Archives: July 2008

What Exactly are Social Games?

When the Facebook platform launched over a year ago, many observers of the new platform quickly realized that gaming was quickly becoming one of the most popular category of applications on the site. What appeared to be revolutionary about this new series of games was the turn-based model that was seamlessly integrated into the Facebook experience.

Once other platforms launched, this “new” genre of games quickly followed. At the time, I think many people were simply amazed at the sheer number of users playing extremely simple games like “Scrabulous” (which was recently shut down). What many began to realize was an explosion of casual gaming through which I believe the awareness of each others’ gaming activities was a catalyst for.

More recently I’ve been wondering about the concept of a “social games” segment as part of the general gaming industry. Prior to sharing my personal thoughts on the matter, I thought it would be best to give a general overview of social games and the companies behind them.

What are Social Games?

Within months of the platform there was an explosion of “social gaming” and soon enough, many people (including myself) were convinced that social games were the next big thing on social networks. So what exactly makes a social game different from other games? I believe that there are a few factors which differentiate social games from the others:

  • Turn-based – A social game is not social unless you are playing with another person. As such, social games enable users to take turns. Turn-based games are nothing new but in the current environment, turn-based takes on a new meaning. Keep in mind that turn-based is not a requirement, just a frequent feature found in “social games”.
  • Awareness of others’ actions in games – I honestly believe this was the catalyst for “social gaming.” When you could see in your news feed that your friend just bit another one of your friends to turn them into a vampire, suddenly there was social context, making you more likely to interact with the game.
  • Casual gaming – “Social gaming” is not really for so called “hardcore gamers”. As it is currently referred to, social gaming is for the average user and not for someone who plans on playing 24 hours a day. Then again, that may be an unexpected side effect.
  • Multiplayer – This is a no brainer. You can’t be social without there being other people so whether it’s two or two hundred users, the game has to be multiplayer for it to be social.
  • Based on Social Platforms – The final component that I believe typifies “social games” is that they are based around social platforms. In the context of social gaming, social platforms provide users with an identity and also can provide the backbone for simple forms of communication (such as notifications, etc).

So for the purpose of this article I’ll go ahead and put forth a definition of social games. As you will see toward the end of this article, there is still room for debate over whether or not such forms of classification are justified. So here is my best definition of social games:

Social games are a structured activity which has contextual rules through which users can engage with one another. Social games must be multiplayer and have one or more of the following features: turn-based, are based on social platforms for providing users with an identity and are casual.

What Are the Leading Companies Creating Social Games?

Since the launch of the Facebook platform a little over one year ago, a new set of companies have emerged to tackle the social gaming market. Each different in their approach, a number of companies have begun developing a wide range of games that target a broad audience of users. Below are a few of the leading companies that are involved in social gaming in one form or another. If I miss any, please feel free to let me know.

Zynga Gaming Network
Zynga LogoI’ve written about Zynga a number of times on this blog. The company was started by Mark Pincus (who I previously did a podcast with) and really became a leader thanks to their Texas Hold’em game which now attracts over half a million users daily on Facebook and has close to 1 million total installs on MySpace (where active daily users are not publicly reported).

The company has raised a number of rounds of funding, the most recent one bringing in a whopping $29 million. Zynga is a company to keep you eye on as they have a killer set of investors and advisors and continue to grow at a steady pace.

Social Gaming Network
SGN LogoSocial Gaming Network was founded by Shervin Pishevar and was an outgrowth of Webs.com (formerly Freewebs) after having a successful launch of what remains to be one of their cornerstone games: Warbook. Since the launch the company has raised a number of rounds of funding including a recent round from Jeff Bezos.

While the company has been building and acquiring games, making them the 4th largest network on Facebook in terms of installs, none of the games continue have the same sort of blockbuster quality that a number of Zynga’s games have. That’s not to say that this company is out of “the game” (pardon the pun), they are far from it.

This company definitely needs to start launching new games though. While speaking with Shervin Pishevar at last week at f8, it sounded like launching a number of new games on multiple platforms is part of the short-term game plan. With this company’s team of advisors and investors, there is a ton of potential moving forward.

Kongregate
Kongregate LogoWhen it comes to social gaming, Kongregate was in this space before it was defined “social gaming”. The company’s largest presence is their destination site but back in May the company made a play for building their presence on social platforms with the launch of the Kongregate Facebook platform. It doesn’t appear that their first attempt was highly successful but the destination site continues to attract a considerable amount of traffic.

Kongregate attracts a network of game developers and helps them promote their games through their site. The company also occasionally develops games of their own. So far their model has been effective at generating a substantial amount of traffic. Whether or not the company can translate that success onto social platforms has yet to be seen but as long as the company keeps innovating it doesn’t matter where they decide to position themselves.

Gaia Online
Gaia LogoGaia is one of the other large social gaming companies that doesn’t have a substantial presence on social networks. The company has developed a site in which users interact via their own custom avatars. Those avatars can then choose to participate in games, watch movies and simply participate in the community.

Playfish
Playfish LogoPlayfish is a more recent company on the social platforms but they have a solid team of developers and management. The CEO of the company has a history in mobile gaming and is trying to convert his lessons learned to the social gaming sphere. Right now it looks like the company is doing an amazing job. They only have three games so far but each of them have over 200,000 active daily users and appear to be growing.

The company’s most popular game is Who Has the Biggest Brain? and it has been around for months as it continues to attract the attention of Facebook users. I’d keep your eye on this company as it looks like they have some big plans cooking.

Serious Business
Serious Business LogoSerious Business is best known for their immensely popular Friends for Sale application, written by Siqi Chen. The application was so popular that it has since been duplicated on the MySpace with great success by other companies that ripped off Siqi’s idea. One of those companies (or individuals) now has the most popular application on Facebook.

The company became serious about social gaming when they raised $4 million from Lightspeed Venture Partners back in April. They have yet to release a second game yet but if the second game is anywhere near as popular as their first one, this company could become a serious force to be reckoned with. They already have the 9th most popular application on Facebook so the company has a lot of opportunity to extend that success to future projects.

Are Social Games Really That Much Different?

One key thing that I’ve been trying to determine over the past couple weeks is if “social games” should really be granted their own category. While there is a new set of companies that have emerged as a direct result of the opening of social platforms, most social games mimic the features that make other multiplayer games successful.

Personally, the launch of the iPhone has transformed my idea of “social games”. There are now a number of games that I can play at dinner with my friends and family such as Connect Four, Tic Tac Toe and a number of others, all of which I would consider “social games”. While the users I’m playing against may be physically present and don’t have an identity tied to an online social network, it’s inherently a social activity.

As such, I believe that the “social gaming” networks will slowly begin to mimic traditional gaming companies and simply become part of the group. Those that don’t adapt quickly will slowly drift into oblivion while those that do adapt will quickly become leaders in the gaming industry, not just in this newly created category of “social games”.

Do you believe that social games deserve their own category? How would you define social games? Is there any important points that I missed?

Mediabistro Course

Marketing with Facebook Insights

Marketing with Facebook InsightsStarting October 2, learn how to use Facebook's analytics tool to track and optimize your marketing efforts!  Taught by the group marketing manager of social media at Microsoft/BingAds, Geoffrey Colon will show you how insights works, how to measure key performance indicators, and make your data actionable. Register now!

iPhone Invigorating Mobile Game Industry

glu_iphone.jpgEA Mobile, Gameloft, Glu Mobile and THQ Wireless, otherwise known as the Big 4 of the mobile game industry, have seen their piece of the market grow significantly over the past year. The Big 4 accounted for 22% of the market at the end of last year, up from 11% at the end of 2006, according to a new report from Screen Digest.

Here’s a surprise (or not): Screen Digest expects that the iPhone will drive the growth of the North American market, raising it to the leading global market by revenue next year.

Overall, the mobile games market will grow by $1.56 billion over the next five years to become a $3.6 billion market by 2012, the report forecasts. Although Asia has historically been the largest market – it had a 37% share in 2007 – Screen Digest predicts that starting in ’09, North America will take the lead.

Even without the iPhone App Store and its hundreds of games, the North American market has seen considerable growth every year for the past four years. Now, with the iPhone 3G on the scene, Screen Digest sees this growth continuing – and escalating – enough that the North American mobile games market will be worth some $1.7 billion by 2012.

Today Holds a Slideshow Horoscope from Cellyspace

astrology clipart.gifIf you don’t like what the daily horoscope you get on your phone tells you, you can always get a second opinion. Thanks to a deal with syndication network King Features Syndicate, Skycore is offering a daily horoscope slideshow from famed astrologer Jacqueline Bigar through its Cellyspace.com MMS platform.

For $2.99 a month, subscribers will get a daily slideshow that is optimized for their specific handset type. The multimedia message will include their horoscope plus the “Born Today” and “Happy Birthday” features from the astrologer’s “Bigar’s Stars” column.

You can sign up by texting your astrological sign to 33563.

(Image credit: Clipart.com)

iPhone Games Start-Up Ngmoco Gets iFunded

iPhone_fourscreens_731.JPGWhat happens when two longtime Electronic Arts employees leave the video game giant, one to launch a start-up and the other to become a venture capitalist? According to VentureBeat, in the case of new iPhone games developer Ngmoco, the VC funds the start-up and takes a seat on the board.

Ngmoco, or next-generation mobile company, founded by former EA dude Neil Young, just closed its first round of funding, led by Kleiner Perkins partner Bing Gordon, who joined the VC firm in April after resigning as EA’s chief creating officer. Gordon has joined Ngmoco’s board.

The financing makes Ngmoco the latest recipient of a portion of Kleiner Perkins’ $100 million iFund. Maples Investments also ponied up some cash, which Ngmoco will use to develop, license and publish games for the iPhone.

MySpace ‘Prunes’ 5% of Employees: Report

MySpace_Strip.jpg

MySpace has starting laying people off, TechCrunch reports. A source close to the company said that the final tally could be 5% or more of total staff, “with engineering, sales and customer service taking the biggest hits.”

It’s not the same as regular layoffs, though; it turns out it may be simply an exercise in pruning, as the report put it. TechCrunch chief blogger Michael Arrington later spoke with Amit Kapur, MySpace’s COO. Kapur confirmed the layoffs but characterized them as performance-driven, and as part of a standard yearly review process.

“All of the employees we are letting go will be replaced,” he said in the interview. “We are also rewarding top performers. This is an important way to drive a streamlined business.”

More on the Yahoo DRM Fiasco

Rhapsody_MP3_Players.jpg

The other day, after a vicious round of flaming across the blogosphere yonder, Yahoo reversed its decision to screw Yahoo Music customers by shutting down the DRM licensing server this coming fall.

In that statement, Yahoo promised to “compensate” their users, but without specifying how. Now MediaPost has the answer: Yahoo is offering both coupons and refunds (take your pick) to users who will lose access to their music come September 30th, when the Yahoo Music servers join that great big CompUSA in the sky.

Interestingly, the company said Wednesday that it is offering coupons for users to buy the songs again through Yahoo’s new partner—you guessed it—RealNetworks’s Rhapsody. As a bonus, they’ll be in a DRM-free MP3 format, the same as with the Verizon hookup announced last month.

Refunds will still be available for users who “have serious problems with this arrangement,” Yahoo said in the report.

iPhone Gets WoW App. Sort Of.

WoW logo.jpgBlizzard‘s World of Warcraft online game has legions of dedicated fans, many of whom would scoff at the idea of playing the MMORPG on a cell phone, no matter how great the graphics.

Having mobile access to all their character info, however, would probably make the lot of them quite happy.

For these WoW fanatics, Pocket Gamer reports on a free, third-party app for the iPhone. Called Warcraft Characters, the application, from a gentleman named Rudolf Psenicnik, lets players “view avatars, basic info, stats and combat data” for all of their WoW characters and caches the data on the phone itself, the article says.

As with all other iPhone applications, Warcraft Characters can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store.

T-Mobile 3G to Launch in 27 Markets October 1st

T-Mobile_3G_Engadget.jpg

Remember that rumor about T-Mobile rolling out its mobile-media-friendly 3G service in 27 cities on October 1st? It turns out it may in fact be real. We know this because, as Engadget reports, someone managed to snap off a photograph of an 8.5 x 11-inch piece of paper taped to a window that says, in T-Mobile’s trademark pink font:

“10.1.08: 3G is Coming”

Putting aside whether or not that’s accurate—hey, we’ve seen much crazier stuff—it’s entirely possible that 3G is already working in your city. It is in New York City, at least. Anyway, the list of cities for the rumored, gargantuan power switch flip includes Austin, Las Vegas, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, LA, Orlando, Sacramento, and a host of others.

Read more

mSpot Hits the Spot for 4 Million Subscribers

mspot radio.PNGAccording to Daren Tsui, CEO of mSpot, one of the toughest things about running a mobile entertainment company is “educating consumers that the phone can be an entertainment device,” although the iPhone is helping a lot in that department.

Judging from mSpot’s announcement this week that it now has more than four million paying subscribers, a 260% jump over the past year, it’s clear that consumers are finally starting to take advantage of what their cell phones have to offer.

The company’s flagship mSpot Radio service broadcasts more than 50 commercial-free music and talk radio stations and over 100 live local radio stations across the US.

Read more

T-Mobile Fiddles with Voice Plans

T-Mobile USA has announced the availability of Family Allowances, a new feature that lets parents manage how and when their kids use their T-Mobile phones and services, according to the News Market.

“Using a simple online tool that includes an auto shut-off notification feature, parents can manage their children’s monthly wireless allowance to help eliminate surprise overages.”

This is kind of similar to the old Cingular Rollover Minutes setup in effect if not in technique, since it aims to reduce the number of surprises you get when you open your bill.