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FrontierVille, Hello City Lead Off This Week’s List of Fastest-Gaining Facebook Games by MAU

Inside Social Games - Mon, 2010/06/21 - 13:30

The first few entries on this week’s list of fastest-growing Facebook games by monthly active users looks like a lineup of major developers: Zynga, CrowdStar, MindJolt and Electronic Arts have all added significant numbers of new users.

But the really big news this morning, especially over at our sister blog Inside Facebook, is that Facebook appears to have made a significant update to app statististics reporting that has caused several older apps to suddenly report millions more MAU (which they likely had all along). Luckily, relatively few games have been affected, although there are a couple for us to point out below.

Here’s the AppData top 20 list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain, % 1. FrontierVille 6,284,067 +5,452,890 +656.04 2. Gift Creator 4,591,694 +4,485,404 +4,219.97 3. Hello City 4,402,158 +1,624,120 +58.46 4. MindJolt Games 19,706,872 +978,801 +5.23 5. JibJab 784,581 +738,076 +1,587.09 6. EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars 1,854,728 +688,355 +59.02 7. School of Wizardry 1,669,564 +543,734 +48.30 8. Birthday Cards 23,275,752 +532,292 +2.34 9. Baking Life 1,509,909 +484,907 +47.31 10. Evony 797,525 +469,694 +143.27 11. My Empire 4,547,241 +466,275 +11.43 12. Name Analyzer 2,927,640 +432,065 +17.31 13. Bejeweled Blitz 10,238,112 +366,292 +3.71 14. Bola 4,058,453 +325,520 +8.72 15. Family Feud 7,054,016 +324,201 +4.82 16. Fashion World 752,423 +320,665 +74.27 17. Crazy Cow Music Quiz 1,029,648 +297,463 +40.63 18. Millionaire City 690,282 +290,381 +72.61 19. Nightclub City 4,002,642 +248,566 +6.62 20. Phrases 898,177 +237,055 +35.86

FrontierVille, the latest by Zynga, leads off the list. Some might call this game truly original, while others deem it FarmVille plus, even sharing the same initials; but regardless of the various opinions (including ours) floating about the blogosphere, players are streaming in. We’ll have a bit more on that later.

Gift Creator is one of the apps affected by Facebook’s reporting changes; however, we can mostly ignore it here, along with JibJab, since neither is a full-fledged game. But Evony, at number 10, has definitely been affected, turning out to be about twice as large as Facebook previously reported with near 800,000 MAU. School of Wizardry also shows a significant jump on June 15th, the day of the change; the independently developed game, it turns out, has almost 1.7 million MAU.

Moving back up the list, Crowdstar’s Hello City is plugging along quite nicely, and has almost caught up with its city-building rival from EA, My Empire, which you can find at number 11 with only a quarter as many new MAU. Both have done spectacularly well for new entrants into a fairly well-worn genre, although each puts its own creative spin on the concept.

MindJolt Games continues to climb, and is currently threatening to break 20 million MAU. Finally, we’ll point out EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars, which continues to take advantage of soccer World Cup traffic. However, the team management game isn’t doing as well as other major, similarly-hyped releases have, which may show that sports games are still a tough sell on Facebook — or simply that this one is a bit too complex.

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This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

Inside Social Games - Sun, 2010/06/20 - 15:00

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

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

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Intellysurf Takes Users Bodyboarding on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/06/19 - 23:10

Forget farming, raising kingdoms, or fighting monsters, it’s summer time and that means it’s time to hit the beaches. Sadly, not everyone has a seaside abode, so French company Intellysurf has created the YouRiding Bodyboarding Game for Facebook, taken from one of the four game modes on their site YouRiding.com. Most comparable to console titles like Tony Hawk — combined with the controls of old mobile title Fly Ribbon — this streamlined rendition has players traversing the globe and catching waves in some of the world’s most famous surf locals.

YouRiding, while not a unique game concept, is certainly more original than most other recent Facebook titles, managing to be both fun and amusing. Each game also feels rather short, but the length of play reflects the wave-based nature of the sport and fits well with its competitive social elements. That said, YouRiding can be a bit clunky in the controls at times, and the overall presentation value leaves something to be desired. Here’s a closer look at the details:

Starting of, the app is pretty straightforward, with minimal direction needed to figure out the basics. You’ll begin on the famous waves of Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii as rider Ryan Hardy (your avatar for that area — different avatars come with different levels). From here, the game is completely controlled with the keyboard as you ride a 2D wave using the arrow keys to control horizontal and vertical direction.

The mechanics behind the riding are pretty well done too, as you must balance out the two stats of speed and balance. For example, if you hold down a direction (right or left) you gain speed. If you hold that direction and ride down to the base of the wave you’ll pick up even more speed. As in real bodyboarding or surfing, though, you must not remain at the base or their balance will drop. If balance reaches zero, you wipe out.

This is where the YouRiding begins to take shape. Each area has its own moderately unique set of waves; they could be higher, they could break sooner or more often, and so on. What these differences do is provide a few extra sets of challenges and a means to perform various tricks.

From take off to wipe-out, you earn a steady stream of points. Of course, just doing that, with the noted controls, really would make it Fly Ribbon with waves. To make it interesting, Intellysurf integrates the trick mechanic that is most similar with the previously mentioned Tony Hawk titles. There are about nine simple two-button tricks to be performed such as a forward spin, air roll spin, or backflip used to earn significant points for the score. In addition to these, points are also garnered through quick turns or riding inside the tube of a breaking wave.

This is where the game brings in the oldest and most stable of social mechanics: the competitive leaderboard. While the mechanic is a bit dated, it works well for this particular game as professional bodyboarding is all about competition, which also helps the scores feel meaningful. They have almost an arcade feel as they are earned through the classic means of twitch skill rather than who has the best spreadsheet or has been playing the longest — ala most farming titles. This is further enhanced by independent rankings at each location including Pipeline, North Point, La Graviere, and so on.

It is also worth noting that there are three other locations that can be unlocked - Shark Island, El Gringo, and The Wedge. Evidentially, this is intended to be the primary monetization as for $3, the extra three, as well as a few new tricks can be purchased through your mobile phone, premium calling, or Zeevex.

Of course, it’s hard to say whether or not many will find the purchase worth it, as the small differences between levels don’t really feel different enough. Granted, you get a special trick based on the rider and the waves break differently, but those features don’t feel particularly special. Even the visuals are virtually the same, sans a hue change in water and sand.

This leads to one of the chief complaints to be had with YouRiding. The presentation outside the still menus just feels old and overly simplified. The visuals are reminiscent of an old mobile phone game or the Super Nintendo, and considering that one of the big draws to surfing and bodyboarding as a whole are beautiful locations, it just doesn’t do the sport justice.

Beyond aesthetics, the other problem area is the controls. While the basic movement control using the arrows is fine, the tricks, which use letter keys, feel a little bit awkward. Examples include hitting E then G, or E then V. It’s not so much the chosen letters, as this can be gotten used to (not to mention learning the tricks is part of the skill), but the keyboard itself doesn’t feel suited to button combinations like this. For most computer games using the keyboard, the common controls include W, A, S, D for movement, the mouse, and spacebar. Those are also what should be used for the fast-paced, twitch elements of a game like YouRiding, even on Facebook.

Overall, YouRiding is still a nice change from the usual. The premise is very different from what we normally see, and while it has a few issues here and there, it’s fun for a few minutes — though most users may not feel inclined to play for any longer, since playing one level for a few minutes pretty much feels like having played them all. All the same, it is certainly a concept worth further exploration.

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Social Gaming Roundup: Android, Bebo, SGN, & More

Inside Social Games - Sat, 2010/06/19 - 02:03

Android Market Share Hits 20% - According to new data released by Quantcast, Android’s Google OS has reached 19.9% in operating system market share for mobile devices. The iPhone OS (iOS) still leads, however, at 58.8%.

Criterion Capital Partners Acquires Bebo - Earlier this week, financial advisory firm Criterion Capital Partners, LLC (CCP) announced that it has acquired the social media network Bebo from AOL Inc. Not all details behind the deal have been revealed, but CCP is said to have purchased the social network for $10 million or less and has assumed all rights to and complete global operating control of the youth-oriented site.

GodFinger Launches Globally - For the longest time, the only way to get a hold of ngmoco’s GodFinger outside of Canada was through the iPad. This week, the company launched the free-to-play app on a global scale for the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

Ning Adds Game Channels - Wednesday, social network platform Ning announced partnerships with CafePress and HeyZap. Now, users that use Ning to create their own social networks will be able to integrate custom CafePress shops that sell branded items, as well as HeyZap’s collection of pay-to-play games to their networks.

GameCoins Going Mobile - Sometric’s virtual currency portal GameCoins.com looks to be expanding its market. Chief executive Ian Swanson says the company will soon move beyond its typically supported games and begin adding support for the mobile games space as well.

Worlize to Build User-Generated Social Gaming Platform - According to TechCrunch a small startup by the name of Worlize is launching the private beta of its coming product this week. Unfortunately, all that is known at this time is that it is being called the first user-created social gaming and chat platform for Facebook and other such networks.

Nexon May Get Facebook Connect - According to CEO Daniel Kim, Nexon America is currently “researching” ways that it could integrate Facebook Connect with its currently collection of free-to-play games. Moreover, the integration would not be game to game but rather based on a player’s account, thus affecting any Nexon games the user currently plays.

Social Gaming Network Raises Funds - Though they’ve been quiet for some time, Social Gaming Network has just recently come back onto the scene after raising $2 million in financing from Tomorrow Ventures. Additionally, the social developer has also launched its newest title EXO-Planet Elite for the various iDevices.

Microsoft’s Xbox Cashes in on Virtual Goods - Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, via the Xbox 360, has apparently been raking in the cash with its virtual goods business. This revenue includes movies, music, content pack downloads and “bite-sized” games in addition to avatars’ clothes and accessories and has been growing steadily, according to Microsoft executive Dennis Durkin. With 25 million Xbox Live members around the world, about 56% upgraded to the Gold subscription service ($50 a year).

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Zynga’s Confusing Deal Terms Result in Acquisitions, Padding in Case of Hard Times

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/06/18 - 19:16

Zynga has been assembling a big cash hoard in the last year. Between the $180 million it said it raised in December from a consortium led by Digital Sky Technologies, and $147 million that it has not confirmed it has raised from SoftBank, the company could have something like $327 million in new funding.

Except it doesn’t, according to a string of deal terms pieced together over the last year by finance data company VC Experts. Here’s a quick look at what data we have available, and what it might mean; note that Zynga has steadfastly not commented on any of its funding moves in years, aside from announcing the DST deal.

Up until last fall, Zynga had a pretty typical-looking set of filings: when it raised money, the company would authorize stock and sell it as you’d expect, with filings showing up afterward.

The situation got stranger in mid-November, when a regulatory “Form D” filing showed up stating that the company had raised $15.2 million from previous investors as an extension to its second round of funding from back in 2008. A reliable source had told us in the spring of 2009 that the company was raising around this amount of money, but that was never confirmed. The filing that appeared last November may have actually been raised then, and just filed later — more on this, further down.

Then the DST deal got announced in December. That $180 million stock purchase by investors has never shown up in a regulatory filing — at least not all at once, and not yet. Instead, there has been a trickle of stock authorizations and small stock sales, beginning in late April of this year.

[Editor's note: Full copies of the filings and more details are available on VC Experts' Valuation & Deal Term Database.]

The most notable recent filing happened on May 11th, when the company authorized new shares of class “Series B-2″ preferred stock; when valued at the latest share price, the value of this class increased from around $25 million to $315 million. Preferred stock is intended for investors, often connected to strategic partnership agreements or other deals. The amount is also just $13 million less than the combined DST and SoftBank funding.

This filing could represent the majority of the stock that DST and SoftBank are getting, meaning Zynga delayed any filings related to DST from last December through when it finalized SoftBank’s deal. There are other complications, to this idea, though.

The company also made a few much smaller adjustments and added smaller new stock classes to its capitalization table in the past few months. Some of these may have had to do with recent acquisitions, including Challenge Games and XPD Media. The big new investors may also be getting other types of stock, which helps explain the difference between the $315 million worth of B-2 shares and the combined $327 million of the latest investment. A third complication is that Zynga may be issuing more stock for employees that it does not bring in through acquisitions, but rather because of individual hires or compensation package increases. Finally, it could be that DST and/or SoftBank have some sort of “subscription agreement,” where they agree to buy stock over a period of time at agreed-upon terms.

The bigger question is why the filings are happening this way. Authorizations, stock purchases and announcements about new investors normally happen within a month or three of each other, and investor data services, finance news publications and competitors track them closely to try to understand what hot companies are doing.

Zynga’s unusual approach, while not unheard of, is likely because the company has wanted to tightly control what everyone else knew about its strategies. For example, it launched what became its biggest hit, farm simulation FarmVille, in June of 2009. By this point it already had figured out how to get a solid return on investment in Facebook’s performance advertising system — well before most other developers had. By delaying that funding until many months later, it may have helped hide its intense focus on launching FarmVille until after the game had gotten going. Then, by delaying filings related to DST, the company was able to obscure the fact that it was doubling down on its business even as many other social gaming competitors raised smaller amounts or sold.

This interpretation is, to be clear, speculation based on possibly incomplete filings and an unusual and drawn-out process. If there is any clear takeaway here, it is that Zynga is willing to keep raising the stakes even as its traffic on its core platform, Facebook, has ebbed, and as it has faced new monetization changes like Facebook Credits. And it’s raising the stakes in ways that potentially confuse the rest of the market.

While Zynga has had some successful new games this year, like Treasure Isle and now FrontierVille, it faces a slow-growing, increasingly expensive Facebook platform, and risky or inadequate alternatives. The new money does not look like it’s just going towards more growth, but also towards a more mature and challenging period for social gaming. The long-term goal is still, we assume, for Zynga to go public eventually.

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World Cup Goods Fill Facebook’s Virtual Stores

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/06/18 - 18:00

The sale of virtual goods has always been a primary monetization method for social games, and with the world’s most popular sport, soccer, already in the heat of the 2010 World Cup, you can bet that a number of social developers are taking advantage. We’ve already tracked a number of recently-released soccer apps, so below we’re taking a closer look at what non-sports games are doing in recognition of what is, arguably, the world’s largest sporting event.

CrowdStar: Zoo Paradise, Happy Pets, & Happy Aquarium

We’ve taken a keen interest in what CrowdStar is doing for the World Cup, as this particular developer has consciously sought an international image. Taking interest in the soccer tournament makes sense for CrowdStar, as soccer is traditionally more popular abroad than in the United States.

CrowdStar’s most noticeable collection of World Cup virtual goods is in one of its newer titles, Zoo Paradise. Like the majority of games offering related virtual goods, Paradise prominently features flags from the 32 competing countries in the tournament. But flags alone are a bit boring, so CrowdStar got more creative with a second item: a “Soccer Field” habitat for players’ virtual zoos. In order to populate this field, Paradise also offers users three new World Cup animals, including a soccer-playing rhino, a World Cup leopard, and an actual soccer ball animal.

None of these goods can be bought with in-game currency, instead costing anywhere from 10 to 62 Facebook Credits (equivalent to $1 to $6 dollars). Additionally, all of the items are only available until the end of the World Cup series.

CrowdStar has also incorporated limited edition items in two of its other popular apps, Happy Pets and Happy Aquarium. The latter is nothing terribly extravagant, limiting itself to a World Cup stadium and flag backgrounds and an amusing walrus referee. Curiously, however, none of the items explicitly state that they are limited. They still cost either Facebook Credits or the game’s virtual currency, “Pearls,” with the second option requiring marginally more currency.

Happy Pets’ World Cup items, on the other hand, feel a lot more creative in that CrowdStar has provided a way to simultaneously care for virtual pets and support your teams. From French horses, to Italian dogs, to a “World Cup Hamster,” these currently non-limited edition pets take on the color schemes of their homes, and run 88 Facebook Credits apiece. Oh, and for the record, the green hamster rolling about in a glass soccer ball: Awesome.

Zynga: Treasure Isle

While CrowdStar has done a lot, this wouldn’t be a proper roundup without taking a look at Zynga. But, oddly enough, the social gaming behemoth has not contributed as many virtual items as one might expect to the World Cup craze.

Currently Zynga’s third most popular app with just shy of 22 million monthly active users, Treasure Isle, has the most sizable selection of World Cup items, using them to help players decorate their own personal island. Unlike CrowdStar, Zynga is charging its own Cash virtual currency for the special items.

Thus far, the goods consist of animated soccer ball flavor items, some Robinson Crusoe’esque goals, a few flags, and some… “different” soccer playing animals. Beyond a monkey referee, which is pretty cool, Zynga does do something very interesting here; two of the three World Cup animals can be purchased with in-game currency. It’s a hefty chunk of change (11,000 coins), but considering that every other animal in the game, not just special ones, cost virtual currency, it certainly makes for a curious choice. Unlike CrowdStar, the limited purchase time is not until the end of the World Cup, but only a few days from now, so Zynga may be planning a fresh wave of items.

RockYou & Playdom: My Casino & Tiki Resort

On a smaller scale, RockYou! And Playdom have also gotten into the spirit of competition. Beyond mere flags, RockYou! is also selling a virtual rendition of the World Cup trophy within one its newest creations, My Casino. However, in a different approach, the game is not using in-game nor virtual currency for the transactions. Instead, the older company is getting straight to the point through PayPal with items costing anywhere from $0.99 to $5.99.

Playdom, on the other hand, is keeping things simple with a limited stock item for its title Tiki Resort. From within the 5 million MAU strong app, players can purchase a special concession item dubbed “Zulu Concessions” for Facebook Credits. As it stands, there are just over 8300 left.

Foursquare & Bing: Foursqare

While most of these goods have been made available through Facebook games, that does not mean they are limited to the platform. TechCrunch points out that the location-based smartphone game Foursquare is also in the World Cup spirit.

Though they are technically not virtual goods, the game is promoting itself through Bing, offering a World Cup badge for anyone that follows Bing on the service. Additionally, the badge has been tied to any number of sports bars showcasing the World Cup in major cities such as Las Vegas and New York, and can be found via a Bing Map App called HomeTurfFinder on Bing Maps. Moreover, those that follow Bing and check into such locations may also be offered specials there.

In the recent past, we’ve seen virtual goods make up to $1 million a day for occasions like Mother’s Day, as well as Christmas, the Super Bowl, and even Valentine’s Day. If anything, what’s happening around the World Cup is an acceleration of the real and virtual worlds’ convergence — though given the importance of the World Cup everywhere besides the United States, it seems likely that these mostly US-based developers are actually underplaying their hand. On the other hand, there are still four weeks to go for the World Cup, so we may just be seeing the beginning of the marketing push.

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LOLapps to Stop Making Branded Games, Start Using Facebook Credits Exclusively

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/06/18 - 16:01

We’ve been watching San Francisco developer LOLapps with interest since the company decided last year to focus on games over its highly successful user-generated quiz business. While it hasn’t had a massive hit gaming yet, LOLapps has produced a few solid successes to date.

Several of these have been in conjunction with big brands. Last December, the company published Dante’s Inferno on Facebook to help hype up Electronic Arts’ release of the console version several months later. At the time, it looked like a possible template for future collaboration between social and traditional game companies.

However, that phase is now over for LOLapps, according to CEO Arjun Sethi. When we talked with Sethi last week, he said that the company is more interested in becoming a brand of its own, and will only publish original titles of its own.

Like many other developers, Sethi sees an inflection point approaching on Facebook. “People will begin demanding better experiences,” he told us. Unlike the me-too social games created last year, original experiences and creativity will be valued.

Another major change taking place at LOLapps is a switch to Facebook Credits. A number of developers are testing Credits or offer them alongside an in-game virtual currency, but LOLapps will join CrowdStar as the only other large developer to use Credits exclusively.

It’s a big move, but Sethi says that he’s been satisfied so far with Credits. “We haven’t seen a significant drop in transactions. To the contrary, we’re starting to see increased usage,” he said. “We’re actually excited to figure out how to use Credits in our games.”

In general, Sethi is also happy with Facebook’s platform, and says that LOLapps has actually grown after each of Facebook’s policy changes (a number of larger developers saw decreases after Facebook’s notification adjustments). For LOLapps, the key is in learning more about users through Facebook’s data APIs. “It should be our job to know our users better than we’ve known them in the past,” Sethis said.

LOLapps’ last big release was Garden Life, which is currently at around a million monthly active users. The company has several more games in the pipeline, which it expects to release over the summer.

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Evony and Fashion World Vie on This Week’s List of Emerging Games on Facebook

Inside Social Games - Fri, 2010/06/18 - 14:37

There are several interesting developments on this week’s list of emerging Facebook games, defined as those growing strongly but still under a million monthly active users. The most notable change seems to be the sudden growth of Evony — which is actually number two on the list — to over twice its former size.

Over the two months since Evony, an online game once known for its racy ads, launched onto Facebook, the app has appeared to grow moderately well. Now, the game suddenly appears to be booming. Whatever the reason, the news of Evony’s size should come as welcome news to Playdom, which recently launched a very similar game called Verdonia.

Top Gainers This Week - Games Top Gainers This Week - Games Name MAU Gain Gain, % 1. Evony 778,358 +430,053 +123.47 2. Fashion World 529,442 +282,862 +114.71 3. Crazy Cow Music Quiz 847,760 +255,393 +43.11 4. Millionaire City 533,176 +251,482 +89.27 5. City Life 547,010 +196,393 +56.01 6. Middle Kingdom 429,961 +160,982 +59.85 7. Lovely Farm 328,324 +155,637 +90.13 8. Phrases 792,486 +151,794 +23.69 9. Jeux Flash Gratuits 905,382 +149,859 +19.84 10. ???? gamebase 156,531 +149,573 +2,149.66 11. Mahjong 638,552 +134,409 +26.66 12. Jumping Dog 908,866 +129,795 +16.66 13. GamePoints.com 124,025 +122,182 +6,629.52 14. Il Meteo dell’Umore 351,162 +113,236 +47.59 15. - Clicks Racer Challenge 400,575 +107,748 +36.80 16. Godfather 411,284 +103,790 +33.75 17. Goooaaal 124,395 +103,395 +492.36 18. Age of Champions 693,707 +92,934 +15.47 19. American Flag 309,539 +86,389 +38.71 20. NanoStar Siege 511,570 +81,618 +18.98

Fashion World, the latest from Metrogames, has risen to number three with, and now has just over half a million MAU. It’s part of a store-management genre that’s currently doing well in several other games, like Baking Life, which just passed a million MAU.

At number four, Crazy Cow Music Quiz is still enjoying success with multiple-choice music trivia. Millionaire City is another city-building game, with a “tycoon” theme; and City Life, following directly after, might be best described as a girly simulation. This last app has actually been around since February, and had hit a plateau before beginning to grow again a few days ago.

We’ll use our last slot to point out Middle Kingdom, at number seven. This game is in the basic Mafia Wars mold that we have seen many times; the mechanics, though, are not the interesting part. What’s notable here is the fantasy theme, which we’re seeing crop up much more often this year. While the average Facebook gamer may not have a yen for dwarves and dragons, games like Middle Kingdom are definitely proving that there’s a large and active audience looking for some fantasy.

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Who’s Playing Social Games Outside the US? App Demographics for Facebook’s Second Largest Market, the UK

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/06/17 - 21:01

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

When we recently surveyed US demographic data for 18 different leading apps by various developers, we found that, while users for these in apps generally trend young and female, certain apps like Zynga’s Texas HoldEm, with a 72.7% male audience, bucked the prevailing demographic trend.

But what about that other 70% of Facebook’s userbase that resides outside of the United States? Today we look at app demographics for Facebook’s second largest market by audience size, the United Kingdom. The data presented below is a sample of the full research and data offering we make available through Inside Facebook Gold.

In the UK, certain apps on the platform are even more dominated by a female audience than they are in the US. For several of the apps in this sample, women outnumber men two to one. One major exception is Zynga’s Mafia Wars, where there are twice as many male players than female players.

For our UK sample, we included some data on casual skill-based games to see how their player demographics differed from those of social role-playing games like Farmville. In the UK, PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz has a userbase that’s 69.6% female, and just 29.1% male. Compare that to Farmville’s 60.3% female and 38.4% male userbase.

Recall also that Farmville has been one of the defining titles of social gaming, contributing significantly to social games’ image as the “middle-aged housewives’” go-to online leisure activity. Even so, our data show that Bejeweled Blitz is even more female and more middle-aged (as we’ll see below) than social RPGs like Farmville.

The average gender distribution for the UK mirrors that of the US, but with slightly less gender disparity. In the UK, women make up, on average, 57.9% of social gamers, and men make up 41.0%. For reference, women make up 60.8% of the US social game audience and men make up 38.2%.

While most games fell in line with the average distribution, a few of the titles that didn’t make it into the sample presented here, but whose data is available in Inside Facebook Gold, were more popular with men. Can you guess which ones?

When it comes to age distribution, the UK looks a lot like the US. The 18 to 25 age group make up social gaming’s biggest audience segment, with one interesting exception.

Bejeweled Blitz, represented by the green line in the chart above, is vastly more popular with older (and, as we saw above, female) audiences, and even has a significant following in the 56 to 64 age group. Unlike Farmville and EA’s Restaurant City, it’s not a popular title among young users - only 7.0% of those between 13 and 17 play the game.

For this writer, these stats were brought to life during a recent layover in the Denver airport when I observed a silver-haired woman avidly playing Bejeweled on her laptop, over the airport’s free wifi. I credit this Bejeweled fan and social game influencer, who fell squarely in the 56 to 64 and female demographic overlap, with my current love of the game.

We will be looking at demographics for other countries, one by one, in future articles. The full demographic breakdowns for 12 top apps in Facebook’s UK market, including gender and age group splits and growth data when available, is available through Inside Facebook Gold, our data membership service that also includes the monthly Global Monitor report on Facebook’s traffic growth around the world.

To gain access to the all the data we’re tracking, and to the specific growth projections we’ll soon be adding, please see Inside Facebook Gold at gold.insidenetwork.com/facebook.

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New Hires in Social Gaming: Playfish, Zynga, MindJolt & More

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

Despite the declining numbers on Facebook last month, player-wise, the top social game developers are still making hires left and right according to data reported on LinkedIn. But who’s going where? Who’s doing the most hiring? Well, among notable new team members and major hires are Playdom’s new Development Lead Tim Beres, Zynga’s Director of Product and Game Design, Jon-Paul Dumont, and RockYou’s new Director of Product, Mike Lu.

MindJolt

  • Haider Sabri - Just under a week ago, long running social and casual developer MindJolt hired Haider as their new Senior Software Engineer. His prior experience stems from speakTECH, where he was a Principal Consultant.
  • Aleksander (Sasha) Ashpis - Also joining MindJolt as a Software Developer, Aleksander previously worked the same role at MyVest.

Playdom

  • Rabbit Seagraves - Joins Playdom as a Quality Assurance Analyst, leaving her role as a Software Tester for the more mainstream MMO Fallen Earth.
  • Chris Georgenes - Chris becomes the new Studio Art Director at Playdom. Prior, he had a similar role at Say Design as Art & Animation Director.
  • Tim Bernes - As noted prior, Tim is a new Development Lead. However, he joins social game development from NBC Universal, where he worked as a Senior Software Architect.
  • Rebecca Tortell - Looks like more of a promotion than a new hire, as she moves up from Technical Writer to a Project Manager of Analysis at Playdom.
  • Kira Maisel - Another new Product Manager, this time for Publishing. She too, looks to be a promotion, having been a User Acquisition Lead.
  • Daniel Igarza - He becomes a 3rd Party Outsourcer for Playdom. Prior, he was a 2D Artist at PoBros Inc.

Playfish

  • Marc Haxell - One of two new hires for the EA social branch. Marc joins the team as an Online Content Manager. Before, he was a Web Producer for TSL Education.
  • Sarah Fisher - Joining Playfish as their other new Online Content Manager, Sarah holds prior experience from 33 RPM Media where she worked as PA & Marketing Assistant.

RockYou!

  • Mike Lu - Joins RockYou! as its new Director of Product. Formerly, he worked in the same role at YuMe.
  • Jennifer Trujillo - Leaving her role as Community & Customer Service Manager at Lealta Media, Jennifer takes on similar tasks for RockYou! as its newest Community Manager.

Zynga

  • Rajagopal Natarajan - Joins as a Software Engineer for the social behemoth, leaving his role as Senior Software Engineer from none other than Yahoo!.
  • Debasish Bose - Leaving 3CLogic, where he worked as a System Software Architect, Debasish joins Zynga as Principle Software Engineer.
  • Sharon Kotal - Departing Electronic Arts and her position as QA Test Lead, to become a QA Analyst at Zynga.
  • Bob Cooksey - Becomes a new Senior Artist for the social developer, leaving Mock Science. There, he worked as a Modeler, Texture Artist, and Environmental Artists.
  • Jon-Paul Dumont - Recently promoted to Director of Product and Game Design; formerly, he was both a Lead Designer and Product Manager.
  • Grant Stavely - A new Security Engineer, His prior experience comes from Constellation Energy where he was Information Security Management Engineering Lead.
  • Cherian Thomas - Joins as a Senior Software Engineer. Prior to this he was at an unnamed startup under incubation.
  • Bill Baldwin - Along with the rest of hires from the Challenge Games acquisition, Bill joins as an Architect for Zynga. Before the acquisition, he was a developer for Challenge Games.
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Scoreloop Spreads Its Social Features Across the Remaining Large Mobile Platforms

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/06/17 - 15:20

Scoreloop, one of the larger white-label social platforms available to mobile game developers, is already available on both the iPhone and Android platforms. Now, through a partnership with Ideaworks, it’s opening up to most of the other mobile platforms: Symbian, Windows Mobile, Brew, Samsung Bada and HP WebOS (formerly Palm).

The tools to develop cross-platform already existed, of course; Ideaworks’ own Airplay SDK was designed to do just that. But the sudden success of the iPhone drowned out the smaller platforms, so most services like Scoreloop were created exclusively for the Apple product.

Now other platforms are beginning to come to light again. Last month, we heard from Scoreloop that it was adding 300,000 new Android users each week — part of a larger press push from a number of mobile companies who were suddenly realizing that Android, too, is important.

It’s unlikely that the hundreds of original games created for Android and the iPhone will suddenly be ported over to the rest of the world’s mobile operating systems — most phones can’t run smartphone  games, after all. But as Android proved, the landscape can very quickly change, and Microsoft, Nokia, HP and other companies are all trying to make their platforms more attractive to developers.

Scoreloop’s features include leaderboards, challenges and virtual goods management; you can check out our Q&A with CEO Marc Gumpinger from last year for more.

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Offerpal Urges Developers Toward In-Game Offers

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/06/17 - 15:00

A white paper out this morning from Offerpal Media suggests a new tactic for social game developers to make more money from their users: incorporating virtual currency offers into the game itself.

Offerpal is the most prominent of several companies that partner with big brands like Netflix or Visa to create in-game “offers”, which usually ask the player to sign up for or test out a commercial service in exchange for virtual currency. As with other payments, these offers are part of a large “offer wall” that players see when they click to buy currency.

The payment wall, unfortunately, excludes any user who doesn’t bother clicking the virtual currency button — some players are probably never even aware that ways to get currency other than direct payment exist. So Offerpal had several game companies test out placing offers directly into the game in May (note that other monetization companies have been experimenting with similar interfaces for many months).

There’s an obvious place to inject an offer already, of course. Almost all social games include pop-ups asking players to share with their friends. By replacing some of these pop-ups, Offerpal found a few encouraging stats:

  • 93 percent of users who tried out an offer through a popup were doing so for the first time
  • 10 percent of these returned to complete another offer or make a direct payment
  • CPM for all visitors rose from under $1 to $2.03
  • The testing developers experienced a 3x increase in offer-based ad revenue

From Offerpal’s perspective, adding offers to the main game window looks like an unalloyed success. As always, though, there are considerations beyond just higher profits.

One problem with Offerpal’s idea is that the game window is already a noisy place. Viral sharing is still the most effective way for developers to spread their games, so most games pop up sharing windows repeatedly, even during just a few minutes of play. Including offers in the mix could mean either reducing the opportunities for virality or increasing the potential for irritating users.

But figuring out the best mix of inducements to pay and share is still very much a work in progress for developers, so Offerpal’s short study may help some strike a better balance. The paper is available here.

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Skillful Play, Random Prize - The Case of Moxie Metro and Pace-O-Matic in New York

Playnoevil - Thu, 2010/06/17 - 14:12
Gambling is Easy, Skill is Hard. Proving that a game is a gambling game is pretty straightforward, but how do you prove that a game is NOT a gambling game, that it is a game of skill? This is an increasingly important question as traditional computer game companies, such as Virgin Gaming, try to take familiar computer games into the play for cash and prizes world and slot machine manufacturers look to skill games as a way to reach new audiences.

Such is the case with Pace-O-Matic's "Moxie Mania Empire Edition" game licensed by Moxie Metro in New York. The basic game is (perhaps) a skill game using a variant of Tic-Tac-Toe where a player finds the best cell to score of the 9 available. After a long and winding series of legal battles, the game was declared a gambling game because the court determined that the prize which could be won was determined by chance.

Thus, though the game would be considered to have a "positive expected value" for any skillful player, the prize amount was chance driven, thus the game was gambling.

To review, there are three elements to determine whether a game is a gambling game:

1. A payment or consideration to be able to play.
2. A prize or reward of actual value based on the game's outcome.
3. An element of chance in determining the game's outcome.

In this case, the chance solely drives the size of the prize, even with perfect play, thus, the game has an element of chance and is gambling.

It was an interesting move by Moxie Metro and Pace-O-Matic as perfect skill play will always have a positive outcome (so, no risk of losing funds), but the court ruled that this was not sufficient.

Solo skill games for money are, I think, at high legal risk for being determined a game of chance, or having no players, or losing money. In order to be popular, players need to think they can win (my "illusion of skill" argument), operators need to know that players aren't going to win (more than they spend), and all of this needs to be done with no element of chance to get into legal trouble.

VERY HARD, if not impossible from a game design perspective.

Conversely, I think the real potential is with multi-player games. Core mechanics such as Rock-Paper-Scissors, Battleship, checkers, etc. lend themselves to rapid play with no element of chance (RPS raises some problems for another day).

M. Webb (2010), "Court Ruling Says Moxie Mania Empire Edition Is Illegal", http://www.vendingtimes.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=EB79A487112B48A296B38C81345C8C7F&nm=Vending+Features&type=Publishing&mod=Publications%3A%3AArticle&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&tier=4&id=90CB95AF28D8497A8B64067285D7171D

Moxie Metro web site, http://moxiemetro.com/index.php

Pace-O-Matic web site, http://www.paceomatic.com/index.html
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A Look at an Older iPad Title, Flight Control HD

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/06/17 - 11:12

Though the Apple iPad has been out for a little while now and new apps are constantly emerging for it, there are plenty of veteran titles more than worth a look. One of these is Flight Control HD, from developer Firemint. This path drawing game is actually a new and improved rendition of the popular iPhone version, allowing players to guide a sea of aircraft to their proper destinations while, hopefully, avoiding a crash.

This game is a wonderful addition to any iPad app collection, well worth the $5 price tag for its simple, yet satisfying design, fun core play, and social mechanics. The only downside is that the concept does get old after a while, and single player longevity may not be as long as other iDevice titles.

In a nutshell, the premise of Flight Control HD is to use your finger to guide incoming airplanes and helicopters to their appropriate landing sites, going for as long as possible before a collision occurs. The landing zones are easy enough to find, as the color of the landing strip corresponds to the color of the aircraft. Airplanes must land from a specific end of the runway, and helicopters on a helipad. It’s all very intuitive and easy to control. Once you’ve drawn a connection from the vehicle to the landing zone, it will turn white to signify it is on its approach, but the path can still be changed at any time.

Unfortunately for the player, the actual airport is quite possibly the world’s most disorganized and poorly designed, with aircraft tending to fill the screen before long. This is further complicated by various speeds of aircraft, the number of runways/helipads, and the occasional extra concerns that appear in certain levels like wind, whose direction can temporarily shut down runways, or emergency vehicles that make a beeline to a runway that you cannot control.

With the chaos that the game creates,the iPad version certainly makes the game easier; the increased screen size and a less cramped feel , the game is a bit simpler to control (not to mention better visuals). But what makes the iPad version even better than the iPhone rendition is new social ways to play.

Firemint has carried over, from the iPhone, a basic competitive element by integrating global leaderboards. What’s new on the iPad is a synchronous play option. With the increased screen real estate, friends can actually play in one of two ways on the same device.

If you feel like playing together, you can actually team up with a friend and attempt to guide the slew of aircraft together. This works logically enough, as there are typically airfields on either side of the level, and the two players score points for landing the correct planes on their respective sides. This is actually a lot of fun, though it is a little difficult with someone else poking the screen.

If you’re looking to compete, there’s also the versus mode, which offers half the screen to each player. Interestingly enough, this is more than scoring competition or trying to survive longer than the other, as you can actually send planes into each other’s airspace to try and cause some accidents. Doing so, however, has you lose control of those planes until they capture (get near) an “enemy” plane on the opponent’s side and bring it back to your side. This takes some getting used to, but it’s actually very fun and addictive once you get the hang of it.

As an added bonus, you can also synch devices and compete via WiFi or Bluetooth (like you could on the iPhone). And if you’re not in the same room, you can join the Flight Control Facebook application and compete with friends through high scores. Other social elements are available through the game’s Cloudcell Community, which offers a means to post high scores to both Twitter and Facebook.

It’s also worth noting that from the community site, users can not only view other players’ high scores as they could in the app itself, but through Google Maps, can actually see the global locations of the various players.

The sheer number of social features in Flight Control makes it stand out from other iPad titles — many of which offer only bare-bones social features, and a few none at all. Other developers could take a cue from the additions to the game, as they truly add to the experience.

If there’s any downside to Flight Control HD, it is that if you’ve played any other path drawing games like this, there is nothing really new here, save the same device multiplayer. However, the game is very easy to pick up, put down, and pick up again later, so it certainly has that potential to be fun to player again after a while of not playing — or when you just want to procrastinate for 5-10 minutes. If you enjoy simple games that are just about the play, and can be played for a few minutes, then this is a great application to buy.

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New Games Add the Most DAU on This Week’s List of Facebook Gainers

Inside Social Games - Thu, 2010/06/17 - 06:15

While we sometimes see older games with larger userbases on our weekly list of Facebook games that picked up the most new daily active users, this week it’s dominated by a particularly strong lineup of newer titles that are all growing quickly.

Hello City leads, just as it did on Monday’s monthly active user list. The new CrowdStar title is the latest and greatest in the city building genre — although EA’s My Empire is also in the running. The latter title is still growing in terms of MAU, but appears at the bottom of today’s list, mostly because it’s a few weeks older and thus doesn’t show as many of its new players as DAU.

Here’s the full AppData list:

Top Gainers This Week - Games Name DAU Gain Gain, % 1. Hello City 619,495 +321,453 +107.85 2. EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars 430,985 +229,086 +113.47 3. Birthday Cards 791,670 +169,834 +27.31 4. Baking Life 414,130 +150,693 +57.20 5. Fashion World 192,629 +113,620 +143.81 6. Millionaire City 168,003 +84,135 +100.32 7. Lovely Farm 84,118 +76,718 +1,036.73 8. Zoo Paradise 900,202 +67,749 +8.14 9. Vampire Wars 459,100 +65,315 +16.59 10. Bola 665,127 +60,637 +10.03 11. Games 601,892 +56,412 +10.34 12. Crazy Cow Music Quiz 176,075 +44,996 +34.33 13. Animal Paradise 759,290 +41,817 +5.83 14. Happy Aquarium 2,603,572 +39,953 +1.56 15. Zoo World 1,259,674 +38,318 +3.14 16. Texas HoldEm Poker 5,792,645 +35,765 +0.62 17. Wild Ones 559,190 +32,958 +6.26 18. Jeux Flash Gratuits 99,973 +32,731 +48.68 19. Goooaaal 33,653 +31,618 +1,553.71 20. My Empire 942,062 +31,540 +3.46

EA SPORTS FIFA Superstars is a new soccer game, taking off along with the World Cup tournament; we reviewed it here. Another game that we should be seeing here is Zynga’s newest, FrontierVille, but reporting problems are affecting the game’s stats for now. It has probably gained about 300,000 DAU in its first week.

There’s more interesting territory below FIFA, starting with Baking Life, which has players running their own bakery. If that’s not up your alley, Fashion World offers an alternative: managing a clothes shop. These two games, by ZipZapPlay and Metrogames, have been moving up the charts in tandem.

With Millionaire City, we return to city building, with a twist of Monopoly in that players can buy properties and gather rent from their city’s tenants. It’s actually the second city title from Digital Chocolate, which previously tried the market with Nanotowns, but that game never became particularly successful.

Lovely Farm is another new appearance. A fairly typical but well-drawn farming game, it’s by IT Territory, a Russian developer. Unlike some other games we’ve seen localized for the English-language audience, Lovely Farm is also well translated.

Finally, Zynga’s Vampire Wars comes in at number nine. Like other Zynga games, this one was, until recently, losing players. However, it appears to have pulled out of its decline with just over two million MAU and a slowly growing DAU.

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Performance Advertising’s Future on Social Platforms: Bright, but with Room for Improvement

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/16 - 22:14

[Editor's note: The following post was originally published in Inside Facebook.]

Performance advertising, and the offer walls that are familiar pitstops for many social game users, have been central to the discussion on monetization of social platforms since last fall. When criticism of low-quality and less-than-transparent offers came to light in that season’s offers controversy, developers, payments providers and observers wondered if the offers concept could regain not only its public image but also its monetization potential under new policy restrictions.

This spring, Inside Network held a sold-out summit on the growth and monetization of apps and games on social platforms. Inside Social Apps 2010 presented speakers representing many of the leading companies in the social gaming industry, including veterans from payments and monetization.

Alex Rampell, CEO and co-founder of TrialPay, shared his thoughts in a panel discussion looking at performance advertising within social apps after the offers controversy and Facebook’s advertising policy changes. Others speakers on this panel included George Garrick (CEO, Offerpal Media), Adam Caplan (VP Virtual Currency, Adknowledge), Lisa Marino (CRO, RockYou), Jim Bobowski, (Director Online Partner Marketing, Netflix), and Jay Weintraub (Founder, LeadsCon)

A clip of the highlights from this presentation:

Alex Rampell also spoke with us in an exclusive interview backstage about where he thinks offers will go next, and how brand advertisers and monetization companies will need to work together to optimize the performance advertising of tomorrow.

Rampell’s full interview covers:

* How online advertisers can profit from social game users’ transactional intent
* What lessons publishers and monetization companies can learn from offline complementary goods and services
* Why he thinks both advertisers and users shouldn’t write off offers yet

The full interview is available through Inside Facebook Gold.

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Backstage Launches Vinyl City for Facebook

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/16 - 19:40

Collecting is easily one of the most addictive hobbies someone can have. Granted it’s not for everyone, but Backstage is banking on finding enough pack rats for their most recent Facebook game, Vinyl City. Don’t let the “city” part fool you, as buildings and contracts have nothing to do with this app; rather, it is almost exclusively about the collection of classic music albums of the past and present.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen music incorporated into a game. In February, for instance, Conduit Labs released its pet caring game, Music Pets, which still holds over 800,000 monthly active users. To that end, Vinyl City is certainly in the right ballpark for some success. But with a handful of questionable usability choices, Vinyl City feels like it may run into trouble.

Even the classification of “game” feels loosely applied for Vinyl City. Players are initially greeted by a robot avatar that walks you through the basics, though it’s nothing terribly difficult. Every hour, users may pull a lever on the Vinyl-Matic 3000. This machine then spits out a box of random albums that the player can then sort through.

Think of it like collecting cards. For each box you open, there are set number of albums that you may or may not own. If you already own an album, you can toss the extra to earn part of its value in coins, or keep it towards a collection. Once you own an album, you can then visit your collection and listen to a sample of it via Amazon. Of course, if you like it, you can conveniently buy the Mp3 from the same place.

Thus far, there seems to be a respectable number of records to collect, with more unlocking as you level up. Unfortunately, earning experience is not quite as easy as in other social games. You don’t get any for picking up an album, but only be either finishing an entire set (i.e. all the possible Nirvana songs in the game), using the Vinyl-Matic to spit out a box, or collecting a set of memorabilia.

This is actually another aspect of Vinyl City’s collection mechanic. In addition to just music, players can collect any number of interesting music items like guitars and guitar picks, rocker sock puppets, and the very odd “Metal Lunch Items” (think Ozzy and the bat). They are a bit pricey, but if you have friends playing with you, it’s not too bad.

Having friends to play with is logical for this type of game. After all, part of collection is trading. Vinyl City has made it somewhat indirect; whenever you toss out an album, a friend can come pick it up (once per day). As an added bonus, when they do take out your trash, you receive the rest of the album’s coin value.

Buddies playing with you also have an added benefit in dealing with the occasional locked box that pops out of the Vinyl-Matic. As a matter of fact, this is probably the single most game-like feature in Vinyl City, as the box is actually a mini-game puzzle of sorts that tests just how much you know about music. The catch, however, is that the player can only unlock one of two locks, and the second must be unlocked by a friend. Should you successfully open both, the locked box will contain various rare albums and memorabilia.

Beyond just friends, players can also unlock the “Marketplace.” From here, you can actually use your in-game coins to purchase items — both albums and memorabilia — from other players. Unfortunately, this aspect of the game comes with the rather odd choice of forcing players to earn a set amount of experience until they can even access the area. This feature makes little logical sense, especially as it’s the entry point to using the game’s virtual currency. Moreover, when you consider how slowly one gains experience, it seems likely that many users will quit before they even unlock the market.

This wouldn’t be as much of an issue, except for the fact that Vinyl City is actually pretty boring. Nothing has a point other than collection. In the case of Music Pets, you were at least trying to decorate a virtual space and keep you own digital pet happy, but all of that is lost here. Collection is great for longevity, but there is nothing that really grabs hold of the user in the first place. Granted, this is all the same as literal, physical collection — there’s no real game in that, either — but at least that’s tangible and often worth real money. Collecting the virtual counterparts of real items just doesn’t feel as appealing.

In the end, Vinyl City is going to be pretty hit or miss with most people; it looks good, plays smoothly, and has some good social implementations, but they all just feel like parts with no unifying factor of fun. As it stands, the game has been growing steadily the past three or so days, and now closes in on the 3,000 MAU mark. However, its an app that’s going to need an extra push to reach the level of its predecessors.

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Zynga Runs Virtual Goods Charity Campaign to Aid Gulf Coast Oil Spill Victims

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/16 - 18:23

With the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico dumping tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean daily, social game developer Zynga is bringing its virtual goods fundraising strategy to bear. Partnering with the National Audubon Society, the pair are seeking to raise both funding and awareness of the crisis with a virtual item dubbed the “Gulf Coast Turtle” within Zynga’s popular virtual aquarium app, FishVille.

Offered for a limited time, and recently discovered by FriskyMongoose.com and Games.com, users can purchase the virtual pet for a cost of 25 or 200 Sand Dollars, FishVille’s virtual currency. With each purchase, 50% of all proceeds would go to the Audubon Society to help clean up Gulf Coast animals. To give an idea on tangible value, 25 Sand Dollars costs $5 while you can purchase 240 for $40.

In addition to the purchase, Zynga has also recruited common social game viral tactics to help awareness as well. Typically speaking, many social games containing a virtual space have random animals “appear” in the player’s game, which they are able to post it to their Facebook feed for others to adopt. One such animal has been a “lost baby Gulf Coast turtle,” whose primary purpose was to virally spread the word on how everyday social network users could potentially help combat the disaster.

Sadly, the purchasable Gulf Coast Turtle appears to be gone at the moment, but had only been launched last Friday (June 11th). Moreover, Monday still noted four days remaining to purchase and contribute. Hopefully, it will be back soon.

On a side note, this is not the first time Zynga has participated in such charities. Notable contributions of the past have been their partnership with World Food Programme to fight hunger in places such as Cameroon, its Sweet Seeds program that helped feed children in Haiti, and the sale of a number of virtual goods in the top titles of FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and Zynga Poker to send donations to aide in the recovery of the Haitian earthquake disaster. As a matter of fact, Zynga players managed to raise $1.5 million in less than a week for the latter.

[Second image via FriskyMongoose.com]

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Playdom Reaches Out to Strategy Gamers With Verdonia

Inside Social Games - Wed, 2010/06/16 - 15:30

Another day, another quiet release from a large game developer. This time it’s Playdom with Verdonia, a strategy game that we found out about via Gamezebo, where you’re tasked with building up a high fantasy kingdom.

The game is, to say the least, an odd duck, especially considering Playdom’s lineup of straightforward social gaming fare. It’s certainly social — the bottom toolbar snaps open to a friend list, and a major component of the game is attacking, and defending yourself from, other human players.

What makes Verdonia stand out, though, is that it’s a serious strategy game. There are only a handful of similar games on Facebook; one called Evony, for example, recently launched on Facebook.

The problem, one might think, is that this sort of game is generally too complex to pick up many users. The most successful Facebook title of this type is Kingdoms of Camelot. It has just under four million monthly active users, many months after launching.

Playdom is almost certainly going for a niche gamer audience here, not your typical FarmVille player.

There’s a more obvious cue for gamers, too. Evony infamously went beyond the already-suggestive imagery found across traditional gaming with a set of revealing Google ads, a few years back. Those ads worked, because lots of gamers clicked through and then stayed to play.. You can see that this point was not lost on Verdonia creators:

But before we speculate on Playdom’s motivations, more about how Verdonia is played. On entering the game, players find themselves in an empty village. Literally empty — it’s up to the player to add in the various hovels, farms, barracks, academies and other buildings. These all require time to be built, but players can use a special fast-forward ability to instantly finish the simplest structures.

Building out this starting town serves as the tutorial. However, even this guided process could quickly become confusing to a new player. In all, there are 16 basic building types, all necessary, with associated upgrades; 13 units, which have to be led by heroes; 20 skills to research; four different world areas; and an assortment of upgrades, items, quests and achievements.

An hour of play will be enough to teach most veteran gamers how all of these components work together, but the average FarmVille user will probably feel afloat within seconds. Of course, Verdonia probably isn’t meant for FarmVille users.

A hint of this is provided in the chat window, which is also a rarity in Facebook games. Although players can join and chat with a guild at some point, the game opens up in the Global channel, which broadcasts the chatter of all Verdonia’s players. Many games have thus far avoided global communications on Facebook.

With Verdonia, though, Playdom is almost certainly going for a smaller, more dedicated audience.If a hardcore audience can be built for a Facebook game, it’s probable that they’ll also offer a much higher average revenue per user than the typical crowd.

Games like Verdonia and Evony are inevitably compared to Civilization. But that’s not a particularly accurate or helpful description, when you really get down to the details. The truth is that these games are a growing hybrid category of their own, created by through mixing time management and social features.

In that sense, Playdom is being fairly pioneering with Verdonia. We’ll be interested to see where the game goes; but for now, the company hasn’t even officially announced its existence.

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Virgin Gaming Indeed - The Illusion of Skill Revisited (and cheating of course)

Playnoevil - Wed, 2010/06/16 - 14:27
Richard Branson has re-entered the game industry with a tournament game site, Virgin Gaming. The site is supposed to award $1 Million in prizes over the next 12 months and will use existing console games.

(If you've been to PlayNoEvil before, you'll know what's coming next)

First of all, I am a huge fan and fascinated by the potential of skill games as an online business. I think skill games and more advanced gambling games could be the drivers of a new industry.

However, you've got to design for the medium.

Without basic changes, I suspect Virgin Gaming will rapidly join the ranks of failed tournament services.

Pool of Players

Customers are key to a business and a tournament service relies on having many, many players so that the entry fees far outweigh the cost to operate and the prize pool. Most console games are HEAVILY SKILL driven. There are great players and then there are the rest of us. They know it. We know it. In pretty much any sports or FPS or other twitchy game, I know I've lost in the first couple of minutes. Ranking systems somewhat compensate for this, but as seen with Team Fortress 2 and most other online shooters, the best players dominate the game and everyone else quits.

The Illusion of Skill

A 'great' skill game is one where everyone thinks that they are above average. Poker has achieved this. The game is designed so that for virtually every hand there is a way to see to have won when you've lost. Poker is a study in brilliant player choice and information disclosure. The game is strategic, but simple and, because of chance,a player is likely to not go too long without a victory.

Game Duration / Game Sessions

A good tournament service needs to have lots of short game sessions so that players who've lost have a chance to re-enter the tournament or enter another event. If a game takes a long time to lose, players will abandon it rather than try again. Learning opportunities and feedback needs to be fast.

The Dark Side

While Virgin Gaming is using the Xbox Live and Playstation service, there is no strong identity in the system (both services now support pre-paid debit card players), so there is only a weak linkage between an account number and a person. Once a game is played for money, even if there was strong "account identity", there is very weak "player identity" - after all, I could bring in my "ringer" buddy to play on my behalf when real money is on the line.

... and then there is cheating (a problem even on console games).

... and then there is tournament abuse (manipulation of ranking and reputation systems).

... and, of course, the complicated legal issues for these games (skill games are not legal in all US states).

I discuss tournament and ranking abuse, cheating, and identity problems at some length in my book Protecting Games.



I'm looking forward to the day someone gets this right. It will be a true revolution in gaming.

"Virgin Gaming FairPlay Guarantee", http://virgingaming.com/fairplay.html?f=FTR_1F_001

O. Chiang (2010), "Richard Branson Launches Virgin Gaming, An Online Game Tournament Service", http://blogs.forbes.com/velocity/2010/06/15/richard-branson-launches-virgin-gaming-an-online-game-tournament-service/
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