Ngmoco Gets into City Building with We City on iPhone

We City iPhoneIn mid-July we took a look at Ngmoco’s mobile FarmVille competitor, We Farm, and noted the announcement of another coming title to the We series: We City. Well, as of last week, the company has launched We City for both the iPhone and iPad, bringing Ngmoco’s take on social city builders to the mobile realm.

City-builder through and through, We Farm mimics the core elements of many of its predecessors, including Playdom’s Social City and TeamLava’s City Story. Nevertheless, while the game’s central mechanics may have been done before, it does come with a rather interesting means of progression, which makes playing and building up one’s city quite gratifying — even if the app runs sluggishly, at best.

Players jumping into We City have the same goal as they do in virtually every other city builder on the market: make the biggest and best city you can. One of the differentiating elements, however, is that this Ngmoco title has an extraordinary variety of décor with which to decorate, allowing users to create everything from a metropolis, to a resort town, to suburbia.

AirportIn order to earn an income, players must construct factories. Obviously, this is where typical city building features comes into play. Players build these factories — the number of which is limited by level — and fulfill contracts that take a set amount of time. Fail to return in time, and the contract “spoils,” but thankfully, players can enable push notifications for whenever they are completed.

The other means of earning income is through the structures themselves. As players level up, more and more houses, apartments, and recreational buildings become available. While lacking the active control of the factories, these buildings will periodically earn extra coin in the form of “rent.”

None of it is terribly extraordinary from a functional stand point, but the level of detail the user is allowed for decoration is surprisingly high. Players can place virtually everything including trash cans, pigeons, stop lights, and dozens of other items. Moreover, the game doesn’t appear to lock objects in on any grid system, so users have a very organic level of control on where to place everything.

ResortsAll of this décor is very gratifying to place, because different structures will generate different elements in the game world. Like Social City, We City feels very alive with any number of city sounds and people moving through the world. Unlike the Playdom title, however, We City appears to generate types of non-player characters based on the structures themselves. This includes firefighters, bodybuilders, and even helicopters. Adding new buildings not only makes the city look better, but they actually seem to bring it more life.

Unfortunately, some of these decorative items and structures are rather obnoxious to place, especially on the iPhone. The level of control is nice, but the iPhone’s small screen, coupled with the tiny size of many decorative items, makes it a little awkward to place elements. Additionally, the game runs quite sluggishly — a problem that has dogged several of Ngmoco’s social games.

No matter how many times we tried, the game tended to chug at a low frame rate. This made the app painful to use, and the video latency made it extraordinarily difficult to place things where they were wanted. Adding to the problems, the game incorporates a sort of quest system, that gives the player direction. While this is nice, the pop ups (either when a new one is available or an old one completed), only added to the slow down. These slow responses also made accessing menus slower then should be acceptable and even led to the game crashing a number of times.

We CityIronically, one of the slowest loading aspects was the social elements. Sadly, even when getting it to work, it falls short of the social mechanics in games like City Story. Players are able to add neighbors and visit one another’s towns, but the problem is that there is a steep threshold for compared City Story. In order to add a friend, they must own the game, must own an a platform that can run the game, and must have a Plus+ account. Even though friends can access and invite users through networks like Facebook and Twitter, it does little good if any of those three elements are missing.

It is true that many social, mobile games have similar requirements, but here, it is the only noticeable option for social play. In City Story, players can access the towns of any player of the game, and then add friends if they want to. In other, non-city-builders, players can at least compete with one another via achievements or leaderboards.

In the end, despite its strengths, We Story is okay at best. The problem is more than just that the game is a remake of other city-building titles — which may be fine for iPhone players who haven’t seen the Facebook equivalents — but it simply doesn’t run well. Even for a free application, the sluggish… well, everything, about the game is going to deter many a user, and coupled with crashing certainly doesn’t help any. If Ngmoco can fix the technical problems, We City should have no trouble becoming successful.

Facebook Is Advertising Target Credits Gift Cards Above Canvas Applications

In Facebook’s latest in-house promotion of Credits, its virtual currency, the company is running advertisements for its retail gift cards above third-party applications on canvas pages.

The ad simply says: “Facebook Credits Gift Cards: Power up your play on Facebook — visit a Target Store near you to buy a card.” The “near you” is linked to a Target store locator application, making it easy for interested people to buy a card.

Facebook introduced these gift cards with retail chain Target at the beginning of the month as another way to get more users purchasing the currency. Social game developers like Playdom and Zynga began offering their own gift cards last year, following in the footsteps of MMOs and other online games with virtual currency systems. As Facebook has more recently pushed to make Credits the only paid virtual currency for canvas applications, it in turn added this payment option (along with a wide range of others)

To redeem the amount of Credits purchased in one of the cards, users first scratch off the concealment material to reveal a secret code, then enter the code within the Credits interface. Their account will then be credited with the amount.

Inside Virtual Goods: Tracking the US Virtual Goods Market 2010 – 2011, Is Here

With an up-to-$750 million acquisition of Playdom by Disney, an up-to-$400 million acquisition of Playfish by Electronic Arts, the acquisition of Tapulous by Disney, and hundreds of millions of dollars in venture investments, virtual goods are impacting businesses across the media landscape. Virtual goods, and the companies that create them, may be bringing the largest disruption entertainment, communication, and e-commerce infrastructure businesses have seen in years.

Inside Network is proud to announce the release today of a new original research report by Justin Smith and Charles Hudson that presents a comprehensive examination of the size and future of the virtual goods market in the United States, entitled Inside Virtual Goods: The US Virtual Goods Market 2010 – 2011. This is Inside Network’s second annual edition of the US Virtual Good Market report. The big picture? The US virtual goods market will reach $2.1 billion overall in 2011.

Where will the virtual goods market go in 2011 and what are the biggest opportunities left unclaimed? How will existing players fare as Facebook continues to reshape the social gaming landscape, and larger and more sophisticated players enter the market? Inside Virtual Goods: The US Virtual Goods Market 2010 – 2011 provides deeper insight into monetization, development, and the key questions facing the space in 2011 than you’ll find anywhere else.

Get the Annual Membership
Get Annual Membership (Includes Report + 3 Additional Quarterly Issues): $2,495
OR Buy Single Report: $995

About the Report

Inside Virtual Goods is a new report researched and created specifically for entrepreneurs, investors, and analysts interested in the growth of this exciting new category of online commerce that is fueling the growth of games-as-a-service businesses. During a research phase spanning the last few months, co-authors Justin Smith and Charles Hudson have spoken with dozens of executives and entrepreneurs from all parts of the ecosystem in order to form what we believe are the most detailed estimates, analyses, and predictions for 2010 and 2011.

We focused and organized the report around the following areas:

  1. Social Networks, Applications, and Games - The explosion of the virtual goods market on social networks is one of the biggest stories of 2010. We delve deeply into the trends, stats, key players, opportunities, and challenges facing the space this year and next.
  2. Casual MMOs and Virtual Worlds - Virtual worlds and casual MMOs continue to grow as a meaningful share of the virtual goods opportunity in the United States. Our study breaks down the key drivers for success in this segment, trends in monetization and engagement, and the prospects for the future.
  3. MMOs and Free-to-Play Online Games – Developers in the MMO / MMORPG space have been among the earliest adopters of the free-to-play model. We explore why free-to-play MMOs are succeeding, revenue and user trends, and the key issues facing this space as we head into 2011.
  4. Console Games – The console market is one of the most interesting new areas where microtransactions are beginning to establish a meaningful foothold in the market. Our study looks at the key opportunities and challenges facing this emerging space going into 2011.
  5. Mobile Games – Mobile application developers that have been early adopters of the free-to-play model are now seeing significant growth in 2010. Our study breaks down the key opportunities and challenges facing this emerging space going into 2011.

Each section contains:

  1. A brief history on the evolution and growth of this space in the US, including a description of key players.
  2. Estimates on the size of the US virtual goods market in 2010 in that area.
  3. A diagnosis of the key opportunities and issues facing the growth of that space, including our outlook and projections for 2011.

In addition, prior to delving more deeply into each market segment, we’ve provided an overview of the emerging payments ecosystem that is growing to serve these new businesses. Traditional e-commerce infrastructure providers only offer a partial solution, and the virtual goods payments layer is currently in a major state of flux. In the report, we describe the variety of solutions that have been brought to market to date, and the key challenges facing the industry from a payments perspective as a whole.

For more details, check out the full table of contents below.

The annual membership, which includes the report and three additional quarterly updates, is USD $2,495. Alternatively, you can obtain just this report for USD $995.

The annual subscription brings you a total of four comprehensive reports comprising months of original research. Recent reports have covered:

  1. The Future of Social Gaming. Social games make up over half of the US virtual goods market. This report provided detailed coverage of exactly how this industry has managed to thrive, who its most valuable players are, and deeper insight into monetization, development, and customer acquisition than you’ll find anywhere else..
  2. The Spending and Usage Patterns of the Social Gaming Audience. Who are the millions of users whose time, money, and engagement have made social games into household names and their developers into technology industry celebrities? This report presented the only independent, original research into user profiles, behaviors, and attitudes toward social games and virtual goods.

We are looking forward to continuing to cover the evolution of the space over the coming year. We look forward to hearing from you!

Table of Contents






About the Authors

charles-hudson-headshotCharles Hudson

Former VP Business Development, Serious Business

Charles Hudson is the former VP of Business Development for Serious Business, a leading social games developer on the Facebook platform.

Prior to Serious Business, he was formerly the Sr. Director for Business Development at Gaia Interactive, a leading online hangout for teens. Prior to Gaia, Charles worked in New Business Development at Google and focused on new partnership opportunities for early-stage products in the advertising, mobile, and e-commerce markets. Prior to joining Google, he was a Product Manager for IronPort Systems, a leading provider of anti-spam hardware appliances that was acquired by Cisco Systems for $830 million in 2007. Charles holds an MBA and BA from Stanford University.

justin-smith-headshotJustin Smith

Founder, Inside Network

Justin Smith is the founder of Inside Network, the first company dedicated to providing news and market research to the Facebook platform and social gaming ecosystem. Justin leads Inside Network’s Inside Virtual Goods and AppData research and data services, and serves as co-editor of Inside Facebook and Inside Social Games.

Prior to Inside Network, he was formerly Head of Product at Watercooler, one of the leading application and game developers on the Facebook Platform. Prior to Watercooler, Justin was an early employee at Xfire, the largest social utility for gamers, which was sold to Viacom in 2006. Justin holds a degree in Computer Systems Engineering from Stanford University.

Get the Annual Membership

The annual membership, which includes the report and three additional quarterly updates, is USD $2,495. Alternatively, you can just download this report for USD $995.

Get Annual Membership (Includes Report + 3 Additional Quarterly Issues): $2,495
OR Buy Single Report: $995

List of Related Companies: 6waves, A Bit Lucky, Acclaim, Activision, AdParlor, Aeria Games, Amazon, Applifier, Appstrip, Artix Entertainment, Bebo, Bigpoint, Blackhawk, Boku, Boomerang Networks, Booyah, Challenge Games, CrowdStar, Digital Chocolate, Digital River, Disney, Electronic Arts, Facebook, Frogster, Gaia Online, Gala-Net, Gambit, Gameforge, GMG, Google, GratisPay, gWallet, HeyZap, Hi5, IMVU, InComm, iovation, Jagex, Kabam, Kontagent, Limasky, Lolapps, Meez, Metaplace, Microsoft, MindJolt, MySpace, News Corporation, Nexon, ngmoco, Nintendo, Offerpal Media, OMGPOP, Outspark, Papaya Mobile, PaymentPin, PayPal, PeanutLabs, Playdom, Playfirst, Playfish, PlaySpan, Rekoo, Riot Games, Rixty, RockYou, Rovio, Scoreloop, Second Life, SGN, Six Degrees Games, Slashkey, Slide, SocialGold, Sometrics, Sony, Sony (Free Realms), Sparkplay Media, SponsorPay, Sulake (Habbo Hotel), Super Rewards (Adknowledge), SupersonicAds, SurfPin, Tapulous, Tencent, TheBroth, ThreatMetrix, Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates), TokenAds, TrialPay, Turbine, Viacom (MTV), Viacom (Neopets), Viximo, WeeWorld, Wooga, ZipZapPlay, Zong, Zynga

The Future Looks Bright for Small Social Game Developers on Facebook

In the social gaming world, whether at a conference or a more informal gathering, it’s not uncommon to hear that small developers are in for trouble. Leading companies like Zynga and Electronic Arts, the common wisdom goes, have too much power and money for independents to be able to put up a fight.

When this theory comes up, the evidence that’s usually offered is that social games are already undergoing a squeeze. Growth was highest near the end of 2009, and has fallen since it peaked in the spring of 2010.

Declining traffic means more intense competition for the existing pool of players, and more cutthroat tactics for viral distribution of the games. A company like Zynga, with over half a billion dollars raised, huge daily revenue and (some say) a close relationship to Facebook, is too much of a threat to small companies.

Earlier this year, we began to wonder how accurate this “common wisdom” take on the social game industry truly is. The source of the worries was clear. Zynga’s own traffic is often used as a barometer; its hit FarmVille is down from 84 million monthly active users and 32 million daily active users, to a its current 62 million MAU and 16 million DAU. Smaller Zynga titles like Roller Coaster Kingdom have been closed altogether.

Worse than FarmVille’s decline from its peak is the fact that no other company has stepped in with a comparable hit. Several of the biggest games released in 2009 easily topped 30 million MAU. In 2010, two Zynga releases — FrontierVille and Treasure Isle — have gone over 20 million MAU, but no other game has come close, while Treasure Isle quickly declined. The highest point reached by any other company was Playdom with Social City, which maxed out at 12.6 million MAU and 3.1 million DAU. The title is now under six million MAU and has only 663,823 DAU.

These sort of data points have led many to worry about the potential of social gaming. Zynga, Electronic Arts, CrowdStar and Playdom are already profitable, and have the advantage of circulating their existing playerbase between their games; even without growth, they will survive. But other companies clearly need new growth.

Reconsidering Growth

As the title of this post implies, the pessimistic take on the social gaming market is belied by a higher-level view. Since we rolled out AppData Pro a few months ago, we’ve been building in tools that allow us to more easily detect broad market trends. One of our newest tools is the ability to look at the historical leaderboard for any given day, going back to AppData’s inception in 2008. Using this tool, we’ve found clear evidence that the common wisdom that social gaming is in a holding pattern is simply wrong.

That’s not immediately obvious, even from the high level. Starting on September 10th, we recorded the top 250 games for the same day of every month, going back a full year. We looked at daily active user counts rather than MAU, because developers find DAUs more valuable.

Here’s what growth looked like for all 250 games (note that we’ve removed the Y-axis labels of these graphs):

The above view seems to confirm the thesis that social game traffic is declining. From a February high point traffic has declined about 18 percent in just seven months to 113 million DAU — not a good sign, for what’s supposed to be a growing market.

The growth lies elsewhere. For a different view, we removed all games from the five developers with the largest audiences — in order of their current size, those are Zynga, Electronic Arts, CrowdStar, Playdom and RockYou. Once we were done, we were down to a set of 175 games for each month. The next chart shows traffic growth for both small and mid-sized developers like Digital Chocolate and Wooga:

As you can see above, a December peak was followed by a dip into May, then a recovery. September will be the best month ever for social games by developers other than the top five.

It’s worth acknowledging here that 175 games by dozens of developers share just 63 percent of the DAU enjoyed by five companies led by Zynga. But many of these smaller games are potentially able to be sustainable themselves. The smallest value for any game in our September measurements was 38K DAU, and the median was almost three times as large.

Some of this growth is certainly driven by a set of games that is winning through a combination of good timing and execution. Some of the largest titles pull in over a million DAU by themselves. We’ve talked about many of these successful, independently-produced games throughout the year, like Kingdoms of Camelot, Family Feud, Baking Life, Millionaire City and Mall World.

Each of these growing games tends to be offset by a declining older game — Farm Town, the precursor to FarmVille, being an example that many would recognize. But there are, at this point, more growing games than shrinking.

The last question we had was what the numbers would look like if we removed surprise hits like Baking Life and Millionaire City from the rankings. How are smaller games by independent developers, which rarely get any attention, doing?

As it turns out, this group of smaller games (by smaller developers) is the healthiest of all. We removed the top 50 games from our sample of 175, which left us with a sample of 125 games, each of which had no more than 200,000 DAU:

Our extended look at the games on the list suggests that these scrappy smaller games are the real trend on Facebook. Back in October 2009, the first month of the sample, the games in these leaderboard rankings were not only much smaller — many of them were also rudimentary, or direct copies of other, far more successful games.

Now there are a wide variety of more full-featured social titles. Check out Lucky Train, Ameba Pico, or Chocolatier for an example of what we mean.

Conclusion

Facebook is clearly not an easy platform to become successful on — but few are. The period from late 2009 to spring of 2010 saw unrealistically high growth across the Facebook platform, often driven by out-of-control virality and questionable marketing tactics. Normal growth processes were short-circuited, and a handful of young startups grew at a rate almost without precedent.

The unsustainable components of that growth have now somewhat faded away. But their presence through spring obscured the undercurrent of gains we show above. Many small developers have told us that they have done well since Facebook tuned down notifications this spring, while some of the larger companies have declined or remained flat. Those same small developers are largely confident in their ability to create compelling new games.

However, fears about the platform will never completely abate. The latest example is the recent change to the feed, which caused fresh concerns that Facebook has again hampered organic growth for small developers, leaving the field to larger competitors who can pour millions into advertising.

We are seeing a broader trend of players moving to more niche offerings, ranging from Nightclub City to Monster World. The larger companies are still picking their areas of emphasis, leaving some openings for creative small developers.

We’ll continue to examine these trends in coming weeks, as well as in our Inside Virtual Goods reports on the future of social gaming.

The data used in this post is sourced from AppData Pro, our membership service that includes in-depth categorization, historical reports, trend analysis, and more. If you’re an AppData Pro subscriber, you will receive an email followup with full data and research notes today.

Nimbus Games Launches Two New Facebook Titles

News GeekIt’s been a little while since we’ve seen anything new out of the folks at Nimbus Games, with their last app, Bounty Quest Mystery, having come out in early May. Recently, however, the company has launched two new titles for Facebook of a rather different variety: News Geek and Jackpot Poker Slots.

While the latter is a Facebook rendition of actual video poker, the former is far more “useful” in that it’s a quiz app centered around current events. Both games are fine, but have a somewhat clunky feel, and the premise of each seems somewhat dated. Regardless, of the two, News Geek seems the app with the greater promise.

News Geek

Typically speaking, social games tend to only absorb a couple of minutes a day with each play through. News Geek is no different, as every day, users are presented with a quiz of ten questions. The catch is that each one is from the last 48 hours of breaking news. For anyone following the going-ons in this world, these run the gamut from the recession, to company announcements, to technology.

As players play, they earn points which, obviously, are the basis of the game’s leaderboards. Along with this, players are said to be capable of playing against friends and other random strangers. However, this prompt may be a bit misleading and only refer to the leaderboards, as there is no apparent way to directly challenge anyone.

Bonus InfoThis is one of the usability issues with News Geek. The game plops you down into a quiz and there is never a menu of any sort in order to search for these things (which are presented in a sort of intro/tutorial page at the start). The closest is a “News Room” that contains past quizzes from the last month, yet one has to finish the daily quiz to access it. Nonetheless, with no evident challenge mode, a menu is not necessarily needed.

On the upside, News Geek feels like it has a good bit of potential due to its core concept. Many of the questions are very relevant, and beyond just keeping users more informed, grants them with a little bit of knowledge that can be useful in social outings. Additionally, the “educational” value of each answered question comes with an added bonus blurb of extra information.

Jackpot Poker Slots

Jackpot Poker SlotsUnlike normal video poker, this Facebook rendition seeks to make itself social by incorporating synchronous play. However, unlike real poker, this is hardly competitive. Essentially, users enter a room with six other users, and place bets in the same way they would a real video poker game. Depending on the hand they end up with, they will receive a payout.

This is problem #1, as the presentation is rather underwhelming. Sure, when the user gets a hand that will pay out, the machine makes some noises and performs minor effects, but the winnings are unnoticeable, consisting of a tiny bit of text in the lower left-hand corner of the video poker screen. To makes matters worse, no matter how many times the button “Cash Credit” was pushed, nothing happened. What is the point of winning, if the player can’t cash out? Overall, it just felt like pushing buttons with no real feeling of reward. Moreover, each game starts with 100 credits, making these elusive “winnings” all the more irrelevant.

Even should the winnings be more prevalent, the lack of competition takes a great deal away from the fun. Sure, there are leaderboards, but part of the reward o real poker is winning the other users’ “money.” In Jackpot Poker Slots, each bet made adds to a jackpot pool, but even then, a player must win a “Jackpot Hand” — the hand varies based on the game room — to win it. Should someone manage to hit the jackpot, they don’t even get it all. It’s all divided up evenly. Long story short, this app has neither the significant cash out rewards of traditional video poker, nor the competitiveness of real poker.

Gifts

Whether or not time will remedy this issue is uncertain, as Jackpot Poker Slots just feels very unrewarding. Even with supposed winnings, there isn’t even anything significant to do with them aside from gift things like “snacks” that don’t appear to do anything but be visible in one’s profile. In fact, their cost doesn’t even take away from either credits or a mysterious “Bank,” dollar amount in the upper left of the game.

In the end, News Geek is a bit slow-paced and basic but shows a great deal of promise through its overall relevance. Sadly, Jackpot Video Poker falls significantly shorter, completely missing the essence that is “gambling.” Even if it isn’t real money, there should be a level of competition and reward that comes with it, and none of that is present. In truth, efforts would feel better spent on News Geek rather than Jackpot. If for no other reason, most casino games seen on Facebook, aside from a few of the big ones like Zynga’s Texas Hold’em Poker, do not do terribly well, and vanish shortly after their premiere.

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