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

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Facebook is taking over the global economy

Terranova2 hours 7 min ago

Well, not quite. But Facebook has 500m users and its virtual currency, the Facebook Credit, is soaking into real-world markets like syrup into a pancake. Pretty soon it will be everywhere and we won't see it any more. But we'll taste it, yes we will.

PS I am heading to Germany for a 10-day trip so, unless others get itchy fingers, the blog may doze a bit.

Categories: Other blogs

Crime, Brains and Cupcakes on This Week’s List of Emerging Facebook Games

Inside Social Games3 hours 40 min ago

The next generation of Facebook RPGs is here, and its name is Crime City. The new Funzio title leads this week’s AppData list of emerging Facebook games, defined as those still under a million monthly active users, with 301,947 new MAU.

Here’s the list in full:

Top Gainers This Week – Games Name MAU Gain Gain,% 1. Crime City 628,109 +301,947 +93% 2. BRAAAINS 225,207 +221,356 +5,748% 3. Cupcake Corner 959,457 +208,045 +28% 4. Toy Land 752,563 +163,761 +28% 5. Wheel Of Fortune 396,461 +148,096 +60% 6. Coffee Bar 201,174 +148,006 +278% 7. Jersey Shore 660,755 +129,919 +24% 8. 328,873 +124,333 +61% 9. Bingo Island 2 603,943 +122,597 +25% 10. Mynet Çanak Okey 685,946 +115,423 +20% 11. ????(????) 811,720 +108,996 +16% 12. Gourmet Ranch 561,055 +106,559 +23% 13. Evony 431,167 +104,627 +32% 14. ???2012 981,012 +98,854 +11% 15. Green Farm 536,509 +96,237 +22% 16. Bingo Charms 336,228 +94,011 +39% 17. Party Central 246,400 +92,269 +60% 18. ???? 129,409 +92,239 +248% 19. My Sweet Shop 594,331 +89,392 +18% 20. ??? – Efunfun??? 126,011 +83,064 +193%

What makes Crime City a next-gen RPG? It takes less than you might think. The game, which first appeared on last week’s emerging list, uses standard Facebook mechanics (one-click missions that can’t be failed), but with a 2.5D graphical overlay. The graphics serve to make a infinitely copied game concepts fresh again. Check it out, or just read our review.

BRAAAINS comes in next, with 225,356 MAU gained. This Broken Bulb Studios game reuses the same layout and mechanics that this development team used for Ninja Warz and then Office Wars, with players recruiting teams of zombies to fight other players. However, each new title has also evolved the concept, and BRAAAINS is getting good reviews so far.

OMGPOP’s restaurant sim Cupcake Corner is about to turn the million user corner. It’s followed by Toy Land, from RockYou!, which despite building respectable MAU has very poor stickiness, or the percentage of daily active players to MAUs. Right now the DAU / MAU is six percent, but it was as low as one percent toward the beginning of the week.

We can’t cover every entry on the list, but is at least worth pointing out. The skill gaming portal has been on Facebook for months, but its traffic has been in a holding pattern for quite a long time, too. But the company must be watching the success of competitor GSN, which, not coincidentally, has Wheel Of Fortune on the list at number five.

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Ngmoco Expands its “We” Franchise with We Doodle

Inside Social Games4 hours 26 min ago

Recently acquired mobile and social developer Ngmoco is expanding its “We” series this week with a new release called We Doodle for both the iPhone and iPad. A Pictionary-style game, the release follows on the heels of We City, but brings a less common genre of game to the Apple platforms.

Some mobile gamers may remember the Pictionary premise was used by Charadium, another game published by ngmoco. We Doodle is definitely an improvement on the concept (and according to the folks over at Slide-to-Play, a direct upgrade from Charadium, though that title still appears to be available for iPhone) and while the core game-play is the same, We Doodle comes with stronger monetization opportunities and plenty of extra enhancements.

Because We Doodle is so similar to Charadium, we took a look at the iPad version, which was not available for Charadium — though besides providing much more room to create, the iPad rendition isn’t significantly different from the iPhone version. In either, you’re given something to draw and you sketch it with your finger while other players try to guess what it is before time runs out.

We Doodle improves on social play from Charadium with both synchronous and asynchronous game play. You are still able to join games with random people — similar to the classic Pictionary game. However, Ngmoco has also incorporated a turn based system with no time limit.

Now, you can now join turn-based games with both random players and friends from within the Plus+ network, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. The app informs you whether it is your turn to draw or guess, so you can play for a few minutes at a time at  your convenience.

Beyond the basic Pictionary rules and new, turn-based play, ngmoco included some bonuses in an in-game store. As you play, you earn experience towards levels and coins. Based on level, you can purchase items to “improve” your drawing skills.

You can buy different types of brushes, ink colors, backgrounds and stencils. These not only make the game easier for the artist, thus easing the core play mechanic, but really let you get creative and digitally finger paint. Stencils consist of houses, people, trees and various shapes, but before you start thinking that this takes away from the Pictionary concept, don’t worry. You’ll still be tasked with drawing words as shapeless as ever. For example, how do you draw autumn?

Many of the items require high levels and many more an almost absurd amount of coin. You have to either fork out real cash for some tools, or play for quite a long time.

Stencils or not, many people still have little artistic talent, so the game also has a nice new feature called “Doodle Assist.” Long story short, it’s an optional mechanic that automatically improves the quality of your work. It cleans up lines and curves and even does a little bit of shading here and there. It’s not perfect, but it still does a nice job improving scribbly drawings.

The number one complaint from virtually everyone playing We Doodle is the intrusive presence of ads. As a free-to-play title, advertising is understandable, but these aren’t out-of-the way banners. They are giant, full-blown ads that pop up between turns and sit there for a long time before you can skip them. Oh, and the “skip” button is conveniently placed right below the button to show more about the ad — so, have fun if you have big fingers.

Other than the ads, We Doodle doesn’t have significant flaws. Even with the advertisements, it’s a fun game to play, and a good upgrade from Charadium, which was high quality to begin with. That in mind, between the iPhone and iPad versions, the iPad lends itself much better to this kind of game — the bigger canvas really improves the experience.

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A Recycled View of Oceanopolis, an Environmentally-Themed Facebook Game

Inside Social Games20 hours 37 min ago

A recent mix up with the developers behind a new Facebook game, Oceanopolis, led to a premature look at the green-oriented title. Now the developer, Greenopolis is telling us that the real Oceanopolis is launched and ready to go, so we decided to give the game another spin.

Still a collection-oriented game post-changes, many of the environmentally-themed title’s more mundane aspects have been remedied, and the mechanics revamped to have some semblance of a point. The game’s different elements now feel much more interconnected, forming a sort of ecosystem of their own (no pun intended). Along with presentation upgrades, the app has come a long way since its closed beta. It’s still not the greatest title in the space, but for a, primarily, non-game developer, it’s an improvement, and thankfully, not another farming, city-building, or business sim clone.

The goal of Oceanopolis remains the same, which is to create the perfect island paradise. The problem is that trash litters the space. The game informs users that a nearby ocean gyre is continually washing the litter upon the shore. Considering the wastefulness of many people, the amount of trash that appears is not terribly surprising.

This trash must be picked up, with blurbs of text portraying the proper way to dispose of it. Since its first version, Oceanopolis has modified the once-monotonous mechanic of picking up trash, in that it doesn’t constantly reappear at an accelerated rate and only has to be clicked on once (as opposed to two or three times in past versions). Once collected, the trash becomes a means of income as it can be turned in to an in-game Greenopolis recycling kiosk — in sets of 10 — for extra coin.

This income is complimented by buildings that can use smaller quantities of litter to “upcycle” it into things like jewelry.

Of course, these are all merely improved mechanics from older versions. There are some new aspects as well, to help to tie everything together. Previously, we complained about the fact that players could care for decorative items called “Greenspace.” These were things like flowers, trees, and so on, but there was no real point to it. In this new version, three new consumable elements are introduced: Water, Energy, and Food.

Energy is roughly the same as any other Facebook game. It gates how much a player can do in any single sitting. That said, it doesn’t appear to regenerate passively. Instead, users must eat food to recharge it. While new users do start with a nice chunk of food, once it’s used up, new sustenance can only be acquired from specific Greenspace items (e.g. coconuts from palm trees); others are merely decorative.

Water plays a major role here as players must use this consumable to care for these trees, flowers, plants, etc. until food can be collected. In order to gain water, players must purchase certain “Accessories” to place about their island. Unfortunately, the only one that appears to have water-gathering capability for now is a rain barrel item that collects water on a daily basis. In general, food and water require a 24 hour wait to collect, which some users could find frustrating.

The only means to expedite collection of these resources is through friends who can gift water, as well as decorative items, to one another. Aside from this, however, the social elements are still fairly basic, consisting of island visitation and cleaning up one another’s trash. There has also been an addition of sharable achievements.

The educational aspect of Oceanopolis is also improved slightly with random events. We had a dolphin wash up on our beach. These items work the same as interacting with any other object on the island with blurbs of moderately educational text, but sadly, the animals can’t be kept as a reward.

Truthfully, Oceanopolis does still suffer from repetitive game play with its basic, point-and-click, collection mechanics, but at least now there feels to be more of a point to it all. Presentation-wise, it looks more respectable as well. It still has a bit of a flat and static look to it, but everything is at least more vibrant and less clunky feeling. Unfortunately, that clunk still rears its head in placing objects. Sometimes they just don’t want to go where they’re told.

Of course, we haven’t yet mentioned what is, perhaps, the most important aspect of Greenopolis. The developer has a real-world parent company, the giant trash-handling company Waste Management, which has the in-game Greenopolis Recycling Kiosks placed, in reality, at grocery stores and other locations nationwide. These kiosks offer users a unique way to earn virtual currency: recycling real-world trash. It’s not yet clear that such extensive effort is warranted, since the players have yet to arrive, but the real-world tie-in should provide great marketing for the game, provided that it’s as widespread as Greenopolis states.

Despite some complaints, Oceanopolis earns brownie points for trying to teach users a bit more about the environment, and not trying to be another FarmVille, Social City, or Restaurant City. Yes, the game is still rather basic, but the interconnection between elements such as water, food, and energy does open up options for greater depth and even potential strategic choices. In the end, this new Greenopolis app is much improved from earlier versions, but still has more than enough room to learn and grow.

As a final note, the developers have given us word that readers can also redeem the promotional code “InsideSG” for a free 200 coins in-game.

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New Hires In Social Gaming: Ayogo, Kabam, Metrogames & More

Inside Social GamesThu, 2010/10/14 – 19:00

After a fairly big wave of hiring last week, we have found nine developers making changes this week, according to LinkedIn as well as information sent in by the companies. While a few are merely internal shifts, most are hiring new faces, including a few big positions as well.

Kabam, in particular, announced three major hires. Former Blizzard artist, Mike Dashow, is joining the team as their new Art Director, Sheridan Hitchens becomes the new VP of Product & Revenue, and Tim Villanueva joins as the EVP of Engineering. Aside from this, Jacob McMahon becomes the new Director of Operations – Social for PopCap Games.

If there’s anyone we missed, and your company is bringing on new people or making a notable promotion, please let us know. Email editor (at) insidesocialgames (dot) com, and we’ll get it into this or next week’s post.

As for people who are hiring, be sure to check out our Inside Network Job Board.

Here’s this week’s list:

Ayogo Games

  • Jesse Spink — Vancouver-based Ayogo Games sent us this information, as the social company hires Spink as their new Creative Director. His past experience stems from interactive firms and brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, British Airways, Müller, and more.


  • Chris Casey — Formerly of Quality Assurance for 5TH Cell Media, Casey joins Kabam as a QA Analyst.
  • Mike Dashow — A former Artist and Art Director for Blizzard Entertainment, Dashow joins Kabam as their new Art Director.
  • Sheridan Hitchens — Hitchens also joins Kabam, but as their new VP of Marketing & Product Management. Previously, Hitchens was VP of Product Management for PlayFirst.
  • Tim Villanueva — Also noted prior, Villanueva becomes EVP of Engineering for Kabam. Before this, he was CTO of TurnHere, Inc.


  • Mariano Semelman — A single hire for Metrogames as Semelman, a former Developer for Zauber, joins the team as “Desarrollo de Juegos.”


  • Chinmay Chandragiri — MindJolt also comes with a single hire this week, as Chandragiri joins the team as a new Software Engineer. Prior experience was as a Data Automation Engineer at The Find, Inc.


  • Robert Anthony — Only an internal change from Playdom, this time around, as Anthony changes roles from QA Lead to Product Manager.


  • Stuart Leneghan — Previously a Technical Analyst for Broadridge, Leneghan joins Playfish as a Server Side Developer.
  • Arun Horne — Formerly the Vice President of Goldman Sachs, Horne joins Playfish as another Server Side Developer.
  • Johnson Lieu – Now a Sr. Business Analyst for Playfish, Lieu was previously a Consultant for Monitor Group.

PopCap Games

  • Jacob McMahon — The former President of Gas Powered Games joins PopCap this week, becoming their new Director of Operations – Social.


  • Josh Forester — Forester joins RockYou! as a new Community Advocate. Prior to this, he was a Localization Lead & Community Manager at (US) Inc.


  • Kai Jing — Now a Sr. Release Engineer for Zynga, Jing was previously a SCM/Build/Release Engineer for SugarCRM.
  • Edmund Leo — Leo joins Zynga as a new 3D Artist this week. Before this, he was a Sr. Environment Artist for LucasArts.
  • David Newton — Some internal changes stemming from the Conduit Labs acquisition as Newton becomes a Senior Graphic Designer under Zynga. At Conduit Labs, he was a Senior UI/Flash Designer.
  • Angie Canary — A former Associate Producer for (US) Inc., Canary joins Zynga as their newest Game Designer.
  • Terry Yee — Previously the Global Product Strategy Manager for Suntech Power, Yee is now the Cafe World Product Manager for Zynga.
  • David Rippy — As part of the Bonfire Studios acquisition, Bonfire’s former President, David Rippy becomes a new General Manager for Zynga.
  • Sam Shafik — Also from Bonfire Studios, Shafik shifts roles from an Artist under Bonfire to an Animator under Zynga.
  • Trey Ford — The former Product Manager for the SaaS Business Unit at McAffe, Ford joins Zynga as their new Manager for Security Response.
  • Doug Kaufman — In another internal change, Kaufman changes roles from Senior Designer to Design Director: Zynga East.
Categories: Other blogs

HTML5 Could Be Gaming’s Game-Changer

Inside Social GamesThu, 2010/10/14 – 18:00

[Editor’s note: Stewart Putney is CEO of Moblyng, a company that specializes in HTML5 development and publishing.]

Zynga’s recent acquisition of HTML5 game engine developer Dextrose AG could be viewed, on the surface, as just another purchase in a slew of buys they’ve made this year. In fact, it’s a clear statement that HTML5 is the future of social game development — particularly for mobile.

Why is this acquisition so important? With the capabilities of HTML5, developers will be able to create richer, higher-quality games that will engage existing users while bringing on new ones. Dextrose AG built a product called the Aves Engine — a scalable HTML5 engine for isometric-view games like Farmville or Café World. Using this engine, Zynga can extend their existing isometric games, or build new titles using HTML5. There are already multiple companies that use HTML5 apps for mobile. But with the potential addition of Zynga isometric titles, we may begin to see all major genres of social games developed in HTML5.

The advantage for developers in using HTML5 is the ability to leverage their code across multiple platforms. All major smartphone platforms support a different type of native code, but the one commonality is HTML5. The iPhone, Android, WebOS, Backberry 6.0, Bada and Nokia’s Symbian and Meego all support HTML5 apps. Even Windows Phone 7 will roll out support in the next year. As smartphones become the largest but also most fragmented market for games, developers must leverage technology that maximizes reach but minimizes cost — HTML5.

And allowing players to take their desktop games to mobile without compromising user experience is a game-changer. We’re talking about more apps, with richer features, on more platforms, ultimately resulting in more engagement and a significant increase in users. Of course, revenues will grow as well.

Right about now you may have some questions:

  • Don’t native apps work better and use more features of the phone? Quite simply, no. All major smartphone platforms allow a developer to build native apps that include a browser instance. At Moblyng we build very thin native app layers that talk to the OS and also use a browser window inside the app. We then build the app in HTML5. The app can talk with the OS through the native layer for full access to OS features. Companies like PhoneGap and Appcelerator provide similar tools, and thousands of apps have been built using this architecture. Developers have the additional benefit of being able to deploy their app directly into the browser when the technology or business case requires it.
  • What about performance? We (and our partners) have benchmarked our apps’ startup and response times against numerous social games and our games perform equal to, or better, than competitor’s products. Using tools like Canvas, CSS animations, local storage and web sockets, developers have all the tools they need to build great titles. HTML5 is mature enough that the main factor in game performance is the quality of the development team, not native vs. HTML5. Check out Playdom’s Sorority Life for Android, Moblyng’s Dungeon Quest and Rovio’s Angry Birds for WebOS and see for yourself.
  • What can’t HTML5 do? Right now, HTML5 is not the best way to build “fast-twitch” 3D games like shooters and many high-fidelity driving games. These games do require a level of fidelity that will not be supported by HTML5, at least until WebGL matures. But as Zynga’s acquisition of Dextrose AG suggests, HTML5 is more than ready for social and casual games.
  • What about Flash? While Flash is an option, the current reality is that Flash does not present the same cross-platform solution as HTML5. On iOS, support is still limited both for technology and business reasons. On Android and WebOS, there are well-documented issues with Flash performance and impact on battery life. Looking forward, as desktop browsers (read: IE9) move towards uniform support of HTML5, we expect to see HTML5 eclipse Flash on all platforms, as developers will be able to build truly cross-platforms games with incredible reach.

It’s important to remember that a huge component of a social game’s success is its reach. You can build the greatest game known to man, but if users don’t have easy access to it, it won’t be a hit. Making users install a Flash plug-in isn’t exactly easy access, and we all know how Flash performs on most mobile phones — it simply doesn’t.

With HTML5, developers can’t do everything just yet, but they have a browser-based technology that allows them to build great games that can reach hundreds of millions of users, with less time and cost. Zynga’s Dextrose AG acquisition is one more signal that developing games in HTML5 is truly a game-changer.

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Hi5?s SocioPath Searches for Facebook’s Weak Points

Inside Social GamesThu, 2010/10/14 – 16:46

For months, Hi5 president Alex St. John has been calling out (and poking fun at) Facebook in public forums, alleging that the social network is misusing and ignoring its game developers. The talk is no longer just talk: last week, Hi5 finally launched its own game platform, dubbed SocioPath.

Those who have followed St. John’s speeches on social gaming will already be familiar with what SocioPath offers. On Facebook, developers have for months had acccess to the emails of users. With these email addresses as a starting point, Hi5 wants developers to begin moving away from Facebook and establishing themselves as miniature social networks.

Here’s what players would see: on first visiting a game, if the player isn’t logged into a social network, they can play anonymously, without a sign-in. From that initial touch, SocioPath will try to build a relationship. When the player tries to save, they’ll be asked to create a login; later, they’ll be asked to integrate email and social services like Twitter and, yes, Facebook. From there, the game can freely encourage players to Tweet, post or send emails to friends.

Hi5 itself isn’t much of a social network anymore — the company only has dominant market share in Romania and Thailand, and Facebook is growing fast in the latter. But although St. John is asking developers to put their game on Hi5, he expects viral acquisitions from outside of his social network to drive the vast majority of new traffic.

St. John’s expectation is that reaching out through all of a player’s social connections will be more effective than just using Facebook. Players can be anonymous if they like; they can invite friends that they only know online.

This anonymity is a more important component for Hi5 than it might at first appear. “Real identity is a dumb way to do games,” says St. John. “The structure of social networks is a barrier.” With anonymous play, players who want to play with online friends will build new social graphs composed of other gamers, and thus improve the viral spread games. Meanwhile, players who still want to use their real-life networks can do so.

St. John also thinks that social games can do a better job with their own economics (Hi5 eventually hopes to get developers on its monetization platform). “What social games really discovered is that in the online space you can exchange an invite for monetary value,” he says. That relationship with non-paying users needs to be perfected, as well as the technique of using non-paying gamers to amuse the paying audience and create new content.

At the end of the day, St. John agrees that he’s making assumptions about what players want, which can only be born out with time. Real identity has worked outstandingly well on Facebook; will anonymous play with viral hooks do the same job? Will players be open to games off of Facebook, which for many has become the center of the internet? St. John credits his past experience at WildTangent and Microsoft with giving him superior insight into what’s likely to happen next in social.

History is certainly on his side, if the assumption is that Facebook won’t remain the center of a gaming industry forever — no website has in the past. But Hi5 also doesn’t give Facebook credit for its strengths, like steadily reducing the effort required of players to virally share a game.

With its most recent changes, Facebook is removing player effort entirely through “discovery stories”, which automatically tell a user’s friends what they’re playing. Discovery stories aren’t yet proven to work — some developers doubt they’ll be effective — but for now Facebook still has an edge in ease of use over any other platform.

So St. John’s assumptions have to work out for Facebook’s importance to recede, as well as another prediction he considers inevitable: that bidding for paid player acquisitions, through performance advertising, will pass the lifetime value of players and ultimately cause a crash in the social gaming market.

That scenario is certainly possible over time, but Facebook itself has some say in how much it allows its game market to overheat, through its control of viral channels. For now, Facebook is still the center of the social gaming universe. Whether Hi5 can secure its all-important initial toehold will become evident later this year and into next spring, when the results of SocioPath’s first wave of games come in.

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More Puzzle Solving on the Go with FruitZen on iPhone & iPad

Inside Social GamesThu, 2010/10/14 – 14:50

A relatively new iPhone and iPad title called FruitZen has been in the recommended apps section of the Apple app store lately, daring players to check it out. Developed by Sector3 Games, we expected this simple puzzle title to be like other match-three games. Using a few new features, FruitZen turned out to be refreshing. However, it is based more on twitch reactions than you would assume. Though not terribly difficult, the game isn’t peaceful, thought-provoking or zen.

FruitZen is is a match-three game, but it is more similar to Collapse than Bejewelled. You tap three or more matching tiles of the same fruit in order to remove them from play. The object is to prevent the tiles from reaching the top of the screen before time expires.

In FruitZen you can not only actively increase the rate at which fruit tiles fall, but also slide the rows left and right in order to make matches. If nothing is beneath a tile that you have moved, it will fall to the row below it. This creates very different possible strategies. You can go beyond just trying to find matches, to also finding potential matches.

Other mechanics were added as well. Should four tiles match, a wild card that cycles through all the fruit appears. Should five or more match, a tile that will erase an entire row or column appears. As levels progress, different fruit tiles worth more points begin falling, along with the the occasional acorn. You can only remove acorns with one of the tiles that eliminates entire rows or columns.

While all of this adds to the game, it doesn’t create a particularly zen feeling, as everything is done within a time limit. The player must “survive” for a given time, with each level getting progressively more demanding.

In FruitZen, you’re constantly watching the time, how high you tiles are, and when they get too tall, searching for blocks to remove. It’s not exactly frantic play, but for a “zen” game, the pacing should be at the player’s choice.

Once a wild card becomes active, it doesn’t simply “match” with any tile on the board (it would be madness for a “wild” card to do such a thing!) but cycles through tile types. This makes the game difficult because cycling forces you to wait until a fruit you can use appears — which is tough at higher levels. It cycles one fruit per second, so you have to be quick enough to tap before it changes. For a casual game, this twitch mechanic is a bit obnoxious, and feels particularly out of place in this game.

The sound in FruitZen is also peculiar. Typically, we avoid critiquing sound. Social games, regardless of platform, obviously don’t have the orchestral quality. But FruitZen’s soundtrack, while attempting to invoke serenity, loops the same handful of piano keys and becomes grating after a while. Thankfully, the most recent update allows you to integrate your iPod music collection.

Along with Facebook and Twitter postings, FruitZen is built on the Open Feint social gaming network. It has sharable achievements and leaderboards for all three of the game’s play modes: Survival (going through all the game’s levels), Timeless (play until you lose), and Countdown (play until you run out of time; with matches granting bonus time).

The leaderboards are also connected to both versions of the game, allowing players to individually view iPhone and iPad scores. The core of the game is the same on both devices, but the smaller screen size of the iPhone means that there are less tiles at any given time.

FruitZen costs $0.99 for the iPhone and $1.99 for the iPad. That’s hardly a lot of money, but FruitZen is no better than other free games. It has a few novel mechanics, but is still not terribly unique. It also just doesn’t have the relaxing feel that Sector3 was apparently striving for.

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Facebook Opens Credits to More Developers, Shares New Statistics

Inside Social GamesWed, 2010/10/13 – 23:05

In a big push to bring more developers on-board with its virtual currency, Facebook said it now has the capacity to add three or four times as many partners to the Credits program as it did before. Credits is now offered in more than 50 percent of game sessions logged on the social network.

The company, which earns a 30 percent cut of all transactions in Credits, has been working aggressively to make its virtual currency a universal payments option across the platform. Before today, developers only had limited access to join the Credits program and there was a lengthy waiting list.

Facebook is also adding more 20 more payment options for users to buy Credits through a partnership with PlaySpan.

After testing Credits for more than a year, the social network is pushing to have it adopted by all developers on the platform. So far, it’s being used by more than 75 developers in more than 200 games, assisted by recent long-term deals with Zynga, Crowdstar, RockYou and LOLapps among others. That’s up from the 150 games figure Facebook reported as recently as last month.

Deb Liu, a product marketing manager for Facebook Credits, said that a universal currency will encourage users to spend more on digital goods because they won’t have to switch between different currencies offered by separate games.

Continue reading at Inside Facebook >

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VGSummit 2010: Virtual Goods and Brands

FreeToPlayWed, 2010/10/13 – 22:08

How brand advertisers are engaging with consumers in social games. Follow VGSummit on Twitter.


  • Terry Angelos (Moderator), TrialPay
  • Joe Eibert, Universal Studios
  • David Levy, SocialVibe
  • Brian Cho, Booyah
  • Manny Anekal, Zynga

Slide about social games having a larger audience than prime time TV shows.

TERRY – Why are online ad budgets so much lower than TV? How do you see brand budgets moving to social media?


  • Dollars follow where eyeballs are going. As people spend more time on social games, ad dollars will go there as well. In my business, we are very much into cultivating fans about our movies. We want fans to be advocates for us. Social is great because you can get ppl to sign on to your Fan page or email db and have continuing relationship.

TERRY – Any metrics on budgets growing?


  • Online budgets as a whole are doubling. Social as a % of the online budget is doubling, if not more.


  • Keep seeing budgets increase. We like to thing it’s because more ppl are playing games. But these dollars end up being allocated because the P&Gs of the world do some big study that shows the efficacy of online. So much is still controlled by TV budgets. We still can’t say that if we prove more effective, more dollars will flow online. We are still fighting that battle of trying to do an apples to apples comparison.


  • For our users, we require them to check into a store, scan a UPC of a product to unlock features. Those are cutting edge techniques we are using to promote brands. Holy grail for those advertisers are validation at point of sale – we can give that.


  • Only 5% of audience will monetize – so how do we monetize other 95%. We had about 1 campaign per quarter. If we look at Q4, we will have 3-4x more programs in Q4 versus early part of this year.

TERRY – Able to do so many different things in social games from an ad perspective. What are some of the best examples (or worst) of ad programs that will help us understand how you engage with brands?


  • All about the user experience. All our advertising is user choice – not banner ads. Our 7-11 program saw several million codes being redeemed. Our water program had a 60% redemption rate. We saw huge engagement with McDonald’s program.


  • Wanted to have best UX. So we partnered with brands that related to DJs, such as Disney’s Step Up 3D the movie. 9.3M plays during that program. Users in Nightclub city wanted that content. Did a Pantene campaign, dropped 1.3M locked items in wild, only way to redeem was to go to store and get a CPG UPC code to unlock. 530,000 drops of these locked items, over 250,000 of them were unlocked. So almost 50% engagement rate. Advertisers want to see users engaged with the item. LBS (Location Based Service) play really speaks to that.


  • Public Enemies movie campaign within Zynga’s Mafia Wars blew us away with it’s success. Had over 100M interactions (different missions, items, etc). Up against latest Harry Potter, Hangover, etc with films 2-3x our box office.
  • Also excited by the amount of editorial we received. Public Enemies would not have received that exposure otherwise.


  • From a developer standpoint, all these things take development resources. First thing to do before going out to do biz dev is to figure out what you can do re: dev time and what budget you’ll need, then look at which brands have the money to spend in that category. Try to make sure you are having very limited conversations as the cycles for these deals are very long. Find the most logical partners and target them specifically – don’t spread yourself to thin.

TERRY – What about metrics for these campaigns? They are so custom. Do metrics matter? How do you compare metrics?


  • Very important. We work to to measure the important soft metrics such as brand lift, purchase intent, awareness. We can truly prove the ROI of your campaign. We know the spend and how many products left the shelves. In-game ad space took about 5+ years to get standards across the board.


  • Very important, especially in mobile. We can target users down to zipcodes and time of day. Very important to brands. We can create premium campaigns. Fit of brand to game will be very important. Car Town did a great job with brand integration.


  • Interpreting metrics is art and science. You can compare different types of online media. Depending on the campaign, your goals will be reach, frequency or engagement. Unfamiliar or catalog titles may be measured more on engagement. Is there an exact science, no not necessarily. Making sure amount of purchased impressions are delivered on is important.


  • We are a performance advertising company. All the brands that pay, pay on a cost per engagement basis. It’s all based on a specific action. Trevia was all about creating a sweetness moment – uploading a picture of a sweet moment. So we could track that. Right now those metrics don’t fit with other buys – the reason being social gaming is so engaging that you will outperform any other medium out there. Performance to me is the biggest differentiator with social gaming.

TERRY – What are the challenges – what’s holding this market back? Is this scalable?


  • More about the fit than the scalability. For user it is really important they are engaged with the product. In terms of scalability, from LBS side that is still a very small piece of the pie. As it becomes more mainstream we can scale to a new level.


  • We’re still a nascent industry. Zynga has been around for 4 years only. Look at time spent in online vs ad dollars spent and we’re still early – those dollars will transition. But look at what we’ve done with McD’s, Farmers Insurance, etc and it’s happening.
  • Re scalability, I don’t have an answer. Two things I’d approach: partnerships with TrialPay and SocialVibe. Also, I’d figure out how to do a MVP first, then expand it.

TERRY – Any advice for small, less resource-rich publishers? When should they look at connecting with brands?


  • At this point, still pretty intensive for a developer. If you’re product is not perfect and you’re not monetizing, focus on that first. Your dev team also needs to have time. Reach, revenue, retention should be your first focus. Scale question as well – if you want to reach 5M ppl on a daily basis, there are very few companies that can do that now, so focus on your own product for now.


  • Education process on the brand side is still a big challenge. Educating film makers and C-level execs. Only now do C-level understand online ads – so explaining in-game stuff is a bigger challenge. Other portion is thinking about a win-win situation – brand’s ad needs to fit with gameplay. If it doesn’t it will negatively affect the brand. Have to be somewhat flexible some game devs have freedom to be creative. Perhaps fewer approvals.


  • When you design a game, think about how you would integrate the brands. Design from ground up for brand integration.

TERRY – What hasn’t worked? Any big blunders you can talk about?


  • There’ll be a lot of conversations you’ll have with brands and a lot of times those don’t go anywhere. Need to find 1 or 2 that actually fit really well. Need to have a lot of convos before something hits. Once you can show that success, guys like Zynga can replicate that success. Most guys at agency or client level don’t know what Farmville is – so that’s a big education process. Run into a lot of issues at the client and agency level around understanding.


  • We can say no to brands that don’t make sense to our games. We haven’t had a failure to date. We are protective of our audience.


  • Nice to have a cross-section of games that allow for almost any brand to fit in. (aka Zynga)
  • Might want to also educate the brands about how “vocal” and “passionate” social gamers (or gamers at all) can be so they are not shocked by the odd sound bite in a forum or Fan page.


Name top 3 tripping points on selling a branded program.


  • Education of brands and agencies re what’s possible. Educating on the gameplay, gifting, trusted connections, etc.
  • User experience has to fit. Popups won’t work.


  • Understanding what dev costs really are.
  • Education of what the real audience is in social games. Perception that the audience is not moms… these really are the mid-west, etc that the brands are trying to reach. Just because ad exec doesn’t play it, doesn’t mean it’s not your brand’s target.


  • Getting people accustomed to receiving criticism. Leave that criticism alone – ppl will come forward with positives. This is not a 1-way medium like a TV ad. Need to respect the consumer who is engaging with your brand.


  • Understanding your audience. Which brand integration would make the game cooler and better. We work with Disney and a bunch of indie artists – the brands we work with enhance the gameplay.
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Preview: Endless Chaos on Facebook

Inside Social GamesWed, 2010/10/13 – 21:46

It’s been some time since we last came across any fantasy role-playing games on Facebook, but we recently got the opportunity to look at an up-coming RPG called Endless Chaos, from Peerflux. Still in closed testing, Endless Chaos is far from finished, but brings some new, or at least rare, concepts to the genre.

While Endless Chaos is text-based, like Facebook’s early RPGs, the game is based around more than just leveling up and growing a “mafia,” or any fantasy equivalent. Rather, it’s centered on an evolving, linear storyline of quests, with a choice and morality element spun into it. Along with more deeply customizable characters, choice appears to be the big seller here.

Players are presented with an important choice right from the get go, with the ability to choose the race in which they will start. It’s hard to say if the story changes depending on race, as we only got the chance to pick one, but users can select from the naturalist Kaal, steam punk humans called the Madoch, and an ethereal arcane type called the Ohmron. As it stands, these choices could more aesthetic than not, but with different classes to choose from, the next set of decisions are not.

We went with the Kaal, and next had to choose from the standard RPG classes of, essentially, warrior, mystic, and ranger. These in turn offer different sets of spells one can earn.

Along with improving raw stats, upon leveling, players can also train and improve different spells. Initially, these are all the same, doing a set amount of damage, but over time, players can visit a trainer inside “The Town” and for a fee, learn a new spell over a few days. Once acquired, spells then appear to augment battles with both players and monsters (e.g. doing damage and reducing magical resistance).

As far as the battling goes, it’s automated with the player’s avatar, using whatever skills are within their repertoire. Battling, however, also comes with a very MMOG feel to it, in that players must venture out into “The Wilderness,” which, for all intents and purposes, is the world map. From here, they can enter specific zones (should they be high enough level) and battle monsters for experience and loot. This is where one of the core social mechanics comes into play.

Beyond adding friends as Allies — which will help the player in battles — the player versus player aspect is done with a little more respect to traditional, online RPGs. In order to attack other users, players don’t go to just a page called “Battle,” but can actually see every user currently within a Wilderness zone and can attack them right then and there. Sadly, since Endless Chaos is still in testing, the feature wasn’t something we got to try out.

Moving on to the quest system, this is the primary focus of Endless Chaos. Players don’t get a half a dozen missions to complete, but, thus far, one heavily story oriented quest at a time. Players are sent out to zones in the wilderness where they must defeat certain enemies, collect items from slain monsters, or simply explore the region in search of loot. As an aside, players click a button to simply explore a region like a gathering profession in traditional MMOGs.

Each quest starts with a moral choice asking the player how they will accomplish the quest, with the decision making them either more good or more evil. At the moment, it’s too early to tell if this has an effect on quests, abilities, or anything, but it would be surprising, and disappointing, if it didn’t.

Overall, Endless Chaos looks like it could be a very high quality RPG. Of course, as an early test version, a lot of the noted features have yet to reveal their purpose or have any sort of payout, but they hold a lot of potential over other Facebook RPGs that don’t have  them. The moral choice system, in particular, could be interesting, and the player versus player element could also turn out to be very fun.

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VGSummit 2010: Facebook Credits Talk

FreeToPlayWed, 2010/10/13 – 21:24


Deborah Liu, Manager of Product Marketing, Facebook


Benefits of FB Credits for users

  1. Familiar payment experience
  2. Unified virtual currency – more demand for that currency, more money put into system
  3. Secure place to store payment info – overhead of mental energy incurred entering multiple payment info is a drag on economy – takes friction out of process
  4. New ways to pay and earn – if we add a gift card, it’s available across all games

Mahjong Dimensions Example

  • Buy 2x boost – you have sufficient credits – make purchase… no pulling out credit card, etc. Just use your stored balance.

Millionaire City Example

  • Buy millionaire gold… need to buy FB credits… Visa card is stored, I make payment instantly and get my gold

Benefits for developers

  1. Reduced payment friction – in the discretionary goods space you want to remove as much friction as possible
  2. Seamless integration with Facebook platform – we don’t want the 6th person a 5 person team hires to be a payment processing person.
  3. Users with stored payment methods – no hump that user needs to get over to give you their payment info in a new game… if someone has spent before, FB has their info. 5-10x greater monetization among users that already have a stored payment method (whether that is FB Credits or your own cross-game method).
  4. More payers

Where are FB Credits now?

  1. 200+ games and applications
  2. 75+ developers
  3. 22 of the top 25 games
  4. More than half of all game experiences

Arkadium and Digital Chocolate introduced:

Jessica from Arkadium

  • Have 5 games on FB, use FB Credits as their exclusive hard currency
  • Wanted seamless integration experience for our users, payment process to be easy
  • As a developer, Credits API easy to work with
  • Our players are very casual gamers – we didn’t want to confuse them with multiple types of hard currencies

A couple ways they’ve integrated FB Credits

  • Changed Mahjong Dimensions to a 1 minute play experience… needed to add ways to enhance game experience
  • Social aspect of game is leaderboard
  • We introduced Game Boosts… highly consumeable… score multipliers, etc.
  • Found users are very very willing to pay to have these boosts in their gameplay
  • With a game called Ultimate Fan, we wanted to experiment with purchasing a virtual item like a plane or blimp or snowman that will give you an entry into a sweepstakes (you can also do it for free with a soft currency)
  • We launched it last week and it was very successful
  • Also implemented Credits via the purchase of downloadable casual games – with Solitaire Heaven, we offer users the ability to download any of our solitaire games and play them offline. In traditional casual downloadable space we’d lose 50-60% of the sale to distributor. In FB, we only lose 30%.
  • Final example is Writer’s Blox – we offered the ability for users to subscribe for additional puzzles

Lessons learned working with credits:

  • Price premium items in Credits only – when offered a chance to buy something with soft currency, players do anything to avoid paying
  • Set price anchors so buyers have a reference point – set initial prices and leave for a month or so, then offer a pack of those items for slightly less so they can understand it’s a deal for them
  • Keep content fresh – retire items, introduce new items weekly or daily, place things on sale
  • Make items valuable and consumeable – address a pain point, nothing evergreen (buying it once and having it forever means they are less likely to buy again), advance gameplay

Thomas from Digital Chocolate

  • Started in 2003 as mobile games developer
  • Put out over 1M SKUs per year… #1 publisher on iPhone with 80 titles last year
  • Moved into social gaming 18 months ago
  • Grown to 15M MAU, 2.5 DAU across their FB titles
  • #6 social company by DAU

Why Credits?

  • Trusted partner
  • Universal payment interface
  • Single point of contact for payments
  • Resources shifted from payments to games

Lessons Learned

  • UI Flow
  • Pre-educate Credits


  • Superior revenue (graph shows revenue before and after FB Credits implementation – goes up after implementaiton)
  • Increased ARPPU

The future

  • VIP Games Network – has over 8M DAU – all partners use FB Credits. Much higher ARPU and significant conversion.
  • A localized purchasing experience – really important given FB’s international reach.
  • Deeper integration – working on FB stored value cards for holiday season.
  • SaaS interoperability – Mobile, etc – FB Credits everywhere.

Back to Deborah

  • Opening up FB Credits to more developers.
  • Starting today, we can on-ramp 3-4x as many developers every week as we’ve been bringing on in the last 6 months.
  • Hope to work through backlog in developer applications over the next few weeks.
  • Go to to apply
  • Announcement #2: Increasing payment options and increasing liquidity in the system
  • More than 20 new ways for people to pay for Facebook Credits through partnership with PlaySpan
  • International markets very important – new payment methods will capture some of those
  • Should open up more audiences for developers who work with FB Credits
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VGSummit 2010: Next Generation Social Games Leaders

FreeToPlayWed, 2010/10/13 – 18:18


  • Mark Skaggs, VP of Product Development, Zynga
  • Niren Hiro, CEO, Crowdstar
  • Christa Quarles, CFO, Playdom
  • Dean Takahashi (Moderator), Writer, VentureBeat

DEAN – Panel is about next-gen social games. We’re in a post-viral Facebook world. How do you see the landscape now?


  • It’s opportunity. Before it was easy to have an app grow. Now is the point where skills are tested. Are you real or are you lucky?


  • Viral multiplier can’t get much lower. Facebook is strategically bringing back some of the best viral features of days gone by. We are cautiously optimistic on the viral front. We have to be smart about cross-promotion.


  • The burden is now on the games makers to make awesome games. Games that are exciting and foster more social interaction will end up winning.

DEAN – User numbers look like they’ve stabilized now. What do you think is critical to staying on top?


  • Quality of games and is your connection with friends relevant?


  • Actual social content in the games so far has been really light. We are also trying to get more relevant with the social part. There is more time spent playing games than going to movie theatres. How do we compete for people’s time more broadly. How do we get audiences to come back.


  • We have to keep taking risks. As a large company, it’s easy to focus on copying. In this business, we have an idea at 7am, thow it up by noon and have data by end of day. We have to stay fast-paced.

DEAN – Seems like we’re in a big exit stage now. Lot of consolidation. What do you think of the different corp strategies out there?


  • We got acquired, so that explains our strategy. Disney was exciting because we gained access to their IP library. But you can still make a crappy game with good IP, so that’s just one part of the product. We just look at IP as a way to make the marketing spend more efficient. But it’s still incumbent on us to make the consumer want to come back after they’ve tried it once.
  • The uncertainty of FB Credits was part of our reason to be acquired – could have been a rocky road.


  • Self-funded, never raised venture money. We’ve stayed small and focused and allowed us to make creative games fast. But as a company we are partner-friendly. We joined up on FB Credits earlier so that users would be more comfortable spending money on virtual goods. We’re pretty clear that we are here for the long term. If there is a partner that will put us on a faster path to growth, we’ll look at that.
  • To be self-funded and get this big was high risk – reinvesting profits in talent and games. We’ve stayed focused, lean and mean, and there is a growth path we’re on on our own.

DEAN – What do you think when you see companies moving faster because they have money?


  • A partner that accelerates Crowdstar does not need to be a big media company. Could be a small studio that has great ideas. We’re very clear on what we’re good at and where we need to improve.


  • Our strategy is “connect the world through games”. We look for whichever platforms and partners that will let us do that as fast as possible. You can see how our acquisitions fit into that strategy.

DEAN – Last 6 months for Zynga has been moving to new platforms.


  • Dipping our toe into Japan. Picking up studios around the world. We need to be in more places to develop more games. More generally said, “Go where the players are”.


  • The next big fastest-growing social network in a lot of regions is still Facebook. In India and Brazil Facebook is passing Orkut. But we need to make sure the ROI in going into that country makes sense. Need to balance ARPU and conversion rates with cost of entry into that territory. One of our games that was big in Latin America had price points that were out of whack for the US – need to create dynamic pricing structures.

DEAN – What is a next gen social game to you? I thought Civ on FB would be it.


  • Civ felt very hardcore to me. Like PC hardcore, which is not the FB audience. Women 35-50 love Farmville – that doesn’t match to Civ. I think about it as “what’s that fast light experience they can do for 5 minutes” – that’s how I target next gen social.


  • Games that require social interaction to play are the next gen. I don’t think there will be one giant leap in one direction. Will be baby steps. IT Girl is about taking text-based RPGs in a new direction. Interesting thing about this business is that the users are defining the next gen, unlike the core games biz where the platform owner dictates next gen.
  • FB could be a billion users in the future. That means there will likely be a variety of 25-50M user niches, rather than one big next gen marekt
  • The other place to look for next gen is Japan, Korea and China. Korea is way future forward on PC platform, Japan on phone. We put products in those markets to force us to think creatively. Keeps us future proof.


  • Not trivial to put social wrapper on a game. We’ve looked at traditional gaming concepts and bringing them into FB environment and it’s not a trivial thing. Figuring out a way to do that is not an easy thing to do. In City of Wonder you have a classic iso-decorator, but there is a PVP element in there. You can attack a neighboring land or you can do a trade with them or even a cultural exchange. So for women, a surprisingly large number of women play it despite this PVP side. We bought Acclaim – they have a light-weight MMO-type game. We’re still trying to understand how to engage core gamers on FB.


  • Gamers on FB are partly coming from casual portals and partly from consoles. So there will be different types and monetization levels. If you look at microtransactions on a per capita basis, we are nowhere near other territories – $7/capita China, $20/capita Japan. So there is many times more growth left in the US.

DEAN – Where do you look for what’s next?


  • You know there are some established genres, sometimes ppl want a new style wrapped around it. We had some open field there where non-traditional gamers were looking for new experiences. Picking successes will be just as hard but there are more chances to experiment.


  • It is going to be iterative. Each new social game will layer on a new mechanic. Go back to boardgames – what are all the gaming mechanics when you distill them down to their essence. There aren’t that many. It’s about finding a concept, environment and art style that appeals to that user base. We’ve looked at segmentation a lot in City of Wonder.


  • Blend of recognizing user aspirations and being mindful of what worked before but making sure that the innovation pivots around the social aspect.


  • At EA, our team would often look at what are the sections in the book store and apply those to games.


  • Location-based and mobile games are really the biggest area of innovation and we can look to markets like Japan for leadership on those. Eventually iPhone will come up to that level.

DEAN – FB has talked about FB Credits putting more energy in the system. What impact have you noticed?


  • 2-2.4% conversion rates would be awesome – 2-4% would be incredible. Card-on-file data definitely helps conversion rates. Hard to draw analogies with foreign markets… in Korea 10-15% payers may be misleading as they are more targeted users, where on FB we are broader. If a FB Credit card is everywhere on the planet, it will transform how many people pay. How smoothly we get there is the question. Is this e-commerce circa 1997? All these things may need to be solved again, but the long term possibility is exciting


  • It’s inevitable. We started with Credits last Christmas. If you went to Amazon and as you were checking out you were presented with 32 different payment options, you’d think twice. If we don’t pull these speed breakers out of the way it will hurt our ability to grow.


  • Is it FB Credits creating that change or is that change already coming and they are the mechanism for it. iTunes used to be odd, now it’s not. As more generations get used to buying online, FB Credits is an easy way to get there.


What are the barriers you faced when implenting advertising in games? How much would you pay to acquire a user?


  • Biggest barrier is audience response. Some audiences don’t want to be bothered, some are OK. Repurposed ads do not work. Need to customize ad units.


  • Can’t sell ads in the traditional way. Need to come up with creative that is in line with game’s fiction. Don’t want to disturb the 2% who pay and impact retention for the sake of an ad.


  • Advertisers need to be educated on the space. We haven’t pursued it as of yet.

As FB clamps down on viral channels, what is the approach? Going outside FB?


  • Advertising on Google and bringing people back to Facebook requires people to sign in, which causes a material decrease in conversion.


  • We fish where the fish are. Over time as FB’s tentacles go deeper into the net, the experience will be more seamless.

DEAN – Do you guys design for whales (big purchasers)


  • We look at elder gameplay and designing for them… not necessarily who spends the most.


  • We look at that as well. Sorority Life we recently added new geographies and reset the economics so you can start those whales on another ladder.


  • Great news about the business is that you have the data. So you can optimize the experience for each segment. But you need the community as a whole to be engaged.

DEAN – Google rumoured to be moving into competition with FB. What scenario do you envision unfolding?


  • Can’t comment on Google’s strategy.


  • Time spent on FB just surpassed Google. So that’s not lost on Google. It would be great to have different approaches to the social problem. Will be hard for Google as it’s not in their DNA the same way it is for FB.


  • If you’re winning on FB, you’re invited to the party when a new entrant sets up. So those dialogs are happening. As a growth company, it’s important to reserve a bit of your company for growth platforms and opportunities. We do that with Japan. We just have t make sure that if the community is viable, we should be there.

How young are your youngest spenders?


  • My 8 year old spends a lot on my account.


  • FB is 13 and over, so you can’t be too young. Are younger players are not as good at paying because they have to ask mom and dad, so figuring out alternatives like subscriptions and working with FB to allow that occur would be good.

DEAN – What do you see as the future of the social games market?


  • Social game market will have more platforms. May be a shift away from going to one place for their social game experience. Mobile games will be big.


  • Best games will win. Mobile will be much more central and so will one or two markets outside of the US or Facebook.
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Highlights This Week from the Inside Network Job Board: PlayFirst, Rocket Ninja, & More

Inside Social GamesWed, 2010/10/13 – 17:38

Recently, we launched the Inside Network Job Board – dedicated to providing you with the best job opportunities in the Facebook Platform and social gaming ecosystem.

Here are this week’s highlights from the Inside Network Job Board, including positions at PlayFirst, Rocket Ninja, Mindgames, and 6waves.

Listings on the Inside Network Job Board are distributed to readers of Inside Facebook and Inside Social Games through regular posts and widgets on the sites. That way, you can be sure that your open positions are being seen by the leading developers, product managers, marketers, designers, and executives in the Facebook Platform and social gaming industry today.

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VGSummit 2010: Where the Virtual Goods Market is Headed

FreeToPlayWed, 2010/10/13 – 17:29

Virtual Goods Summit 2010, Moscone West – San Francisco. Day 2 of 2, October 13, 2010.

I missed day 1 of this conference due to client meetings, but I’m fortunate enough to catch day 2 thanks to Charles Hudson. The last time I was at a VGSummit was the inaugural one in 2007, when it was held in an auditorium at Stanford.

Track the conference on Twitter using hashtag #VGSummit.


  • Alan Chen, CEO, Perfect World Entertainment
  • Jan Wergin, CTO, Bigpoint GmbH
  • Daniel Kim, CEO, Nexon America
  • Atul Bagga (Moderator), Senior Equity Research Analyst- Gaming, ThinkEquity



  • Companies in the West have not done a good job monetizing user, vs the East.
  • China’s per capita spend on games is 50% higher than US.
  • US is all pay-to-play, China mostly free-to-play, Korea somewhere in between.
  • Lord of Rings saw 50% growth after they changed the model to a hybrid model.


  • Over 150 million registered users in the Bigpoint system.
  • Expanded into casual genre with Flash-based farm and zoo games recently.
  • Launching browser-based 3D games this year, such as Battlestar Galactica Online. Ruined Online and Mummy Online also coming.


  • Maplestory, 95 Million users worldwide, 60 different countries. Dungeon and Fighter online largest game in world right now – 2M PCU in China, 3.5M PCU worldwide.
  • US operations services 5 games. About to go open beta for Vindictus, 3D action MMO using Source engine.


  • Since PWI launched in 2008, they’ve launched 4 games. Coming up is a Western-style MMO.

ATUL – Where do you see the US market going? Still seems early days?


  • Huge space for us to grow into. In Asia we’ve established leadership. But here in US, the online gaming and free-to-play is still in its infancy. We’ve been very profitable with good revenue in the 5 years we’ve been in the US, but it’s barely 10% of our global revenues. We expect it to be somewhere around 25-30% in the next couple years. We’re seeing double digit growth year over year in this market and see it continuing.


  • We opened offices here because we see huge potential in this market. In the core game market it takes $40M to develop a game, but we can spend $100-200K to see if the game is going to be a hit. We can monitor risk better. Classical subscription based model means you only get a small amount of the value of the game – that’s the value of virtual goods and the free-to-play model comes in. Of course you see this in the social networks, where ppl who were never gamers are looking into this now. You can do two things in the US: you can build console games or games for the browser that are action based. Europeans are more strategic.


  • US market is dominated by console games. I just came back from Europe… where the PC market is over 70% of the overall market size. There is a merging of terminals – consoles, PCs, etc are all bleeding into each other (paraphrasing heavily here). I think this is a service vs product approach. When we sell a product we invite the market to come get our latest product. But with service we ask our customers what they want. So the design angle is very different. Customers have individual choices in a free-to-play game… they can spend their time and money in more ways.

ATUL – How big is the US in your revenue stream.


  • In Europe we expect to grow our revenue up to $20M across 4 new games next year. In 2009 we did about $20M revenue in the US, a year after launching in the US. In 2010 we will double that. Next year we aim to double that again. We are still in budgetary stage though – not final numbers.

ATUL – Are you targeting games to people who have consoles? Your games seem like they are more for those gamers.


  • We know that most console gamers have PCs and play games there too as well. Just not a lot of high quality games online for people to play. We are successful because we provide that quality experience online. You can pay $60 for the next big console title or play Vindictus (opening today) for a lot less. We’re trying to elevate quality of experience and service to this new audience that isn’t used to playing games as a F2P service. Value proposition is clear: they have a low barrier to entry and they can choose to spend money later. We have seen great pickup due to this lack of a barrier to entry from a money standpoint. Most of the US is focused on console games and they are sold like packaged goods, where we see our job as service provider. A lot of these packaged goods games are summer blockbusters – they make all their money in the first week then it drops off over the next month. Most of our games are like the Simpsons – which has been running for 15 years. One of our Korean MMOs has been running for 15 years. Our retention is measured in years, not days or months. Facebook and social games have taken off here in the US and we see that as a huge boon to us – we’ve been teaching people about F2P and microtrans and over the last year that’s become the norm thanks to Facebook. All these people are now used to purchasing virtual goods online and playing F2P games.

ATUL – What are the lessons learned when importing a franchise from another country?


  • Two fundamental challenges. In Europe there are so many local languages. In the US we can focus on one language and make it highly polished. In Europe we have double everything – double product management team, double localisation team, etc. If you want 5-10 languages, you’ll need 10 teams. The other challenge is payment. Publishing a game in China for instance is tough – China won’t even allow a joint venture.
  • Back to console game – most of our gamers are also console gamers. Remember a survey – “Why do you choose online games?” – and the #1 response was “because I want to make friends”. In console games, graphics are the #1 concern, not making friends.


  • In Europe, it’s really important to be local. Many countries were Google is not the #1 search engine. Payment providers… Bigpoint offers over 200 payment providers. Without them, you can’t monetize those users in each local market. No matter how difficult it is, you need to do it.
  • People expect browser based games to look as good as console games. Good news is that we can do that now. Unity looks really impressive. No client download, in a browser.

ATUL – Any differences between countries in terms of ARPU, conversion rates, retention, etc?


  • Our business in China has a huge user base, but low ARPU but they make up for it with the huge number of players. Our China revenue is close to our Japan revenue but the number of users are hugely different. Japanese ARPU is typically the highest. Japan conversion rate is somewhere around 10%. Both paying rate (conversion) and ARPU are in the double digit range. Business model here will eventually change from packaged goods to F2P – we’ve seen it happen elsewhere.
  • Localisation is not just language translation. We have a staff of 160 people – none of which are developers. They simply plan localized content for different regions. I.e. Maple Story’s wedding system was very Korean originally. The team converted this to a Vegas-style wedding with Elvis as reverend. We do a lot of changes and additions to make them relevant to the local market, not just in terms of language.

ATUL – Any differences in how users in different regions buy? How long will a user stay in your game?


  • We don’t see a lot of differences between buying patterns between countries. What makes a difference though is how the game is designed. A typical retention rate for us is much higher than what you’d see in a social game. We have players that have been in our games for over 10 years.


  • What’s important are price points. We’ve played around a lot with that. We see that different cultures have different price points for virtual goods. Dark Orbit US customers tend to buy more defensive stuff for their ships first, then offensive second. In Europe it is the other way around.
  • One of the reasons Europe is so interesting for US customers is that a lot of people don’t have the money to buy high end PCs or consoles. But they still want to play games, so they will go to internet cafes to do so. Hence the need for browser based games. Germany and France are strong countries for browser-based games, but Turkey is also big (due to internet cafes).


  • Percentage of paying users in the US is about the same as it is in China, but the ARPU is much different. If your concurrent users in China are less than 200K, the game is considered a failure. So China’s market is much larger. So there’s a lot of potential if you can grow your ARPU.


  • We have the 10% rule: 10% of your user base will account for 80% of your revenues.


  • But there is huge value in the remaining 90% of the users as they provide as much content as we provide. The other players are also content for people to interact with. We look at how much influence players have – guild leader, influencer, etc – versus just looking at whether they pay or not. That’s one of the reasons we’re switching from to starting early spring 2011 because we are trying to provide more ways for users to connect outside of our game clients.

ATUL – Do core gamers want to know each other’s names? See anonymity issues.


  • We’ve done a lot of research. Facebook is for real life friends, but I don’t necessarily want my real life friends to know my gaming identity. Blockparty is trying to provide a forum for our users to continue their in-game identities in the way they want. Blockparty will be able to broadcast your gaming achievements to other social networks, but that is opt-in. The default is to preserve your gaming identity, apart from your real life identity.

ATUL – Accessibility barriers are lower in browser-based than console games. Do you see more browser-based games vs download games?


  • PC cafes provide amazing marketing and a great social hub. We don’t have them here in the US. Here, most people play by themselves in homes or offices. Harder to get the same virality. The closest thing we have in the US is Facebook as a platform for gaming. For us, we’ve tried to stay focused on download games that are high quality experiences. We are planning to expand our portfolio to more browser-based games. Currently, all our games are coming from Korea and are proven worldwide hits, but in order to be successful in US we have to make games here. We are looking for co-production (i.e. we fund). Last spring we had 126 entries for our call for developers. We will shortly announce a couple of the winners from that and have already started working on a couple of them.


  • Something we’ve seen on TV we’ll happen in gaming. Channel hopping is becoming game hopping. When you just have to punch in a URL, it makes it very easy to switch between games. This speaks to the rise of pure browser-based gaming in the US.


  • We found there is no universal formula. Some prefer download games for their quality, others prefer browser based. In US, ppl can download their client in 30-120 minutes. In China, the average download takes 10 hours. But people don’t have complaints. They turn it on before they go to bed and can enjoy it in the morning. It really depends on who your user is.


How early in production cycle do you recommend doing discovery in China if you’re working on a Western IP? When should I start my market research?


  • You need to do it as soon as you can. We find a huge difference between US and China. US gamers like to enjoy the process of gameplay. In China, most of the players are interested in how to level up quickly and be powerful. That’s why they spend a lot of money to buy functional items. In order to be globally successful, my recommendation is to build two versions of the game.

How do you acquire massive user numbers on social networks? Do you plan to spend a lot of marketing dollars?


  • If you want to be successful on Facebook, you need to spend at least $1M on marketing to get into top 5-7 games. Otherwise you won’t be successful. We try to get on other networks – Scy-Fy, MSN, etc.


  • Trick for us has been word of mouth. 70% of our users come from recommendation from other players. We’ve used Facebook as a way to continue our relationship with our userbase. We’ve already reached 500K fans on Facebook over the last 6 months since we’ve started Fan pages on FB. Been interesting, but the majority of our user acquisition has come from users. We spend money strategically where we can track our ROI all the way through to acquisition of paying/influential users. We value our users as a social node, not just a paying user. We’ve experienced with broad marketing (i.e. TV) but they are harder to justify – while it increases brand awareness, it doesn’t translate to targeted users.

What are your plans with HTML5?


  • will be standard compliant with current standards and upcoming stuff like HTML5. There are features going into HTML5 that will enable a lot of interesting gaming elements. But we have no specific products around HTML5.
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BackYard Monsters, Crime City and More on This Week’s List of Fastest-Growing Facebook Games by DAU

Inside Social GamesWed, 2010/10/13 – 15:37

A number of older games are scattered throughout this week’s AppData list of fastest-growing games by daily active users, among them FarmVille, YoVille, Social City, Pet Society and Cafe Life. However, it’s probably best to look past those titles — on a timeline longer than a week, none are showing any appreciable growth (most, in fact, are slowly shrinking).

Here’s the full list:

Top Gainers This Week – Games Name DAU Gain Gain,% 1. FarmVille 17,032,212 +149,827 +0.89% 2. YoVille 1,031,805 +128,641 +14% 3. ESPNU College Town 381,210 +127,658 +50% 4. Millionaire City 2,188,062 +114,984 +6% 5. Texas HoldEm Poker 6,189,492 +102,205 +2% 6. Backyard Monsters 499,367 +88,578 +22% 7. FrontierVille 7,270,764 +88,134 +1% 8. Crime City 155,355 +84,989 +121% 9. It Girl 402,670 +77,838 +24% 10. Social City 617,225 +72,782 +13% 11. Pet Society 2,332,964 +66,209 +3% 12. Games 1,349,743 +64,001 +5% 13. Ninja Saga 1,025,936 +60,155 +6% 14. Fashion World 1,016,279 +55,795 +6% 15. Critter Island 175,387 +54,301 +45% 16. Ikariam – The free browser game 68,276 +49,819 +270% 17. Cafe Life 491,041 +48,352 +11% 18. Gourmet Ranch 116,016 +46,771 +68% 19. Mall World 859,925 +44,864 +6% 20. Monster World 735,031 +44,302 +6%

ESPNU College Town, the new city-building game from Playdom, is the first game on the list that’s making real strides. It’s followed by Millionaire City, from Digital Chocolate. The two showed up in the same order atop Monday’s monthly active gainer list.

Backyard Monsters, by Casual Collective, is making considerable gains at number six, with 22 percent DAU growth over just a week. The monster-based strategy game has been growing since August, but it may be accelerating somewhat as it crosses half a million daily players.

Crime City is an interesting new hybrid of a Facebook-style RPG with 2.5D graphics and city-building elements, as we covered in our review. It edged out It Girl, the latest from CrowdStar, although the latter is a far larger game overall.

The rest of the list bears a few more newer games that are making genuine gains. There’s also one older game worth noting: Ninja Saga, the long-running anime-inspired RPG, appears to be very slowly adding DAU (over a period of months, not just weeks), which is normally quite difficult for older titles to do.

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Mob Science’s New Title, Coffee Bar, Benefits from Toeing the Line

Inside Social GamesWed, 2010/10/13 – 14:50

Mob Science is taking its shot at sim-like games with its most recent title, Coffee Bar. A new entry to the business management genre, Coffee Bar  has been growing quickly. It made our fastest-growing Facebook apps list this week with around 155,000 monthly active users and 45,000 daily active users — all earned in the past 7 days.

However, we found that while Coffee Bar is technically sound, the game feels almost identical to similar games in the past.

The concept behind Coffee Bar is perhaps the only noticeable difference between it and other cafe/restaurant games that came before it: players try to make a popular coffee bar. You buy and place coffee makers, then choose from a variety of coffee shop menu items to make (black coffee, lattes, hot chocolate, etc.). When a menu item is ordered, you click a couple times to “add” ingredients and, after a set amount of time, the brew is ready.

You then place the drink on a serving bar and your waiters or waitresses serve it to customers until the stock runs out. The higher level the drink, the longer it takes to make, but the more the profit you earn.

The happiness or unhappiness of your patrons will affect the rating of your coffee bar. When your rating is higher, more customers walk in. Of course, it’s also possible to upset customers. If no drinks are prepared or there are not enough staff to serve, the non-player customers get angry and leave, lowering the bar’s ratings.

The social aspects of the game are familiar too. You can hire friends as waiters. The game gives you two temp workers initially, but as your bar gets larger and more successful, more will be needed. The number of workers is gated by level, and any workers beyond the two temp employees will require a friend to play — unlike Restaurant City where any Facebook friend can work for you, whether they play or not.

You can also visit friends’ bars and leave messages via a cell phone icon, which in this beta version, does not appear to work. But, other than gifting purchased decorative items or servings of food and drink, there are no benefits from social play.

Coffee Bar also offers a more in-depth feature, allowing you to dress your avatar and decorate the bar in very modern styles. But again, this is exactly what we’ve come to expect from games in this genre.

In the end, there’s nothing unique about Coffee. Other management games that we’ve reviewed have also copied mechanics and features, but the developers typically also make an attempt to add new, if minor, concepts into the mix. In Coffee Bar, there are no original mechanics or concepts. There’s even a daily quiz for money that is copied from Restaurant City.

Of course, it’s hardly unheard of for a Facebook developer to closely follow past games. As 2010 as progressed, many developers have said that being unique or unusual counts for something — that the day of fast follows and copies is coming to a close. But players also have to recognize and care about cloned mechanics. In this case, it looks like the new theme may be enough to carry a game that is otherwise no different than a dozen others that came before it, taking every core element from the top titles.

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PageFad Partners With Virtual Greats to Add Branded Players to Facebook Sports Games

Inside Social GamesTue, 2010/10/12 – 19:30

It’s telling of our modern world that the famous often cease being people and become tightly controlled brands. This brand control can make life difficult for others: for example, sports games, where only a few favored titles are allowed to use the names of real players, and the rest must struggle along with made-up names.

PageFad, a Facebook sports game developer, can’t solve the existential problem of commodified personalities, but it has at least found a workaround for its game Premier Football, by partnering with a company called Virtual Greats to add celebrities and real soccer players to its game.

Virtual Greats has dedicated itself to getting branded virtual goods into social games. In this case most of its “brands” are in fact people, including both recognizable soccer players like David Beckham and, for Premier Football users who aren’t big soccer fans, non-players like Snoop Dogg.

These branded players will be premium purchases only, and they won’t come cheap, ranging from about $5 to $20. PageFad co-founder Josh Viner says the price point isn’t a problem, though. “A lot of our users convert at higher price points, and we sell more at higher price points,” Viner says. “That’s because the users are very competitive. If we can present them with a value proposition of instead just asking them to spend pounds to train their team, they’ll be more willing to pay.”

Virtual Greats’ CEO, Dan Jansen, further breaks virtual goods purchases into three categories: aesthetic-only goods, which players won’t pay much for; goods that show affiliation or have a concrete use, at the mid-point; and an item with special powers and a recognizable concept at the high end. Jansen says individual virtual goods can have a high price ceiling; for instance, a branded good in another game has been selling for $50.

Brands, for their part, have been excited about the action on Facebook. We’ve seen a number of entertainment brands head online of late, and Disney is of course trying to capitalize on social gaming through its Playdom acquisition.

But teams like Virtual Greats and PageFad are still pretty rare. One reason may be the history of brands in core games, where brand owners were often extremely difficult to work with, allowing big companies like Electronic Arts to get near-exclusivity for games like Madden NFL (which is now also on Facebook).

However, many of the market forces that made companies like EA hugely powerful offline don’t apply on Facebook, so it’s possible that the Virtual Greats model could grow significantly in the future.

As for PageFad, the company intends to keep working on its sports titles. Premier Football, like other sports games we’ve looked at recently, includes both city-building and management elements; you can check it out here.

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New Chillingo iPhone & iPad Game, Cut the Rope, Tops Apple Charts

Inside Social GamesTue, 2010/10/12 – 17:30

Chillingo, the publisher behind mobile titles such as Modern Conflict and Angry Birds, has yet another hit on its hands with its most recent release from developer ZeptoLab, Cut the Rope. Having been released for the iPhone on October 5th and on the iPad October 7th, the app, $0.99 and $1.99 respectively, has already climbed to #1 on both of Apple’s iDevice paid app charts, not to mention #1 top grossing for the iPhone and #3 for the iPad. Even the free, lite versions are #1 in their category on both devices.

Cut the Rope, like past Chillingo games, takes simple physics and controls to create a quaint, yet quirky puzzle title. A game whose quality is virtually indistinguishable between iDevices (save for resolution), it’s an ideal title that can be played for either or few minutes or over an hour at once.

The plot of Cut the Rope is that the player has, for some reason, received a package containing a bizarre dinosaur, lizard, monster… thing. The game informs the user that all they need to do to care for it is feed it candy. Of course, the method of doing so is a bit trickier than one would assume.

Sitting in a random portion of each level is the little pet monster, and dangling from a rope is a nice chunk of hard candy. Using a cutting motion, the player can cut the rope and, lo and behold, the candy falls with accurate physics. The objective is to hit the creature with it. Obviously, just these basics aren’t all that much fun, so each level comes with new obstacles and toys to play with.

Of all the different, level-based mechanics, the most used in the game is the attachment of candy to multiple ropes of varying lengths. Players can cut one, or many simultaneously, and the candy will fall based on the directional momentum. Nevertheless, once the ropes are cut, should the treat not hit the creature, the player will fail. It becomes a task of cutting the rope(s) at the right time.

Depending on the level, this will vary in pacing. Occasionally, players will have all the time in the world to figure out a puzzle, and other times, only a few seconds, due to obstacles such as spikes or electricity that will break the candy should it swing or fall into them, or spiders that climb down ropes to eat it (they will fall should the rope they’re on be cut).

This is only the tip of the iceberg, as players will encounter dozens of other challenges including bubbles that cause the candy to float upward, ropes attached to moving platforms, ropes that extend only when the candy is near, air bags that allow the user to push the candy in a particular direction, and so on. Each of these plays a role in dozens of unique puzzles and are all controlled with a simple tap (e.g. popping bubbles or using air bags).

All these mechanics make each level feel very different then the one before it, presenting a challenge progression that rarely repeats the same problem. At times, similar conundrums will present themselves, yet they must, almost always, be solved in a different manner.

To add to the challenge, Chillingo incorporates the collection of stars in each level, as well as a scoring system based on collecting said stars and time for completion. As one might expect, the stars are not always in the most convenient of places. Not only does this increase the difficulty, but also plays part in the game’s social mechanics.

Part of the Crystal social gaming network, Cut the Rope comes with competitive leaderboards for each of the game’s stages, as well as a handful of achievements. Unfortunately, the latter is somewhat lacking at the moment, but everything the user does is connected to the Crystal network, which allows for the finding of friends, game recommendation, and both Facebook and Twitter integration. While the network has the support for player challenges, these do not appear available for Cut the Rope.

Overall, Cut the Rope, for either the iPhone or the iPad, is a game well worth the price tag. With the level of quality expected from any of Chillingo’s developer divisions, it makes for an excellent addition to any iDevice app collection.

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Japanese Giant DeNA Buys Mobile Social Game Developer Ngmoco in $403M Deal

Inside Social GamesTue, 2010/10/12 – 13:51

Over the past few months, we’ve heard regularly about a Japanese company, DeNA, that’s seeking to make waves in the US social and mobile game markets. DeNA has actively pushed the story of its own size and vigor, opening its own venture fund, claiming to be bigger than Zynga and making multiple small-company acquisitions.

Despite all, DeNA’s name still isn’t big in Silicon Valley. That will likely change today, though, as word of a $403 million deal to acquire the mobile social developer Ngmoco spreads. Rumored by Techcrunch a week ago, confirmation of the deal was posted this morning on Ngmoco’s site.

Setting aside the price for a moment, it’s not hard to see why DeNA was drawn to Ngmoco. The latter company is by far the most visibly successful at putting social games and mechanics on smartphones, with games like We Rule, We Farm, Touch Pets and Godfinger.

DeNA itself is in the mobile social space back home, as owner of the highly successful mobile social network Mobage Town. Although Mobage only has about 20 million players, a small number compared to Facebook’s legions of social gamers, Japanese players do monetize at a much higher rate.

The match between the two companies will help each spread already-proven titles and content more easily overseas, reaping extra rewards on the way.

What will have the mobile and social game communities talking about this deal for weeks to come, though, is the price. DeNA is paying $303 million in stock and cash up front for Ngmoco, with another $100 million based on earnouts.

For reference, the Electronic Arts acquisition of Playfish last November was for just a hair less, with about $300 million up front and another $100 million in earnouts. In July, Disney announced its $563.2 million acquisition of Playdom with $200 million in potential earnouts, a price that many in the industry felt to be stratospheric.

But because those two Facebook developers both had very public stats, viewable through services like our own AppData, others in the industry could at least see the metrics that led to the acquisitions. Ngmoco, by contrast, mostly operates on the iPhone, on which Apple extends a corner of its own cloak of secrecy over the developers on its platform.

While it has been clear that Ngmoco has found significant success with its “We” series — We Rule, We Farm and We City — few would have guessed that its success was so significant as to justify an acquisition price equal to what Playdom fetched in November, when it had just ballooned to over 50 million monthly active users and was on track for $75 million or more in yearly revenues.

In fact, it may be the case that Ngmoco hasn’t yet reached that level of growth. Multiple other factors may have weighed into this deal, including Ngmoco’s Plus+ social network, the company’s industry-leading reputation, the rapid growth of the Android and iDevice platforms, the strong exchange rate for Japanese Yen, and DeNA’s own intense ambition to corner the market. (Tomoko Namba, the CEO of US subsidiary DeNA Global, has often expressed urgency in her growth strategy.)

Even taking the above factors into account, this acquisition says that Ngmoco was likely highly successful with its strategy of offering free-to-play titles with microtransactions to mobile gamers, a strategy that only a small handful of companies have pursued. The DeNA deal is a convincing testament to the virtual goods model, if nothing else. We cover the fast growth of the US mobile virtual goods market in our newest Inside Virtual Goods report, check it out for more details.

Ngmoco had taken about $40 million in venture funding since 2008 from iFund, Norwest Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins, Institutional Venture Partners and others.

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