Rovio announces Rovio Stars Publishing Initiative


Finnish mobile game developer and creator of Angry Birds Rovio Entertainment announced the launch of its third-party mobile game publishing initiative, Rovio Stars.

Icerbreaker: A Viking Voyage by developer Nitrome will be the first game published under the Rovio Stars Program, followed by Spanish developer 5 Ants’ stealth puzzle game, Tiny Thief.

Many mobile game developers like Pocket Gems, Zynga, and Kabam have launched their own third-party publishing programs recently, and we’ve heard rumors Rovio would launch a similar program for a while. In January, all but confirmed the program’s existance when it reported that 5 Ants had been signed with Rovio but at the time we weren’t certian that this was not a talent acquisition.

“Rovio Entertainment has positioned itself as one of the powerhouses of mobile entertainment, so moving into publishing is a logical step for us at this point”, Rovio’s executive vice president of games Jami Laes said in a statment. “We want to help our fans find quality entertainment among the more than 100,000 games available in app stores. That’s where Rovio Stars comes in.”

Games that leverage Rovio’s Angry Birds brand are immensely successful, with titles showing up at the top of our weekly charts regularly, but the developer’s more recent titles based on new IP have struggled. Amazing Alex, Rovio’s first new IP after Angry Birds, is currently the No. 258 top paid app in the games genre according to traffic tracking service AppData. The Croods, based on the DreamWorks animated motion picture, is currently the No. 247 top grossing app in the games genre.

Rovio said that Icerbreaker: A Viking Voyage is “coming soon” to iOS. Check back in with Inside Social Games for our full review.

Rank Wars: Sorting games in App Center

Facebook launches its new App Center today, centralizing app discovery moreso than the now-defunct Apps and Games Dashboard. For mobile and social games, this will hopefully drive more traffic to only the highest-ranked games.

App Center ranks games primarily by a five-star rating meter. A game’s page will also allow users to preview the title similar to the way the iOS App Store; displaying screenshots, a developer-written description, genres and user reviews. Users can also view — without installing — exactly what permissions an app requests at install. For mobile games, users can navigate directly to the App Store to install an app from their mobile device or can “Send to Mobile,” if they find a mobile app from their computer that they’d like to try.

Correction: App ratings cannot be assigned from an app’s profile page.

Games are sorted in App Center’s homepage by Recommended and Friends Apps. A left-hand module also sorts games by genre — Action & Arcade, Puzzle, etc. Facebook doesn’t say how the display rank order is determined. At a press event debuting App Center in San Francisco, we saw that each game listed in a category displays its star rating and the number of monthly users playing the app. Facebook’s Matt Wyndowe declined to tell us what specifically determines an app’s position in rankings, but he did confirm that traffic and star rating are the main factors considered.

Update: Wyndowe adds that Facebook plans to turn on algorithmic discovery for App Center at some point, but at launch the emphasis is on displaying top quality apps. Facebook had previously said that not all apps would appear in App Center, implying that a certain quality standard must be met when an app is submitted.

Ideally, App Center will only display higher-quality games based on star ratings and user feedback. The danger in a centralized games navigation center is that star rankings can be more easily manipulated than the algorithmic discovery Facebook previously relied on for game discovery. We’ve seen how bots in the App Store can rapidly inflate a mobile game’s position on the top charts. We’ve also seen star ratings metrics abused by users that want to target a developer for personal reasons rather than provide actual feedback on a specific game. The rank at which a game appears on a chart can have an enormous impact on that game’s installs.

Facebook says that over 230 million people played games on Facebook in May 2012 and that over 130 million games claimed more than 1 million monthly users.

Update 2: App Center is now live for us.

From the homepage, top rated apps is currently displaying Pinterest as the top app followed by mobile game Draw Something and Instagram. The Trending apps rankings — which show rapidly-growing apps — now has Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook canvas game Marvel Avengers Alliance in the top three. Finally, top grossing apps ranks Zynga’s CastleVille, Texas HoldEm Poker and FarmVille as No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.

App Center differentiates between social and mobile games on its platform with a Mobile Only icon on certain games (see below). Users can currently filter app platforms by Web, Mobile or All. Interestingly, the top rated games filtered by All displays mostly mobile titles — suggesting that game players engage more with star ratings on iOS and Android than they ever did on Facebook. Filtering the Trending category by returns primarily Facebook canvas games. Note that there is ample space for display ads to the right of all rankings screens.

Social gaming news roundup: Zynga, the BAFTAs and Nexon

Zynga to get into publishingBloomberg is reporting Zynga will soon unveil a publishing program that will allow other developers to advertise their games within Zynga’s games and on a Zynga games portal.

Former LucasArts devs launch social game platform – Game industry veterans Randy Farmer, Chip Morningstar, Noah Falstein and Gary Winnick have teamed to create a new cloud application platform for social games called Suddenly Social.

Bossa Studios, We R Interactive get BAFTA nods — Bossa Studios’ debut game Monstermind has received two BAFTA Video Game Award nominations for best online browser game and best debut game. In other BAFTA news, We R Interactive’s soccer game I AM PLAYR has also been nominated for best online browser game. The awards ceremony will be held on March 16.

Large Animal Games partners with King Features for comic strip tie-in — New York-based Large Animal Games has struck a deal with King Features Syndicate to use King comic characters in its Facebook game Picturiffic. The first premium pack with King Features content will feature Popeye.

Vostu named a most innovative Brazilian company — Fast Company has named Vostu as one of its 10 most innovative companies in Brazil for incorporating in-game radio into its social games. For more information, read our full article on the in-game radio feature here.

Nexon revamps Wonder Cruise – Nexon America has rolled out an extensive series of updates to its Facebook game Wonder Cruise, adding daily bonuses, wildcard events and updating the game’s citybuilding Tycoon System. The game is currently in open beta.

Zynga legal roundup — SocialApps is suing Zynga for breaching an implied contract with MyFarm developer SocialApps. The company is claiming Zynga used the source code for MyFarm to create FarmVille, despite a 2009 letter of agreement between the parties, according to Develop. In other Zynga legal news, Personalized Media Communications (PMC) is suing Zynga for infringing four of its patents covering “the use of control and information signals embedded in electronic media content to generate output for display that is personalized and relevant to a user,” according to a Gamasutra report. PMC is suing Zynga in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, a district known for its favorable treatment of patent plaintiffs.

Former THQ devs go mobile, social with Twiitch — Australian game industry veterans Shane Stevens and Steven Spagnolo, formerly of THQ and Blue Tongue Entertainment, have launched a new independent studio called Twiitch. The company’s first game is iOS physics puzzler Coco Loco, which will be published by EA’s Chillingo. Twiitch is also working on a Facebook game.

Words With Friends can lead to Romance – Zynga has released some interesting Words With Friends statistics. According to the company, 44 percent of players have admitted to flirting with an online opponent and one in 10 players admitted the game has led to a in-person meeting.

The Sims Social adds “friends with benefits” social interaction – EA updates The Sims Social this week with a new social interaction that allows players to engage other players’ Sims in sexual activity without first entering into a monogamous relationship. We’ve heard sexual activity is one of the core revenue drivers for The Sims Social; it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, impact this update has on the game’s performance.

PopCap podcast addresses Pig Up! failings – EA PopCap’s Jeff Green and Joey Trimmer interview game producer Isaac Aubrey and writer Stephen Notley on what went wrong with the experimental social game. PopCap’s next Facebook title, Solitaire Blitz, officially launches next month.

Inside Tetris Battle, Facebook’s top multiplayer arcade game

Tetris Battle started out in 2010 as a quiet attempt to bring a classic video game brand to Facebook. Now, just over a year later, the game is on track to compete with the very biggest Facebook games from giants like Zynga and EA.

Already ranked among the top ten most popular games on Facebook as recorded by our AppData traffic tracking service, Tetris Battle currently enjoys about 3.1 million daily active users with 2 million of them arriving in the game within the last two months alone. Honolulu-based developer Tetris Online Inc. has set the sky as the limit for the game’s growth in 2012, hoping to grow the total player base of Tetris Battle to between 5 and 10 million DAU this year. If successful, this would place Tetris Battles in serious competition for the top spot of most popular Facebook game overall.

In this report, Tetris Online VP of Marketing Casey Pelkey and VP of Game Design & Executive Producer Eui-Joon “Ace” Youm share the design and deployment decisions that make the game an ongoing success, their monetization strategies, other Tetris Online games and future plans for Tetris Battle expansion Tetris Arena.

Tetris Battle gameplay: Variations of multiplayer

Tetris Battle’s basic gameplay is similar to the original arcade version, except played in several varieties of multiplayer with enhanced competitive aspects. In “Sprint” mode, players race to be the first to create 40 lines the fastest; in “Battle” modes, when a player forms one or more lines on their board, obstacles and hazards are sent onto the playing field of her competitors.

Gameplay makes use of both synchronous and asynchronous multiplayer competition. The developer prefers not to publicize the specific deployment method used in Tetris Battle, except to say that its goal is to make gameplay feel the same in both synchronous and asynchronous matches. Players are pit against competitors of a similar level and when competing in real time, they will see their competitors’ actual gameplay depicted onscreen. When playing the game with Facebook friends, matches are entirely synchronous and feature a live user-to-user chat feature. The company intentionally throttles live play connections to maintain good performance, but Pelkey says it still represents “a significant percentage of total games played each day.”

Tetris Online incorporates a number of mechanics to encourage continued engagement, including a leveling system which is used to match players with similar playing abilities, and to unlock new game modes. As with many social games, Tetris Battle also has an energy meter which is drained during play, but replenished over time or via monetization. A “Daily Bonus Spin” encourages regular play by offering players special items for playing the game over consecutive days.

Growth and usage: 80 percent word-of-mouth installs

Unlike many Facebook games, Tetris Battle does not employ a mandatory friend-adding mechanic in which a player cannot progress further unless they send game installation invites to their friends. Instead, says Youm, “We focus on the core gameplay… our core belief is if [players] enjoy the game and stay there, they will invite their friends.”

This partly explains the game’s relatively slow growth rates in its first 6-8 months. Initially launched in July 2010, it first had slow growth and low engagement rates, fluctuating between 7 and 15 percent of DAU as a percent of MAU (or DAU/MAU). Technical issues were also a culprit.

The game’s slow growth was also due in part to a lower install rate: Only 55 percent of players would go from launching the app to completing their first game. The reason for this, the developer believes, is that many Facebook gamers were unaccustomed to Tetris’ keyboard-driven gameplay, since nearly all games on the social network platform are mouse-driven. To address this challenge, Youm and his team put the game’s keyboard instructions in the first loading screen and focused players on only using the game’s main key controls for the initial game. As a result, Tetris Battle’s install-to-play rate increased to 80 percent.

The results of this design and layout change became quite evident in April 2011. According to AppData, the DAU/MAU rate then leaped from 20 to about 27 percent, and then began trending toward 35 percent. (Engagement rates of 20 percent DAU/MAU or higher are extremely good for a Facebook game.) Youm also believes that by April 2011, Tetris Battle had reached sufficient critical mass (then about 500,000 DAU) that word of mouth began to drive strong adoption rates, with current players actively inviting their friends to play. According to Youm, installations based on word of mouth are “at least 80 percent… and the funny thing is, it’s increasing.”

Some of Tetris Battle’s growth is also attributable to a viral mechanism involving tetrimino blocks, which can be combined and redeemed for additional energy. A player who invites Facebook users gets more chances to win tetriminos. Players who are Facebook friends with each other can give each other their tetriminos, which creates incentive for friend invites. Tetris Battle also sees significant growth via updates on friends’ Facebook walls, where news on winning games and other Tetris Battle successes can be posted. (As a skill-based game, Youm speculates that players feel more encouraged to share Tetris Battle victories with friends, than non-skill game updates.) Further, the developer reports that players who come to Tetris Battle via friend requests are more likely to put a full effort into the initial on-ramping experience, and are therefore more likely to convert.

In more recent months, Tetris Battle has seen noticeable growth through Facebook’s launch of the canvas app ticker, which amplified the game’s viral word of mouth. The developer hopes that Facebook makes it possible for users to immediately join friends in a multiplayer session, just by clicking on the relevant app ticker update. Doing this, they believe, would increase general growth of multiplayer games on Facebook.

According to the developer, the game now enjoys a peak concurrency of nearly 200,000 players, and routinely averages about 100,000 players throughout the day. Twenty percent of the total playerbase is classified as core players, defined as those who play over an hour a day. As noted, the game has an energy system, which kicks in after 30 minutes; at that point, a player must wait for an hour to refill their energy (i.e. playing time), or purchase extra energy. Core players are therefore playing at least twice a day and/or monetizing.

Monetization and demographics

The developer reports that Tetris Battle earns close to the puzzle game average of 1 to 2 cents in average revenue per daily active user, or ARPDAU. (Tetris Online declines to state specific ARPDAU for their game.) That monetization rate is typical for the game’s US audience, they say, with other English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, the UK) also earning good monetization. At this range and at a conservative estimate, revenue for Tetris Battle probably exceeds $1 million per month.

Tetris Battle’s monetization options center around energy, decorations, and functional items, such as “armor,” which protects a player’s rank on the game’s leaderboard from decreasing whenever a player loses a match. Overall, functional goods that improve a player’s gameplay, such as speeding up the movement of their game pieces, monetize best. For the game’s 20 percent core users, a “fast speed drop” of incoming blocks is the most popular monetized item. Special discount sales of goods also increase monetization rates, as does localization of the game. Tetris Battle was also recently localized in Chinese, which resulted in a revenue increase among Chinese-speaking players.

Demographically, Tetris Battle players are roughly split 50/50 by gender, and retention tends to skew younger; in this case, meaning players in the 20-40 range. Core gamers (those playing for over an hour a day) are more male. In terms of players by country, the game reportedly grows in tandem with Facebook’s expansion into the international market. (Players from Denmark, for unknown reasons, comprise a disproportionately large percentage of the user base.)

Leveraging and protecting the Tetris brand on Facebook

According to Pelkey, the Tetris brand name has been an important draw for first-time players; however, retention depends not on the brand, but gameplay and user experience. He applies this lesson in general advice to Facebook game developers involved with other well-known brands and franchises: “You have to deliver a great game, period,” he says. And that includes adding features to the game that leverage all of the platform’s social components: “In Facebook, you better deliver [a game] that has something extra, and not only engages the player, but engages their friends as well.” So far, Tetris Battle is among the rare examples of games from the arcade era to succeed on Facebook.

Given that, and the continued growth of Tetris Battle, some might wonder if it will face copy-cat competitors which frequently beset successful Facebook games. In this case, Tetris’ holding company, Blue Planet Software, has a history of successfully protecting the Tetris brand from imitators in the legal arena. While games in themselves cannot be copyrighted, elements of a game can be trademarked; in this case, the Tetris logo, Tetris theme song, and tetrimino playing pieces enjoy that legal protection. As an example of Blue Planet’s protection strategy, a Facebook game called Blockstar, which had a striking resemblance to Tetris, was legally acquired and co-opted by the company in 2007. This move contrasts the fate of Scrabulous, a Facebook imitator of Scrabble that was shut down by the board game’s rights holder.

Instead of doing that, says Pelkey, “To help reduce the amount of time our legal team spent on shutting this particular game mode down, we were fortunate to befriend the individual who programmed [Blockstar]”. The company went on to “embrace it as an official game mode, making it a part of the Tetris history.” It’s still available within Tetris Friends, with 350,000 MAU. (Before joining Tetris Online, Youm himself was developing a knock-off of the original Tetris for an Asian developer.)

Future plans: Tetris Arena, localization and beyond Tetris Battle

In the second quarter of 2012, Facebook should see the launch of Tetris Arena, a gameplay mode in Tetris Battle that’s now in closed beta. Aimed at the core gamer market, Tetris Arena focuses on multiplayer, synchronous play, in which players compete live using the same playing pieces.

Given that focus, it will also come with a global ranking system — the first Tetris title to have one. For this reason, Tetris Online believes that the Arena mode will draw core players hungry to prove that they’re among the very best at the game overall. Also reflecting the developer’s goal to present Tetris as a competitive sport, Arena will also come with a spectator mode. The company has been testing it on gamers by publishing the Arena game mode’s unlock code on Twitter. Since starting this activity, the Tetris Battle Twitter account has gained 260,000 followers within two months. The Arena game mode is entirely live play, but since it’s still in closed beta, it represents a smaller percentage of the daily games played; the company expects this to grow as the game is opened to more players.

Monetization for Tetris Arena will vary from the main Tetris Battle game, with more functional consumable items. Since the game exists within the main app, the company plans to focus early launch on in-game cross-promotion.

As noted, Tetris Online recently launched a Chinese-localized version of Tetris Battle, garnering improved monetization in Chinese-speaking countries. In 2012, the company also plans to release localizations of the game in Spanish, French, Italian and German, with one new language deployed each month. All these versions will exist within the same Tetris Battle app ID, which will therefore enjoy any growth these additions are likely to attract. The developer notes that the game tends to gain growth momentum when it’s made available in a given country, and word of mouth kicks in; localization should further drive this growth.

Tetris Online also plans to launch a second product in 2012, a head-to-head multiplayer game, which will not be Tetris branded. Another game, Tetris Stars, which combines mouse-driven gameplay with a more casual variation of Tetris, is currently in open beta; the developer is still developing its Q1 2012 plans for that title.

Facebook games in 2012: Words With Friends vs. Tetris Online

At the start of 2012, several top Facebook games shared some common traits with Tetris Battle. Among these are Words With Friends (with 7.9 million DAU, 16 million MAU), Bubble Witch Saga (4 million DAU, 11 million MAU), and Bejeweled Blitz (3.1 million DAU, 9.2 million MAU). All currently enjoy strong growth, especially as compared to other games now topping the popularity charts, such as CityVille and The Sims Social, which have comparatively flat growth. Given these trends, it’s likely that puzzle/arcade games will emerge as 2012’s leaders on the Facebook platform.

For the part of Tetris Online, they consider Tetris Battle’s most direct competitor in the coming year to be Zynga’s Words With Friends. From Youm’s perspective, Words has the advantage of mobile connectivity and cross-platform play. By contrast, competitive Tetris games are difficult to deploy on phones, especially smartphones with touch screens. Additionally, EA holds the rights to mobile versions of Tetris and would need to be brought on as a partner for any mobile deployment of Tetris Online games. However, Youm argues that Tetris Battle has a more global reach than Words With Friends, with the Scrabble-like game probably limited in appeal to regions where English or Romance languages predominate.

These strategic assumptions will be tested as Tetris Online rolls out localized versions of Tetris Battle in 2012, aiming to cater more directly to European and Spanish-speaking countries. In any case, the company sees this year as an opportunity to transform the Facebook platform’s competitive space. Youm argues that multiplayer competitive games are more sustainable for developers, because unlike most other genres, there’s no clear end point where all the game’s content has been enjoyed. Just as Tetris the brand continues to thrive nearly three decades after launch, he believes multiplayer games on Facebook can thrive as long as people are interested in playing them against each other.

“The success of puzzle games gives people something to think about,” as Pelkey puts it. ”At the end of 2012, maybe there’s a different face of gaming in Facebook.”

Full Disclosure: In 2010, the author briefly consulted for Avatar Reality, an unrelated 3D virtual
world developer founded by Henk Rogers, president of Blue Planet Software.

Social Gaming News Roundup: Zynga, DeNA and Dungeon Overlord

Gameloft May Create Social Gaming Network – In a feature interview with Gamasutra, Gameloft’s SVP Gonzague de Vallois revealed the French company is considering bypassing its existing partners, Japanese mobile social network operators DeNA and GREE and creating their own social mobile network.

CastleVille Supporting $100k in Charity Donations - This week Zynga announced that it had created a unique partnership between its charitable arm and the upcoming CastleVille. By Liking the CastleVille Facebook fan page, players will be able help decide how donations of $40k, $30k and $20k will be allocated to Direct Relief, Save the Children and The donations will be made once CastleVille reaches 5 million Likes. In addition to player determined donations, is also donating $10k to Dallas’ Direct Relief Community Health Clinic to celebrate the release of CastleVille, the first game developed by Zynga Dallas.

TeePee Recruiting Beta Testers – UK-based TeePee Games is recruiting gamers interested in playing social, online and mobile games before their release. Beta testers will be compensated for the work, which will include reporting on bugs and giving feedback on features and possible improvements. The deadline to sign up for a beta testing role is October 30th, and all those interested must register an account at and send an email to Darren Newnham, TeePee Games’ director of content: darren (dot) newnham (at) teepeegames (dot) com.

Final Fantasy Coming to a Social Network Near You – Square Enix is teaming with DeNA to take its beloved gaming franchise, Final Fantasy to Mobage. The as-yet unannounced social game will feature familiar characters from the Final Fantasy series.

Apples to Apples Going Social, Mobile – THQ is teaming with Mattel to take the popular party game Apples to Apples into the digital realm. The game will be available on Facebook and mobile devices, as well as on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network in time for the 2011 holiday season.

DeNA Purchasing Baseball Team?! – Andriasang is reporting that Mobage owners DeNA are very close to signing a deal that would see them take a 70% ownership claim in struggling Japanese baseball team the Yokohama Bay Stars. If the deal goes through, DeNA will be on the hook to pay current team owners TBS Holdings upwards of 10 billion yen for the club.

Pixonic Opens US Office - Russian social game developer Pixonic has opened a new American office as part of its international expansion plan. The company, which has published more than 40 games on 14 different social networks, as well as iOS and Android, is now co-headquartered in Moscow and San Francisco.

Dungeon Overlord Headed to Korea – Facebook MMO Dungeon Overlord is making the jump across the Pacific and into the Korean Market. The the exclusive Korean operating rights for the hardcore strategy game were obtained by The9 Korea in a deal with Austin based Dungeon Overlord developer Night Owl Games. According to AppData, Dungeon Overlord currently has 60,000 MAU.

Zynga VP Leaves After Six Months – Zynga’s vice president of studios Lou Castle has left the company after just six months according to Castle reportedly made the move to spend more time with his family.

Facebook To Spend $1 Million on Lobbying in 2011 - TechCrunch is reporting that Facebook is set to spend more than $1 million lobbying the US government in 2011, a sharp increase over what the social network spent petitioning government in 2010.

Rift Makers Trion Worlds Also Making IPO Plans – Trion Worlds may soon be filing for an IPO. The company’s chief executive Lars Butler revealed the information in a Reuters interview last week, telling reporters that the company is considering an IPO “at some point.” Trion’s most popular game is MMORPG Rift.

We R Interactive Improves Service With Parature – According to a press release sent out by Facebook game developer We R Interactive and cloud-based customer support tool Parature, after implementing Parature’s services into their game I AM PLAYR, We R Interactive has seen a 40% reduction in incoming support tickets. We R Interactive integrated Parature’s services into I AM PLAYR two months ago.

Farmer’s Insurance Expands Zynga Marketing to CityVille – American insurer Farmer’s Insurance is following up its branded promotions in Zynga’s FarmVille, Mafia Wars and Cafe World with a new campaign in CityVille. As part of the promotion, players will be able to add branded Farmer’s Insurance buildings and items to their cities, and enter to win a trip to New York.

[Funding] SoshiGames Sprouts Seed Funding – SoshiGames has secured $500,000 of seed funding. The UK startup is using the money to start hiring new team members for development of its social music Facebook game Music Festivals, which is currently in beta.

[Launch] Resort World on Google+ – Game Insight’s Resort World is now on Google+. The game is one of the first available on Google+ and the move makes Game Insight one of the first 12 developers who have brought their games to the new social network.

Ludia Breaking Into the Movie Business With Jurassic Park Game

Fans of Jurassic Park will have a social game with a little more bite to play in 2012 thanks to Ludia. The Montreal-based developer has signed a licensing agreement with Universal Studios to create a branded social game based on the classic dinosaur movie franchise.

Players of the game will be able to pick up where billionaire John Hammond left off after the first Jurassic Park movie, and the game will be similar to other zoo and animal collecting titles; players be able to build and customize their own dinosaur park, breeding new types of dinosaurs by discovering new DNA hidden in pieces of amber. However, unlike the doomed park in the film, players will be able to prevent disasters from happening and attract tourists by tapping into their network of Facebook friends.

“This exciting license is our gateway to the movie industry and reinforces our strategy of turning high-profile brands into successful interactive entertainment experiences,” Ludia CEO Alex Thabet says in a statement packaged with the press release announcing the deal.

Ludia is most well known for its branded properties based on popular reality TV and game shows like Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader and Family Feud & Friends. The as-yet unnamed Jurassic Park game will make its debut in early 2012 on mobile platforms and will expand later to social networks.

Zynga Announces Zynga Direct, a Social-Mobile Network Enabled With Facebook Connect

Zynga CEO Mark Pincus announced a service called Zynga Direct today that seems to be the final form of the long-rumored ZLive platform.

ZLive was first reported more than a year ago and at the time was seen as a direct threat to Facebook’s games ecosystem, if indeed the platform allowed Facebook players to play Zynga games without Facebook. At that time, Zynga was also struggling with Facebook’s evolving platform requirements and Credits integration. Now, however, the market has changed and Credits are fully integrated in the Facebook platform across all games. In present conditions, Zynga Direct comes across more as a social club for Zynga gamers than a game-oriented Facebook alternative.

As Pincus explains: “We’re building a platform for play. For us it’s a platform. We’re not trying to be the company that’s trying to make the next hit game. We’re trying to have this experience make up a platform for play. Similar to what Facebook’s doing, but at a game level.”

Pincus put off the technical explanation for later on in the event. He did say that Zynga Direct is the deepest possible integration of Facebook Connect, and made a point of calling Facebook a launch partner of the platform, much as Zynga was Facebook’s launch partner for its mobile platform launched yesterday.

UPDATE: Zynga’s COO John Schappert announced what seems to be a separate product called Project Z, which is a web-based social network for Zynga players. It’s not live yet, but you can reserve a “Ztag” virtual identity here. It is also a Facebook Connect-enabled network.

UPDATE 2: Ah, it’s not a separate thing. Project Z is Zynga Direct. Both names are probably working titles only as the service isn’t live.

Social Gaming Roundup: THQ, Supercell, Sim City, & More

MargaritavilleTHQ Brings Margaritaville to Facebook and iOS — Core games developer THQ has announced a new Facebook and iOS inspired by Jimmy Buffett this week. Margaritaville Online is slated to release this fall and will allow users to create their own tropical paradise and explore an open world of parties and mini-games.

EA to Make Sim City, Simpsons Facebook Game — In a brief post from MCV, it would seem that Electronic Arts is looking to bring another piece of major intellectual property to Facebook. The Simpsons franchise is stated to make its social gaming debut in September. Additionally, the coming of a Facebook rendition of SimCity has also been noted.

Raptr Launches Personalized News Feed — Gaming social networking platform Raptr has launched a new personalized news feed feature for its users that is not unlike a Facebook news feed. The addition will not only display news that comes from other users, but will also show news relevant to players based on what games they are currently playing.

Supercell Raises $12 Million — Finnish games developer Supercell has raised $12 million in a round led by Accel Partners this week. The funding is stated to be used for real-time social games with a much larger scope than traditional social titles, yet less complex than an MMOG.

Gree Invests in Hand — Japanese company, Gree is looking to grow stronger in the social gaming category. As such, according to Adriasang, Gree has announced that it will be investing in Japanese social game developer Hand via a stock purchase.

MocoSpace SpendingMen Outspend Women on Mobile Virtual Goods — According to a survey from MocoSpace, men outspend women 9 to 1 when it comes to buying virtual goods in mobile social games. Of the 1,500 users that participated, men not only played slightly longer (21 minutes versus 19 minutes for women), but 69 percent also bought virtual goods. 31 percent of women did the same.

[image via VentureBeat]

Media Should Mimic Social Games — At the eG8 forum in Paris earlier this week, Mark Zuckerberg made his views known regarding Facebook and media such as music and movies. While he states that Facebook has no intention of offering these services itself, he does believe that both industries could benefit from going social in the same way that social games have, drawing parallels to companies such as Zynga and Playfish. According to him, “These industries can be rebuilt from the ground up with social. The opportunities when you make these companies social are a lot bigger than they are (in their current form).”

Social Gaming Roundup: Shadow Government Funding, Playfish EIR, Mafia Wars MySpace Closure, and More

New Company Shadow Government Aims to Model the Real World for Social Gaming — In what promises to bring together real-world data and gaming features, the startup is hoping to help predict actual events. It has $1 million in backing from angel investors, and a partnership with The Millenium Institute, which sells government-modeling software. “Now, for the first time, anyone with an iPhone or Android can ‘play’ at what it’s like to simulate running a real country,” chief executive Margaret Wallace said in a press release. “Let’s see if, using the model provided by The Millennium Institute, this Shadow Government can do a better job of managing actual events and world crises compared to our real-world counterparts.”

Playfish CoFounder Now EIR at Index Ventures — Sami Lababibi wasn’t the best known of Playfish’s four cofounders, but he was its technical leader, overseeing the company’s rapid growth on Facebook, and the first phases of its integration into acquirer EA. Having left last month, he’s now an entrepreneur-in-residence at Playfish backer Index Ventures.

Capcom Opens Subsidiary in Japan to Develop New Mobile Content — The established developer intends for the new organization to create original intellectual property game, and focus on developing its mobile social gaming market outside of the US, witha a special focus on Japan and Asia. More details from the company here.

Zynga Closing Mafia Wars on MySpace — Other developers have shut down some games on the struggling social network, as we’ve been covering. Now Zynga, which so far has only closed one game, is ending formative hit Mafia Wars (the Facebook version is meanwhile still going pretty strong despite a gradual long-term decline).

Hi5 Recategorized as Gaming Site by comScore — It is now the sixth largest such property in the world, with 21.7 million unique visitors — a far smaller user base than when it was a social network, but still something to work with as it continues its positioning as a social gaming platform.

FooPets Maker Raises Second Round — Rivet Games, formerly known as FooMojo has added a $5 million second round to its initial funding of nearly $10 million, as it plans more social and mobile games. The money is from existing investors Softbank, Baseline Ventures and Floodgate.

Announcing Inside Virtual Goods: Profiling the Social Gaming Middle Market 2011

Games on social networks became a billion dollar business in 2010, enabling the market’s big developers to secure significant investments and pursue sizable exits. Now that Zynga has clearly established itself as the 800 pound gorilla, EA/Playfish are bringing more IP to market, and Playdom is being integrated across Disney, what opportunities remain for other small and medium sized social game developers in 2011?

Inside Network is proud to announce a new original research report by Justin Smith and Charles Hudson profiling social gaming developers outside the largest, most established companies, entitled Inside Virtual Goods: Profiling the Social Gaming Middle Market 2011. This report presents direct interview results from today’s most influential small and mid-sized developers aside from larger players Zynga, Playfish, Playdom, CrowdStar, and Kabam.

Get the Annual Membership

Get Annual Membership (Includes Report + 3 Additional Quarterly Issues): $2,495 $1,995 USD*

OR Buy Single Report: $995 $795 USD*

* Pre-order discount ends March 28, 2011. All pre-ordered reports will be delivered on March 29, 2011.

Inside Virtual Goods: Profiling the Social Gaming Middle Market 2011 is available for discount pre-order now, and will be released to the public on March 29.

What are top mid-sized developers’ expectations for the social gaming space in 2011? How will existing players fare as Facebook shifts the social gaming landscape through the rollout of Facebook Credits and continued changes to the platform? Inside Virtual Goods: Profiling the Social Gaming Middle Market 2011 shares insights directly from the front lines on social game monetization, development, and customer acquisition and growth.

About the Report

Inside Virtual Goods: Profiling the Social Gaming Middle Market 2011 shares insights from over two-dozen developers into key questions facing social gaming in 2011.

As with previous editions of Inside Virtual Goods, researchers Justin Smith and Charles Hudson have conducted several months of original research comprising interviews with developers and entrepreneurs in social gaming. This edition of Inside Virtual Goods will present exclusive interview results from the developers themselves, preceded by original profiles of all companies included in the survey. Social gaming is among today’s most competitive areas in technology; specific responses have been anonymized to encourage authentic, critical response.

What We Cover

  1. Overview of the competitive landscape – Over the past year, the social gaming industry has been shaped and reshaped by enormous growth, market consolidation, and changes to payments and monetization brought on by the spread of Facebook Credits. What kind of competitive landscape and new opportunities should today’s developers anticipate in the year ahead?
  2. Profiles of key players – Companies like Zynga, EA / Playfish, and Disney / Playdom are regular topics in business news, but social gaming is an industry with dozens more key players whose rivalry and innovation are determining what the industry will look like in six and nine months. This section presents detailed, original profiles of the middle market companies to watch in 2011.
  3. Developer perspectives on the key issues – The responses in this section have been curated to reflect the diversity of viewpoints in today’s vibrant social gaming industry, and cover the following areas:
    • Distribution
    • Monetization and credits
    • Game design and development
    • Fundraising

See the full table of contents below:

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Company Profiles

  1. 50 Cubes
  2. 6waves
  3. A Bit Lucky
  4. Casual Collective
  5. Cie Games
  6. Digital Chocolate
  7. Five Minutes
  8. Funzio
  9. Gaia Online
  10. GameHouse
  11. GSN
  12. Happy Elements
  13. iWin/Backstage
  14. Lionside
  15. Lolapps
  16. Metrogames
  17. MindJolt
  18. Omgpop
  19. Popcap
  20. RockYou
  21. Social Point
  22. TheBroth
  23. Ubisoft
  24. Wooga
  25. ZipZapPlay

III. Developer Perspectives

  1. Distribution
    • Viral Channels
    • Paid Acquisition
    • Off-Facebook Channels
  2. Monetization
    • Credits Integration
    • Results with Credits
    • Credits Issues
  3. Game Design & Development
    • Projected Budgets and Timelines
    • Target Audience
    • Genre Innovation
  4. Financing Landscape
    • Fundraising Plans
    • Perspective on M&A

IV. Conclusion

New Insights on the Competitive Landscape

In 2010, social games began to show what kind of value can be created on top of social networks. 2011 will be an even more important year.

The social gaming market is evolving rapidly against a backdrop of shifting challenges, and still-emerging opportunities — social gaming will be this year’s industry to watch. If you’re involved, or are considering jumping in, Inside Virtual Goods will be one of your most important tools.

One year of original data and exclusive in-depth reports delivered on a quarterly basis is $2,495 and contains:

  • A detailed overview of the current state of the industry
  • Specific estimates on market size by segment
  • Diagnosis of key opportunities and issues by segment

About the Authorsjustin-smith-headshot

Justin 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.

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.

Get The Annual Membership

Get Annual Membership (Includes Report + 3 Additional Quarterly Issues): $2,495 $1,995 USD*

OR Buy Single Report: $995 $795 USD*

* Pre-order discount ends March 28, 2011. All pre-ordered reports will be delivered on March 29, 2011.

Although the report will not be released until Tuesday, March 29, we are offering a special pre-order discount for those who purchase now. A one year subscription is $1,995 until March 28, at which point the price will go to US $2,495. The one year subscription includes three quarterly updates on key developments in the space.

Or, you can download just this report. The pre-order price is $795 until March 28, at which point the price will go to US $995.

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