Bebo May Revamp Itself as a Social Gaming Platform

After its spectacular, mostly-cash $850 million sale to AOL in 2008, social network Bebo didn’t really work out for the acquirer. It sold to Criterion Capital Partners for a price reportedly between $5 million and $10 million earlier this year.

Now, it’s hiring again — and an industry source tells us that it is looking to become a social gaming platform, a move reminiscent of another social network’s strategy recently. Hi5, like Bebo, found traction with millions of users in several different countries, but ultimately stagnated as rivals like Facebook and Twitter expanded. Over the past couple of years, it has added a virtual currency, avatars, and most recently a special set of features for developer partners

While we don’t have many more details on Bebo’s new gaming initiative, there are a few reasons why the move makes sense. One is that the company has hired a founding Hi5 executive, Akash Garg, to be its new chief technology officer. He likely has some insights into how or how not to make that type of transition.

Another reason is that Bebo itself continues to have millions of users — although exact monthly usage is not clear — so it has people it can funnel to new gaming features. And finally, Bebo also has experience operating a developer platform, including for games. While it never attracted social gaming companies to the degree that Facebook and MySpace have, it does have a set of APIs to keep building off of. As you can see from the company’s landing page screenshot, it is promoting social games today.

CCP has also hinted at the new direction. Managing partner Adam Levin described the acquisition this way: “The young, highly active user base, revenue history, presence in countries throughout the world and solid technical infrastructure make it an attractive media platform both as a standalone entity and in the context of our broader investment objectives.”

Facebook, and to some degree MySpace, have been able to offer compelling social networking platforms both because they have highly engaged users and because their products include communication channels that make it easy for users to share gaming activity with friends. Hi5 was the first large social network to try to refocus as a gaming platform, and it’s not clear how well the effort has gone so far. Bebo’s new social gaming strategy seems reasonable given the circumstances — we’ll be covering it as the plans materialize.

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