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

Other blogs

Kontagent Raises Over $4 Million More for Facebook Analytics

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/30 - 02:35

Further extending a lead mostly established by superior endurance, Kontagent has raised over $4 million more this month, bringing its total to $6 million. The funding was dug up from an SEC filing earlier today by VentureBeat, and later confirmed by the company.

Kontagent is one of the few companies that offers in-depth analytics for Facebook applications, working much as a web tool like Google Analytics would, but with some important additions like the ability to track the contributions of individual users. This April, the company took the wraps off a major update including greater control over data and revenue analysis.

At the time, we were able to list a number of angel investors within the social game industry, from Hit Forge’s Naval Ravikant to Mochi Media’s Jameson Hsu. The $4 million round brings in several venture capital firms as well, with Altos Ventures and Maverick Capital leading (partners from both firms are joining the board).

The Kontagent platform is tracking 60 million users across all the Facebook apps it’s installed on; a few of its clients include Gaia Online, PlayFirst, PopCap and Tencent. We’ve got full lists of the original angel investors and clients in our April story on Kontagent.

Categories: Other blogs

CrowdStar Signs Five Year Deal with Facebook, Making Credits Its Exclusive Currency

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/06/29 - 21:10

Social game developer CrowdStar is cementing its existing status as the lead test partner for Credits, Facebook’s virtual currency. The two companies have signed a deal where the developer will exclusively use Credits as the paid virtual currency in all of its games for the next five years. It has already been using Credits exclusively since this past December, and claims that its average revenue per user (ARPU) has gone up by almost 50% as a result.

CrowdStar has been in a good position to try out Credits, because it gained most of its users last fall; developers that got established earlier have tended to invest more money in their own monetization services. Many are concerned about the cost of Credits, including the 30% fee that Facebook takes out of all purchases of the currency as well as the loss of control and breakage. By starting fresh, CrowdStar has less to lose even as it sees what it can gain.

> Continue reading on Inside Facebook.

Categories: Other blogs

Mixpanel: Social Game Developers Use Tutorials to Get Crucial Early Retention

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/06/29 - 20:07

[Editor's Note: Facebook may be making significant changes to the platform, but developers aren't standing still -- they're busy continuing to find new ways to engage users. Here's a guest post by Tim Trefren, cofounder of real-time analytics company Mixpanel, looking at the latest trends his company is tracking among developers.]

Because a range of our customers are social game developers, we can get a high-level look at trends they’re seeing in their Facebook applications. One of the big trends we’re seeing is that games are using tutorials to generate strong retention among new users. A related trend is that this initial retention is critical to the health of your game, in the weeks following launch. Here’s a closer look.

Impressive Results From Tutorials

One thing we’re seeing succeed is the tutorial-based signup process. A well-crafted tutorial removes all the ambiguity out of getting started and helps teach a new user how to play the game.

If you’re not familiar with this technique, the FarmVille signup process is a good example. FarmVille explicitly teaches you how to harvest, plow, and plant seeds with a 3-step tutorial.

Now that you’re familiar with the concept, let’s take a look at the data I’ve compiled from a number of games.

By The Numbers

The most impressive finding of this analysis is that individual steps in a tutorial convert at over 90% on average. Meaning, once a user has started a tutorial, they have a greater than 90% chance of continuing at each step.

This doesn’t include the first step, however - as you might expect, it’s harder to get users to start a tutorial than it is to get them to complete additional steps.

First step conversion rate: 71.4%
Additional step conversion rate: 95.06%
Overall completion rate: 37.9%

Many companies are now utilizing the tutorial technique, and it clearly deserves its popularity. Conversion rates of 95% are practically unheard of, but tutorials appear to be delivering these results.

An Interesting Trend in Visitor Retention

Another thing I noticed was a strong trend in retention behavior. There are some remarkable similarities in the *pattern* of visitor retention across games, despite the differences in the actual numbers.

Before I go any further, here’s a quick overview of the concept: Visitor retention is the percentage of visitors who come back and interact with an application after their first visit.

Visitors are chunked into groups—also known as ‘cohorts’—and then analyzed based on the the behavior of the group as a whole. The most common method is to group by visit date. For example, one group might consist of all the visitors who were first seen in the week starting May 3rd.

Once you have grouped your visitors, you can track them over the following weeks and see how many from each cohort return to the site.

Now let’s look at some actual retention numbers for a variety of different games. To compile this data, I first took a sample of the different social games using our service. Then I looked at the average week-over-week retention for each game.

Here’s a graph of the average weekly retention rates for the different games:

You can see that on the surface, the retention numbers are pretty different - some of these games have long-term retention rates close to 50%, while others rapidly approach 0%.

However, the interesting thing to note is that while the absolute retention rates are different, the pattern of retention is very similar across games. They all have a massive dropoff after the first week, with relatively flat retention in the following weeks. If you take a closer look, the ‘flat’ parts of the graph run nearly parallel, meaning they have very similar weekly conversion rates.

We can take a closer look by calculating the “conversion rate” - (e.g. week 3 divided by week 2, etc) between adjacent weeks. Here’s a graph with this transformation:

See a pattern? At the first point on the x-axis (Week 0-1), we can see that the initial conversion rate ranged from 1.76% on the low end to 62.83% on the high end. The interesting part comes later, though - no matter what the initial conversion rate between weeks 0 and 1, the following weeks convert at close to 80% across all of the games.

Basically, this means that once you’ve had a user for at least a week, they have an 80% chance of coming back each following week.

This suggests that your initial retention rate is critical, because once you’ve retained users for a week you are likely to keep them for quite a while. This behavior also raises another question: why do almost all of the games in our sample exhibit this behavior? Is it possible that this is just how social games work - retained users have an 80 - 95% chance of returning each week? If so, this could mean that the only thing you have control over is the initial retention rate. Time to write and polish your tutorials.

Tim Trefren is the cofounder of real-time analytics company Mixpanel.

Categories: Other blogs

FarmVille’s iPhone App Reveals Heavy Spenders

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/06/29 - 16:31

Since Zynga launched FarmVille on the iPhone last week, we’ve been watching to see how it’s received. The verdict so far: pretty well, although the game is by no means making a total sweep of the rankings. FarmVille has consistently held the number two spot in the free game rankings each time we’ve looked, after Rollercoaster Extreme, and is number four among all free apps.

A more interesting view comes through Apple’s listings of top in-game purchases. The two most common purchases are the two cheapest, with the premium currency, Farm Cash, being the preferential pick. But the most expensive option, for 310 Farm Cash, comes in relatively high on the list. Here’s how it compares to another farming-style game on the iPhone, Ngmoco’s We Rule:

Players have spurned FarmVille’s mid-priced Farm Cash offering entirely, leaving it at the bottom of the list, while $49.99 of Farm Cash comes in above a number of cheaper options in coins. We Rule, with its simpler structure of only offering one currency for purchase, also shows the habit of players to skip to the most expensive option. It’s also worth noting that, since we started watching, the most expensive option for regular currency, 70,600 coins, has risen significantly in popularity.

We’ll be digging into some stats from our latest Inside Virtual Goods report tomorrow, showing more in-depth breakdowns of heavy-spending users in social games, so stay tuned.

Categories: Other blogs

Educational Social Games Spread on Social Platforms

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/06/29 - 14:30

The addictive nature of video games has often led educators to try adapting them for the classroom. Add in the virality of social gaming, and you’ve got a potent mix in which players may not even realize they’re learning. We’re seeing an ever-increasing number of educational games hit Facebook, the web and mobile platforms like the iPhone, all trying to discover the magic combination that will make traditional schooling passe.

What defines these educational games, or “edutainment” for short? It’s not necessarily teaching specific subjects like psychology or geometry, but rather the intention of expanding and enhancing the mind — meanwhile conquering the educational stigma of being boring. Here’s a look at what a few developers have done in the first half of 2010:

FreshPlanet - FreshPlanet first came to our attention early this month when its Facebook application Crazy Cow Music Quiz appeared at #8 on our emerging Facebook games list. Crazy Cow is quite successful at this point, with over a million monthly active users and a clever trivia design that exposes users to new music.

That’s not directly educational, but it turns out that FreshPlanet also has a quartet of “RedFish” iPad learning apps for young children: RedFish 4 Kids, RedFish Piano 4 Kids, RedFish Puzzle - The RedFish, and Redfish - Balloon Bursting. The first is basically a compilation of the others, but it’s a great game for young kids. Filled with vibrant colors, the title works with numbers, counting, music, colors, shapes, and so on. If you’ve got an iPad, Redfish may be a good introduction for your tot to learning games.

Tiny Planets — The most common type of educational game is tailored to small children. However, the folks over at Tiny Planets focus on a bit older crowd, kids aged six to 14.

Based on the Tiny Planets animated TV series, this game offers six “planets” for users to visit consisting of simple games, web videos, social networking, a virtual world, goods, and currency, and, of course, learning opportunities.

The biggest attention getter for us, however, was the virtual world in which players can create and decorate their very own planet, buying new avatars and items for their terrestrial inhabitance with the virtual currency (KEYs). KEYs can also be used to buy more videos and games.

Tiny Planets is rich with both entertaining and educational activities that focus on space, conservation, science, creativity, and critical thinking skills, which can be accessed via quizzes, puzzles, and even interactive books for home schooling.

Mind Candy - Although we covered it earlier this year, Mind Candy also warrants another mention. Their Pet Society’esque virtual world for kids, Moshi Monsters, is a wonderful and safe place for kids of virtually all ages to interact and enjoy. Beyond its attractive style, Mind Candy cleverly masks the learning aspects as mini-games focusing on subjects like math or spelling and granting an in-game currency, Rox, as a reward. Players may not even realize they’re learning something, as the primary focus is on getting extra cash so they can buy bigger and better stuff in the virtual overworld.

As it stands, Moshi Monsters looks small on Facebook, floating between 18,000 and 20,000 MAUs according to AppData. However, just this month, Mind Candy reported that the game had reached 20 million registered users and has even signed a book deal about the game with the Penguin Group.

Gameloft - Not all learning is for kids. Another good pick that teaches a bit about American history is fantastic for all ages. It’s the iPhone title remake, Gameloft‘s The Oregon Trail. Originally created by MECC, Oregon Trail was one of the best-selling educational games of all time (right up there with Carmen Sandiego). Now with cleaned up visuals and a new presentation, it’s ready to share the hardships of the Trail with a whole new generation.

ADS Software Group - Here’s another interesting iPhone app if you’re interested in geography. Updated and refreshed in April, ADS’ app, World Countries, contains maps from around the world. Beyond direct information and flash cards, the game also has various geographic quizzes about capitals, flags, maps, and so on. Granted, quizzes aren’t always the most extravagant way to learn, but with OpenFeint leaderboard integration, friend challenges, and achievement postings to both Facebook and Twitter, there’s an added level of competition and immersion.

On5 - Frankly, quizzes are an excellent way to teach people new things, but as suggested above, they can also be a bit dull. So On5 decided to take a game show approach with their iPhone app Quizarium; also updated in April. Based around subjects such as nature, science, sports, and so on, players compete against one another in one minute rounds for each question. Every 12 seconds that no correct answer is given, a hint is issued (e.g. the number of letters).

What makes this game even better, however, is that in addition to playing with other people synchronously, it also has Plus+ integration so that users can share achievements through the social platform and even compete via the various leaderboard systems.

Between past reviewed titles and newer ones, there is one lesson to take home: when it comes to educational games, the they mask their educational aspects, the better they seem to do. Simply look at Wooga’s Brain Buddies app from last year: currently, it’s just shy of 3 million MAUs, with around 212,000 daily active users.

Regardless, each of these titles have something to offer. And what we’ve listed above is merely the tip of the iceberg as any number of educational social games litter the networks of Facebook, OpenFeint, Plus+, Scoreloop and can be found on any of the iDevices as well.

A few more worthy mentions include the iPhone title, Brain Balance Pro from Orangefish that takes an approach reminiscent of “Who Has the Biggest Brain?” to design and is part of the OpenFeint network; Place Map HD on the iPad from Voon; and our previously reviewed user-generated quiz game, Sporcle from Sporcle Inc. It may not be a text book, but with thousands of fun quizzes from thousands of users, it’s unlikely you won’t learn something.

We still have yet to see anything challenge the legacy of the original Oregon Trail or Carmen Sandiego (even the new Oregon Trail). Nevertheless, inch by inch, developers are getting there.

Categories: Other blogs

Blizzard's Battle.Net following Facebook into ID infamy?

Playnoevil - Tue, 2010/06/29 - 14:19
Where identity goes, trouble follows. Blizzard's Battle.Net has a new identity system, RealID, which is raising a number of security, privacy, and utility concerns as the company prepares to launch two of the most anticipated PC games in years - Starcraft II and Diablo III.

Blizzard's Battle.Net is one of the older(est?) gaming social networks built around some of the most popular PC games of the last decade: Warcraft III, Starcraft, and Diablo II. While I've not been made privy to the service's history, it seems to have grown up in a rather ad hoc fashion. With the impending launch of Starcraft II, Blizzard has redesigned the service and one of its key components is its new identity service - RealID.

Online identity is a tricky problem (I've written over 100 blog entries on the topic) and Jaime Skelton of MMORPG.com has written a great article discussing the issues with Blizzard's service.

The RealID service as currently implemented lacks many of the privacy controls that users have come to expect from a social network - it seems that friends cannot be grouped into different categories for privacy and that it is not possible to play somewhat anonymously (a tricky issue for an online service).

Email addresses are login IDs - a bad idea I've discussed before - and you are identified by your real name to your friends, even if you haven't given that information to them otherwise. While Blizzard has stated that "friends" should only be your "real" friends, the expectation of "friending" online acquaintances has become so accepted that Blizzard's implementation is bound to cause a fair amount of trouble.

There are also some COPPA and child protection issues raised by the service, even if it is not explicitly targeted at children (complying with COPPA is such a good, do-able business strategy, and a legal requirement, there is rarely a sensible reason for not implementing its features even if you don't target kids as customers).

There are a number of other privacy issues as well as security concerns that have been raised by RealID.

Identity services are a key customer service and a major customer service cost - their design and implementation requires careful engineering and thought.

J. Skelton (2010), "Player Perspectives: A Pain in the RealID", http://www.mmorpg.com/showFeature.cfm/loadFeature/4342/page/1
Categories: Other blogs

Preview: Ubisoft Goes Fantasy City-Building with The Settlers

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/06/29 - 02:26

Last week, Ubisoft took a deeper step into the social realm by adding its own cross-promotion bar to the game Castle & Co. The bar is working great for us, as it helped find a new Ubisoft gem called The Settlers - My City, for Facebook. This spin on the venerable The Settlers strategy franchise feels mostly like a city-builder, which might cause some to groan in despair. But don’t be fooled.

The Settlers marks the latest sizeable intellectual property franchise to attempt to do something significant (game-wise) on Facebook — a trend we most recently saw with FIFA Superstars from Electronic Arts. It appears that The Settlers is still in early beta, so a number of features are still missing. Nevertheless, with a solid core set of mechanics, an exemplary style, and a tremendous amount of room for expansion, it’s a game that’s already pretty good now.

Players control a tiny avatar (that will supposedly do more than walk around eventually) in the world of Tandria. It falls on the player to run the kingdom the way they see fit. The basics are about the same as all other city-builders: construct a beautiful and thriving city by managing population and production.

Production is the most self-explanatory. Various buildings — such as a butchery or bakery — can be used to produce their respective products (up to five at a time), for a small fee, that you can later sell for profit. Like farming games, making these items can take anywhere from minutes to several hours, and spoilage is possible if the player fails to claim the product. Eventually, taxes can be collected to mitigate such losses.

As for the population, these fellows become the work force, in a matter of speaking. For each resident you have, you can produce something from one of the production buildings. Obviously, this means the greater your populace, the greater the potential income. This is where things start to get a bit interesting.

Many buildings cost more than just coin, also requiring resources such as lumber or stone, which are gathered from the sectors displayed on a rather expansive world map. In each sector, users can perform different tasks, one of which is sending out your residents to gather said resources. Sadly, the map section has not yet been opened, but it is here that the potential of the app shines.

Like the strategy game, these areas, dubbed the “Outer Rim,” can become a means of expanding your kingdom. Though it is not entirely clear how it will work in the Facebook version, players will be able to expand in many different ways, such as trade, diplomacy, or simply military muscle. What makes the expansion sound more unique, however, is a feature called “Event Locations.”

Beyond new land and potential resources, these Events appear to be special quests to grant equally special rewards (for the record, an entire section is a dragon — awesome). Additionally, friends will be able to join you in completing these quests, adding a fantastic social mechanic that enhances the basic existing concept of visiting friends’ towns to help and share gifts.

Beyond all of these features, The Settlers appears to have any number of other strategy aspects waiting to go live. For example, many buildings appear to have sub-functions such as the casino, church, and tavern, which will be used to gamble, research technology, and keep soldiers happy, respectively.

In truth, the only thing bad about The Settlers - My City, is that it’s not ready yet. It’s a very cool looking game, and probably worth the wait, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Filled with a wonderful, animated fantasy style, from visuals to music, The Settlers is easily the biggest social endeavor that Ubisoft has taken on yet. With about 4,700 monthly active users taking part in its beta, you can bet it’s going to be fun when it’s done — especially since it’s kind of fun already.

Categories: Other blogs

Vector Takes an Interesting Approach to Facebook Farming with Fantasy Book

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/06/28 - 16:30

Farming is a common mechanic in social games, to the point that nearly every developer has tried their own spin on the genre. Just when you think you’ve seen all the possible spins, however, someone surprises you. That’s the case with developer Vector and its new Facebook title, Fantasy Book, which takes a traditional gaming approach to plot progression.

Fantasy Book has all the basics as far as farming economics go, with the player obviously growing crops for income. The catch is the back story: the player character was somehow pulled into the world of a picture book. Unlike other farming games, the growing of crops and earning of money is not the end, but rather, the means to an end. The main goal, instead, is to make your way out of the book, while helping its citizens, one small village at a time. Almost immediately following the tutorial phase, players are greeted by the mayor of a small, isolated village. This is Page 1.

Evidently, the poor villager’s only boat is damaged and will cost 1000 coins to repair. In order to proceed to the next Page, players must earn said amount, as well as meet any extra requirements (e.g. get to a certain level of experience or farm a set amount of a certain crop). This is where mechanics beyond farming come into play.

The first, less common, element is fertilization. Rather than relying on friends or virtual currency, players can actually fertilize their own crops. However, this goes beyond just making them grow faster, and can actually improve the overall harvest by making the plants “gigantized” or even mutated, in some cases.

To further augment revenue, players can also go fishing in a quaint little pond the game provides for them. Sadly, there are no cool mini-games to go with this, but players can purchase various fishing rods to attempt to catch different types of fish. These catches can be sold, but more rare and valuable fish can be caught through the use of special bait. Unfortunately, this required purchasing the game’s virtual currency, Fantasy Cash, or using Jewels, which are earned for automatically each week, with new levels and neighbors, and for heading to a new Page.

So what’s the point of going to new pages? Well, the biggest draw is that the user earns new quests to complete and a bigger plot of land. At the same time, new and better items, both decorative and money-earning, are unlocked. Such items include pets, machinery, and fairies.

Pets work sort of like pets in other farming games, but it’s unclear as to what their exact role is. Players do have to feed them periodically with purchased pet food (friends can also visit and feed them), but the only notable thing they do is sometimes fulfill requirements to move to a new page. Machinery, on the other hand, is a bit more straightforward, enabling users to take anything they’ve harvested and create new items to sell. Of course, machines have been seen before in similar games such as Country Life or Ranch Town. Not so much, for Fantasy Book’s fairy mechanic.

Okay, yes, there have been games that let users “hire” help (be they friends or non-player characters), but the help hasn’t been fairies! In short, as players reach new levels and Pages, they can build homes for plowing, sowing, and harvesting fairies. Once built, fairies will work a user-selected area so long as enough coins and mana is present. The latter is unique to the fairies themselves, and it regenerates passively, but Candy can be purchased to fill it up immediately.

On the social side of things, the basics are here — leaderboards, visiting neighbors, etc. — but there are a few other interesting features as well. One of the big ones is “Magic Powder” that can be used up to five times a day. It sounds cool, but is more or less the same as fertilizing crops or using bait. There is just no cost. Of course, there is also the feeding of each others’ pets, and a nifty little card game to play once a day as well.

Obviously, there is a great deal of reward that comes with Fantasy Book’s core concept of moving through new levels. However, there is also a potential downside. Whenever a player proceeds to a new page, they lose everything they’ve created. Here’s the problem: As with all other farming games, players can decorate their virtual space. However, the game suggests that these decorations will be lost as well. This begs the question: What then, is the point of décor? It doesn’t seem to do anything beyond look pretty, and why buy it if you’re going to lose it?

As a matter of fact, the aesthetics are not going to appeal to a lot of users at all, with their very pastel, storybook look. Another minor complaint is that the animations — in fact, any movement whatsoever — feels extremely stiff and awkward.

Still, while Fantasy Book’s inclusion of an actual level progression system may seem minor in the grand scheme, it really does make the game feel original. Moreover, the rewards of reaching new Pages feels significant, compared to games that are more open ended and arbitrarily award new buyable items. There’s just more reward to requiring a certain level to reach a new, visible plateau (like needing to be a certain level in a console game to defeat a boss), than the many Facebook games in which level one feels virtually the same as level 47. We’ll be watching carefully to see how this farming approach does.

Categories: Other blogs

Plimus Enters the Payment Platform Wars With In-Game Purchases

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/06/28 - 15:00

Plimus, a nine year old payments company with a strong international base of sellers, is adding its name today to the growing list of companies that wants to manage user payments in online games.

The name of the company’s new product, Buy Anyware, reflects Plimus’s intention to build payments directly into Flash games. Many Facebook games already allow in-game transactions, of course, but Plimus is also targeting the casual and massively multiplayer markets.

A more important differentiator for Facebook developers may be Plimus’s long experience with international transactions. Online software sales has been the main business for Plimus to date, with a majority of sellers being based overseas, according to Simon Jones, the company’s vice president of strategic solutions

Other payment platforms focus on a smooth user-facing experience, Jones says, but to the detriment of their underlying process. “They don’t have the right reporting, they don’t have subscriptions set to run automatically, they don’t have orders set up to process by processors in the same region as the bank that issued the credit card,” Jones claims, listing a few problems he’s seen. “I can’t tell you how often I see payment types that look exciting on the front-end, but once I take a look, they can’t manage on the back-end.”

While Buy Anyware is only being announced today, Plimus claims to already work with a few gaming companies, including Youda Games, Playdom, Namco and Blizzard.

Categories: Other blogs

7-11 - the gateway to online gambling and skill games and online identity

Playnoevil - Mon, 2010/06/28 - 14:59
How are we going to solve online identity? Just stop by 7-11.

A number of years ago, I was involved in some discussions about age verification for online gambling. At that time, as with it is today, there are plenty of technology pushers around - trying to sell ID tokens, biometric systems, etc. etc. etc.

My answer was simpler - use convenience stores.

After all, these pervasive, local merchants are the gateway to adulthood.

They sell us alcohol, cigarettes, porn, and lottery tickets.

They are entrusted by the state to verify our identities and our ages.

It would seem New Hampshire has figured this out. The state is beginning to support online lottery games, but the sales are tied to the existing retail infrastructure as players need to go to a lottery retailer, buy a ticket with a unique number, and register online to play (and presumably reverse the process to cash out).

Simple and as secure as anything else anyone has proposed.

And only the beginning for online skill and gambling games.

Know anyone at 7-11?

"New lottery games: A small change
", http://www.unionleader.com/article.aspx?headline=New+lottery+games%3A+A+small+change&articleId=0e853e6a-1924-40db-bb54-d78c944c7d79>

"State To Launch Online Gaming Website Next Week", http://www.wmur.com/news/24016014/detail.html
Categories: Other blogs

Sims, Strategy and Sports All Appear on This Week’s List of Fastest-Growing Facebook Games by MAU

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/06/28 - 13:32

FrontierVille continues its runaway growth on this week’s list of Facebook’s fastest gainers by monthly active users, but the Zynga game is far from the only interesting title in sight. The top five are all interesting titles from big companies, while several independents break in below.

Here’s the AppData top 20:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain, % 1. FrontierVille 11,816,027 +5,531,960 +88.03 2. Verdonia 1,453,573 +1,302,495 +862.13 3. EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars 2,777,440 +922,712 +49.75 4. My Empire 5,120,831 +573,590 +12.61 5. Hello City 4,920,859 +518,701 +11.78 6. Baking Life 1,923,091 +413,182 +27.36 7. Millionaire City 1,043,647 +353,365 +51.19 8. Fashion World 1,094,563 +342,140 +45.47 9. Mall World 3,752,362 +307,051 +8.91 10. Bola 4,350,618 +292,165 +7.20 11. Zoo Kingdom 684,696 +286,862 +72.11 12. Games 3,693,376 +244,026 +7.07 13. Crazy Cow Music Quiz 1,227,070 +239,666 +24.27 14. Nightclub City 4,192,086 +189,444 +4.73 15. Restaurant City 10,900,553 +184,405 +1.72 16. Monster World 1,461,476 +158,660 +12.18 17. ????? 2,819,548 +137,827 +5.14 18. YoVille 10,242,277 +111,091 +1.10 19. Pool Master 1,874,866 +108,280 +6.13 20. Sweet World 537,119 +98,642 +22.50

As several commenters have, with varying levels of annoyance, noted on our review of Verdonia, the strategy title is quite similar to Evony, a long-running browser game that recently migrated onto Facebook. But resemblance or no, Verdonia blew past Evony over the week to become one of the few intensive strategies to ever gain over a million MAU on Facebook.

EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars comes in at number three. At its current rate of growth, the soccer management title will pass by Bola, which is currently the largest soccer game on Facebook, within a few weeks. But note that Bola has hardly stopped growing; you can find it at number 10.

My Empire, also by EA, is next on the list. But this creative city builder, which places players in the Greco-Roman past, has a more determined opposition in Hello City, by CrowdStar. The latter game was growing far more strongly for a while, perhaps bolstered by a Facebook Credits giveaway, but we’ve noticed EA advertising My Empire fairly heavily of late. In the same genre, Millionaire City, by Digital Chocolate, is also doing pretty well.

Below Hello City, a number of small and medium sized developers come up with fast-growing games. The fastest-growing genre, by far, is store management: that includes Baking Life, Fashion World, Mall World, Sweet World and, depending on how broad your definition is, Nightclub City and EA’s older hit, Restaurant City.

Categories: Other blogs

This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

Inside Social Games - Sun, 2010/06/27 - 15:30

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

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Categories: Other blogs

Building a New Zoo in Facebook Game Zoo Kingdom

Inside Social Games - Sun, 2010/06/27 - 15:21

There have been a number of tycoon and animal husbandry apps in circulation in recent months. Blue Fang Games combines both elements in its first game, Zoo Kingdom, which recently found its way on our list of fastest-growing new Facebook games with almost 700,000 monthly active users.

Zoo Kingdom is probably most similar to CrowdStar’s popular tycoon style game, Zoo Paradise. The Blue Fang title balances the management of an entire animal park between quality, attractions, vendors, and animals, which create a primary means of income, and simultaneously incorporates animal husbandry, as the animals grow from babies to adults and are eventually released. And, since none of the above is particularly original, Kingdom adds a few special nuances of its own.

Players start out with a basic zoo layout of a reasonable size, but can only create the most basic of zoo attractions, petting zoos filled with farm animals. As more animals are placed, more customers will begin paying admission. As with other tycoon games, vendors and other such buildings can also be built to provide supplemental income. The non-player customers can sometimes be a bit stingy with their money, and don’t like to make a whole lot of purchases. That said, quantity of consumers can often overcome quality.

This is where park quality comes into play. Though the game is pretty bad at giving its players feedback on what’s working, it appears that the more animals, vendors, and even the décor a player has affects a star rating. Dubbed Zoo Fame, these stars represent the popularity of your park, and in turn, the number of visitors it receives. Sadly, there is no real way to know just how much something you build will affect that rating, as the only tool tip provided when one buys anything is how long until you have to care for it.

The “how long” does matter, though. As in Zoo Paradise, animals must be fed or petted, with young ones growing over time. There are also plant to water, bathrooms and vendors to clean, and so on (in the case of animals, they can also be released, before they die, for added income). Each time this is done, players earn respectable amounts of experience towards new levels.

Zoo Kingdom really stands out on this point, with a leveling system that feels infinitely more rewarding than most similar games. The reason is that players don’t arbitrarily unlock new exhibits and animals. On the contrary, with each level gained, more and more exotic creatures and locales are unlocked, with farm animals at the bottom and artic tundras at the top.

Another nice feature is a section called “Fun Facts,” where users can actually learn interesting information about the animals in their park. The first fact is free, the second costs a small amount of in-game currency (coins), and the third virtual currency (certificates). The game also does a good job of creating minor goals for players through a sort of quest system, and major ones through the classic achievements method.

It’s worth noting that the game’s visual style (and audio as well) is very different from a lot of similar games. Though the animals and vendors feel a bit underwhelming, the NPCs that wander about the terrain actually feel like real tourists. There are people with strollers, dads carrying girls on their shoulders, kids, suits, moms, and so on. They even have a handful of animations that make them look like they’re actually observing the attraction. Oh, and unlike Zoo Paradise, they use paths rather than wander aimlessly.

Unfortunately, the social elements of Zoo Kingdom don’t feel all that different from the rest of its genre. Limited to standardized achievements, sharing, gifting, and visiting each other’s parks, there’s nothing new. And new players who are unfamiliar with these basic features will also suffer, since there is little tool-tip feedback and the tutorial is about five seconds long. There is a wiki page, but users shouldn’t have to go traipsing through that to answer general questions.

Despite its weaknesses, Zoo Kingdom is still a very strong game overall. True, it uses mechanics from previous titles, but it also puts them together into a very different feeling experience. Be it the visuals, style, sound, or the handful of new, if minor, features, it’s a game that makes the genre feel a little bit fresher. With its continued growth the past 30 days, and even more rapid gains the past week, Blue Fang Games is off to an excellent start with its first Facebook game.

Categories: Other blogs

Social Gaming Roundup: Virtual Goods, iPad, Twilight, & More

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/06/26 - 03:00

iPhone 4 Gaming - The big addition to the gaming world for iPhone 4 is turning out to be the gyroscope. One of the most notable titles so far to make make use of the motion-sensing device is Ngmoco with Eliminate: GunRange, in which aiming is completely, and accurately, done by tilting and turning the device.

Free Social iDevice Games Show Their Worth - Though it doesn’t happen often, Apple’s Top Grossing App charts for both the iPad and iPhone have shown two social iDevice games within their top 20 this week. Ngmoco’s god-playing app GodFinger comes in at #11 and The Playforge’s Facebook Connected zombie farming game, Zombie Farm, appears at #17.

Ubisoft Begins Cross Promotion - Core game developer Ubisoft has moved deeper into social games by starting to cross-promote its Facebook titles. Currently, the company has only promoted the growing title Castle & Co, but it is starting to push its app, The Settlers.

Apple iAds Arrive, Sorta - According to an observation from iLounge.com, Apple’s new iAd mobile advertising platform is making its first appearances within iDevice applications. Developer Avantar has updated a number of its apps (Showtimes, Munch, Yellow Pages, etc.) with the platform, but as iAds does not go live until July 1st, they are filled with placeholder test ads.

Super Rewards Monetizes MMO Title - Resistor Productions recently announced a partnership with Super Rewards to monetize its freemium massively multiplayer online title, Clan Wars. The browser-based MMO is the only one of its type to allow for real-time, two-player fighting scenarios and will be monetized through advertisements and in-game offers that will reward players with virtual currency, virtual goods, or in-game points.

Bing Integrates Social Games - Microsoft search engine Bing has incorporated ways for users to search for and play casual and social games natively, according to the Washington Post. Furthermore, certain games will allow you to sign into your Facebook account in order to access your friends’ game feeds, as well as share various achievements and/or scores.

Crowdstar Plays Off Twilight Eclipse Hype - Fans are going nuts over the coming Twilight Eclipse movie, and CrowdStar is taking advantage by launching some loosely related themed goods. Limited items include a Twilit Beach Forest complete with Vampire Bats, Werewolves in Zoo Paradise and Eclipse Series Buildings in Hello City, including “Eddie’s House.” This is the first set (at least in recent time) of limited and themed virtual goods we’ve seen centered around franchise hype, instead of a special event or holiday.

Zynga Trying to Expand in San Francisco - San Francisco’s office market is hurting, but social developer Zynga may help by picking up some extra real estate. SFGate.com notes that the company is looking for “anywhere from 150,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet of space.” Unfortunately, the source asked to stay anonymous, but Zynga was previously reported to be close to signing a 140,000 square foot lease last year.

Kia Motors America Partners with Zynga - Kia Motors America is building upon its Kia Soul “This or That” ad campaign, which stars hamsters, by allowing PetVille users to to create shareable “mash-ups” of the ad. The app is found at the bottom of the PetVille game page and participants will receive PetVille Cash as a reward.

RealNetworks Layoffs Hits GameHouse Seattle Studio - In May, we profiled the release of RealNetworks’ GameHouse platform for social development. Now, according to Gamasutra, the company has “effectively shuttered the company’s first-party game division,” essentially bringing casual game development at the GameHouse studio in Seattle to a stand still. So far this week, RealNetworks has said it would eliminate 85 jobs.

FarmVille Database System Goes Open-Source - In other Zynga developments, the NoSQL database behind FarmVille was released to the public as a membase open-source project this week. Current contributors are Zynga, NorthScale, and NHN . They announced the project at Membase.org, under the Apache 2.0 license.

App Store = 1% Gross Profits - Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster did some interesting number crunching regarding the profitability of Apple’s App Store, as covered by Fortune. Based on available data from Steve Jobs’ keynote a few weeks ago, $1 billion has been generated for developers since the App Store’s launch in 2008. Apple keeps 30 percent of revenue, so the total is roughly $1.4 billion. At an average selling price of $1.49 an app, the gross margin for the App Store is about 44 percent. That comes to $429 million since the App Store’s 2008 launch, or about 1 percent of profit annually.

[image via Piper Jaffray]

FIFA Superstars Makes World Cup Predictions - The game between England and Slovenia may have been rattling nerves, but according to Playfish, the game has already been simulated in their new Facebook app FIFA Superstars. Apparently England had already won 3-1.

Along with this, an interview by VentureBeat with EA CTO John Schappert states that the acquisition of Playfish has allowed the company’s social department to grow, whereas other competitors have fallen by about 25 percent. Schappert also said that more intellectual property and licensed franchises like FIFA are on the way.

Mobile Virtual Goods Could Be Worth $168M - Frank N. Magid Associates and social mobile platform OpenFeint released a new study this week which states that Americans spent an estimated $168 million on mobile virtual goods in the last year. Of the 70 million estimated Americans that own a smartphone, 45 percent play mobile games, while 16 percent of that group spend around $41 a year on mobile virtual-goods.

Categories: Other blogs

Inside English Use in Indonesia, Facebook’s Third-Largest Country

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/06/26 - 01:24

[Editor's Note: The following article was previously published on Inside Facebook. The stats 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.]

In this month’s language stats, we’ve focused in on Indonesia, which recently became Facebook’s third-largest country by monthly active users and is poised to pass the United Kingdom for second place. The question remains, however, as to whether game developers need to translate their games for the Indonesian audience.

Asia’s language demographics are much more complicated than the United States, since users often choose to surf the web in English.  Here’s the split between the official language, Bahasa Indonesian, and English:

Although English usage fell over the month from 21.7% to 21.34% of Indonesia users, that’s still a huge chunk, much larger than we’d typically see for a secondary language in Europe. For example, English is only used by 5.2 percent in France, Facebook’s fifth-largest country.

But it turns out that Indonesians are cultural stalwarts in comparison to others in their region. Here’s how Indonesia’s percentage of Facebook users who load the site in English compares to four neighbors:

This data doesn’t tell us everything; for instance, we can’t tell whether users are choosing to interact with Facebook in English, but communicate with their friends and family in their native language. This could be a habit developed while using the mainly English-language internet over the years, and simply preserved on Facebook.

However, there are a few more things we can infer about this large population of English users. Here’s how the English users break down by age, just in Indonesia:

These splits between age groups seem to reflect the fact that Indonesia has a predominantly youthful audience. However, the match is not perfect, allowing us to pick out an interesting phenomenon: it’s actually Indonesia’s older users who are more likely to use the site in English. Up to the age of 25, some 17 percent of Indonesians are using Facebook in English, while 30 percent of those over 25 use the site in English. The likelihood of using English increases as the age group gets older, and decreases as it gets younger.

For a country like the Philippines, in which almost all users are already accessing Facebook in English, it is difficult to get a clear picture of how language demographics are changing, if at all. Indonesia’s stats, though, suggest that the Asian audience will likely move to using their own languages over time as more young users join the site. Thus, game developers may wish to plan for localizing for the Indonesian language in the future.

All of this article’s metrics on population, age, language and more come from our data subscription package at Inside Facebook Gold. Learn more about this service at gold.insidenetwork.com/facebook.

Categories: Other blogs

Chocolatier Lures in Facebook Gamers With the Sweet Stuff

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/06/25 - 18:15

Most gamers have at least heard of PlayFirst; it’s the publisher of Diner Dash, one of the most successful casual game series ever released. But they may not have heard of Chocolatier, another successful franchise from the company. Nevertheless, it is Chocolatier that PlayFirst decided to release as its first game on Facebook.

Chocolatier: Sweet Society places the player in San Francisco circa 1882, in a small chocolate shop owned by the Baumeister family (the protagonists throughout the whole Chocolatier series). The goal is to build this initial storefront into a grand salon, making ever more complicated confections and gathering prestige.

There are two basic elements to this plan. One is the store, in which chocolate display cases lure in new customers. The cases are kept continually stocked by a second play screen, the factory, in which machines constantly whir, creating new chocolates.

Games in Chocolatier’s category have introduced the idea of stock to Facebook gaming: a certain resource is constantly running out, and it’s the player’s job to replenish it. In Chocolatier, the customers seem to be uncontrollably ravenous, buying up even a fairly large amount of chocolates quickly.

The sight of their empty, crumb-covered cases gives cause for players to regularly visit their factory floor, spurring on production (running out of chocolates also seems to reduce the prestige score). Luckily, there’s a way to do so. Yesterday, PlayFirst added in a feature from the original Chocolatier series: the factory optimizer. What relation this mini-game has to actually making chocolate, we’re not sure, but it is pretty fun to fire what look like lozenges and Altoids from a cannon into a rapidly rotating set of orbs, with aim determining the resulting the production increase.

Another way to boost stock, sometimes with chocolates beyond your level, is to visit a friend’s store and take a hefty “sample”. As with other games, this also provides a chance for players to suss out each other’s stores and compare decorative ability.

It’s a good thing that PlayFirst is adding some features from the original game to Chocolatier, because otherwise there’s not much beyond the art style to distinguish it from other games we’ve seen recently. While the split mode of play, between factory floor and store, is fairly original to Facebook, faster-growing games like Baking Life and Fashion World use basically the same concepts.

Chocolatier, of course, brings all the social features that are common to Facebook to the table. But the original game series involved a great deal more than the Facebook version, including completing quests and traveling the world in search of special chocolate recipes. As often happens on Facebook, it feels like game-like elements were traded for an insistence on the usual neighbor mechanics — but at the expense of losing unique features that would otherwise make the game stand out. Hopefully, PlayFirst won’t waste any time in applying more of its casual gaming expertise.

To be fair, the chocolate theme itself — what PlayFirst called “lickable art” — serves as a special feature to rely on. Paired with the romantic setting, it may be enough to bring in players, especially the female target demographic. If the game can eventually lure in more than a couple million players, partnering with a real-world chocolate maker to create cross-promotional, Chocolatier-branded goodies is also an option.

But the big question for people who are familiar with PlayFirst, of course, will be when Diner Dash is coming to Facebook. The executives I met with were coy on the subject, but made it fairly obvious that Dash is something they eventually want to put on Facebook.

The challenge will be differentiating it from much larger, better known games that took over the concept and drew in million of players last year — mainly Restaurant City and Cafe World, two games that are now brands in their own right. While PlayFirst seems serious about investing in Chocolatier, the game can also be seen as a dry-run for the much bigger Dash franchise.

For now, Chocolatier is doing fairly well, even though PlayFirst hasn’t done any advertising. Over the month since it was released, the game has picked up 217,563 monthly active users, according to AppData.

Categories: Other blogs

Bola Tries to Break the Social Gaming Mold With Real Competition

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/06/25 - 15:20

Sometimes it seems to be an accepted fact among game developers that players like to cooperate with each other in social gaming; any sort of competition is generally ruled out. But how do you mix that philosophy with the competitiveness of sports? Well, maybe you don’t. At least, not if you’re Bola, which is currently the top soccer game on Facebook.

We’ve reviewed Bola before, but checked back in with developer Three Melons (owned by Playdom) about its progress in light of the ongoing World Cup tournament. Despite our somewhat lukewarm review, Bola has found about 4.2 million monthly active users, and Three Melons says the game claims a combined one million daily active users between Facebook and Orkut.

Part of Bola’s allure is that the game encourages the sort of jibing that real-world soccer fans aim at each other. “We’re stressing the humorous approach,” says Marcos Amadeo, Bola’s product manager. The game tracks stats carefully in part to make it easier for friends to tease each other’s records, and players can also prank each other’s stadiums. “We chose friendly banter over collaboration,” Amadeo says.

Players are also taking to the in-game advertising, which doubles as a core part of Bola’s revenue. The game has partnerships with Coca-Cola, Allianz Insurance, Ford, Nike, Nestle, and other brands, which can be picked up by players as their team sponsors. Several soccer games have had luck getting high-profile marketing deals in this way — something that seems mainly confined to the sports category for now, aside from a few outliers like Zynga’s 7-Eleven partnership.

Another notable point is that Bola is already available in three languages: English, Portuguese and Spanish (Three Melons is based in Argentina). The company is benefiting from its ownership by Playdom by sharing some localization work with Merscom, another Playdom acquisition.

One thing we’ll note here is that soccer games haven’t grown nearly as much during the World Cup as one might have expected. Bola has continued to acquire users at a slow pace; EA’s FIFA Superstars has taken in 2.3 million MAU with the help of advertising, but that’s not too impressive in light of the numbers that, for instance, FrontierVille has racked up in just a couple weeks.

But for now, Bola is leading the pack, and there’s still the possibility that growth in the soccer category will pick up as Facebook acquires more international users. And Amadeo points out one advantage that soccer has: unlike the popular sports in the US, soccer season never really ends. After the World Cup is over, growth can still go on.

Categories: Other blogs

Verdonia Marches to the Top of This Week’s List of Emerging Facebook Games

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/06/25 - 13:30

It’s not often that a strategy game comes out on top on Facebook. But that’s what has happened this week, with Playdom’s new game Verdonia gathering the most new monthly active users of any emerging game on Facebook (meaning those under a million MAU).

We reviewed Verdonia right after Playdom stealthily released the game, finding a much deeper level of complexity than is standard even for most strategy games on Facebook. It’s most similar to Evony, which we recently found out has three quarters of a million players, about as many as Verdonia is reporting now.

Here’s the full AppData list of 20 games:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain, % 1. Verdonia 775,927 +763,669 +6,229.96 2. Fashion World 934,094 +404,652 +76.43 3. Zoo Kingdom 588,227 +246,149 +71.96 4. Millionaire City 773,922 +240,746 +45.15 5. Phrases 938,393 +145,907 +18.41 6. Mahjong 777,658 +139,106 +21.78 7. NanoStar Siege 639,776 +128,206 +25.06 8. Maya Pyramid 197,270 +127,408 +182.37 9. Sweet World 487,668 +115,916 +31.18 10. Goooaaal 237,316 +112,921 +90.78 11. - Clicks Racer Challenge 501,866 +101,291 +25.29 12. Chocolatier: Sweet Society 217,563 +95,050 +77.58 13. ??? ? 309,785 +90,507 +41.28 14. Funfari 605,924 +73,633 +13.83 15. Age of Champions 765,964 +72,257 +10.42 16. Epic Goal 142,364 +72,227 +102.98 17. Super Dance 316,482 +71,149 +29.00 18. ??? ?—— ????????????“???” 187,167 +66,135 +54.64 19. Classic Word Games 460,653 +63,311 +15.93 20. Bubble Popp 2 517,075 +62,290 +13.70

There are a number of genre-based games to pick out. Fashion World is part of a mini-fad of store management games that we’re seeing; this one is about running a clothing store (for hipsters, by all appearances). It’s about to cross a million MAU. Sweet World and Chocolatier: Sweet Society are similar (we’ll review the second of those later this morning).

Next up is Zoo Kingdom, the first title from Blue Fang Games. Despite a profusion of zoo-themed games like Zoo World and Zoo Paradise, zoo-keeping seems to be a reliable category, in which we’ve seen several new developers test out their muscles. Zoo Kingdom has raised about half a million MAU over a month, with almost half coming from just the last week.

Millionaire City, a creative variation on the city building genre by Digital Chocolate, is doing quite well; a bit further down at number seven, you can also find NanoStar Siege, by the same developer. The latter title, a strategy, has been out for three months, but stopped gaining players for a significant portion of that time.

Mahjong is the latest version of the classic tile game, in yet another category that has a number of moderately successful titles. But we’ll end with Maya Pyramid, which, like Verdonia, is in a category yet to be fully mined on Facebook: in this case, puzzles. It’s actually a pretty interesting game, in which you have to make combinations to pass each stage and build your pyramid; failing to finish a round means you lose a life, at which point you either have to wait or buy another with virtual currency.

Categories: Other blogs

Playdom’s Latest Acquisition is Hive7, a Bay Area Startup

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/06/25 - 06:15

Over the course of this year, we’ve watch Playdom range far afield for its acquisitions, picking up companies in southern California, North Carolina, Washington and, even further afield, Argentina. But the Mountain View, Calif. company has returned to home base for its latest pick: Hive7, a Facebook developer whose biggest game is Knighthood.

What Hive7 does have in common with the other acquisitions (listed here) is that it’s pretty small, with eight employees listed on its about page and just 245,107 monthly active users on Facebook, according to AppData. Playdom itself is a couple orders of magnitude larger:

Although Hive7 doesn’t have much traffic at the moment, it’s probably working on something fairly significant. The company’s last game was released, as far as we know, before Christmas. Judging from Hive7′s jobs page, which has a listing for a developer with experience working on Stardoll, BarbieGirls or Habbo Hotel, the next release could be a virtual world aimed at tweens.

More broadly, Hive7 seems to specialize in massively multiplayer online games, a subject that CEO Max Skibinsky talked about in more detail in our interview with him last August.

As for Playdom, it’s now up to six acquisitions. This Tuesday, it announced $33 million in funding, which combined with its $43 million round from November could easily fill the company’s shopping basket with quite a few more companies like Hive7.

Categories: Other blogs

Making iPad Chop Suey With Veggie Samurai

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/06/24 - 23:16

When building on new devices, making use of its basic features is what can make the most fun games. Well, with the iPad, it doesn’t get more basic than the touch screen — and Quantum Squid uses it in a most gratifying way for its primary game mechanic in the new iPad title Veggie Samurai HD.

Moving beyond concepts of tapping and slower-paced path drawing, these developers have turned user fingers into blades of Japanese steel.

Though it is a mobile game that doesn’t carry more social mechanics than most others on Apple devices, its OpenFeint integration works well for the nature of the game: Tearing apart vegetables into tiny bits. Filled with a good bit of style and simple game play, Veggie Samurai is a game that is wonderfully gratifying to play, and for an iPad title, surprisingly immersive due to its tactile mechanics.

The $1.99 application comes with two modes to play: Samurai and Harmony. The former is the primary mode where players are whisked into a dojo where an impressive stockpile of vegetables are apparently stored. From here, vegetables are tossed into the air and players use their “katana” to slice and dice them. Here’s the cool part though: This katana is your finger. And guess what: you have five.

Using a slicing motion with each finger, each vegetable can be cut twice, with extra points scored for a second cut (a “dice”). If you use multiple fingers and cut multiple veggies simultaneously the score is increased further; you can also cut more vegetables in rapid sequence for further combos. The only catch is that, while in Samurai mode, players must be careful of randomly tossed vials of poison. Cut those, and it’s game over.

Of course, if you’re looking for an easier mode, Harmony has all the same veggie action, but with no poison. The only real difference beyond this is that it is timed, thus the goal is really only to get the highest score before time expires.

Whichever mode you choose, however, it is extremely gratifying to slice through a vegetable with your finger, watch it split in half, and then splatter across the dojo. Moreover, unlike other games that use a path drawing mechanic (which is really what this is, only faster), cutting veggies with a finger actually feels moderately believable. Yes, guiding aircraft can be fun, but the quick slicing motion in Veggie Samurai actually “feels” like you are cutting. With that, it’s easy to block out the rest of the outside world.

The addiction is only furthered by the added social elements that come with OpenFeint. As has been noted in prior iDevice reviews, the integration is a bit basic by Facebook social game standards, consisting of only sharable achievements and leaderboards. Nevertheless, as this game is solely based around beating high scores, it works. Even without the OpenFeint, it would still be a fun game, but being able to compete with others, as well as unlock new accomplishments only makes it better.

On the negative side of things, the biggest design issue comes down to depth of game-play. All the vegetables come apart in the same way regardless of how you hit them, and the splattering gratification does lose some of its fun after a while. Beyond this, there is also an issue about originality.

Yes, Veggie Samurai is a fun game, but its essentially the same as the older iPhone title Fruit Ninja from Halfbrick Studios (it is worth noting that Fruit Ninja was released only in late April, so it is quite possible that Veggie Samurai was already in development, too). The only real difference is that on the iPad, the significantly larger screen and improved visuals make the game much more immersive and stylistically rewarding. Not only does the veggie genocide look better, but the larger strokes that need to be made and the extra space allowing for two hands instead of one, does actually make the experience much more fun.

Regardless of which title users like more, Veggie Samurai HD is an extremely addicting and fun app. Frankly, if you have an iPad and $2 to spend, buy this game. If you liked Fruit Ninja, buy this game. Though it is a concept that’s been done before, its still just as fun, and comes with minimal complaints.

Categories: Other blogs