Wii U to Ditch Friend Codes, Welcomes Convenient Social Gaming

Wii U

One of my biggest gripes about the Nintendo Wii was the idea of having to jot down lengthy friend codes to play with friends and colleagues online. Talk about counterproductive measures to experience “social” gaming. However, earlier today, it was revealed that multiple user IDs will be able to be stored on the Wii U, which also means Friend Codes are now a thing of the past.

Sites like Destructoid are confirming that Nintendo has officially set the record straight, stating, “Our plan is to replace Friend Codes with a much more user-friendly Account ID system, which employs user-created account names.”

Finally, Nintendo has caught up to the consoles (and mobile devices for that matter), allowing quick, immediate connectivity to friends without the ridiculous number sequences previously required to connect. This just went a long way in getting me further intrigued in the Wii U’s launch, which is slated for November 18.

With a handful of launch titles featuring multiplayer capabilities, including Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Wipeout 3, FIFA Soccer 13, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed to name a few, you can bet friends looking to play together across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief around today’s Nintendo reveal – myself included.

Playing in an Asynchronous World

The recent rise of mobile as a key platform in the gaming space is accompanied by meteoric growth in asynchronous gameplay. Not what you typically envision when hearing of the latest “multi-player videogame,” asynchronous games do not require the two or more participants to be playing simultaneously; rather, players make turns at their convenience. Chart toppers such as Words With Friends, Hero Academy and Draw Something have millions of people around the world playing asynchronous games daily.

The appeal of this detached gameplay mode on the mobile platform is obvious: by not having to participate “in-sync,” players are free to go about their day, logging in to make a move only when it’s convenient. Growing up, getting a quick game of StarCraft going with my friends required planning in advance to ensure everybody was free (or hoping they were signed into Ventrilo). Now the rich, social experience of multiplayer gaming is available anywhere, anytime, and with any of your hundreds of Facebook friends.

Without a doubt, asynchronous gameplay is bringing millions of new gamers online. Everybody from busy professionals to even busier moms can find time throughout the day to glance at their phones and lay down a quick 20-point word or crudely sketch a sunflower for their friends. These types of people that could never carve out a two-hour block of time to delve into the latest RTS or explore the world of a new MMO are exactly the target audience for asynchronous games.

Recently, I became completely addicted to Zynga’s Words With Friends. My phone buzzed constantly with updates – after all, with 10 or 15 games happening simultaneously, there’s always somebody free to play. I am, and imagine I always will be, a huge Scrabble fan, and my initial enthusiasm motivated the first few weeks of play. However, after a few months of playing WWF, I found myself oddly numb to the experience. Sliding my finger across each subsequent “New Move” notification pop-up seemed more and more of a chore and less about enjoying the game. I was no longer playing because I was immersed in the game, but rather because felt beholden to making the next move so my friends would not be left hanging.

A few months back, I finally snapped out of my daze and started reflecting on the experience, ultimately concluding that I expected too much of asynchronous gameplay. Like most of my daily electronic information flow, the game simply became another source for that short, addicting burst of serotonin so many of us crave in the Digital Age, with little to gain that could not be found in a casual glance at Twitter.

I may think that I’m a busy person and at times certainly am, but I’m no mom rushing kids to soccer practice and dance recitals. In retrospect, I probably spent close to two hours a day keeping up with WWF – not exactly a “non-disruptive” amount of time. Keep in mind, this was not two hours I scheduled specifically for play, but like with most players, time taken in small increments throughout the day that quickly added up to the point of distraction. This most convenient form of gaming was not only sucking an hour or two out of each day, but also doing so when I should have been focusing on work or enjoying the company of friends.

A few months free of Zynga’s iron grip and I’m making a point to schedule time for the sort of immersive gaming that I used to know and love, inviting friends over for a game of Super Smash Bros. or investing the time to set up a game of Risk or Settlers of Catan. I still play the occasional game of Draw Something or Scramble With Friends, but my notifications have all been turned off, and the icons are gone from my home screen. Now, I play only when I’m truly not busy or have made a point to invest some time.

Asynchronous games are part of a wider push in the tech space to make everything as convenient, connected and on-demand as possible. “No time to sit down and play? Just have these bite-sized snippets instead!” That’s great for people on the go, but for those of us accustomed to the deep immersion that comes with truly investing yourself in a game, with setting up your StarCraft hotkeys and arguing over which dictionary to use for Scrabble, there is more than a bit of magic missing so far, in asynchronous gameplay.

While I may sound like the exception to the rule in the face of so much overwhelming success, evidence suggests many others experience the same burnout and disappointment after the initial rush to play. However, I’m confident that the next generation of asynchronous game developers will mitigate these issues with innovative new features that not only keep us hooked, but also tear us away when things start to get out of hand and our entertainment threatens to become a chore.


Social Media Circus: Harnessing Social Influence for Games

Which social ploys do you employ in trying to generate discovery for your game? Here are a few of the usual suspects:

The Persistent Pesky Pop-Up
“Hey, you just set a high score! Want to share it? Oh, you’ve leveled up, that’s awesome; you ought to post about that! Did you know this game is more fun with friends? You might think about mentioning that to some friends you can have fun with! Oh, no way, you just harvested your 37th crop, hey you know what would be great is if you posted about that!!

The Bald-faced Bribe & Blackmail
“Say, you’ve gathered enough experience to reach level two! Now all you need to do is get five friends to click on this for you. You do want to get to level two, don’t you? Oh, and look at how nicely you’ve set up your mafia empire – it would be a shame if it were to burn to the ground while you’re offline. Maybe some friends of yours will keep an eye on it for you by clicking on this post you’re definitely about to make, eh?”

The Gut-punch Guilt-trip
“Thanks for playing this game of ours. This free game we provided to you, for no cost, out of the kindness of our hearts, which you’ve been playing for 5 hours now for free. We know you care about indie development and small studios – like us! – and you want to do your part to keep us afloat. Surely you can take a moment to write us a 5-star App Store review, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook, can’t you? After all, we live or die by your support alone, and if you like this game, and don’t want its creators to starve, alone, in the street, you could mention us to a friend… that’s not so much to ask…”

Nearly every social game is guilty of one or more of these “Please, please, share us with your friends” tactics, and it’s not restricted to Facebook. Show us an iOS game that doesn’t continually ask you for an App Store review, and we’ll show you a development team that forgot something. While you’re at it, ask us if it’s coincidental that every Steam Holiday Sale includes “write a recommendation” as one of its prize-worthy achievements.

Don’t think too poorly of the developers and publishers, though, for trying their hardest to leverage your social network. The personal recommendation still carries more weight than the advertisement for most of us, and as discovery becomes an ever-harder proposition in the crowded marketplace, it’s not just enough to get a few of your friends to talk to you; publishers need all of your friends to talk to you.

As social media continues to supplant traditional media in our attention spans, so too must our mass-media strategies adapt and evolve. In a world where the Internet has given a voice and platform to every single person you know, friends and family have now become analogous to the different channels on your television. Your daily Facebook crawl has taken the place of grabbing the remote and surfing to see what’s on. Furthermore, while we’d never admit this to our friends’ faces, let’s face it… there are channels we like and trust, and channels we almost always just flip past.

Much in the same way that we favor the opinions of certain news outlets, we categorize our friends and their “channels” for trustworthiness and taste. The decisions we apply to television (Bah, those hacks on channel 51 are so biased, and the guys on channel 28 just show fluff pieces. Oh, an interview on channel 12? This I’ve got to see!) have now migrated to social media (Ugh, Jesse posts a message every time he clicks a cow; I’ve just begun to tune him out. Wow, Kate usually hates all social games and works as a developer; if she posts about a game it must be amazing!).

Better Learning through Social Games

This carpet-bombing of coercion is the new version of a broad ad campaign across several TV networks, in an effort to secure as much attention as possible. It’s no longer enough just to get the casual posters to share a link to a game; it’s important to get a wide cross-section of evangelists who can capture an equally wide audience with their recommendations. There are thousands upon thousands of games out there, all hoping to turn into the next FarmVille, and they can’t do it with an audience that isn’t growing.

Until there is a scientific way to codify who the key influencers are in your social sphere, via Klout or otherwise, developers have to assume that every one of us could be the most trusted name in gaming to our friends and relatives – the Leonard Maltins and Roger Eberts of our own private circles, whose opinions drive the purchasing/playing decisions of the world. You are a media empire unto yourself, so you’d better get used to being schmoozed.

Window-Shopping: Whether to Put Your Game in a Browser

You’re getting ready to unleash the best game ever upon the unsuspecting public. This game is addictive, clever, charming, challenging, and fun as hell. The design is coming together nicely, the art is jaw-dropping, and your focus testers love it – even your mom loves it, and she doesn’t even play video games. All anybody wants to know at this point is, when and where can I play this thing? So, what’s your answer – can they download it, or can they play it in their browser?

Before you answer, take a moment to consider the major differences between releasing a browser-based game and a dedicated, standalone application. Better yet, take a moment to consider how many differences don’t exist between the two as of recently. Browser games have come a long way since the Bejeweleds and Desktop Tower Defenses of the world first began to appear. Not only have programmers gotten more out of Flash, but new platforms like Unity, Silverlight, and HTML5 now allow for the kind of rich game visuals, animation, and sound that one would expect from standalone games. The Chrome Web Store, in fact, offers a browser version of Bastion – graphically and functionally identical to its Xbox and PC counterparts – that will run in one tab while you read this blog in another.

Bastion in a Browser

If browser games can deliver everything that non-browser games can, is there a difference at all? Why shouldn’t everybody go with the browser route, and all of the accessibility and compatibility that comes with it? The answer is because, as capable as the browser may be, it is still a platform that isn’t a perfect fit for every game. It’s an issue of presentation: not everybody wants to browse and play at the same time.

Think about the word “Browse.” Merriam-Webster defines browsing as the act of “looking over casually,” or “to skim through.” While most of us frequently use a Web Browser throughout our days with a bit more purpose or direction, the meaning still applies. How many tabs do you have open right now besides this one? Five? Ten? A few dozen? The modern browser user is accustomed to multi-tasking, frequently changing focus and giving each tab only as much attention as it absolutely needs.

Framing and presentation are an important part of an experience. You wouldn’t want to watch Schindler’s List or The Shawshank Redemption at a matinee full of laughing children, nor would you want to try to take in van Gogh’s Starry Night through a telescope. When you play a game in a browser tab, you’re engaging in casual gaming. This isn’t to say that browser games are inherently “casual games” –we’ve already established that browsers can deliver “hardcore” games like Bastion, or 3D MMOs like FusionFall, or games from any genre. It’s that you are playing the game casually, giving it half your attention, and allowing for perpetual interruptions from the rest of your desktop.

This is appropriate for any number of games: any title meant to be consumed in brief, bite-sized chunks of time, or any turn-based affair makes a perfect fit in a browser tab. Being able to flick over to a simple Facebook game like Solitaire Blitz or Triple Town, play for 90 seconds, and jump right back to another task is wonderfully convenient. There are even games which stray towards the “hardcore” side of the fence, with tricky gameplay and emphasis on immersion and difficulty, yet are broken up into discrete instances or turns. For the typical multi-tasker, these experiences are great diversions to keep open alongside their email and news feeds.

Other games, however, demand the full measure of their players’ attention. How is a game like Deus Ex expected to establish the suspense of stealth or the intensity of a firefight if the player keeps glancing up at his Twitter feed? Who would want someone on their Modern Warfare team who kept idling during the match in order to read a new round of Huffington Post articles? There is a reason these games typically run in a full-screen format. More than just idle diversions, these are experiences that are trying to establish stories, characters, and moods, and you’re doing them – and yourself – a disservice if you’re not paying attention.

Some may argue that many browser games, from the average Facebook farming facsimile to the aforementioned Bastion, also give players the option to run in full-screen. If that’s the case, however, then the entire question of presentation is rendered moot. If a game operates as a discreet, non-streaming download, and occupies your full attention when in use, then the only real differences are technical – is your delivery mechanism a browser, or some other digital distribution platform like Steam or Impulse? Which one will provide you with the biggest audience? Is your company able to build a game that fits into HTML5 or Unity, or will you have an easier time developing your own code structure?

As technology improves and these differences continue to evaporate, the question of presentation will remain as the deciding factor for your game. To those who still doubt the value of environment and framing, consider the famous experiment run by the Washington Post, involving world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell playing anonymously in a Metro Station, to the utter indifference of a thousand people. Now, imagine that you’re Joshua Bell, and the game you’ve crafted carries the majesty and spirit of Bach’s “Chaconne.” Do you present it in a proper symphony hall setting, or does your audience pass right by because it’s just one more bit of fluff in their busy day?

Organic Twitter Buzz Beats All

  1. Organic vs. non-organic buzz – Celebrities (and ordinary players) create both types of buzz for Temple Run. Non-organically speaking, they simply tweet their score using the in-game prompt. Organically speaking, they go out of their way to create original content.

    Free PR tipAll mobile games should have a social media sharing element integrated in some way because, put simply, people love to brag. Who better to broadcast your skills and high scores to than a horde of Twitter followers? If it’s quick and players don’t have to log out of the game to use it, players will be more likely post a score. Also, if they use the prepared message that’s auto generated, the product’s positioning is conveyed to an audience exactly as intended. This may then in turn lead to more organic conversations down the line and organic buzz gives more tangible, relatable validity.

    Why is organic chatter is the best kind of chatter? Especially among celebrities with a fan following?

    Celebrities use Twitter to inform their fans about everything – what they’re doing, where they’re going, when they’re performing, and most relevant here – what games they’re playing. Often times, they’re playing incredibly popular mobile games, Temple Run not being an exception. Temple Run has made waves with players through its viral features and “just one more run” gameplay and it’s an interesting case study to examine some of the celebrity chatter about it—just try and beat LeBron James or Mary J. Blige’s high score!

    Celebs are starry-eyed when talking about Temple Run, and if you pay close attention, they’re “talking” about the game in two different ways: (1) non-organically reporting their score with the in-game prompt and (2) organically tweeting new content.

    Non-organic (boring ole) buzz

  2. Share
    I got 1,042,734 points while escaping from demon monkeys in Temple Run. Beat that! t.co/eD4FAOsj
    Wed, Feb 01 2012 03:35:07
  3. Share
    I got 7,740 points while escaping from demon monkeys in Temple Run. Beat that! t.co/1XwwxKAk
    Sun, Feb 12 2012 04:37:29
  4. Reporting high scores to fans/followers is made possible with the tweet icon that presents itself after you’ve completed a temple run. The button makes it easy and quick to share your score with friends, which takes no effort as the tweet is auto-generated for the player with their score and a taunt inserted. The reach of a celebrity’s tweet is further extended when fans retweet to their followers, giving the game buzz legs and longevity. The tweet below from NBA star “King”LeBron James had 50 retweets and favorites. In addition, 3 million followers could equal 3 million potential impressions, and they may in turn also go download Temple Run.

  5. Share
    I got 1,032,164 points while escaping from demon monkeys in Temple Run. Beat that! t.co/bRr0HnMx
    Mon, Jan 23 2012 02:26:19
  6. Though this type of social buzz is great, there is better…

    Organic (from the horse’s mouth) buzz

    Conversational chatter also exists among celebrity Temple Run players and it has even longer legs than auto-generated score updates. For example, soccer star Tom Cleverley’s tweet had 50 retweets and 27 favorites, and Wayne Rooney’s tweet had 50 for both forms of feedback.

  7. Share
    Only gone and smashed 12.1 mil on temple run!
    Tue, Feb 28 2012 10:13:46
  8. Share
    4.5 million on temple run. Pogba young @tomclevz23 and welbeck beat that.
    Mon, Feb 06 2012 14:47:05
  9. Share
    Wow just got 12.5 million on temple run @tomclevz23
    Tue, Feb 07 2012 08:54:32
  10. This kind of conversation is pure product promotion without sounding like it. (AKA: PR gold.) It’s actually integrated into the discussion and looks natural, not “in your face” promotional. Not only do celebrities challenge each other’s scores, they vent their frustrations about the game…

  11. Share
    Man I am bad at temple run going to throw this phone at te wall
    Wed, Feb 29 2012 09:20:10
  12. Their love…

  13. Share
    Man I’m seriously addicted to #TempleRun #GameApp
    Mon, Jan 16 2012 02:51:06
  14. And they even use it as a pick up line…

  15. Share
    Hey baby I broke 3 million on temple run wanna make out?
    Fri, Feb 10 2012 18:01:19
  16. Temple Run social buzz isn’t exclusive to Twitter either, check out the Instagram photo above — think you can beat Justin Bieber’s high score?

    Temple Run has made enough of an impact on these celebritiesthat they’ve actually gone out of their way to write original content about it -not just send out the preset tweet. You cantell this content is uniquely/organically from the celebrity because you can see where the tweetsoriginated. When tweets come from the in-app option, it says so. However, the original tweets (shown here) were sent via Blackberry, iPhone, Twitter, etc. Long story short, Temple Run is interesting enough to generate organic buzz among celebrities, and, whatever this is…

  17. Share
    I done messed around and played Temple Run on the toilet and my legs went to sleep. Smh
    Thu, Feb 23 2012 08:16:08
  18. Organic buzz is important,especially when it comes from someone with a large following, but no matter the reach, it gives additional validity to the product you’re promoting without outright promoting it. It’s getting the product name out easily and when you have celebrities tweeting, their posts will most likely have legs, get “favorited” and retweeted many times over, exponentially increasing viral reach.

    Thanks to Storify for making this blog post pop.

    Imangi (Temple Run developer) is a TriplePoint client.

Fantasy University Opens – Schools Facebook Gaming

Too late for back-to-school news?  We don’t think so.

Facebook – meet Fantasy University, the latest project from veteran development team Simutronics.  Since 1987, Simutronics has been entertaining millions with games such as GemStone IV, the longest-running commercial MUD in the world.  If CEO David Whatley and company could turn text-based games into entertainment enjoyed by millions, imagine what they could do with Facebook.  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Fantasy University.

Fantasy University combines snarky humor, endless pop culture references, and the FUBAR (the game’s form of virtual currency) with solid, RPG gameplay.   Facebook, a platform that has been subject to mounting criticism by gaming journalists (and sometimes ignored altogether), is now host to emomancers,  slackninjas, mathemagicians, cheermongers, and dodgebrawlers.

There’s plenty to say about F.U., but sometimes game art speaks louder than words.

We’ll be playing right along with you – don’t be late for school!

(“Facebook Credit” – get it?)

Oceanopolis Making Waves and Offering Real World Rewards for Virtual Play

This week, the folks at Greenopolis are proud to unveil Oceanopolis, a new social game on Facebook that offers an innovative approach to recycling and conservation – make it fun and rewarding through the vehicle of social gaming!

Referred to by TechCrunch as a “Facebook Game With a Mission,”   Oceanopolis combines the engaging experiences found in today’s top social games with real world calls-to-action for recycling and conservation of natural resources.  With the ultimate goal of building a long-term sustainable community, Oceanopolis players are encouraged to maintain their environment through the in-game actions of converting waste into treasure by recycling. The team over at Greenopolis have done a fantastic job in summarizing what players can expect when the game, currently in open beta, receives a full rollout in the coming weeks.

Oceanopolis is not your standard social game,  as it connects the real world with the virtual world by offering  real life rewards for in-game actions such as retrieving and recycling plastic and glass bottles, steel and aluminum cans and cardboard boxes. Since 2008, Greenopolis, a subsidiary of Waste Management, the largest recycler in North America, has developed new ways for consumers to participate in acts of recycling and conservation.  Through blogging on Greenopolis.com and by physically bringing in recyclables to on-street Greenopolis Recycling Kiosks, people have been able to collect points in exchange for their efforts in fighting pollution and promoting conservation.  These points can now be combined with those earned by playing Oceanopolis and redeemed for rewards or discounts from thousands of restaurants, theaters and other retail establishments.

The Greenopolis team, currently at Casual Connect, is celebrating the Oceanopolis beta launch with a Twitter event which started yesterday and will continue into tomorrow.  The Greenopolis Foundation will donate $1 for the first 25,000 people who tweet the following message during the three days of Casual Connect:

“Make waves. Fight ocean pollution with http://apps.Facebook.com/Oceanopolis #Oceanopolis”

All proceeds will go to Ocean Aid, a 501c3 non-profit that will fund research into pollution-filled ocean gyres through an annual benefit concert.  Every person who tweets the message will also be entered to win two tickets to the Ocean Aid concert.

We hope you will join in the cause to raise ocean awareness through social gaming and check out the game for yourself at http://apps.facebook.com/oceanopolis/.

Talking Virtual Goods and Emerging Revenue Recognition Models with Mick Bobroff of Ernst & Young LLP

As part of the TriplePoint speaker series, we hosted a private luncheon with Mick Bobroff, Audit Partner at Ernst & Young LLP, in which he presented general observations and principals on the accounting policies applied by companies using free-to-play/virtual goods-based business models. Additionally, Bobroff provided an overview on the different models that have recently emerged for recognizing revenue on the sale of virtual goods.

Bobroff brings to the table over 13 years of experience specifically focused in software and internet media industries, including social networking. Over the past several years, as the social gaming industry has rapidly expanded, Bobroff formed Ernst & Young’s positioning on how revenue should be recognized on the sale of virtual goods. Additionally, they recently released a white paper that gives an in-depth overview of the firm’s views on revenue recognition, and the presentation that Bobroff gave during our luncheon provides a summary of this white paper.

Here are some of the key findings from the presentation:

  • Currently, three models exist for recognizing revenue on the sale of virtual goods – Game-based, User-based, and Item-based revenue models – and publishers can determine which model is most appropriate for their business based on the extent of user behavior data that is available for each of their specific games
  • The sale of virtual currency itself does not initiate the earnings process for game publishers – it isn’t until the currency is redeemed for items such as virtual goods that the revenue must then be recognized
  • Revenue is recognized when all of the following criteria are met: evidence of an arrangement between the seller and purchaser, the fee for the virtual item is fixed or determinable, collection of the virtual item is reasonably assured and delivery has been met; it’s also important to note that publishers are obligated to continue displaying the purchased virtual goods over certain periods of time based on the characteristics of those virtual goods

For more information, visit the Ernst & Young website to download the full white paper: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/Hot_topic_-_Revenue_recognition/$FILE/Hot_Topic_Sale_of_virtual_goods.pdf.

Hungry for More Challenge and Chance in Social Games

This weekend over at Frisky Mongoose, I rambled off a lengthy list of reasons why people play social games, and I think its fair to say that Facebook game developers are doing a lot of things right.

Now can they change their click-only interfaces to feed players who are hungry for more?

People will click as many times as they need to make what they want out of a social game. But after all the shopping and buying of virtual items, sending gifts and helping neighbors, harvesting crops, feeding animals, cleaning and decorating… Continue reading Hungry for More Challenge and Chance in Social Games

Virtual Goods and The New Digital Retail Revolution

Earlier this week, New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Center played host to a convergence of two trade shows, as both the 107th American International Toy Fair and Engage! Expo welcomed a diverse group of exhibitors and speakers.  For certain attendees, the pairing of Toy Fair with the Engage! Expo, a conference that focused primarily on virtual goods, might have at first seemed somewhat out-of-place.  Beyond the giant stuffed animals, puzzle games, and highly popular robotic hamsters that populated much of Toy Fair, Engage! showcased  leading entrepreneurs in the new digital retail phenomenon – the virtual goods industry.

As reported by Inside Network and covered here on TriplePointPR.com, this year, the virtual goods industry is projected to drive $1.6 billion in revenue in the U.S. alone.  While the ability to purchase virtual goods has existed in online communities for quite some time now, the phenomenon that is social gaming hasushered in a brand new audience for microtransaction purchases – the general consumer.

While traditional retailers and toymakers struggle to survive the stormy and rather unpredictable economic recession, the virtual goods industry is booming.  Selling non-physical items, the providers of virtual goods have seen just as much (and presumably more) success than long time brands and veterans of the physical toy industry present at the Javits Center this week.  The reason for such success is simple – the provider of the virtual good, which can be looked upon as a modern toy manufacturer, is smarter and armed with more consumer information than the producer of the antiquated physical retail toy.

Continue reading Virtual Goods and The New Digital Retail Revolution

Social Gold Drives Repeat Purchases of Virtual Goods

Social Gold, the premier virtual economy platform, has recently shared some intriguing facts on users’ spending behavior within social games. Social Gold offers users a seamless in-game payments experience so players can purchase virtual goods without disrupting gameplay. New stats that were recently  posted on Social Gold’s blog show that their virtual economy platform increases conversion and drives repeat purchases.

Continue reading Social Gold Drives Repeat Purchases of Virtual Goods

Social, Casual or Both? PopCap Sells Cows, Gives Away Free Milk

So strangely compelling...
So strangely compelling...

In terms of wide-sweeping brand recognition, Popcap is to casual gaming what Nintendo is to gaming in general.  Your Grandma knows about Nintendo, but your Mom might know a PopCap game or two.  Founded a decade ago, the company does a spectacular job of keeping their games in the public eye and maintaining a friendly, unassuming aesthetic.  It’s as if making boatloads of money is the pleasant side-effect of cranking out highly addictive puzzlers, and to be clear, casual games are doing big business.  Most of their games are available on multiple platforms, with free versions hosted at PopCap.com.  Because the games are both robust and replayable, it’s no surprise that their perennial favorite Bejeweled 2 hasn’t left the Top 10 Highest Grossing list on the App Store since that category was unveiled six months ago . Continue reading Social, Casual or Both? PopCap Sells Cows, Gives Away Free Milk

Facebook and the Fate of Social Gaming in 2010

Facebook Logo

Facebook is staggeringly huge. They have over 400 million active users, half of whom log in on any given day, over 500k active applications, and can rattle off plenty of other impressive totals for those who’d like to listen. As an open platform, they have provided companies like Zynga and PlayFish with millions of dollars in revenue, and provided many other developers with a shot at financial success. Despite these achievements, and despite an estimated company valuation that extends into the billions, monetization remains the one aspect of Facebook’s business that hasn’t matched their growth. With this week’s sure-to-be-critiqued changes, that last piece of the puzzle may be ready to fall into place. But first, a bit of background…

On January 21, a group of the Bay Area’s social gaming forces descended on Google’s Mountain View campus for a panel discussion hosted by Peanut Labs and Google Orkut. The evening was inspired by a post on Three Rings CEO Daniel James’ blog which laid out some predictions for the industry in 2010. The panelists included folks from Zynga, RockYou, PlaySpan, Three Rings, Outspark, and Inside Social Games, and they all seemed eager to share their opinions, even if most kept their cards close to their chest while doing so. As the discussion progressed, one thing became crystal clear: the growth or decline of social gaming in 2010 will rest largely on the shoulders of Facebook.

Specifically, the discussion hinged upon upcoming changes to the way Facebook interacts with applications (changes that are now being put into effect). Prior to this week, any programmer on the planet, given some development time, could make money off of a Facebook game without Facebook earning a single cent. Devs could even use Facebook’s tools to grow their game virally for free, sending messages to users and posting notifications on players’ newsfeeds.

This was, originally, in Facebook’s best interest, since being an open platform helped them attract the attention of thousands of developers. It also meant that Facebook owned all the users these games collected, making the developers reliant on the platform for their successes. This setup worked like a charm, allowing folks like Zynga and PlayFish to reach a huge audience and turn an enormous profit.

Now the folks at Facebook have, understandably, decided they want to monetize the successful system they’ve developed. As a bonus, they’ve also figured out a way to clean things up in the process. The new “games” page borrows heavily from Apple’s app store setup, providing users with lists of the most popular games and info on what their friends are playing. Meanwhile, the recently introduced Facebook Credits will provide users with a universal in-app purchasing system. Finally, once the changes are solidly in place, applications will not be allowed to send notifications directly to their users, cutting down on the “spam” messages that many have complained about over the last year.

Facebook Games Page
(Image courtesy the Facebook Blog)

This promises to make the user experience significantly smoother on Facebook, but it also marks a significant shift in power behind the scenes. By making developers live within the framework they’ve established, Facebook is forcing devs to rely far more heavily on traditional outreach like PR and advertising for growth. Advertising is of particular interest to Facebook, especially when you consider the incredibly valuable ad space they now have to offer on the “games” page. Facebook Credits, meanwhile, will let them take a measure of control over in-app purchases (as well as a small cut of the profits) while solidifying their grip by getting users to tie their credit card info to the platform.

Thus, the new system still provides developers with room for viral growth, but it’s not going to be the rampant, sometimes questionably spammy, growth of the past. Facebook is taking control of the platform, both for their own sake and, ostensibly, for the sake of their users. This could be bad news for the developers who have been really cashing in, but as with Apple’s app store, developers that are willing to play by the rules should still be able to profit handsomely.

At least, that’s what Facebook is hoping. Only time will tell whether this plan will bear fruit or put a chokehold on the rapid growth of social gaming on the platform. Either way, 2010 is going to be interesting times for the social gaming industry!

Virtual Goods Generate 1.6 Billion – New Payments Solutions Make It Even Easier to Purchase Goods

Inside Network recently released a report that the virtual goods market is expected to drive $1.6 billion in revenue in the U.S. in 2010. The market is driven in large part by virtual items sold in social games, which account for $835 million of the total sales projected. While publishers such as Zynga, Playfish, Playdom and Serious Business are hard at work creating the content and engagement mechanisms to drive sales, payments solutions such as Social Gold (online), Zong (mobile), Open Network Entertainment, Inc. (prepaid cards) and the newly launched Kwedit (cash) are striving to help customers purchase those virtual goods seamlessly.

Today, Kwedit launched their new payments services (Kwedit Direct and Kwedit Promise) in partnership with Social Gold. Thousands of online games and virtual worlds currently using the Social Gold virtual economy platform now provide access to the Kwedit service. The service enables players to purchase digital goods online, and then print a receipt with a bar code (or save it to their mobile phone) and pay for the goods at a retail store in cash (or mail in cash via a postage paid envelope). For the millions of tweens and teens in the US without debit or credit cards, also referred to as “the unbanked masses,” paying for virtual currency and goods with cash is the only option, and this new solution will make it easier for publishers to monetize this growing market.

What’s also particularly unique about the Kwedit payments service is that customers are on the honor system when it comes to actually paying for their virtual goods. Customers are asked to pinky swear that they will pay eventually, and if they don’t, then their virtual Kwedit score will decrease (much like a real FICO score) and it will be much more difficult to obtain Kwedit to buy more virtual goods. Does this teach kids about financial responsibility? Possibly.

The Kwedit service is a very unique alternative to direct purchases via a credit card, PayPal, or even a prepaid card. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington gave the new payment service a glowing review, calling it brilliant. It will be interesting to see how the service performs in the competitive payments market, and whether cash-paying consumers will quickly adopt the model.

Meanwhile, while I play Mafia Wars and, inevitably, buy reward points to boost my experience level and sharpen my attack and defense skills for big boss fights, I’ll be thinking about how these payments solutions are making it faster and easier for me to make those impulse purchases. When I’m just a few simple clicks away from receiving that instant gratification, the term “buyer’s remorse” doesn’t even cross my mind. As the market appears to be on track to exceed last year’s sales of virtual goods by over 40%, I suppose we have the obsessively engaging content and also the increasingly frictionless purchasing experience to thank for this!

Google’s Nexus One – Changing the Mobile Gaming Market?

While the iPhone has taken the lead in attracting development for the mobile gaming genre, and development for the Android has been trailing behind, many folks are currently wondering if the Nexus One will be the device that truly changes the mobile game development market around in favor of the Android open source mobile operating system.

The Nexus One is Google’s latest smartphone to hit the market – releasing just a few days ago during CES on January 5, 2010. The phone runs on the newly released Android 2.1 operating system, which features a number of significant enhancements such as Live Wallpapers that are animated in the background and react to different user inputs, an Application Drawer that can be pressed to access the list of applications installed on the phone, and a Media Gallery that provides several new features allowing users to browse, edit, and share photos and videos on the phone with just the swipe of a finger.

Aside from these dazzling enhancements, the Nexus One features some real meaty upgrades such as a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, on-chip graphical capabilities and a 480×800 resolution screen (ideal for gaming) that truly set this device apart from the iPhone. And the kicker…..Adobe has confirmed that Flash Player 10.1 will be coming soon to the Nexus One, and they promise that it will provide a consistent, cross-platform runtime across desktop and mobile devices.

This news is particularly significant because Flash-based game development is so widespread in the gaming industry, yet the iPhone doesn’t support Flash. Highly-trafficked and popular entertainment genres including social games (via Facebook, MySpace, etc.) and virtual worlds monetizing through the sale of virtual goods and microtransactions are primarily Flash-based. The opportunity to additionally monetize from the Nexus One platform is significant news for mobile game developers as well as the many Flash game developers who have held off from developing for the iPhone SDK due to these limitations.

As it stands now, the Android Market has about 18,000 apps available while the iTunes App Store features upwards of 100,000 apps. It is yet to be seen whether Google’s Nexus One will be a game changer for the mobile gaming space, but considering how fast this market has moved in the last year, it won’t be long before we find out.