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New Hires in Social Gaming: Playdom, Zynga, LOLapps & More

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/06/24 - 18:05

Hiring was a little slower this week among top social game developers, according to LinkedIn data, with Zynga pulling in the most new employees as usual. Here’s the latest.

Crowdstar
  • Pete Hawley - Noted already, he is now the Vice President of Product Development at CrowdStar. His previous experience comes from the same role at gaming giant Electronic Arts.
  • Jeff McNab - As Slide’s overall monthly active user numbers wane, Jeff joins CrowdStar as its newest System Designer, leaving his Game Designer role at Slide.
LOLapps
  • Brenda Brathwaite - Also leaving Slide is Brenda Brathwaite, whose hiring we were informed of earlier this week. Now, she is LOLapps‘ new Creative Director; her former role at Slide was of the same position.
Playdom
  • Andy Kleinman - Andy is now General Manager for Latin America & US Hispanic over at Playdom. Prior to this he was a “California Melon” (which we assume means “California-based employee”) at Three Melons. Of course, the company was bought by Playdom back in April, so he didn’t have to go far.
  • Tony Iuppa - Tony is now “Production” at Playdom, having previously worked as a Production Director at Zipper Interactive. Likely, it is still the same, or at least a very similar, role.
RockYou
  • Erik Nichols - Formerly a Senior Recruiter for Magenic Technologies, Erik Nichols is now RockYou‘s latest Technical Recruiter.
  • Matt Fairchild - Matt joins the RockYou! team as a new Community Manager. Previously, he worked with SullivanPerkins as a writer.
Slide
  • Amber Padilla - Slide gets a new Designer this week in the form of Amber Padilla. Prior to this job, she was a Designer for Zugara.
Zynga
  • Matt Levine - Congratulations to Matt as he moves up as Zynga‘s newest Art Director from Senior Artist.
  • Katrena Meyer - Leaving her Sr. Staffing Consultant position at Dolby Laboratories, Katrena is now a Technical Sourcer for Zynga.
  • Per Nilsson - As part of the Challenge Games acquisition, Per is no longer a Frontend Developer for the purchased company, but is now a Software Engineer for Zynga.
  • Shriniwas Mutnure - Formerly an Associate Software Engineer for SupportSoft, Shriniwas Mutnure becomes a Software Engineer for Zynga.
  • Kevin Pearsall - Now a NOC Engineer for Zynga, Kevin Pearsall was formerly a Beta Coordinator and System Administrator for GlideTV.
  • Kevin Kang - Kevin joins Zynga as another new Software Engineer. Before this, he was an IT Consultant for Northwestern University.
  • Nancy Delos Reyes - In the financial realm of Zynga, Nancy joins the developer as its Accounts Payable Specialist. Prior experience stemmed from Presidio Trust where she worked in Accounts Payable.
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Sumo Comes to Facebook, Sorta, in Rock Paper Sumo

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/06/24 - 15:30

A little bit of style applied to simple game mechanics can go a long way in game design. That’s a methodology Canadian developer Frima has taken to heart with its first Facebook title, Rock Paper Sumo. Filled to the brim with well-done visuals and satisfying animations, the game is certainly nice to look at — although its simplicity leaves open the question of whether the core mechanics are enough to bring in the users.

As one might expect, Rock, Paper, Sumo is basically a glorified game of rock, paper, scissors, determining the outcome of matches through luck and intuition. Players start out learning the ropes quickly and easily enough. Each day, they can issue a set number of challenges to friends and other Sumo players, earning points and coins along the way. For each challenge, players will select rock, paper, or scissors for three rounds or simply select a pre-chosen “gambit” (i.e. Avalanche, for three rock throws). Frima also makes use of an older social mechanic, requiring the challenged player to accept within a finite amount of time or forfeit the match.

As players win, they also earn points to move up the game’s leaderboard, which is presented in a rather unique pyramid of Facebook profile images. However, in order to earn greater volumes of points, faster, players must periodically train.

Sumo training comes in two parts: physical training and, of course, eating. The physical training is actually fairly reminiscent of many Facebook role-playing titles as each of the four routines available has some semblance of a cool down time before it can be performed again. This ranges from a “weekly allowance” at every five minutes, to a practice fight every 12 hours. Additionally, for every seven practice fights, players can participate in a “Master Battle.” For each of these tasks, the reward is an in-game currency called Bento Bucks, which is used to purchase needed items in order to progress.

Each day, players can also consume up to three high calorie meals to increase their sumo avatar’s weight. Two can be bought via Bento Bucks, while a third can be received as a gift from friends. Each meal is given a star rating — one to three — and is typically more expensive the more effective it is. The bigger the meal, the more weight you gain, and the heavier the avatar, the more points are earned with each victory. Obviously, this ends up moving players up the leaderboards at a much faster clip.

Beyond food, Bento Bucks, as well as yet another purchasable virtual currency dubbed Dojo Dollars, can be used to customize a player avatar. Considering that the wrestlers don’t exactly wear much, there is a surprising amount of customization to be had, ranging from tattoos and shades to mawashis and top knots.

Once players get into the swing, the biggest problem with the game quickly becomes apparent: the requirement to challenge random individuals, and for those opponents to either accept within a set period of time or forfeit.

Frankly, there really is no reason to have players consciously accept challenges. The decision to do so was likely made to let players select their trio of rock, paper, scissors throws, but with so many games allowing users to select pre-planned defenses (e.g. NanoStar Siege), requiring acceptance and waiting seems both unnecessary and boring. Moreover, forcing the challenger to wait takes away the pleasure of watching a match. One of the stand out features of newer Facebook RPG, Mercenaries of War is that you can actually watch your mercenaries battle, take and react to damage, and explode when killed in a detailed and satisfying way. It’s visually rewarding, and watching two stylized sumo go at it could be just as fun and addicting, yet that is lost because, again, you have to wait for a a player to accept a challenge before anything happens.

On another note, the weight mechanic doesn’t feel like it’s truly part of the game’s core mechanic. It is almost like it was added as an afterthought to enhance the results of a match, rather than help determine the match itself. It is, usually, infinitely more gratifying to incorporate training that can make the user feel stronger.

Overall, Rock, Paper, Sumo is a well-made game and does a lot with its overly simplistic concept. It has a wonderful style to it, and is actually pretty amusing to watch. Unfortunately, the methods of integrating the challenges and core elements of the game feel extraordinarily outdated and do not grant the user any immediate gratification. Further, the weight mechanics, while not bad, just don’t feel all that deeply integrated into the core of the game itself. In the end, Frimo’s app is good, proven by the fact that it is steadily growing, and is now north of 24,000 monthly active users, but it could still be something much, much greater.

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How Zynga Changed FarmVille for the iPhone

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/06/24 - 09:20

As promised earlier this month, the social gaming world’s biggest hit, FarmVille, has gone live on the iPhone. The release is notable because few social game developers have released their games for mobile devices; FarmVille’s developer Zynga, notably, has focused almost entirely on the web since giving up on releasing iPhone versions in the middle of last year.

At the same time, the news may seem a bit boring, since what has reached the iPhone is pretty much the same game that we’ve all known and loved (or hated) for a year: it’s just FarmVille. For now, Zynga is treating the iPhone as a mobile accessory to Facebook, with a core experience that should remain unchanged. The music, art and other key identifiers seem much the same.

That’s not to say there haven’t been changes. They’re just fairly subtle. Other social game developers, though, should be watching carefully to see what Zynga has done with the iPhone’s more limited screen real estate. We set the two versions side by side to get a better look:

There is one major, immediately noticeable change: the farmer character has been removed entirely. This makes sense, given the larger potential for mistakes when using a finger to navigate the game UI. In general, the game is more difficult to use on the iPhone versus using a mouse.

No moving, animated farmer also means less data to load, a point that we’ll return to below.

Another extremely noticeable change is that the empty field in the iPhone version is much more textured than the web version. The new grass ends up looking more like an overgrown meadow than the manicured golf course of FarmVille on Facebook, but it also helps distinguish what you’re looking at on the smaller screen.

Moving on to UI elements, the iPhone version has removed more than it has added. Gone are the sound options; the player can simply change the volume on their iPhone. The currency and point bars remain, but Zynga has moved the “Add Coins & Cash” element, and replaced the player’s name box with a logo in the upper right hand corner that leads to Zynga’s older iPhone titles. Other elements on the side have been removed.

At the bottom of the screen, the cutting got even more intense. The friend bar doesn’t automatically load — it instead scrolls out from the icon on the bottom left. On the bottom right, the various tools, the market, sharing buttons, options and the option to buy virtual currency have all been compressed into a single box, while gifting gets its own box.

That’s mostly it, for the main screen. Other features have visibly changed, like the animal animations, seem as good or better on the iPhone version as compared to the web version.

Some of the changes have probably been inspired by the lower bandwidth of mobile devices, which as we mention above, is probably partially responsible for the farmer character’s loss. The “Loading” icon is a common sight as you use FarmVille on the iPhone, making some parts of the game — like the gifting screen, seen below — less usable.

A final point is that FarmVille’s iPhone version continues a Zynga habit, begun several months ago, of gathering player data for itself rather than working solely through Facebook. When you first sign in, for instance, FarmVille asks for an email address — and doesn’t give an option for Facebook sign-in.

Once your email is entered, the game then offers Facebook access. This is obviously necessary for players to find their old farm and their friends; but when it comes time to hook up with Facebook friends, Zynga makes the option of using your mobile contacts equally prominent.

We’ll keep an eye on both FarmVille’s iPhone and web versions to see how well they do following the release. For now, the web version is down to 63,892,960 players from highs of over 80 million, according to AppData.

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Heyzap Raises $3M To Help Spread Social Games Beyond Facebook

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/23 - 21:18

Heyzap, a San Francisco startup that recently repositioned to help game developers spread their titles across the web, has raised $3 million in a round led by Union Square Ventures.

We covered Heyzap’s new focus in March, when the company pivoted away from its past focus on in-game advertising. The company’s new aim is to make social games more like YouTube videos, so that publishers can embed them on any web page.

Facebook itself has helped create a new inflection point that will let social games spread more widely, according to co-founder Jude Gomila. With Facebook Connect enabled, games can reside anywhere, but still plug in to the social network’s graph and the user’s other data, including payment options.

Casual game developers attempted much the same thing years ago, with some success on major web portals like MSN and Yahoo. But Gomila believes the current situation is different. “I think what’s interesting is that casual games didn’t make much money, and they didn’t have viral loops, so they weren’t that interesting to web publishers,” said Gomila. “Now we can take the graph and put the games anywhere.”

Since we spoke to Gomila in March, he says that Heyzap has partnered with several large massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) and other casual and social developers, but the new partnerships aren’t ready to be announced yet. You can also find a bit more on Heyzap’s plans in our interview with Gomila.

Other backers in the round included Hitforge and two angel investors.

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The Future of Monetization Will Include More Offers and Bigger Brands

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/23 - 17:59

[Editor's Note: The following article was published on Inside Facebook and contains videos excerpted from Inside Facebook Gold, our membership service tracking Facebook's business and growth around the world. Learn more about our complete data and analysis offering here.]

“Fundamentally there’s a pent-up demand within games in general, where users want to level up but don’t want to pay for it. This means that things like brand advertising and brand-sponsored initiatives convert extremely well… they allow users to level up without having to pay for it.”

Lisa Marino, Chief Revenue Officer at RockYou, spoke at Inside Social Apps on where social application monetization will see the biggest growth in the coming quarters, and who can stand to benefit most.

While today’s best monetizing social apps and games can expect between 3% and 5% of their total user base to engage in a transaction for virtual currency, most apps are seeing numbers well below.

To flip the figure, that means that 95% to 97% of users in social apps do not transact to obtain virtual currency. And, that’s for the best-performing apps and games. Lisa Marino shares her insight on the formidable odds facing developers and advertisers in the Inside Social Apps panel on performance advertising.

A clip of the highlights from this presentation:

In her full interview, Lisa Marino shares her forward-looking projections on specific areas for improvement and growth in social app monetization in the coming quarters, and how developers and brand advertisers alike can get the most out of the offer wall.

Marino’s full interview covers:

* Why offers still have lots of growth ahead, both for developers and for brand advertisers
* A detailed look characterizing the “next generation of offers,” including direct deals, fraud reduction, better user experience, and new brand opportunities
* How brand advertisers can get involved in the untapped market of social games

This interview, and exclusive Q&A, were conducted backstage at Inside Social Apps 2010. The full video series is available through Inside Facebook Gold.

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MocoSpace Bets on Browser-Based Games for Mobile

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/23 - 16:00

To date, most games on mobile devices, especially for the iPhone, have been stand-alone applications that are distributed through a centralized point, like Apple’s App Store. MocoSpace, a mobile social network wants to provide an alternative, MocoSpace Games, on its own platform.

MocoSpace claims 12 million users and has been in operation for several years, so it’s hardly an unknown. The company appears to have been fairly successful at creating an online community that is, for the smaller number of mobile web users, somewhat proportionate to regular web counterparts like MySpace.

So it’s interesting that the company is mirroring web social networks like MySpace and Hi5 in turning to games. At the moment, it says it has a million users of its available single-player games, but the new focus is to be on virally spread social games.

Any new games available on MocoSpace — the first of which, pictured at right, will be available in July — will forgo downloads, being available instead through the mobile browser.

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of browser-based games for mobile; the new Android build, Froyo, is supposed to handle Flash well, which would mean that thousands of casual and social games would suddenly become viable on mobile devices.

The problem is that app downloads actually work quite well, especially for Apple. But Android’s store has so far been panned by some developers, so it’s possible that browser-based games could gain a foothold on that platform.

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FrontierVille Sweeps This Week’s List of Fastest-Growing Facebook Games by DAU

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/23 - 13:30

It will come as no surprise to anyone that has been reading the tech news that FrontierVille, the newest game from Zynga, is at the top of this week’s list of Facebook gainers by daily active users. The company released metrics yesterday claiming five million DAU in just two weeks, as well as 10 million created homesteads, 550 million tasks completed, and several other stats. (We took note of the growth on Monday.)

The catch is that Zynga’s claim of five million DAU is likely only technically correct. When a game first launches, its brand-new users are counted as DAU — after all, they used the application within the past day. But, inevitably, a number of these new users never come back. The standard percentage of DAU out of all monthly active users is between 20 and 30 percent for most games; FrontierVille’s still comes in at over 50 percent, a portion that will likely fall as the player base matures. Of course, if the game continues growing like it has been, both the DAU and MAU counts will end up far higher than they are today.

But even without the nice, round number of five million, FrontierVille’s growth has still been fantastic. Facebook’s own public stats, captured below by AppData, show the new game capturing many times the new DAU of the next-closest app:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name DAU Gain Gain, % 1. FrontierVille 4,430,143 +3,178,204 +253.86 2. Gift Creator 298,049 +295,524 +11,703.92 3. Birthday Cards 1,037,891 +246,221 +31.10 4. Restaurant City 2,784,088 +149,633 +5.68 5. EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars 554,798 +123,813 +28.73 6. Ninja Saga 1,082,210 +120,269 +12.50 7. Baking Life 481,087 +66,957 +16.17 8. Fashion World 255,581 +62,952 +32.68 9. Evony 118,502 +61,736 +108.76 10. Hug Me 149,816 +57,165 +61.70 11. Monster World 205,946 +56,279 +37.60 12. Zoo Kingdom 92,654 +49,221 +113.33 13. Name Analyzer 62,546 +43,585 +229.87 14. JibJab 43,983 +42,231 +2,410.45 15. Mall World 648,051 +40,279 +6.63 16. Pool Master 218,313 +37,205 +20.54 17. GooBox - Jeux Gratuits 338,719 +35,325 +11.64 18. Crazy Cow Music Quiz 209,425 +33,350 +18.94 19. Bola 696,509 +31,382 +4.72 20. Jumping Dog 64,756 +31,379 +94.01

Restaurant City, an older game by Electronic Arts, is very slowly declining over time; we often see large apps in its position temporarily recover DAU. Below it is EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars, by the same company, a soccer team management game that we expect to continue growing at least until mid-July, when the World Cup ends.

The two EA titles have picked up a significant number of DAU, but growth down the rest of the list is pretty average. Ninja Saga, the first of the rest, is impressive for its continued growth; most other games that were released last December have long since stopped gaining users. However, Saga is a bit deeper than the average game, with multiple RPG elements and some synchronous play.

Baking Life and Fashion World are, though released by two different developers, inseparable. The pair has been moving up and down the charts in tandem for about a month now. Fashion World is actually a bit newer, and thus smaller, but both games also share a concept, that of store management.

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Attack and Destroy Takes a Shot at Turn-Based Strategy on the iPad

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/23 - 09:30

Despite the relative lack of turn-based strategy titles in mobile and social gaming, it’s a genre that lends itself well to those two platforms. So we were happy to find Attack and Destroy, a fairly new iPad (and iPhone) game from Appular that includes multiplayer modes and OpenFeint integration.

Attack and Destroy is about as simple as the title suggests. Using three special forces units, players work toward the enemy stronghold at the far side of a top-down map, all the while protecting their own base. This setup is reminiscent to Digital Chocolate’s epic Facebook app, NanoStar Siege, but at a much more simplified level. However, while simplicity is often a good thing in mobile games, it tends to work against Appular in this particular case because of drastically limited strategies and overly simplistic mechanics and levels.

Each unit comes with a pair of abilities and is in one of four classes: Grunt, Sniper, Scout, and Engineer. In short, Grunts are siege type characters, taking and dishing out damage (particularly to buildings). Snipers have long range, but are slow moving. Scouts are fast and move great distances, but have, supposedly, low damage. And last, Engineers are defensive in that they can build seemingly limitless static turrets, but are fairly weak themselves.

Every match is broken up into a set number of turns, each of which consists of a planning and execution stage. In the former, users select what units will use what special ability (i.e. the Sniper can turn invisible, while the Scout can run extremely fast), and draw a path to where they want them to go. As the path is drawn, a cone representing line of sight appears, and shows where the unit can shoot. Moving units (except the Sniper, who must be stationary) will attack anything within that cone.

The idea is to reach the enemy stronghold and destroy it before running out of the allowed number of turns. The problem is that, aside from the Scout, none of the units move very far per turn, and it takes three to four turns just to walk them to the other end, which must be repeated if they die.

This is where the headache begins. Just having a unit die doesn’t seem like it would be the end of the world, as a helicopter will pick them up and drop them back at your base to revive. But the wounded unit will be out of commission for an extra turn, which feels like a lot in the 15 or so turns allowed to destroy the enemy base. Adding to the potential for disaster, units take damage just from shooting the enemy base — so if you get there with low health, you’re out of luck. Also, the average single player match takes about 15-20 minutes, but running out of turns means complete failure and a restart, which feels like too much of a punishment. In the purely defensive missions, which only require that you survive until the turns run out, the game is so easy it becomes boring.

Occasionally, players also get a special power to call down an air strike that will take out the enemies in its path. At those times, Attack and Destroy becomes a bit more forgiving in both its attack and defend modes, and allows you to progress without dealing with less enemies for a turn or two. Unfortunately, the game likes to put landmines everywhere, so by the time you reach the enemy base, you have low health and die after a couple shots.

Unfortunately, in addition to these irritants it doesn’t feel like there is any real strategic value to be had in Attack and Destroy. The individual special abilities don’t really feel like they do much, and with narrow maps, so few units, and everyone having, potentially, the same types of units, it really feels more a game of luck and who gets more critical hits. Granted, players chooses what three units they will use, but other than the Sniper, in general, and the laying of turrets by the Engineer, they just don’t feel different enough. A perfect example is a Scout doing roughly the same damage as a Grunt.

The other reason strategy feels weak is because things tend to die pretty quickly. Everything is more a tactical reaction to the immediate situation rather than a truly thought out plan.

Thankfully, Attack and Destroy makes up for some of its shortcomings in the multiplayer department. Between Bluetooth and same-device synchronous multiplayer, the game does have the potential to be a lot more fun that it is in single player. Competition and human intelligence make the game more interesting as other people not only become more creative in both strategy and tactics, but unlike AI, make more blatant mistakes to exploit. Additionally, the multiplayer modes have 999 turns as opposed to just a handful.

The game is also socially enabled on the OpenFeint network. As per usual for such games, this means sharable achievements and various leaderboards. Those are nice additions, but Attack and Destroy also feels like it could work nicely with asynchronous multiplayer — either through turns and notifications or more passively, as in NanoStar Siege (where players set up defensive AI themselves).

Additionally, there is a Challenge Mode that can be unlocked, but doing so requires completion of the nine single player missions. Honestly, it may not seem like much, but with the overly simplistic strategic features, slogging through single player is actually very boring to do.

Overall, Attack and Destroy has a great concept but an unfortunate lack of variety and overly simplistic mechanics. Tactically, the game comes off as alright, but even strategy enthusiasts may not find it worth the $1.99 price tag (though if you do wish to buy it, the increased screen real estate on the iPad makes for a much better experience). All the same, the multiplayer and social integrations do help, even if not enough to carry the rest of the title. Long story short, Attack and Destroy is a game that’s going to need a few more updates before it’s truly worth while.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Games, Connect and Credits

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/23 - 04:23

Earlier today on Inside Facebook, we published an exclusive interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in which he talked about the future of Facebook and its surrounding ecosystem.

More specifically, Zuckerberg shared thoughts on the application platform, developers, games, Credits, Twitter and more. Below is a small excerpt that game developers may find interesting — but feel free to head over to our sister blog for the whole interview.

Justin Smith: What’s the state of the platform right now, in terms of the alignment of incentives between developers and Facebook and users, compared to where it was just after the Platform launched a couple of years ago, and where you want it to be?

Mark Zuckerberg: There’s two parts of the Platform - there’s canvas and then everything outside of Facebook. The focus now is actually the latter - Connect and everything we’re doing with social plugins. We have an all hands meeting later today and I was just told that Connect is now on 1 million sites. That’s definitely an increasing focus, and the last two f8′s have been around that. But I think what you’re asking is about the canvas part.

There are two ways that apps get usage that really define the character of the application. One way is viral distribution - spreading to new people. The other is reengagement. Early on, the viral strength was so much, but there were really no channels for reengagement. So people were using viral channels to reengage people, and you basically had apps that were growing very quickly, and their best way to get a good user count was to get new users and churn through them. That really optimizes for apps that are very viral instead of apps that are high quality and that people want to reengage. So we intentionally weakened the viral channels recently, and intentionally strengthened reengagement with emails, so that there will be better apps. It’s going to be a long process, but I think it’s going reasonably well.

One of the things we did recently was rebalance around games. A lot of users like playing games, but a lot of users just hate games, and that made it a big challenge, because people who like playing games wanted to post updates about their farm or frontier or whatever to their stream. They want all their friends to see their updates, and they want to get all their friends’ updates, but people who don’t care about games want no updates. So we did some rebalancing so that if you aren’t a game player you’re getting less updates.

One of our goals that we have is to make it so that you have just as good of a chance to build a good game if you’re a standalone game shop as if you’re a part of a bigger conglomerate, like Zynga or EA. That is a long term thing, to make sure the market stays competitive around this. CrowdStar has grown pretty quickly in the last 6 months, from very small to now pretty big. That to me shows that it’s definitely not a one company market, and that’s what we’re looking for. A lot of what we’re working on is can a small company succeed in the space.

JS: What do you think about how big the games business has become on the platform? You told me a couple of years ago soon after the Platform launched that you weren’t really thinking about games when you built the Platform.

MZ: I was surprised, I was surprised about games. I had a conversation with some folks at Apple at one point, and they were surprised that games was the big thing on the iPhone too. I also heard anecdotally that the people making the first PC operating systems were surprised that games were that big too. So I think people build platforms for utilitarian purposes and then get surprised that games are a killer app, so I don’t think it’s uncommon. But clearly a lot of people like them.

Someone once wrote that I don’t like games, and I think that’s pretty silly. I don’t spend a lot of time playing games myself, but it’s really cool as a first proof example of an industry that’s getting completely disrupted by the whole social movement. All the dynamics of how you play the game, getting neighbors, trade with people, do tasks with people to more efficiently use your resources. It’s the first place where someone completely wove in social dynamics into the dynamics of the industry, and it works really well. The early games like Jetman and Boggle and things like that weren’t that social, but now when you hear gaming companies talk about the next generation of games that they’re creating, everything is about integrating the social stuff more and more deeply into the game.

Now, there are companies like Zynga, EA/Playfish, CrowdStar, but then there’s a Facebook version of Civilization as well, so it’s going in both directions. The Civ game is your traditional high quality game, but the big question there is whether they leverage social dynamics enough. The risk for them is that it might just end up being a good traditional game with very little social integration.

JS: One of the questions that people I talk to have these days is what role Credits will have in the future of the company. How important is Credits in terms of your overall product priorities, do you think it will succeed, and how important will it be in terms of revenue?

MZ: It makes sense that there should be one currency. If I go play a CrowdStar game right now and get Credits there, I can’t go use those Credits in a Zynga game, so that kind of sucks. One of the biggest inefficiencies in buying virtual goods is all the friction of having to take your credit card out, so having one store of [virtual currency] that you can use everywhere is both good for users and good for all the apps.

The other thing about Credits from our business perspective is that payments and Credits is a significantly lower margin business than ads. Ads are 20%, 30%, 40%. A lot of people are skeptical of when we say we are doing this primarily for the developer ecosystem, but that’s really how we think about it. A lot of the apps so far are games, a lot of games monetize a lot better through virtual goods than through ads, and a big goal for us is to build this level ecosystem. So if Zynga or any one player can allow cross payments within their games, but that doesn’t extend to other games, then that ends up being a big barrier to entry for other startups. Making it so that there is one currency that people can take everywhere levels the playing field a bit, which is good.

We want to make it as easy as possible for users to build up a liquidity of Credits themselves, so we’re planning on pouring all the money that we make on Credits back into things like different offers or cards that people can buy in stores, to lubricate the economy so people will buy more stuff in apps. Overall we think it’s better for everyone for us to be in that place. Now if we fail, we fail, and someone else will succeed. But I think that over the long term this will end up being a pretty valuable thing.

> Continue reading on Inside Facebook

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Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Patterns of the Social Gaming Audience, Is Now Available

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/06/22 - 20:00

If 2009 is remembered as the year that casual gaming stormed social platforms, 2010 is quickly becoming the year that the industry started to mature. Facebook is getting more involved in the monetization ecosystem, last year’s hit games are fighting for their lives, and new developers and games are climbing the leaderboards. At the same time, the M&A ecosystem is alive and well, as larger players are consolidating smaller studios and teams, and large media companies and traditional game developers continue to plot their social gaming strategies.

Get the Annual Membership Get Annual Membership (Includes Report + 3 Additional Quarterly Issues): $2,495
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That’s why we’re excited to announce a new original study in our Inside Virtual Goods series that is exclusively focused on spending and usage patterns in the social gaming market, entitled Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Patterns of the Social Gaming Audience. It is being released for the first time today.

Most of the studies on player spending and usage patterns in social games over the last year have actually been conducted by industry vendors. Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Patterns of the Social Gaming Audience is our exclusive independent look at the virtual goods spending and behavior patterns of social game players on Facebook — data you won’t find anywhere else.

About the Report

Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Patterns of the Social Gaming Audience gives you an inside view of the market at this critical juncture in the intersection of social networking and online games.

We have surveyed nearly 2,000 players of social games on Facebook from around the world and across the demographic spectrum. Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Patterns of the Social Gaming Audience is the most in-depth independent survey of player behavior and spending patterns in the social gaming market.

What We Cover

  1. Spending Habits and Payment Methods in Top Games - It’s easy to compare games based on audience numbers, but which games monetize better? What payment methods do players use most often in top games? We investigate how spending patterns compare across top social games.
  2. Frequency of Play and Methods of Game Discovery - As Facebook cuts down on developer access to viral channels, designing an engaging and viral game is becoming both increasingly important and challenging. We investigate which games people play most frequently, and which methods of social game discovery are most effective for top games.
  3. Demographic Differences by Region, Age, and Gender - While the social gaming market is becoming increasingly global, the audience is also becoming increasingly diverse by age and gender. How do different segments of the audience differ in terms of spending and usage patterns inside social games? We take an in depth look.
  4. Brand Recall for Social Games - How important are brands, and how well can users identify developers of top games? We investigate brand recall amongst social game players.

See the full table of contents below:

Table of Contents

I. Methodology and Respondents

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

II. Overall Results

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

III. Demographic Differences in Usage Patterns and Monetization

7. Regional Differences

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

Index of Charts and Graphs

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

Appendix

  • Survey Questions and Response Rates
  • Related Companies

More Data, More Actionable Insights

In 2009, social games began to show what kind of value can be created on top of social networks. 2010 will be an even more important year.

Social gaming, powered by virtual goods, is this year’s industry to watch. If you’re involved, or are considering jumping in, Inside Virtual Goods will be one of your most important tools.

One year of original data and exclusive in-depth reports delivered on a quarterly basis is $2,495 and contains:

  • A detailed overview of the current state of the industry
  • Specific estimates on market size by segment
  • Diagnosis of key opportunities and issues by segment

Get The Annual Membership

Get Annual Membership (Includes Report + 3 Additional Quarterly Issues): $2,495

OR Buy Single Report: $995

The one year subscription is US $2,495 and includes three quarterly updates on key developments in the space, including future editions of our annual reports, Inside Virtual Goods: The US Virtual Goods Market 2009-2010 and Inside Virtual Goods: The Future of Social Gaming 2010.

Or, you can download just this report. The price is US $995.

About the Authors

Justin Smith

Founder, Inside Network

Justin Smith is the founder of Inside Network, the first company dedicated to providing news and market research to the Facebook platform and social gaming ecosystem. Justin serves as co-editor of Inside Facebook and Inside Social Games, and manages Inside Network’s AppData service as well.

Prior to Inside Network, he was formerly Head of Product at Watercooler, one of the leading application developers on the Facebook Platform. Prior to Watercooler, Justin was an early employee at Xfire, the largest social utility for gamers, which was sold to Viacom in 2006. Justin holds a degree in Computer Systems Engineering from Stanford University.

Charles Hudson

Former VP Business Development, Serious Business & Host, Virtual Goods Summit

Charles Hudson is the former VP of Business Development for Serious Business, a leading social games developer on the Facebook platform. Charles Hudson also organizes two of the leading conferences in the social gaming and free-to-play games industries, the Social Gaming Summit and Virtual Goods Summit.

Prior to Serious Business, he was formerly the Sr. Director for Business Development at Gaia Interactive, a leading online hangout for teens. Prior to Gaia, Charles worked in New Business Development at Google and focused on new partnership opportunities for early-stage products in the advertising, mobile, and e-commerce markets. Prior to joining Google, he was a Product Manager for IronPort Systems, a leading provider of anti-spam hardware appliances that was acquired by Cisco Systems for $830 million in 2007. Charles holds an MBA and BA from Stanford University.

Categories: Other blogs

Guiding Trains in this Unique iPhone Puzzle Game

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/06/22 - 18:53

It goes without saying, that you tend to see a lot of the same type of game nowadays. Revised old concepts and clones tend to be safer, but more often than not, it’s the small folks that break that mold. Such an app comes from a single guy, Matt Rix, this time around, with a terribly addictive puzzle title for the iPhone called Trainyard. It’s a $1.99 app, that combines simple path-drawing mechanics with timing, planning, and color. Married with some simple, and non-intrusive social features, Trainyard is an app that has very little to complain about.

Essentially, the goal of the game is to make it through well over 100 puzzles by getting all trains from Point A to Point B. Early on, the game is simple enough: Players get one starting terminal and one goal terminal and draw a path to get there. However, all trains and terminals and goals have their own color, thus only a train of the same color may enter the goal safely. Also note that paths are not as free-form as they are in other path-drawing apps (i.e. Flight Control). Each section of path is set within a grid space and will either be a straight or corner piece.

It’s all fairly straightforward and intuitive, not to mention very, very easy for a good third of the puzzles. Despite the slow ramp up time, once you make your way to the more intermediate and advanced puzzles, Trainyard begins to take on its unique shape.

To start things off, once all track is laid, users launch the trains, which all go at the same time. As you’d expect, later levels will have more than one train, and players must ensure that they never collide, but more on why in a moment. Frankly, it’s easy to prevent as you can draw separate paths from the separate train terminals to the separate goals. At least at first.

Eventually, rocks start appearing that the trains can crash into, which forces users to make multiple trains of different colors use the same track. Moreover, many puzzles will have only a single goal terminal that must accept X amount of Y color for a puzzle to be solved. This is indicated by a number of colored lights on the terminal. This means that if there are four green lights and four blue lights, players must ensure that four of each color reach the end safely.

Remember the color? The way that trains use the same track is that each grid space can hold two pieces - a primary and secondary track. Without going into the fine details, if you launch two trains at the same time, and they combine where these two tracks are, they merge into one. Now, for trains of the same color, this is no big deal. But often the goal will accept fewer trains than are being launched — as indicated by a number of lights on the starting terminal — and thus you must combine them. At more advanced levels, the goal might require, say, a purple train. The only problem is, you have only red and blue trains. Well, now you have to build a track from Point A to Point B, and combine the two colors to make purple. The same works in reverse. If you combine the two and the goal only accepts red and blue, you will fail.

As you can begin to see, all of these very simple rules begin to create a very complex set of results, and in the case of many puzzles, there are any number of ways to solve them. In fact, this is where the game’s social elements come into play.

After completing a puzzle, users can actually post to their Facebook feed or tweet to their Twitter account their solutions. It’s not an earth-shattering feature, but considering the difficulty of some of the puzzles — and if you have friends that play — they are great additions. Oh? How do friends know the solution? When you post a solution to one of your social networks, it includes a nice video showing how you solve it.

Truth be told, there really isn’t anything significant to complain about with Trainyard. It’s wonderfully creative, easy to learn, and has any number of possible solutions to its puzzles. Moreover, the rules are simple enough to create a near infinite number of new levels for future updates, or even potentially purchasable level packs. If there was any one issue to be had, it’s that the game takes a bit too long to really get started, and the tutorial levels get very old, very quick. Overall, however, for $2, its an app that is well worth checking out.

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Sumo Scandal - 65 Wrestlers caught gambling illegally, losing Sponsors

Playnoevil - Tue, 2010/06/22 - 17:25
There's a Sumo scandal brewing in Japan. 65 wrestlers have admitted to gambling illegally on baseball. This is in the wake of recent assault and drug use accusations.

It kind of sounds like a US sport.

What is different is that sponsors are taking the accusation seriously. Nagatanien, a major sport sponsor, is canceling its sponsorship of the next major tournament and reviewing its entire involvement with Sumo, as are several other sponsoring firms.

There has been a growing wave of gambling problems tied to different sports. Ranging from the mostly benign (wagering on other sports - with the main concern being debt and involvement with "interesting" folk) to very serious accusations of match fixing and odds manipulation.

The global nature of sport and wagering is making this a problem both for legitimate wagering firms and for sports organizations.

N. Fujimura (2010), "Sumo Loses Biggest Sponsor Amid Gambling Scandal (Update1)", http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-06-22/sumo-loses-biggest-sponsor-amid-gambling-scandal-update1-.html



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Pot Farm Adds a Little “Magic” to Social Gaming on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/06/22 - 16:50

Some people use marijuana to make everyday routines and recipes a little more interesting. A group of anonymous developers have humorously appropriated the plant for the now-commonplace farming genre on Facebook. Their app, Pot Farm, tasks your hippie avatar with growing the somewhat illegal crop virtually — without getting busted by a virtual forest ranger.

The app is essentially like any other farming game on Facebook: plant crop, grow crop, harvest crop, sell crop. There are three types of marijuana plants, classified based on the level of “Protection” that they can grant.

The basic, first plant is hemp which has a neutral protection level of zero, meaning it doesn’t affect much (just like real hemp). However, more illicit, and by extension, often more profitable crops such as the “Time Warp” grant negative protection.

Since growing such crops are illegal (unless you have a medical license, in some states), there is a non-player character, “Ranger Dick,” who can come and confiscate your freshly grown plants. What entices him to show up are the negative protection plants, which are officially called “Ranger Bait.” Should you be in the negatives for protection, you need to make sure you come back and harvest your crops right away before they get taken away.

Now, this feature would be a little bit drab in its current form, so to enhance it in a sort of strategic, balancing kind of way, the developers integrated the third type of plant. These are crops that are “Ranger Approved” and grant positive protection.

Pot Farm surpasses most farming games here, by making its décor do something more than just look pretty. Many items offer protection, from subtle fir trees that hide your little operation, to guard dogs and rope snares. Either way you choose, it’s nice to having an added reason to purchase decorations beyond aesthetics. Additionally, there are any number of other items, dubbed “contraptions,” that can be unlocked at later levels, such as a popcorn machine or a makeshift brewery. Considering that you can grow plants like corn and hops, in all likelihood, these will become another means of making money beyond selling the crops themselves, adding yet another layer of functionality.

The style of this app also merits a mention — it plays on stereotypes about hippies to an unrealistic degree, that will be especially funny to people who don’t know real hippies, or real marijuana growers. On the downside, the visuals are going to be very hit or miss with most players. The almost top-down, copy-pasted grid look the game has to it is basically like what you see in other farming games.

Similarly, the game’s social features feel the same as every other farming game on the market, with options to add neighbors, send gifts, track progress, and so on. They work for what they are, but it’s too bad that Pot Farm didn’t keep up its creativity in its social aspects — especially considering marijuana’s real-world social cachet.

When it comes down to it, the only real concern worth mentioning about Pot Farm is its potential to offend anyone outside a certain niche audience. Considering the wide breadth of users that games such as FarmVille or Farm Town attract, the concept behind Pot Farm may actually be its limiting factor in the long run — although one assumes the developers are well aware of this. The title has so far managed to bring in over a million monthly active users despite its theme, so its unique theme is probably working in its favor, too.

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Playdom Takes $33M Funding As It Goes International

Inside Social Games - Tue, 2010/06/22 - 13:30

Seven months after raising its initial $43 venture capital million round, social gaming company Playdom has taken on another $33 million, according to TechCrunch. Three new funds also took part this time around: Bessemer Venture Partners, Disney’s Steamboat Ventures, and New World Ventures.

The new funding shows that Playdom is keeping pace with Zynga, which also raised a large round last November and another earlier this month. The only difference is in the amounts; Zynga’s latest funding was for up to $147 million. However, Playdom’s smaller raise still counts as a very large when compared to the average for social gaming startups.

Interestingly, TechCrunch was told by Playdom that the new round was taken at the same $260 pre-money million valuation that the company had in November — meaning that this new money is part of an existing round. Meanwhile, though, the company has more than doubled its number of monthly active users since November, and proved its market strategy with the release of Social City, which quickly became the first successful city building simulation from a large developer. One might expect its valuation to have gone up accordingly.

Of course, Playdom is struggling with the same overall decline from a spring peak in MAU and DAU that Zynga is. Over the past month, the company has dipped to 36.2 million MAU:

We’ll add any more details Playdom shares later. For now, it’s worth pointing out that Playdom is actively pursuing its own fundings and acquisitions. Here are the ones we know of, from the last two months:

That list alone makes it clear that Playdom is focusing strongly on international markets, especially for the Spanish language, which follows English as Facebook’s second most popular. The company has also said as much during various presentations and interviews.

We also heard, earlier this year, that MySpace owner News Corp was interested in buying Playdom. However, like earlier speculations that Playdom might hold a 2010 IPO, the buyout rumors are unlikely to materialize for the moment, in light of the new funding.

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Zynga Has Another Hit With FrontierVille, But Can It Revive Traffic?

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/06/21 - 22:37

They’ve done it again: with FrontierVille, a new mix of the farming and city building genres set in pioneer days, Zynga has added some 7.4 million monthly active users to its total. That’s in only 12 days since the game’s launch, with the most significant growth taking place over just the last four days.

Zynga became the world’s top social gaming company for a reason: it’s masterful at growing an audience. However, FrontierVille’s huge success also comes at an interesting time for the company. Last Friday, it hit a milestone of another sort, dipping below 200 million monthly active users for the first time since it passed the mark last November.

On Saturday and Sunday, Zynga recovered, inching back over 210 million MAU. But the company has shed users steadily for several months now, a fact that suggests its MAU could sink further yet.

In the past, we’ve also pointed out that Zynga’s daily active user count is more stable than MAU — an important point, since DAU is a more significant measurement of how many serious players a game has. But while Zynga’s DAU has held steady at times, it’s also declining over the long term; in February Zynga’s DAU peaked at over 70 million, while today it’s around 50 million.

Zynga is often the target of criticism within the gaming community. However, its success rate with players is not at fault here. The company has found hits in two thirds of its releases this year. The thing is that there have, in fact, been only three releases: FrontierVille, Treasure Isle (currently its third-largest property) and Poker Blitz, which never took off, but also wasn’t heavily promoted.

That’s a rate of one game every two months, assuming Zynga doesn’t release another before the end of June (we have no expectation that it will). By contrast, Zynga released at least one new game a month in 2009, including its mega-hit, FarmVille. With bimonthly releases like Treasure Isle, which topped out near 30 million MAU, Zynga’s traffic could still stabilize at over 100 million MAU; but Isle is just one data point.

At its new, slower pace, Zynga resembles the rest of the social gaming world. We’ve seen fewer releases from most of the major developers this year. Development is becoming a more rigorous, expensive process, and since Facebook’s notification changes, each release has a harder time becoming successful — meaning even more investment to ensure that each release does well.

While it’s possible that a game like FrontierVille could blow past Treasure Isle to become the new FarmVille, capturing more than 60 million players and bringing Zynga back to its previous heights, it’s more likely that we’ll see both Zynga and its competitors pursuing other ways to grow traffic this year.

Those may include localization for foreign-language markets, new markets like Japan and China, new platforms like the iPhone, and acquisitions of smaller publishers. We’ve actually seen Zynga work toward each of these goals, most recently with a huge investment from Japan’s Softbank and the announcement that it would put FarmVille on the iPhone and iPad.

It’s also probable that Zynga, along with its peers, is constantly learning how to better monetize users, meaning that even declining traffic numbers could still return higher profits to the company. However, without being able to look at the company’s balance sheets, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s preserving last year’s presumably high profit margins.

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As Facebook Continues Testing Credits, Some Developers Concerned About Costs

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/06/21 - 20:31

As Facebook continues to experiment with its universal virtual currency, Credits, some developers continue to tell us that the product is going to lose them money — even as others say the opposite.

One issue is the flat 30% fee that Facebook takes from all Credits transactions on third party applications. But there other potential costs, that some in the industry say increases the total percentage to around 50% of their revenue, versus what they are bringing in now.

Facebook, however, believes that Credits will be a net win for developers, and not just a big new revenue stream for itself. Before we get into the details of what the real costs (and benefits) of Credits might be, here’s some more background.

The Place for Credits

The virtual goods market has boomed around the world in the past decade, mainly in Asia — but Facebook quickly becoming a leading platform for growth of companies based on the virtual goods model after it launched its developer platform in late May of 2007. Many people who use third party social games and applications, it turns out, are willing to pay for digital products in order to do things like win a competitive game or more beautifully decorate a virtual space.

This year, we expect the virtual goods revenue model in social games to bring in around $835 million within the US alone, with most of the money coming from Facebook apps. See our Inside Virtual Goods report for more research on the market.

For most of the history of the platform, Facebook has not taken any fee from developers on its platform. When it launched the platform, the company even told developers that they would be able to keep all of the revenue they generated from applications.

> Continue reading on Inside Facebook.

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A Look at SGN’s New iPad/iPhone Social Shooter Game, EXO-Planet Elite

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/06/21 - 18:27

Social Gaming Network recently launched its new iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad shooter game, EXO-Planet Elite. Due to the better performance capabilities and larger screen size, we decided to look at the iPad rendition. In short, it’s an app centered around the concept of multiplayer shooting matches, and set in a fully three-dimensional space environment.

Using all three axis, players battle one another between two space stations within the void of space. The biggest surprise, however, is how well the controls and combat work out for such a game; even if they are a bit clunky at first. Combined with some pretty unique movement mechanics, rewarding level up systems, and minor Facebook Connect integration, EXO-Planet makes for quite the interesting title. That is of course, if you are able to play a match.

Essentially players are plopped down into a level of two simplistic space stations and spiraling tunnel, of sorts, in between. Primarily centered around multiplayer, users can join into one-on-one matches locally via Bluetooth or one-on-one or two-on-two matches via online play. From here, there are two different modes: Capture the Flag and Deathmatch. Though this ought to be well known for shooter veterans, it basically breaks down to getting Flag A to Point B for the former, or kill everyone for the latter.

Though the modes are commonplace, the combat mechanics are far from it. On the iPad, players move using one finger on the left side of the screen and steer using the other side. It is extraordinarily awkward for users that regularly use controllers or a mouse and keyboard, but frankly, this control scheme works much better than games that attempt to recreate directional pads on screen. SGN is aware of the fast pace that comes from shooters, and realizes that without the tactile feedback of actual buttons, making the entire screen the movement controls is the next best thing.

Beyond this, shooting is done by pressing two fingers and is aimed the same way as steering. Moreover, the gun never seems to run out of ammunition or has to reload, so feel free to spray bullets everywhere. Again, this is likely also to mitigate the loss of accuracy that comes from a mouse or thumbstick. Of course, the coolest part of EXO-Planet is the 3D environment and the grappling hook.

Throughout the level there are metal surfaces in which your magnetic space boots can cling to. Tapping one of these surfaces hooks the player and then pulls them to that location. If used properly, users can grapple from surface to surface very quickly, shooting along the way. It’s tremendously faster than running, and is undoubtedly going to be a technique used by advanced players. Plus, it’s always fun to use it and attack people from above.

Unfortunately, this all only comes into play if you can find a match. For $4.99 on the iPhone and $6.99 on the iPad, it’s a game that not a whole lot of people are buying yet. Because of this, there’s not always a match to play, and when there is, it may not always be a full game (we got stuck with a few two-on-ones). Also, there are so few, that you just get put into one randomly. You don’t get to pick, thus playing with friends outside of Bluetooth appears a bit difficult. Since about 90% of this game is multiplayer-only, the level of fun that comes with the combat is immediately pointless if none pop up. That said, this is the most pressing issue, and more than likely the reason that the cross platform play was announced.

One surprise was that this game actually costs money initially. After the success of other free-to-play titles, like ngmoco’s Eliminate Pro, one would think that model would be wiser (especially because you need more people to make the game fun). It isn’t that EXO-Planet doesn’t have the means to do so, as there is a currency dubbed “Scrip” that is earned via playing and even a button to add more. With Scrip, players can purchase various upgrades - unlocked as they play and level up - to weapons and armor. Oddly, the “add more” button doesn’t actually let you buy any Scrip, but obviously the methods are all there. With more items, and maybe some purchasable maps, this is a title that could easily be turned into a freemium game.

Regarding any further elements to the new SGN title, it does have Facebook Connect, which allows you to link your EXO-Planet profile with your Facebook account. However, other than let you use your Facebook avatar as your EXO avatar, it doesn’t appear to do too much yet. There is a section for the newsfeed, but it appears empty for us, and we’ve yet to be prompted to post anything (even if we owned five kids without dying!). Beyond this, the visuals leave something to be desired. The characters look decent, but the environments feel a bit lifeless and devoid of any personality.

Overall, EXO-Planet Elite is a very cool game and has the potential to be a tremendously fun shooter. Sadly, it remains as “potential,” until the number of players picks up. With any luck, the new cross-platform capabilities will work well. Truthfully, it does appear to be working, as we did get more matches than user complaints previously suggested (though we still often had to wait a lot). Additionally, EXO-Planet has all the makings of a quality freemium title as well, which could earn even more players. Moreover, recent single player additions, such as the timed, target practice mode, Gauntlet, have been added, so that too is another means to improve the player experience; through single-player. Regardless of paths, here’s hoping things work out. That grappling mechanic is just too much fun to let die.

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Gamenauts Combines Facebook Farming and Cooking with Wonder Island

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/06/21 - 16:00

It’s hardly uncommon for game developers to take features from existing popular games, but with Wonder Island, developer Gamenauts has dipped into not one or two, but three different Facebook genres: farming, restaurants and island resorts. In essence, Wonder Island a Frankensteinian mixture of virtually any farming game, Zynga’s Café World, and Playdom’s Tiki Resort.

If you’ve played any of the above-named games, then Wonder Island won’t be terribly difficult to figure out. Starting off, you’re granted a surprisingly sizable amount of island real estate (if only it were that easy in reality). The largest chunk of change you can earn is from farming, through the usual series of plowing land, planting crops and trees, buying animals, and harvesting the results when they’re ready.

As per the typical arrangement, your harvest can be sold for a profit, but Wonder Island provides another alternative: using it with the game’s cooking features. However, grown crops are, oddly, not required to make dishes. Players simply cook them for a cost and place them on tables to be eaten Café World style. What the crops can do, however, is enhance each product. Whether it is before cooking starts, or during, users can add ingredients they’ve grown to the dish to improve its sale value. As an example, the most basic dish is a fruit salad that sells for 25 coins. If you add a piece of spinach, its value increases by 12. Add an apple, it grows by 18. And if you add a peach, it is worth an extra 50.

One of the nice things you’ll find in playing the Gamenauts app is a looser limitation in how much you can play. Players in farming games usually must plant a crop and wait, usually, for several hours — unless they pay. However, with Wonder Island, players can use the few stoves they start with to start cooking up dishes at as low as five minute intervals. It’s perfect for people doing something, like, say, writing a game review, in another window.

Beyond spicing up the slow-paced farming elements of the game, the cooking feature also makes it significantly easier to earn the coin needed to give your virtual space its added pizzazz. Of course, like most farming and restaurant sims, décor really doesn’t do much beyond sating your own creative palette. That’s a little bit disappointing, considering you do have touristy non-player characters wandering about, and the combination of farming and restaurants coupled with the large plot of land given to decorate suggests tremendous potential for a resort style, tycoon game with a micromanagement component. However, most Facebook games have not yet progressed this far.

Nevertheless, aesthetic appeal for the sake of aesthetics typically does well in social games. As far as it applies here, the style works pretty well. With saturated colors and an intentionally odd scale (many trees are smaller than your avatar), everything sort of works. The biggest complaint comes from movement. As nice as things look standing still, the animations all feel very stiff and jerky, almost like the game is lagging. It might seem minor, but it does detract from the experience.

Our other major qualm with Wonder Island is not so much an issue as it is a concern for the in-game economy. Though it’s easy to get started with a steady cash flow, one can’t help but wonder: is it too easy? If users earn money too easily, and progress too quickly, they reach goals faster (i.e. buying the best decorative items). This is a problem in two ways. The first is that if goals are reached too easily, they become meaningless. There is no accomplishment in that. Second, in games like this, part of the addictiveness is creating your own goals. You can do that here, but if you get through all of them too quickly, you have no reason to continue playing.

Thankfully, these problems wouldn’t be terribly difficult to fix with a few time versus cost tweaks here and there, and if content additions are kept at a good pace, the point becomes completely moot.

Truthfully, the biggest problem with Wonder Island is originality. Overall, the game doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It uses a visual style that has been seen before, combining games we’ve all played before. Even socially, everything feels the same: leaderboards, gifting, visiting each other’s islands, and helping them out by clicking a button that says you helped them. As far as original design goes, it’s an app that leaves much to be desired.

Still, despite its relative newness, Wonder Island is growing fairly well, with 164,000 monthly active users.

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NOTED: New R4i Cartridge to vex Nintendo

Playnoevil - Mon, 2010/06/21 - 15:32
The R4 cartridge, which allows regular SD cards to be used instead of Nintendo's proprietary cartridges, has been replaced by a new version that works with the Nintendo DSi. These cartridges are often used by pirates to download stolen games onto SD cards (used in cameras and cell phones) and then use them with the cartridge. There is an inherent "removable media" problem for console games that is very hard to stop.

It will be interesting to see what Nintendo does with its new 3DS cartridge to stop (or at least slow down) this problem.

"R4 SDHC Team Releases New v2.10T Card", http://www.prlog.org/10744119-r4-sdhc-team-releases-new-v210t-card.html
Categories: Other blogs

CAUTION: Protecting Games on Kindle Device Only

Playnoevil - Mon, 2010/06/21 - 15:27
While I'm very pleased that my book, Protecting Games, is available on Amazon's Kindle, I did want to warn folk that it only works on the actual Kindle device, not on an iPad or other "Kindle application" platforms... at least so far.

I'll let you know if I hear anything further. I believe that this is a policy setting chosen by my publisher, not me.


Categories: Other blogs