Slide Confirms Game Closures, Ending a Long and Wild Journey Building Social Apps
Some social gamers are going to miss SuperPoke Pets. But in Silicon Valley, social developer Slide will be remembered for how it saw the opportunity in social apps early on, and for how it doggedly and sometimes successfully adapted as social platforms changed.
It will also be remembered for how it didn’t quite hit the key part of the trend at the right time as the industry evolved. Zynga instead cornered a big portion of social gaming, and is now heading towards an initial public offering worth billions.
After being acquired by Google in 2010 for more than $182 million, Slide initially seemed poised for a second wind (or more like a fourth wind) helping to lead the creation of a product to go against Facebook. Instead, some of the team continued running SuperPoke and other apps — it still has nearly half a million monthly active users on Facebook — or worked on new ones like photo-sharing mobile app Photovine. Those efforts were more on the peripheral of Google+ products, if not in competition with them. Tellingly, Slide’s games weren’t even included in its games launch earlier this month.
AllThingsD, which broke the story, also reported that founder Max Levchin is leaving, and so is up-and-coming product leader Jared Fliesler, who will join fellow former Slide executive Keith Rabois at mobile payments company Square.
This still isn’t a failed acquisition in the way that other recent big ones have been, like Cisco’s closure of its Flip device line. Most Slide employees are staying to work in other parts of the acquirer, and we’ve heard that attrition to date has already been very low. And because Google is busy hiring anyway, including for its game platforms and social products, these 100-some veteran employees are still in a good position to make an impact.
A Look Back at Slide’s Products Over the Years
The company began life as a desktop photo browser app back in 2005, but quickly transitioned to take advantage of MySpace. It built an online photo app of sorts that users could embed in their profiles. To get a sense of how early this was in the industry, MySpace sometimes viewed third-party developers as threats and at various points tried to block their embeds.
Along with other older social competitors, like RockYou, Slide eagerly jumped on to Facebook’s platform when it launched in May of 2007. It already knew how to get social distribution without a host platform’s support. With official communication channels at its disposal, Slide quickly grew to become one of the largest developers in Facebook, with hits like profile embed Top Friends, and the unofficial wall app FunWall (later FunSpace).
Facebook effectively crippled many of these apps through a variety of product and policy changes in 2007 and 2008, removing profile boxes, banning apps that mimicked its official profile wall, and altering the news feed and notifications.
It was many of those same changes that game developers, notably Zynga, Playdom, Playfish and a few others, took advantage of to build social games in 2008 and 2009. When Facebook product and policy changes in turn hit these developers, they had already built up sizeable audiences — that monetized through virtual goods.
Slide spent much of the time focusing on a variety of other social products, like social sponsored television and ads. And although it fought its way into social gaming, it was going uphill against fresh incumbents in new terrain.
A Case Study in Perserverance
Future business case studies might draw all sorts of lessons from Slide. Certainly, today’s entrepreneurs are.
It was right that social app development was a big new market. It hit at a good enough time to gain millions of users and become a leader on MySpace. It transitioned to do the same on Facebook. In the scope of the market, it also became caught in the paradox that faces all incumbents — it invested so much in earlier iterations of social apps that it wasn’t in the right position at the right time to take advantage of social gaming.
It also arguably fought cleaner than many competitors. Although it observably spammed users in some of its apps, especially at earlier points in its history, it made a point of acting in the interests of users on Facebook when many game developers were merrily breaking the user experience to grow or make money. It never touched the scammy advertising offers that most social game developers initially relied on to generate revenue from virtual goods.
So all in all, despite not being a full win, Slide shouldn’t be seen as a failure.
The company went about it the hard way, but got to a successful exit, and appears to be offering some ongoing value to its acquirer. And don’t forget that the acquisition appeared to be a profitable return for stockholders — while the company was at one point valued at half a billion dollars, the final sale price was healthily above the $78 million it raised.
We had thought that Slide, given all of its experiences building social apps across platforms, could provide some hard-earned wisdom in Google’s social product and platform development. And in fact, maybe it is and the results just aren’t labeled clearly now.
If nothing else, we hope that the remaining Slide employees at Google help their company design great social products with high user value, low spam and no scams — and avoid some of the difficulties that MySpace, Facebook, and the various developers on their platforms, have had over the years.