object. Should you click it, it won’t pick up, only rotate, meaning that it has to be rotated back into place, and tried again. With smaller objects like trees, this will take an annoying couple of tries. In short, many users will find their patience gone rather quickly.

On the brighter side of things, social features stem beyond just gifting or visiting other friends’ towns. Users can actually “lease” out residences to friends or even hire them to work in shops and factories. Doing so, will earn bonuses to rent or revenue, and since there are ton of buildings to build, a lot of friends equals a lot of money. Moreover, they don’t even have to actually play to be a tenant or workers.

Overall SuperFun Town looks great, and from an aesthetic design point of view, it is visually rewarding. Unfortunately, the play itself is very shallow with nothing to really manage other than money - which pretty much comes from everything. At this point it may be a better choice for players who like decorating versus players who want multi-faceted city-building.

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Six Flags’ Mascot Park Gives an Erratic Performance

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/07/05 - 17:55

A few weeks ago, we heard about a forthcoming Facebook game from the popular Six Flags theme park company. Last week the title finally launched, becoming the second Facebook title for the park — the first, back in 2008, being a compilation of mini-games simply titled Six Flags. The newer title, Mascot Park, is significantly more creative, tasking users with teaching their animal avatar performances, filled with bizarre dancing and props, to become the top star at Six Flags. Coupled with a handful of interesting mini-games, Mascot Park has a great premise, but misses the mark on many levels.

Jumping into the game is easy enough, as players can actually create a fairly wide variety of avatars. From sharks to monkeys, there are a great number of outfits fit for anything from Vegas to the ballet. Everything is extremely cheap to purchase, so the player can pretty much create whatever they want right from the get-go.

Once in the game world, the player is prompted to create their first show. This takes a similar approach to American Idol Star Experience, if a bit slimmed down. Basically, the process consists of dragging themed dance/performance moves to a bar of five slots. From here, the avatar will do his or her moves in sequence to a basic music track.

During the performance, players will then be able to intervene with comical add-ins ranging from the classic pie to the face or slip on a banana peel to, more violently, squishing the avatar with a car or chopping off its arm with a flying axe (blood included). Some are moderately amusing, others just weird, but each one is themed to different performance studios such as space, a haunted house, or the Vegas Strip.

Once a performance is saved, the player can choose how long to perform, which will affect the resulting amount of money, experience, and fans. Fans and new levels appear to unlock different props and settings for performances, as well as add intervention pieces (e.g. a shower of money). There’s also a virtual space, dubbed the Star Trailer, that’s reminiscent of a Pet Society house, but it doesn’t appear to have any purpose for now beyond housing buttons for a virtual store and providing a dressing room for your avatar.

The two mini-games that are part of Mascot Park are called Mascot Melee and Cannonball Chaos. The first is interesting in that you pick up an acorn gun, of sorts, and move about in a 2D platforming shooter, trying not to get “killed” by other mascots. Unfortunately, the controls are clunky, you can’t move with the gun out, aiming is slow and it is, overall, not fun.

Cannonball Chaos, on the other hand, is a bit better. As in games like Paf le Chien, you launch your avatar out of a cannon and keep him in the air for as long as possible using rockets, explosives, trampolines and so forth. The only issue is that it doesn’t seem to accomplish anything within the larger game — neither mini-game does. They’re just there.

In the visual department, Mascot Park feels unpolished. While the avatars themselves look decent when you’re creating them, their movements are stiff and awkward looking. This becomes worse when they perform more advanced dance animations, to the point of just looking bad. As for the interventions, like the pies to the face, most come off as cheesy and few do anything unique. For example, there are a series of “Push” interventions that are basically items, like the pie, that fly from off-screen to hit the avatar as they make a dull “shocked” look. The thing is, that whether it’s a pie, car, or grandmother, it’s all essentially the same animation.

The social elements are a bit hazy as well. According to the press release, the game supposedly allows friends to watch each others’ performance (and likely intervene as well), but the “Invite Friends” button doesn’t appear to do anything. Furthermore, with only about three tutorial boxes, which only talk about making a performance, there is no explanation about such mechanics or how they work.

For the moment, Mascot Park still appears littered with bugs, usability, and optimization issues. Beyond the occasionally horrid load times, avatars have more than once disappeared on us. As for usability, there is a store in the Star Trailer, but the game rejects half the attempts to purchase anything without explaining why — the issue is likely a level or fan requirement, but it shouldn’t be left to the user to figure that out. Finally, when choosing how long to perform, there doesn’t ever appear to be a visible timer to let the player know how long is left until the performances are over.

Overall Mascot Park is a good idea, and quite the endeavor for Six Flags, but it also feels early. Presentation-wise the game is corny and awkward looking (even for a target audience of kids), and the overall usability is troubled. Littered with features the player has to figure out on their own, a number of bugs, and relatively unclear objectives, Mascot Park is a game that still needs work.

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FrontierVille, Verdonia, Millionaire City Lead on This Week’s List of Fastest-Gaining Facebook Games by MAU

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/07/05 - 13:30

This week’s list of fastest-growing Facebook games by monthly active users is a great mix of big-company titles and quirky underdogs. It’s led off by FrontierVille, the new Zynga game that has attracted a rush of attention for its growth.

FrontierVille’s growth is indeed great, but it falls short in one area: comparison to Zynga’s previous hit, Treasure Isle. While FrontierVille’s 15 million MAU is impressive, it has taken the game twice as long to gain that many MAU as it took FrontierVille. Whether that will mean a lower high point than Treasure Isle’s peak of 27 million MAU remains to be seen.

Here’s the AppData list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain, % 1. FrontierVille 15,238,186 +3,422,159 +28.96 2. Verdonia 2,713,215 +1,259,642 +86.66 3. Millionaire City 1,789,324 +745,677 +71.45 4. EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars 3,488,853 +711,413 +25.61 5. Baking Life 2,564,435 +641,344 +33.35 6. Hello City 5,539,370 +618,511 +12.57 7. Fashion World 1,615,326 +520,763 +47.58 8. SuperFun Town! 429,183 +409,784 +2,112.40 9. Mall World 3,999,734 +247,372 +6.59 10. ????? 3,038,640 +219,092 +7.77 11. Horse Gaga 279,375 +190,530 +214.45 12. Bola 4,537,566 +186,948 +4.30 13. Casino City 362,529 +181,615 +100.39 14. Nightclub City 4,358,559 +166,473 +3.97 15. Games 3,858,052 +164,676 +4.46 16. ??? ? 157,735 +147,615 +1,458.65 17. Social City 10,032,146 +130,912 +1.32 18. Monster World 1,584,840 +123,364 +8.44 19. Sweet World 649,395 +112,276 +20.90 20. Okey 2,764,434 +107,827 +4.06

Verdonia, with almost 1.3 million new MAU, is doing incredibly well for a strategy title. The only downside is that the number of returning users to the Playdom game, judging by the daily active user count, is quite low. We’ll be writing a bit more about the game tomorrow.

At number three, Millionaire City is the latest from Digital Chocolate. Happily, it also now qualifies as that developer’s largest hit to date, and by a quite significant margin. The game has an interesting Monopoly-style take on the city building genre; you can check out our review of it here.

EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars, at number four, continues to do quite well — easy enough, with a week left in the World Cup. It’s followed by Baking Life, which is still, weeks into its run, closely followed by Fashion World, another store management sim by a different developer.

Finally, take note of SuperFun Town! — it could turn out to be a very significant title. Yet another addition to the city-building genre, SuperFun suddenly shot up by 266,487 new MAU on Saturday — a rate that, if multipled across a week, would bring it about 1.8 million MAU. The developer, Iwi, hasn’t had any large games on Facebook before.

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This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

Inside Social Games - Sun, 2010/07/04 - 15:00

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

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

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Social Gaming Roundup: OpenFeint, gWallet, Sega, & More

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/07/03 - 02:19

OpenFeint Announces First Developers for OpenFeint X - The first string of game developers for Aurora Feint’s virtual goods platform, OpenFeint X, have been announced. Of the private beta partners are PikPok, RetroDreamer, HyperCube, and Halfbrick studios; each of which will be launching a free-to-play iDevice title on the platform later this year.

gWallet Video Campaigns Succeed in Social Games - In February, gWallet introduced the offer “Brand Bar,” that brought brand offers to the forefront in social games. This week, however, gWallet has stated that its addition of video to these offer walls has garnered and increase of click-through rates ranging from 200-300%, in the first three months, and has, in some cases, doubled ad-revenue.

Sega on Social Games - In a piece from GamesIndustry.biz, console developer Sega is getting into social gaming. However, the company won’t be buying its way into the industry with an acquisition, but will instead be building a social development team from scratch.

Universal Music Group Jumps into Location Based Games - Earlier this week, Universal Music Group began an interesting promotion. Users of Loopt Star that check in at participating bars through the location-based app will get a link to free music from artists such as Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, La Roux, and more.

PayPal To Work Without an Account - Electronic payments company, PayPal, announced a new service that will allow developers a new way to incorporate credit-card payments for in-game goods and services. Dubbed “Guest Payments,” users will no longer be required to have a PayPal account to make a credit card transaction.

Worlize Expands Team - A few weeks ago, the user-generated social gaming platform, Worlize was announced as as a private beta for Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Open Social. This week, it has announced that it is expanding its team for a more formal launch. As part of that team, Sabri Sansoy will join as Chief Technology Officer (formerly CTO of Animax Entertainment) and Greg Diller as Chief Financial Officer. The platform will launch this fall.

Foursquare Gets $20 Million - Foursquare gains some new funding totaling up to $20 million in a Series B round. Participants included Union Square Ventures, Andreesen Horowitze, and O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures.

Mixpanel Tracks 1 Billion a Month - Mixpanel, an analytics service that tracks how users interact and engage with internet applications, noted a new milestone this week. The company’s analytics platform is now tracking and processing over 1 billion actions a month.

Zynga Shuts Down Games - June 29th was the last day of existence for Zynga tycoon game, Roller Coaster Kingdom. Launched at the end of August, last year, the game capped out at around 15 million monthly active users. Sadly, the game is now gone as its 1.1 million MAUs was simply not enough to make the app profitable.

Ponzi Inc. has also gone the way of the dodo. Originally made by Challenge Games - who was acquired by Zynga- the app has continually dropped and has officially been shut down after falling beneath 200,000 MAUs.

AdMob Transparency is “Changing” - After Google’s $750 million acquisition of AdMob, the mobile ad network states that it’s level of “transparency” is “changing.” This week was the last release of its Mobile Metrics Report that reports on what ads were being viewed on what devices and in what countries. The details of the change are vague, at best, but mocoNews.net notes that AdMob will be considering “how to reinvent the report to make it more useful and relevant,” and that they will continue to share data.

Tapulous Acquired by Disney - iPhone developer and creator of the popular Tap Tap Revenge franchise, Tapulous, has been acquired by Disney who is “interested” in social and mobile gaming. The company will become part of the Disney Interactive Media Group, where they will continue to create more apps centered around music in the future. Further details have not been disclosed.

In similar news, Tapulous also, this week released the latest addition to its Tap Tap Revenge franchise, Nickelback Revenge.

Sean Ryan Joins News Corp. Digital - According to paidContent.org, industry veteran, Sean Ryan will be joining News Corp. Digital as “EVP and GM of Games” in order to set up a new games unit. The endeavour will begin with recently acquireds ocial games developer Irata Labs. This isn’t the first dance for Ryan either, as he has also founded Zeus Research, TwoFish, and is chairman of the virtual world Meez.

Playfish World Cup Poll - In a fun poll conducted by Playfish, a few interesting things about what World Cup fans do, for a year, in order to see their team win. Apparently, 40% of participants would give up video games; one out of five would give up their care; and 18% said they would give up a million dollar lottery ticket. Curiously, 21.1% of men were more willing to give up cars, over 6.3% of women, but 43.8% of women would give up TV over 19.7% of men. As for teenagers, 65.4% said they would give up TV or video games.

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It’s All Money: Virtual Currency Inspires Online Workers as Much as the Real Thing

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/02 - 17:00

Last October, we pointed out an interesting new type of offer in social games: players who wanted to earn virtual currency could click on an in-game offer by Gambit, a virtual goods monetization company, which would send them to complete real work for real-world companies.

We recently caught up with CrowdFlower, the company that assigns the workers to their tasks, to see how the partnership is working. CrowdFlower has a good overview, since it functions as an intermediary between companies with jobs to do — everything from doing online rating and tagging to transcription services — and crowdsourced labor.

Alongside the workers sent from Gambit, CrowdFlower’s other main source of labor is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which supplies workers who are paid in real-world currency. The surprising result: Gambit’s virtual-currency laborers are performing at a comparable level to Turk’s regularly paid workers.

“Gambit workers and Turk workers both produce work above 80% accuracy on average (and are within 1 percent of each other) and maintain about comparable throughput,” we were told by John Le, a data analyst at CrowdFlower. While Le discouraged a direct comparison between the two groups of workers because they work under different rules, he was able to determine that Gambit workers were performing well. “The aggregate work they produce is similar to the accuracy and throughput of Turkers.” he said.

The rate of return for Gambit workers is lower, at 24 percent, of whom only 48 percent complete a full 30 minutes of work (the minimum time block for a Gambit worker). By comparison to other offers and repeat purchase rates for virtual currency, though, those numbers aren’t too bad, and they do suggest that there’s a growing group of people who regularly work for virtual currency.

At some point in the future, it’s possible that having workers perform well for an in-game currency will be unremarkable. It should also be pointed out that CrowdFlower has ways of weeding out non-performing workers, and Turkers typically make very little per task — meaning they’re probably less motivated than better-paid workers would be. But for now, the idea of getting people to labor for virtual currency is still new, and brings up a number of questions.

One of those is what the motivators are to work for virtual currency. Gambit works with a number of massively multiplayer online games, portals, reward sites and social communities. While we weren’t given any stats on how workers from specific games perform, Gambit CEO Andrew Hunter did note that not all games and sites are equal. “Effectiveness varies heavily by game/site,” he told us by email. “Some apps complete near zero tasks despite having great traffic, and some sites complete tons despite having lower amounts of traffic. Tasks are enticing for those users that are less inclined to pay, so we notice an inverse relationship with paid transactions.”

Those “less inclined to pay”, of course, are often the young. What that may mean in the future is that a teenager’s first job won’t be at the burger joint down the street — it could instead be online, through a game, involving hours of tedious clicking instead of burger flipping.

Another question is whether gamers will continue to perform over time, or even come to be more efficient than some other forms of low-paid crowdsourced labor. In a way, playing online games is like training for repetitive work tasks; and since the economies in question are virtual, it may be possible for the virtual-currency workers to make more than they otherwise would.

We’ll leave any more speculation until a later time. But it’s worth pointing out that a number of techno-prophets (Vernor Vinge, for instance) have suggested futures in which there’s a fully-functioning online economy, in which it’s normal to pick up piecemeal work. In that world, social gamers may fit in perfectly.

For a bit more on Gambit workers, it might also be worth checking out this May blog post from CrowdFlower, which breaks down the worker demographics and offers a few more surprises, like the high educational level of some people working for virtual currency.

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Another Facebook Game from Ubisoft: Classic Word Games

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/02 - 16:01

Beyond the beginnings of Ubisoft’s The Settlers Facebook game, the company’s new cross promotion bar led to yet another title from the traditionally console-oriented game developer. The Facebook app is Classic Word Games, and as the name would suggest, it tailors itself around a much older staple of casual gaming. Though the game is no where near as ambitious as some of the other Ubisoft social games, it still comes off as quite a fun title.

Classic Word Games is broken up into five different mini-games of, obviously, the word puzzle variety. Like The Settlers strategy game, however, the app does not feel fully built out, but for what is there, it’s pretty fun and thought provoking. Moreover, while the game ideas are generally not original, the presentation is up there with a good semblance of style and flair; or at least as much as can be expected from a word game.

Of the five mini-games, only two are currently available: Hangman and Mumble. The first is fairly self-explanatory, being as it is the one of the classics among classics in word games. Players are given a handful of letters and some empty blank spaces. The objective is to figure out what the word is, based on a definition provided. Like in traditional hangman, players can guess the letters, but only so many are allowed before the person being hung is done in.

It’s a pretty interesting visual, though, as each of the six words are represented by a jail cell that contains one of your random Facebook friends (don‘t worry, they don‘t actually hang). Should you get the word right, they go free, and you get prompted with a potential post that basically states that you didn’t kill them. Sometimes, it’s very easy to save all six friends, other times, not so much. Nevertheless, as you play, points are earned based on the number of guesses used and players move up to harder difficulties.

The second available game is Mumble, which has a mechanic more common amongst Facebook word games (word scrambles). As players play, a random friend’s portrait on a chalk drawn stick figure will come hold up a letter, and the user has to spell a word with that letter. As you type in words using it, more friends, with more letters, up to four, appear. The idea is to earn as many points as possible in the allotted time, with more points scored for bigger words and using more than one of the four letters.

As users play, they are rewarded with a pretty amusing visual display as the stick figures perform any number of animations ranging from bag pipes, to flips, to performing tricks as players do well or poorly. It certainly isn’t necessary to have, but it has a nice flavor to it.

As players continue to play, they continue to unlock varying tasks (achievements) of equally amusing nature. For the most part, they consist of earning a certain number of points, or reaching a new level of rank and title in each game (also based on points). However, they are presented in a quaint scrapbook format with a few fun drawings. In an interesting choice, however, not all the pages of this achievement scrap book are available and must be unlocked. As a current example of what we’re seeing, page four will not unlock for another 24 hours. Unfortunately it’s unclear as to what purpose this has, if any.

Speaking of unknown existences, there is also an apparent currency called Marbles that are earned by playing the different games. In fact, players can even buy more with Facebook Credits. All the same, there doesn’t appear to be anything that they are used for. Likely, it is just a feature that hasn’t been fully launched yet.

As one might expect, the social element of Classic Word Games is leaderboards, as word games get people competing for high scores. Of course, though the basic social premise is a bit dull, the style in which it is presented and the incorporation of your friends directly into the game does give it a very personal, and likable flair. Furthermore, the scores reset every so often, so no single person forever dominates the leaderboards.

Overall, Classic Word Games is a very fun word game with puzzles ranging from the very easy to the very hard. Granted, it is a bit dated conceptually, but its stylistic presentation gives it a great deal of personality and takes the premise to a very different feeling level. With the only downsides being unlaunched segments of the game, it’s a title that ought to do quite well. As a matter of fact, the game is already pulling in north of 460,000 monthly active users.

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Every Genre Reaches This Week’s List of Emerging Facebook Games

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/07/02 - 13:30

There’s an outstanding mix of games on this week’s list of fastest-growing emerging apps on Facebook this week, measured as those still under a million monthly active users. Below, you can find new sims, puzzle games, RPGs, strategy, sports and more.

Here’s the full AppData list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain, % 1. Zoo Kingdom 807,159 +190,154 +30.82 2. Sweet World 612,437 +105,361 +20.78 3. Maya Pyramid 306,735 +99,285 +47.86 4. ??? ? 411,678 +86,387 +26.56 5. Bite Me 401,259 +77,425 +23.91 6. Super Dance 394,278 +69,436 +21.38 7. Epic Goal 219,056 +67,716 +44.74 8. Age of Champions 827,289 +67,555 +8.89 9. Band of Heroes 408,695 +64,956 +18.90 10. NanoStar Siege 708,767 +63,510 +9.84 11. Mahjong 849,373 +58,194 +7.36 12. Goooaaal 306,069 +56,590 +22.68 13. Lovely Farm 395,072 +54,585 +16.03 14. Backyard Monsters 274,985 +54,267 +24.59 15. Gangsta Zombies 123,243 +52,970 +75.38 16. Motorcycle Madness 232,740 +52,897 +29.41 17. Birdland 464,810 +51,813 +12.55 18. ??? ? 191,099 +48,341 +33.86 19. Yakuza Lords 147,423 +48,029 +48.32 20. SmallWorlds 110,882 +45,684 +70.07

Zoo Kingdom, at the top of the list, is the latest animal-raising sim. We recently reviewed the game and found that although it fits the typical zoo game mold in some ways, it also stands out with a strong leveling system and actually teaches players about the animals they’re raising. Blue Fang Games is the developer.

We haven’t reviewed Sweet World, the second game down, but in concept it’s similar to Baking Life, a store management sim that was released a few weeks earlier and now has well over two million MAU. The art is significantly different, featuring a vacuously grinning baker who falls somewhere between cute and creepy.

Maya Pyramid, at number three, is a puzzle game — common in the casual realm, but still fairly rare on Facebook. The GameDuell title is simple enough; players repeatedly go through a card-matching game to reach a treasure room that gives them coins to build a pyramid with, one block at a time.

That covers the top three. Quickly going over a few more: ??? ? is a Chinese-language island game, while Bite Me is a lighthearted vampire-based RPG. Super Dance is an older music-based game from Conduit Labs, going back to February. Finally, there are two up-and-coming games from our recent list of 2010′s top games: Epic Goal, a live-action soccer game, and NanoStar Siege, a slow-growing strategy title.

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In Social Games, the Whales Are Pretty Monogamous

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/01 - 19:05

We’ve written a great deal about whales, or those users that spend most heavily on social games. Usually whales are defined as people who spend over $1,000 in virtual goods, of whom a handful will spend tens of thousands of dollars.

However, these $1,000 whales are relatively rare. For our most recent Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Habits of the Social Gaming Audience report, we looked instead at a group that is far more important to social gaming companies: those who spend over $25 on a particular game. Compared to the average user, most of whom spend nothing but a few of whom spend just a couple dollars per month, these double-digit spenders count as whales.

One of the more striking discoveries of our research was how many of these $25 and over whales stick to just one favorite game. Here’s a chart from the report:

While we often report on the monthly active or daily active user count of specific games, the above data suggests that another valuable metric to measure the success of a game might be how many whales it has attracted — while some people play several games, we found that social gaming whales tend to find one game that they enjoy spending on and stick with it.

In other words, people who spend a lot of money on social games tend to focus their spending on one game. There’s a pretty good chance a whale in one game was stolen away from another developer.

Measuring how many whales a particular game has would be difficult, of course, as only those companies that have attracted whales can fully see them in action. However, our report did find a few factors that tend to predispose a user to becoming a whale.

The most obvious consideration is a user’s geographic origin. Whales don’t come from all regions in equal proportions. Further divisions between users depend on sex, age and playing habits. A greater percentage of women spend on social games than do men; the proportion of top spenders also skews toward players under 25 years old.

These differences between individual users become important when considering the demographic splits for games. Titles from the same developer can attract very different groups of spenders.

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.

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Top 25 Facebook Games for July 2010

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/01 - 18:54

In a trend that started this spring, many of the 25 largest Facebook social games continued to lose users through the end of May and on through last month.

But there was some growth. Our weekly top 20 lists have consistently shown gains for any number of new and smaller developers as well as the big names. And as our Best of 2010 list highlighted, there are any number of newer titles, from developers of all sizes, that players are flocking to.

The reasons for the drop, as we’ve covered in past months, include the removal of third-party notifications and other Facebook platform changes. Developers have had to rely on less viral features like news feeds, email and advertising to reach users.

Here are the highlights for Top 25 Facebook Games for July 2010:

  • Facebook farming games may have been the hype last year, but the continued plummet of Zynga‘s FarmVille - this month, losing over 7 million MAUs suggests that players are moving on; some are likely playing the still-expanding number of farming competitors.
  • Zynga Poker (Texas HoldEm Poker), on the other hand, seems impervious to age, as the long-standing title actually gains 378,804 monthly active users.
  • Treasure Isle is not so lucky. Though it moves up to #3, it loses nearly 3.5 million users this past month to replace Birthday Cards (#6), from RockYou, which in turn lost over 9.2 million.
  • On a postive beat, MindJolt Games does quite well, moving up to #5 from #8, tallying in at over 19.3 million MAUs.
  • Other Zynga titles, Mafia Wars and PetVille, continue to lose users, but to a lesser degree this month with a 2.7 million and 2.3 million MAU loss respectively. Last month, the loss was 2.8 million and 3.6 million.
  • New title, FrontierVille, finally makes its way on to the list this month at #10. Having grown significantly in the past few weeks, the game is now bringing in 13.7 million monthly active users.
  • CrowdStar’s trio of Top 25 apps - Happy Aquarium, Happy Island, and Happy Pets - remain in the running, but all lose users. Each game totals in at about 2.4, 7.76, and 7.64 million MAUs respectively.
  • Playfish‘s older sim, Restaurant City, begins to stabalize at #13 with a loss of 800,000 users. Last month, it had lost well over 2 million.
  • PopCap’s casual gone social app, Bejeweled Blitz does significantly well, moving up to #14 from #17 and earning over 10.2 million MAUs with a gain of about 400,000.
  • YoVille also sees positive numbers with a gain of 45,678 MAUs.
  • The developers behind ninja role-playing app, Ninja Saga also see some significant growth, moving up to #24. Previously at #25, the game totals over 5.6 million monthly active users.
  • Though it was at #25 with 5,272,295 MAUs, Playfish’s new city-builder from ancient Rome, My Empire was ousted from the list by another game we had overlooked: The game show game, Family Feud from iWin and Backstage with just over 7 million MAUs who actually came in at #21.
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Top 25 MySpace Games for July 2010

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/01 - 18:17

It’s time once again to look at the monthly numbers in the social gaming world. While Facebook still bucks due to the slew of changes that the social network always seem to make, how does the more stable MySpace network hold up? Overall, the numbers have been fairly regularly in their growth, but a handful of games grew by rather surprising amounts, while others, continued on their negative trends from last month.

Curiously, of the apps doing well on MySpace, it is the less game-like ones such as Tag Me that have been doing better. This is partly due to fewer games being released for the platform compared to Facebook. Moreover, when they are, they’re usually of the typical, and highly dated, role-playing genre, with minimal, if any, core game play changes. Players need something new now and again.

Nevertheless, with MySpace’s relatively new iPhone and Android SDKs, as well as a “massive overhaul” coming this fall, perhaps it will finally see new developers and more sophisticated games seed its space.

Here are the highlights for the Top 25 MySpace Games for July 2010:

  • Playdom‘s Mobsters sees a nice chunk of growth, gaining 58,836 new installations. It’s a monthly change that is almost 10,000 greater than the growth of last month.
  • Mafia Wars does not see as big a gain as its chief competitor, only earning around 21,000 new installs. It is still a gain, but last month the increase was around 33,000.
  • BitRhymes sees significant growth with its app, Tag Me. The long standing game tallies in at #5 with nearly 7.7 million users, gaining just south of 300,000 new installs this past month.
  • Zynga Poker also sees growth, though, again, less than the month prior. Coming in at #6 with just over 7 million users, it’s monthly gain is 52,480 compared to last month’s 65,372.
  • Other Zynga RPGs continue to drop with Street Racing (#11), Gang Wars (#20), Dragon Wars (#21), and Fashion Wars (#22) losing roughly 4,000, 13,000, 12,000, and 1,000 players respectively.
  • On a lighter note, Oxylabs does extremely well with What is your Street Reputation, moving up to #15 from #18 with a gain of over 460,000 new installations, ousting Playdom’s Overdrive.
  • Speed Racing from RockYou drops to #18, from #16, this month, but still gains about 15,000 new installations, with a total of almost 2.6 million users.
  • Rounding out the list is Green Spot from WonderHill and older title, Bloodlines from Playdom. The two games garner 1.75 and 1.72 million user installs respectively.
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New Hires in Social Gaming: Playfish, Playdom, Slide, & More

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/01 - 17:00

It’s another week of fairly slow hiring amongst the top social game developers based on LinkedIn data.  In fact, even Zynga was slow this time around, out-hired by the folks over at Playdom. Of course, this is due to the company’s recent acquisition of Hive7, but at least we get a look at who is doing what at their new home. Of the highlights, former Hive7 CEO Max Skibinsky becomes Playdom’s Director of Business Development while former COO, Dave Holt, joins as Executive Producer.

Playfish

  • John Coligan - Though already a Financial Manger for Electronic Arts, John officially moves over to the Playfish branch as its newest Product Manager.
  • Dennis O’Brien - He joins Playfish as a new Senior Software Engineer. His former experience stems from LeapFrog under the same title.

Playdom

  • Phillip Reagan - Phillip joins Playdom as its newest Flash Developer, coming from a core development studio, Acclaim Games, where he was a Flash Programmer.
  • Dave Holt - As mentioned prior, Dave was former CEO of the recently acquired Hive7. He now becomes Playdom’s Executive Producer.
  • Ali Tassavor - Also from Hive7, Ali becomes one of Playdom’s UI Developers. His prior role was of the same title.
  • Rakibul Hasan - He joins Playdom as a new Software Developer. Before this, he worked at tripperlabs as a Web Developer.
  • Vladimir Churyukin - Former Hive7 Senior Software Developer, Vladimir Churyukin, becomes one of Playdom’s Software Engineers.
  • Max Skibinsky - Founder and CEO of Hive7, Max joins Playdom as its Director of Business Development.
  • Yaroslav Berezovsky - The Hive7 Game Designer now moves into a familiar role as a Playdom Game Designer.
  • Ross Stovall - Another absorbed Hive7 employee, Ross becomes a Playdom Software Engineer. His prior role was as a Software Developer.

Slide

  • Tony Maligno - Tony joins the folks over at Slide as their newest Design Manager. His previous role came from TheBroth as Art Director.
  • Ken Seto - Formerly a QA Engineer for Visage Mobile, Ken joins Slide under the same title.

Zynga

  • Paul Stephanouk - Congratulations to Paul as he moves up to Zynga‘s newest Exectutive Producer. Prior, he was a Development Lead and Senior Game Designer.
  • Tavinder Wadhwa - Zynga’s legal team expands as Legal File Clerk Tavinder Wadhwa joins, leaving her role as Board Expansion Coordinator at India Community Center.
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Backyard Monsters Brings Traditional Strategy Elements to Facebook

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/01 - 15:00

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time on Facebook in recent weeks, you’ve probably seen the advertisements for some game called Backyard Monsters. Truth be told, our guess was that the Casual Collective title would be another husbandry, where users grow and care for monsters. Very wrong. Backyard Monsters is, surprisingly, a strategy game, and even more surprisingly, one that doesn’t feel like another Civilization or Evony clone.

While Backyard Monsters does borrow concepts from the above-named games, it also succeeds in not only sating early player progression desires, but also mixing in elements from real-time strategy games. RTS titles have never been prominent on Facebook, but the mechanics work fairly well in Monsters and even play an almost invisible role in the game’s virtual currency scheme. Moreover, despite some rather drab user interface issues, Backyard Monsters has continued to grow steadily, now reaching approximately 213,000 monthly active users. Here’s a closer look at the game’s details:

Users start off with a plot of land — their “backyard” — and begin constructing required buildings to build up a monster army. As with any RTS, the Town Hall acts as the central hub to all other technology trees, being required to build anything else.

This is where the first notable difference between Backyard Monsters and Evony comes into play. The latter title, and its various clones, always have a finite number of plots of land in which to construct buildings. Technically, that still exists here, but everything is on an invisible grid, and users can place buildings anywhere they will fit. This includes resource gatherers, which in other games are typically limited to the exterior parts of your town or kingdom.

There are a large number of resources to be gathered: Twigs, Pebbles, Putty, Goo, and Shiny. The first four can be gathered passively through various structures, but each structure can only hold so many units until new production must be stored, by the player, in the town hall or a storage silo. Should the user not come back to the game to store resources, gathering will cease.

The Shiny resource, on the other hand, cannot be gathered normally and is the game’s virtual currency (though it can sometimes be earned through a basic quest system). By constructing a general store, users can purchase bonuses with Shiny, including faster resource gathering for a limited time, protection against would-be attackers, extra resources, and even extra workers.

Workers are yet another RTS element brewed into Backyard Monsters, as in order to construct anything, a worker must be available. Until then, they mill about the map. Players only start with one, and in a wise move by Casual Collective, these little guys cost Shiny to hire, with the cost increasing each time you get another one.

It is also worth mentioning that of all the purchases the player can make with the virtual currency, none feels terribly expensive. Resources might cost five Shiny, while speeding up construction on something is six or seven. There is even protection for limited amounts of time (700 Shiny for about a month; less for less time) that can prevent any other players attacking you.

Unfortunately, the app has a slow burn, requiring many buildings that cost a good chunk of change before you can really build any monsters of your own, so you won‘t be doing attacking of your own right away. Thankfully, you are capable of building defensive towers and even booby traps to protect you from almost the get go.

Early on, no player can attack you for about two weeks (or until you pick a fight), but random creatures can. Any defenses constructed — walls, defensive towers, and even booby traps — will automatically attack the various nasties, but a good amount of damage can still be taken by your base. Curiously, nothing requires resources to repair, only time. However, the greater the damage, the longer it takes to fix, and the lower the health of a building the lower its productivity.

Eventually, players will earn enough resources to build monsters for their army, a process similar to constructing buildings. Bigger monsters are more expensive, take longer to research than make, have various prerequisites, and fill up slots in certain buildings that house them. All the same, once players do have an army, and a building called a “Map Room,” they can venture forth and attack other players for their own resources. The game doesn’t focus on using friends as direct allies, but they can help you upgrade your buildings faster, and eventually you will be able to visit their backyards and bank their resources for a cut. Additionally, there is an ability to form truces with other players further along in the game.

Backyard Monsters actually becomes quite addicting, with a good ingress for hooking new players. The only real downside comes in the form of visuals, namely, the user interface. The buildings and most of the monsters look pretty cool (though the animations are almost non-existent), but the UI is unbearably dull. With simplistic shapes, a grid-like layout, and menus and buttons that look like Excel or a 90s website, they feel completely disconnected from the game itself. The game is still fun, so many will probably look past it, but it certainly isn’t doing the potential growth any favors.

Overall, Backyard Monsters is a surprisingly fun strategy game complete with Civ- and RTS-style mechanics. It’s a slightly more unusual choice as a Facebook game, but for what it is, it works. Moreover, its virtual currency is well planned out, making player spending feel insignificant and thus encouraging the impulse-buy psychology that made virtual goods and currency what they are today. The user interface is rather poor by comparison to everything else, but with a few touch ups here and there, an already good game could potentially become great.

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Zynga Recovers Some DAU on This Week’s List of Top Growers

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/01 - 13:24

It’s hard to miss one thing on this week’s AppData list of fastest-growing Facebook games by daily active users: that Zynga is pretty much running the house. The big developer has three titles right at the top, followed by two more in the lower reaches of the list.

The full bunch — FarmVille, Treasure Isle, FrontierVille, Café World and Vampire Wars — picked up a combined 1.5 million DAU. Here’s the list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name DAU Gain Gain, % 1. FarmVille 18,811,408 +740,737 +4.10 2. Treasure Isle 5,586,672 +409,720 +7.91 3. FrontierVille 5,121,586 +232,279 +4.75 4. Family Feud 1,345,730 +229,127 +20.52 5. Bejeweled Blitz 2,676,324 +221,690 +9.03 6. Restaurant City 2,879,832 +116,499 +4.22 7. ???? 584,306 +99,616 +20.55 8. Café World 5,113,562 +96,704 +1.93 9. Baking Life 575,456 +80,143 +16.18 10. Ninja Saga 1,162,339 +80,129 +7.40 11. Mall World 726,944 +75,747 +11.63 12. Pet Society 2,787,005 +73,509 +2.71 13. Fashion World 326,870 +71,289 +27.89 14. Verdonia 312,049 +64,843 +26.23 15. EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars 630,292 +54,040 +9.38 16. Band of Heroes 99,117 +51,759 +109.29 17. Happy Pets 1,225,014 +43,912 +3.72 18. Vampire Wars 476,871 +43,246 +9.97 19. Sorority Life 666,797 +37,353 +5.93 20. Zoo Kingdom 114,972 +35,855 +45.32

Much has been made of Zynga’s slide in traffic recently, and indeed, 1.5 million DAU is far from enough to count as growth for the company — in fact, only one of those games, FrontierVille, is actually growing at all. But what we can see, from looking at Zynga’s traffic chart, is that its DAU losses pretty much stopped in the beginning of June.

Several of the other apparently fast-growing games, including Family Feud, Bejeweled Blitz and Restaurant City, aren’t actually growing at all. To find the growing games we must skip down to number nine, Baking Life, a store management sim that players have really taken to.

Baking Life isn’t too impressive a sight, since it’s a newer game. But it’s followed by Ninja Saga and Mall World, both of which are somewhat older titles. Games like these are proving that there really can be long-term growth on Facebook — especially Ninja Saga, which has been around since last December.

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MyTown Begins Giving Away Facebook Credits to Location-Based Gamers

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/07/01 - 02:27

Booyah, the developer of the location-based iPhone game MyTown, is announcing an interesting partnership with Facebook today. MyTown players will now be able to earn Facebook Credits by checking into real-world locations, as well as receive credits by completing sets of virtual items

The easiest way to understand the deal is to see Facebook as just another brand partner for My Town, taking a place alongside more traditional retail brands like H&M and PNG.

Each company should benefit. On MyTown’s side, the game is giving users another reason to keep playing, as well as associating itself with a prominent platform. “We’ve always wanted to understand how we can drive traffic from other platforms into our product,” Keith Lee, Booyah’s CEO, tells us. “And secondly, we want more people to get use our app with Facebook Connect. It’s a really great synergistic aspect,” he says.

As for Facebook, the company has been working hard to bring more user attention to Credits, which a large number of games on Facebook now use (though few use Credits exclusively). Previous promotions, like a Credits giveaway through CrowdStar, have taken place mainly on the site, but MyTown will give Facebook a way into the iPhone market.

In the future, this kind of partnership could become even more interesting. A number of Facebook games are spreading out to mobile platforms like Android and iPhone, as well as other web destinations; Credits could thus take on a value outside of Facebook, and conceivably even be traded for real-world goods or services, since they’ll have a defined value across a broad virtual economy.

Lee says that Booyah is currently figuring out its own strategy of how to tie virtual goods more strongly to the real-world fun of location-based gaming, although he’s not willing to give any more details for now. But Booyah should have plenty of options, as it also seems to have a quiet strategy around publishing other games, like Facebook’s Nightclub City (which we just chose as our top game of the year).

A quick update on MyTown: it’s still the largest location-based app out of the trio of itself, Foursquare and Gowalla, with 2.5 million users, up from about a million in February. Lee says that the game has an even reach across the country, unlike the tech-heavy audiences of some other location-based games.

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India’s Facebook Penetration Is Actually Good — But Mobile is More Exciting

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/30 - 19:45

[Editor's Note: The following article was previously published on Inside Facebook. Facebook's growth and traffic stats in India are excerpted from Inside Facebook Gold, our membership service tracking Facebook's business and growth around the world. Click here to learn more about our complete data and analysis offering.]

We estimate Facebook’s country market penetration monthly as part of the Facebook Global Monitor report. Typically, market penetration figures are determined by the percentage of the population that’s on Facebook. For most of the developed world, this metric provides a good view into Facebook’s popularity. But what about poorer countries, where many people lack internet connections? Measuring Facebook’s popularity, in these countries, quickly becomes complicated.

It’s more than a merely academic question. On Monday, we reported that Facebook’s new office in Hyderabad, India will hire up to 500 people. The office will serve as a global sales and operations node — but it also seems likely that Facebook has some confidence that India’s penetration levels will rise, providing a viable market for the company. So today, we’re taking a closer look at India’s present, as well as its possible future.

At first glance, Facebook appears to be a failure in India, which is well known as one of the two bastions of Google’s Orkut. Out of a total population of 1.14 billion people, India has only 9.5 million Facebook users — a market penetration rate of only 0.8 percent.

The story changes when we begin looking at India’s much smaller internet population, for which we’ll use the World Bank estimate of 51.7 million. Here’s how India’s growth on Facebook looks over the year when using that number:

Other estimates of India’s internet population vary — a more recent measurement by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) puts it at 71 million — but any measurement we could use shows a penetration of at least 10 percent, growing fairly quickly. This is especially impressive considering that most data connections in India are not broadband.

India’s internet penetration will rise over time, and it’s likely that a significant number of its citizens could be internet-connected within a few years. However, an even more interesting consideration is the growth of the mobile web.

While wireline connections are few and far between ( a fact that also reveals part of the problem in connecting more Indians to the internet) wireless phone ownership has grown by leaps and bounds. India added 16 million wireless users in May alone, according to government statistics, which count 617.5 million wireless users as of June, over 50 percent of the population.

The problem is that few of these wireless connections are being used for data; another IAMAI study, from January, showed that only two million users make significant use of their mobile internet connections. However, as you can see on the IAMAI chart at right, the younger generations — those most likely to be using Facebook — are the heaviest mobile data users. Yet another study predicts 260 million mobile internet subscribers in India by the end of 2015.

For Facebook, these various statistics won’t add up unless the social network can easily connect with users, load data and, most importantly, serve ads. That’s where Facebook Zero comes in: a stripped-down version of the site that some have suggested could become Africa’s Agora. India’s population being larger than that of the entire continent of Africa, it’s not unreasonable to consider that the country is more important to Facebook.

Much of this could take place without anyone realizing — Facebook currently offers no public accounting of how many users access it through mobile connections. What is clear, however, is that mobile is Facebook’s market of the future, at least for countries like India.

We’ll be publishing Facebook’s latest global traffic growth data tracking the site’s growth in markets around the world, including India, in the July edition of the Facebook Global Monitor report. The Global Monitor is available as part of a membership to Inside Facebook Gold. To learn more or join, please visit gold.insidenetwork.com/facebook

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The Best Facebook Games of 2010

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/30 - 17:30

It’s the end of June, and we have seen a tremendous influx of quality games into Facebook since the beginning of the year. Each month new genres, new ideas, and new evolutions of old ideas have continually raised the bar, from the boom of city builders to the sea of World Cup inspired soccer apps. Which among these many new titles are the top new games will differ according to individual taste, but we’ve endeavored to pick out the best Facebook games for this first half of 2010 with an eye to the many different popular genres

A note on our methodology: we’ve taken a look at all of our game reviews since January and picked out our top 10 Facebook favorites based on factors like presentation quality, style, attention to detail, originality or adaptation of old concepts, and, of course, fun factor. The number of users, as measured by monthly active users (MAUs), also plays a part, but the titles below are by no means all among the most popular Facebook games.

Here are our picks:

10. Mercenaries of War

The list starts out with a classic genre — the RPG — with a game from earlier this month: Mercenaries of War from Kaboom Social Games. To a degree, Mercenaries is your typical Facebook RPG, but Kaboom steers away from high fantasy, instead shoving the player into an apocalyptic world of war.

War-based RPGs are nothing new, but Mercenaries stands out in its blending of console gaming concepts into a traditionally text-based genre. Many missions involve animated action, with the player shooting up guards or pitting a squad of their mercs against some big bad boss, Final Fantasy style. Beyond this, even the text-based missions come with added polish, showing the player searching for an object or welding through a door.

As for battles, it’s gratifying to watch your mercenaries duke it out with other players in a bloody skirmish. And here Kaboom once again has a careful attention to detail, as each character responds and reacts to damage. Moreover, there’s a very cool element of “Adrenaline,” that makes you all but invincible after a few battles.

As it stands, Mercenaries of War only has around 15,000 monthly active users, but it’s a game we hope catches on.

9. FIFA Superstars

FIFA Superstars from Electronic Arts / Playfish is certainly one of the better soccer apps out there. Don’t be confused, however, as it’s not like the traditional FIFA console titles; instead, it’s a coaching-based sports game. Players manage a team of professional FIFA players and train them the way they see fit.

What really makes the game shine is the level of polish. For each training exercise the player performs, the team visibly reacts, and for each training tool purchased, their stadium changes. This produces something close to a city-building element in the game, with great aesthetic rewards to achieve.

It’s also worth mentioning that FIFA is the largest intellectual property brought to Facebook by Electronic Arts, giving the game a very “name brand” appeal. Couple this with gratifying matches against other players, and you’ve got a recipe for a very popular app.

Currently FIFA Superstars is closing in on 2.8 million MAUs.

8. FrontierVille

Part FarmVille, part Treasure Isle, part city-builder, FrontierVille is designed to stem some of developer Zynga’s declining traffic . Set in the age when the American West was new, players set out to create a homestead for themselves in the untamed wilderness.

In truth, most of the features in FrontierVille are not new, but are rather improvements on concepts used in Zynga’s most successful titles. In order to make money and build their homes, players must grow crops, which FarmVille proved most players enjoy. The farm blends with the surrounding wilderness, which constantly encroaches on the land, forcing players to clear it and discover any number of collectible treasures (including a few bears and snakes to fight off), much like Treasure Isle.

One new addition is the non-player spouse that eventually moves out West with you, allowing you to eventually raise a family (or an entire extended clan) to help with the chores. There are also improved mechanics for helping friends, including a new concept of reputation that adds to the rewards of helping out.

Despite its newness, FrontierVille has over 12 million MAUs.

7. My Empire

Not all city-builders are about a bustling metropolis. At least that was Playfish’s point of view when it took players back to ancient Rome in EA’s entry to the city category, My Empire. This seems like a simple game centered around two factors: Population and Happiness. In order to succeed, one first builds housing to attract citizens, then begins to tax them. Unfortunately, while this revenue stream is easier on the player than constantly harvesting crops, the NPCs hardly like it.

To mitigate this, players must collect resources to build attractions from the ancient world, like baths and arenas. What makes My Empire shine, though, is that with ancient Rome, Playfish is able to, and does, incorporate a very unique style and mysticism to the game, avoiding some of the rules of modern cities. From the great Coliseum to the Sphinx, everything in My Empire looks fantastic and when a city is in a state of completion, it is a truly gratifying sight.

My Empire now has north of 5.1 million MAUs.

6. Zoo Paradise

Released in early March, CrowdStar took a stab at the tycoon genre with Zoo Paradise. The whole concept was to construct a zoo of exotic and aesthetically pleasing creatures in order to attract as many paying customers as possible — who can then be exploited with overpriced merchandise and food!

What really made the game stand out, then and now, was the sheer variety of environments and decorum. Each habitat feels similar with their cell-shaded, almost anime appearances, but at the same time each also looks sifferent. From forests to deserts, every element is gratifying to look at. Combined with special, new, habitats such as aliens, dinosaurs, and even World Cup animals, Zoo Paradise always feels pretty fresh.

Beyond constantly added mini-games, it also doesn’t hurt that it was the first major CrowdStar game to take part in the CrowdStar Cares charity for the Gulf oil spill (if only by a few hours).

Zoo Paradise has 4.4 million monthly active users.

5. Mall World

Published by 6 Waves, Mall World marks the midway point on our list as a game that truly hits its target market, teenage girls, successfully. Best described as a sim, Mall World is a game that allows players to run their very own boutique in the middle of a giant Facebook mall.

More than just making a store and avatar look pretty, players actually have to manage a virtual business, leveling up and unlocking new and better fashions to purchase and sell. What makes it even better, however, is that sales stem from real users buying your stock, making your choices all the more important. The only downside is that random Facebook friends visit the store are automatically turned into girls — although this could also be a source of amusement.

The game also has a wonderful mini-game to earn extra cash for its female audience, called the Dressing Room Game. Players were given one random clothing item to match an ensemble with and please a customer. Although exceedingly simple, it’s a very cool idea.

In fact, the ideas of Mall World has earned the title constant, steady, growth to 3.7 million MAUs.

4. NanoStar Siege

The strategy genre makes its appearance with the Digital Chocolate title NanoStar Siege. Though the game doesn’t top the charts as far as numbers goes, it’s still one of our favorites. Players are able to build up an army of characters and deploy them on a vertical plane, where they march up and attack anything in their path. The idea is to reach the enemy’s fortress and take it down.

What really stands out with the game is the idea of heroes. As part of the Nanoverse, Siege allows players to buy and create decks of virtual cards that are useable across any NanoStar game and grant unique, special powers. Here, they can buff friendly NPCs, strike down enemies, or become powerful units themselves.

It’s also great to be able to set up your own defensive AI when you aren’t present to play. Anyone that attacks you (friends or otherwise) must contend with your deck and your army. Furthermore,  players can strategicallydecide where place their units to defend their fortress as well, and when special cards will be deployed.

Currently NanoStar Siege has around 660,000 MAUs.

3. Epic Goal

Here’s another game that’s been growing but hasn’t reached its deserved numbers: Epic Goal from Watercooler. Wrought with an amusing cartoon style, players recruit friends to play on their soccer team and compete for the top rankings. Nonetheless, unlike FIFA, this app is only part management, and takes a very action-heavy approach.

Unusually, players actually control what happens in soccer matches. For Facebook, that counts as a risky move, but Epic Goal’s controls shine wondrously, with a simple point and click interface that contextually creates a clickable button around teammates that are near for a pass, opponents with the ball for a slide tackle, and around the player controlling the ball for a shot.

This is taken alongside taem management, for which each player (named after Facebook friends) must be trained in speed, shooting and other skills on a practice field in an amusing set of animations. With the attractive visual style, the training is fun in in its own right.

As it stands Epic Goal has over 166,000 monthly active users.

2. Social City

Playdom’s Social City was the first big-company title of the city-building boom. Like any of its ilk, this game tasks players with managing population, income, and the happiness of its citizens. It’s the balancing between the three that is fantastic. Income is obviously needed to do anything, but population is also needed to gain experience in any significant numbers; in turn, if happiness is not met, population cannot grow.

Like any quality city-builder, Playdom’s title also looks wonderful, providing a substantial aesthetic reward for building a great city. However, what did, and still does, stand out for the game is its attention to detail. Most of the city-builders we’ve seen have streets devoid of life. Sometimes there’s a guy chopping wood or a lone car, but that’s not what cities are like! Social City has people flying kites, mowing lawns, playing sports, and everything else under the sun. It actually feels like a living, breathing metropolis.

In fact, Social City became so popular that it even caught Zynga’s attention and kicked off a spate of city-building release from other major developers, including our number seven pick, My Empire.

Social City has declined in recent months, but is still huge at 9.9 million MAUs.

1. Nightclub City

Finally, the number one game so far in 2010 is the sim Nightclub City, published by My Town creator Booyah (though the game was never officially claimed). Forget restaurants, cities and malls, Nighclub City takes players to the more exciting world of nightlife parties, giving them the power to create their own clubs. Ever since we first spotted the app back in April, it has continued to grow and evolve into the epitome of style.

The basic concept of the game is to decorate your club, building up its luxury levels and thus increasing the cover charges and attracting more users. More than that, however, the social features are incredible. Not only can you visit and spin a few tracks for a friend, but you can actually hire each of your Facebook buddies as bouncers and bartenders. Each one has sets of special abilities to improve your guest happiness or even the tip rates at the bar. This is further enhanced by the addition of the “Entourage”, where you can add even more friends as special guests and dress them accordingly.

Even though decorating a virtual space has been done before, Nightclub City’s décor oozes style. Nothing feels static: lights flash, objects move, fountains flow, and dancers dance, creating a truly gratifying experience. Moreover, each NPC has its own personality, from the dancing girl that rocks on, to the celebrity, to the jerk that picks fights: each element has its role in making your club the best around. Coupled with a constant stream of new buyable objects, daily giveaways of premium virtual goods, and phenomenal music mixes, Nightclub City seems like a clear choice for the top title, so far, this year.

Currently, Nightclub City continues to grow steadily, with about 4.2 million monthly active users.

The year is far from over, of course. While the pace of new releases on Facebook has slowed drastically, the quality bar has risen far beyond the waves of simple games and their clones that dominated in 2009. We have high hopes for the rest of 2010, so we’ll keep reviewing the latest games with an eye to picking out the best of the best at the end of the year.

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Pet Resort: A Branded Facebook Simulation Game from Playdom and Purina

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/30 - 17:28

Simulation games have been around for years on Facebook, but they continue to get more diverse, with themed versions coming out for building cities, bakeries, wineries, various types of farms (*cough*) and more. Now there’s one for the pet lovers: Playdom and pet food company Purina have quietly launched a new Facebook title, Pet Resort.

Pet Resort is certainly a cute looking game, and one likely to appeal to cat and dog lovers of all types. As sim-style game, it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table, but merely takes a successful design model and applies it to a new aesthetic. It’s certainly not a bad thing, as the game only comes with a few minor usability complaints — but if you’re looking for something groundbreaking, it’s not here.

Set in a fancy town, players are tasked with the construction of the perfect pet resort, as managed by themselves and their pet cat or dog. Like other sim games, players must manage the needs of their “customers” (pets) in order to earn coin and attract more. This is handled by four different types of “stations,” consisting of food and drink, bath, play, and health. As various cats and dogs enter the resort, they will have thought bubbles representing what they want, and should the station be available, they will visit it.

This is where the standard rating of popularity comes into play. Should you have the station the animals are looking for, they will interact with it, earning a fraction of popularity and a small sum of money. Oddly enough, if you don’t have the station needed, nothing negative appears to happen. You just make less money.

Actually, this happens quite a bit as players can only have so many stations at any given time - depending on their level. Also, cats and the dogs prefer different items. For example, if there is a playpen station, it can be stocked with a squeaky toy for dogs or a scratching post for cats. This becomes more complex as the player level’s up and the various animals have more requirements (e.g. health and bath do not open up until levels 11 and 28 respectively).

To add an extra level of management, each station must have a full stock of whatever supplies it requires. This is where Purina makes its appearance. Using food as the example, each purchase made will take a set amount of time to arrive and cost in-game currency. The longer it takes to arrive (minutes to hours) and the more it costs, the more servings it will serve. However, many of the objects are Purina brand food goods such as Purina Fancy Feast and Dog Chow or toys like Tuff Tugger or the Kitty Treat Ball.

One can imagine this game serving as a conduit for sales of Purina products, like earning a coupon for Dog Chow if you reach a high-enough level.

Beyond all of this, the only other major elements to the game are décor and “VIP Pets” that periodically visit. The décor is purely aesthetic, while the VIP pets give you extra popularity if you pet them. They do have a heart meter that fills up as they are pet and the more full it is, the longer they will wait for an open station.

This is actually one of the social features as well. When players begin the game, they pick a pet to keep for themselves, and as friends join and play, their pets become VIP pets as well. In addition to this, players can also visit each others’ resorts. However, rather than generic “help them out” prompts, users can not only pet up to three pets for extra experience but click on décor within their resort and purchase it for 10% off. Additionally, the player it was bought from will earn 10%. Also, on a more minor note, visiting a friend also prompts a Bonus Wheel that can reward varying amounts of experience or coin.

As far as complaints go, the only real issues are minor. The biggest annoyance was trying to figure out how to move and rotate objects in the virtual space. There is no clear edit button, nor can it be done from the store (like most other sim games - yes, there have been so many sims that this is an expectation). As it turns out, it’s all done from the inventory page. Moreover, rotation is a minor complaint as when an object is rotated, the game picks the object back up. It’s not a huge deal, but it does make the player do a little double take and wondering if it worked. With no feedback sound, it looking like it’s being moved, and the relative silhouette of the items looking the same on all sides, it’s not immediately noticeable.

Regardless, all such complaints are very minor in the long run. Overall, Pet Resort is a pretty fun game for sim lovers. True, it isn’t going to change the face of gaming as we know it, but it’s a nice new premise for an older genre. It looks goods, plays well, and is, overall, what we’ve come to expect from Playdom. As for the Purina involvement, the game is fun enough to possibly generate a good deal of marketing for them, and if it does, it will be interesting to see how many more major companies follow similar paths in the future.

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Lucky Train Gives Facebook Gamers a Railroad Set to Play With

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/30 - 11:40

Train sets are a toy of the past. But computer gaming has kept the tradition alive, in titles ranging from the original Railroad Tycoon to the iPhone’s Trainyard, which we recently reviewed. Now Facebook is getting its very own social take on the genre with Lucky Train, the first title from new developer A Bit Lucky.

From a first glance at the opening screen, Lucky Train looks like it might dive into a Miyazaki-style animated world. And indeed, there are overtones of that filmmaker’s typical settings, as you start out in a vaguely modern-looking village which is, nevertheless, about to receive an old steam train, an event begun by clicking a blinking rail crossing signal on the lower right hand corner of the screen.

This steam train — along with its more modern permutations — is the center of the Lucky Train world. A few homes are scattered around your starting village; over time, these will be replaced by larger homes, apartments, diners, banks, baseball diamonds and other structures. But aside from decoration, these serve only one purpose: to fill the all-important train with a variety of passengers.

After you fill up the train by clicking on your buildings to send over the passengers, it’s time to send the train off to its destination. And this, in turn, is where the most important mechanic of Lucky Train takes place: once the train leaves your town, it will begin making its way through your personal network.

In fact, the trains in Lucky Train can only leave if they have a destination, and at the moment, the only possible destination is a friend. Lucky Train itself is a re-imagining of Railroad Tycoon, according to A Bit Lucky chief creative officer Jordan Maynard, but where the single player of Tycoon controlled all the various destinations, this Facebook version relies on the points of your social graph.

The train’s initial trip starts with one destination, whichever friend you’ve picked for the journey. The ensuing journey is where Lucky Train gets interesting. You or your friend can edit the train’s route to add new intermediate destinations. Each new person on the route will have the chance to send the train on a longer trip, as well as upgrade the train so that it travels faster or carries more passengers.

Doing so is beneficial to all, because the train’s cargo, the passengers, will deliver more money and experience as the trip gets longer. The odd thing about this setup is that you may end up with any number of strangers on your train’s route, because the people your immediate friends add in won’t necessarily be in your own network. Maynard refers to it as the six degrees of separation of the gaming world.

The train mechanic makes Lucky Train a more intensively social game than most others we’ve seen on Facebook. You can conceivably play a game like FarmVille or Happy Aquarium without friends, and the social mechanics within those games, typically visiting a farm or fish tank to perform a few simple tasks, isn’t absolutely required to get ahead. For Lucky Train, players have to interact, and every action directly benefits both themselves and others in their network.

For now, sending off passengers and filling your town (there are also trees, flowers and other typical decorations to spread around) is as far as Lucky Train goes. In the future, Maynard and co-founder Frederic Descamps plan on adding more complicated features for the advanced game, including a shipping mechanic in which trains help players trade resources used to build more valuable properties, like the Eiffel Tower. Future additions could also include the ability to send messages with trains, expand to new communities, and learn more about the historically-based trains used in the game.

But even in its first release, Lucky Train is pretty unique, with a bright, friendly art style and several interesting mechanics that differ considerably from other Facebook games. It’s a bit simpler at the moment than some other games that we’ve seen recently released, but its more unusual features should stand it in good stead while A Bit Lucky works on adding more to the game.

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