The End of Google+ Games

To say that the Google+ Games program performed well under expectations would be an understatement. The near clone of the Facebook gaming experience launched in August 2011 and promptly fell off of the radar, seeing just a few dozen games released in total since launch. Last month, Google announced the closure of Google+ Games in favor of Google Play Games, its cross-platform game service that will support games across Android, iOS, and browsers.

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Social games news roundup: Google game services, EA, Kabam and more

EA

EA inviting Sim City Social refugees to Plants vs. Zombies Adventures – Last month we reported that game developer and publisher Electronic Arts announced that on June 14 it will retire three of its Facebook games: Sim City Social, The Sims Social and Pet Society. Today we’ve learned that EA is inviting Sim City Social players to play the beta for the highly anticipated Plants vs. Zombies Adventures Facebook game via emails. The game will launch publicly on May 20.

pikpok

DreamWorks, PikPok and Verizon promote Turbo with mobile game and $1M in rewards – DreamWorks Animation announced it is promoting its upcoming film Turbo with a mobile game by developer PikPok, which will feature a contest with $1 million in total cash prizes. The Turbo Racing League mobile game is available on iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android handsets and tablets, and Windows Phone 8, but players on Verizon, which is presenting the $1 million Shell-Out contest, will have access to unique content. You can read about the contest rules in detail here.

EA

Former New York Times digital and mobile products manager joins EA’s Board of Directors – Game developer and publisher Electronic Arts has appointed Denise F. Warren to its Board of Directors. Warren is executive vice president of the digital products and services group and former chief advertising officer at The New York Times Company. The announcement comes on the heels of EA’s Q4 2013 earnings report which revealed the company earned $104 million in revenue from mobile, and its increasing focus on mobile and digital products.

startrek

Elephant Mouse launches Star Trek Rivals – Mobile game developer Elephant Mouse announced the launch of a free-to-play card battle game based on the recently released Star Trek Into Darkness feature film. The game will feature more than 100 cards for players to collect, representing characters, starships and technoolgies that appear in the film. The game is avilable to download for free from the iTunes App Store.

sega-logo

Sonic The Hedgehog debuts on Android – Game developer and publisher Sega announced that the 16-bit Genesis classic Sonic The Hedgehog has launched on Android. The game, which was already available on iOS, is now available to download from the iTunes App Store for $2.99.

KAB_Icon_Rnd10

Kabam to implement Google+ Sign-In – Social game developer Kabam announced that it will be the first games company to implement Google+ Sign-In. The new integration will provide users with a simple and secure sign-in process on Kabam.com and the ability to engage users with interactive posts, which allow players to share content and prompt friends to take specific actions in their games.

Corona Labs

Corona Labs announces Dilbert Game Jam — Venture-backed mobile software company Corona Labs has teamed up with the creator of the Dilbert comic strip Venture-backed mobile software company for a mobile game development contest. Developers are invited to create a winning a game with the Corona SDK and Dilbert artwork. The winner will have the opportunity to publish the the game to major app stores. Additional prizes include yearlong subscriptions to Corona SDK Pro, iTunes gift cards and more. The contest runs from May 14 through July 12 with winners to be announced on July 19. You can read more about the Dilbert Game Jam here.

google_logo_33

Google announces game services — During Google’s sixth annual I/O keynote in San Francisco Google’s vice president of Android product management Hugo Barra announced the launch of Google’s equivalent to iOS’ Game Center, Google Play game services. The new feature allows developers to add cloud sync to any game, so users can save their data like player progression and game state across any Android device. Additionally, Google Play game services adds leaderboards and achievements support as well as a new multiplayer feature. Also, game services isn’t limited to Android apps, the service can be integrated into an iOS or web app, allowing cross-platform play.

Animoca releases data on the top Android handsets and OS versions in the U.S.

Animoca logo

Android-focused Mobile game developer and publisher Animoca released data showing the Samsung Galaxy S3 as the top Android handset in the U.S. and Ice Cream Sandwich as the top version of the Android platform.

Samsung’s flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S3, grabbed an 8.8 share among the top Android smartphones in the U.S. The Galaxy S2 landed at the No. 2 spot, with a 6.1 percent share. In total, five of the top 10 Android phones in the U.S. were manufactured by Samsung. It should come as no surprise that the South Korean conglomerate is the top Android smartphone manufacturer in the U.S., with data from both mobile ad network Millennial Media and analytics firm ComScore showing the same result. Korean manufacturers, in general, dominated the top three spots, with the Galaxy S3, Galaxy S2 and the LG Motion 4G MS770 accounting for 19.7 percent of U.S. Android phones.Animoca top Android smartphones

What’s interesting about Animoca’s data is how much different its Android platform data varies when compared to Google’s developer dashboard, which breaks down the Android platform usage on devices by version. Animoca showed Ice Cream Sandwich (version 4.0.4) as the top Android version, with a 33.5 percent share of devices running Android. Comparatively, Google showed Ice Cream Sandwich taking a 29.0 percent share (version 4.0.3 and 4.0.4 combined). According to Animoca’s data, Gingerbread (both version 2.3.4 and 2.3.6) only grabbed a 22.9 percent share at the No. 2 and No. 5 spots, while Google’s data showed Gingerbread (versions 2.3 to 2.3.2 and 2.3.3 to 2.3.7) leading all versions with a 45.6 percent share.Animoca top Android platforms

Animoca released a similar report that showed its findings on the top U.S. Android handsets and platforms back in Nov. 2012. Android devices running Jelly Bean or higher accounted for a 46.1 percent of the overall share back in Nov. 2012, but it’s now up to 61.5 percent in its most recent report.

The Hong Kong-based game company collected data for this report between Jan. 15 and Feb. 15 from users of Animoca’s Android smartphone games downloaded through Google Play — tablets excluded — in the U.S.

UPDATE: Shortly after publishing, Google updated its developer dashboard. Below are Google’s updated market share figures of the Android platform usage on devices for Ice Cream Sandwich, Gingerbread and Jelly Bean:

  • Ice Cream Sandwich (version 4.0.3 and 4.0.4 combined): 28.6 percent
  • Gingerbread (versions 2.3 to 2.3.2 and 2.3.3 to 2.3.7): 44.2 percent
  • Jelly Bean (Both versions 4.1 and 4.2): 16.5

This story originally appearing on our sister site Inside Mobile Apps.

PlayHaven picks up AdMob’s Charles Yim as COO

Charles Yim_Headshot[1]Mobile game developer resource PlayHaven announced a new hire today with Charles Yim joining the company as Chief Operating Officer. Yim was previously at AdMob, which was acquired by Google in 2010.

PlayHaven’s mission is to maximize the lifetime value of a mobile game player; a large part of this strategy comes from advertising, which is where Yim’s expertise comes in. With more mobile developers turning to native video ads as a monetization solution, it makes sense to bring in a guy that helped AdMob launch mobile video on iPad and Android tablets. PlayHaven has grown to 60 since closing an $8 million third round of funding late last year.

The following is a brief interview conducted with Yim earlier this week.

Inside Social Games: Do you see Tablet emerging as the dominant “mobile” games platform in the next year, or are we already there?

Charles Yim: If you look at the games industry holistically, it’s pretty broad. Each different game genre — a casual game, a casino game, a hardcore game — they lend themselves to different users and tablet is a good platform for certain genres, but not all genres. I don’t think tablets are the end-all, be-all of the industry.

ISG: We’ve seen a lot of advertisers and ad platforms focus on video in the last year — including AdMob. Where can native ads go beyond video?

Yim: The ongoing debate that you find is in the advertising technology perspective — on one side of the spectrum, you have super native and then on the other you have scalable. When I think back to AdMob in 2009 when we came out with our own video ad unit, the companies were developing niche swipable video ad units, but the industry couldn’t scale those. Integrating with a large number of publishers was a difficult process to manage. Whenever you look at a new channel in native ads, there’s a natural dynamic tension between delivering a native, unique experience and something that can be scaled. AdMob’s [ad unit] was the first that really gained traction because it was easy for advertisers to understand. The things you could do outside of video is really a question of how much deep integration are people willing to do and are advertisers willing to buy into that experience.

ISG: What’s the biggest mistake game developers make in implementing ads on mobile?

Yim: Game developers have gotten much better at this, but they think about building their game before they think about monetizing it. They’re very focused on the player experience and afterwards, they slap ads on top of it. Savvy game devs in mobile understand that ads are a important part of the business model and they incorporate that into their game from the get-go.

ISG: Anything to add?

Yim: My motivations for joining PlayHaven are asking what are game developers doing well or not doing well. As the industry matures, the needs of the developers mature. As their business scale and grow, they run into growing pains they haven’t anticipated. PlayHaven has an incredibly talented team and the best perspective on what’s coming and on helping game developers manage their businesses.

W3i’s Erik Lundberg on Android games monetization, tablet dominance, closing the gap with iOS

Monetization and insights provider W3i is stepping up its game with Pocket Gems and other mobile game developers on Android going into 2013. This could be the year that Google’s platform finally catches up in revenues to Apple’s iOS.

Through its expanded partnership with Pocket Gems, W3i now provides monetization solutions to Tap Paradise Cove and Campus Life. Far from being mere banner ads, the monetization service focuses instead on providing a native experience in these Android apps — tailoring ads, offers and video campaigns to the user experience.

Erik Lundberg, General Manager at W3i’s San Francisco office (pictured), explains that the shift toward native experiences comes from mobile advertising finally moving away from online advertising models. With 15 years in online ads before joining W3i just eight months ago, he’s had time to study the changing trends.

“In the early days of ads and mobile apps, people took online models and slapped them on a smartphone like small banner ads that are only 100 pixels wide,” says Lundberg. “Users have tuned those out. More native ads like a full screen interstitial or offer-based ads, we see a much higher CPM, like 10 times higher. We think that trend will continue toward native ads that are a part of the application instead of just throwing up a banner.”

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Google’s App Engine allows devs to affordably create scalable social games

In a guest post on Google’s Developer Blog, Zupcat CTO Hernan Liendo said Google’s App Engine was instrumental in helping his company succeed at building its multiplayer racing game RaceTown without a huge budget.

According to Liendo, App Engine’s technology allowed the studio to deal with the various requirements facing social game developers, like ensuring high uptime, flexibility to deal with social networks’ API changes and the ability to concurrently manage thousands of players across the globe. “App Engine addresses these complicated issues,” he writes. “It provides few tracerouting hops from almost anywhere in the world, great uptime, automatic scalability, no need for infrastructure monitoring and a reasonable price for content delivery.”

The main strength of App Engine, Liendo explains, is that it not only serves as a solid backend server for games but also as a metrics server and content delivery network. Liendo also says the App Engine Datastore is perfectly suited for social games because of its high availability and the ease with which it handles “hundreds of millions of rows of data.”

Although RaceTown hasn’t been a runaway hit, the game’s certainly a proven success. Since launching last November, the game’s seen regular growth surges, peaking at 90,000 daily active users in August but it’s now bouncing between 30,000 and 50,000.

East Side Games grew a massive Facebook hit with $800 worth of marketing

Developer East Side Games’s Facebook farm sim Pot Farm is still thriving even though it launched two years ago, an impressive feat since the developer wasn’t allowed to market the game on the social network. Now, the studio’s founders tell us how they grew Pot Farm into a successful title, talk about what their experience with Google+ has been like and share some details about the studio’s next couple of games.

Struggling to market marijuana on Facebook

Pot Farm is proof a Facebook game can succeed on the social network without any actual promotion. According to Creative Director Galan Akin, this was no easy task. “Facebook has made it really hard to survive and grow without advertising,” he says.

That was problematic for the developer when it came to Pot Farm because, according to CEO and founder Jason Bailey,  Facebook won’t let East Side Games advertise the game: “Because of the marijuana-themed content, Facebook’s made it very clear: ‘Go away. We don’t want your money.’”

Likewise, online advertising groups are unwilling to run a Pot Farm campaign. As a result, the game’s growth has been due to viral sharing from things like wall posts providing in-game rewards and word-of-mouth recommendations from players.  According to Bailey, the lifetime marketing spend for Pot Farm has been about $800.

However, the game’s not only survived, it’s thrived. According to our AppData traffic tracking service, the game still retains 910,000 monthly active users and 120,000 daily active users.

Keeping the game’s players around for several years is no easy task, but East Side Games claims it’s possible by regularly engaging fans. Part of the success comes from listening to fans and providing updates they want. The company also does three to five Timeline updates a day, and Bailey says the game’s community posts get more Likes than FarmVille’s do. Indeed, although Pot Farm only has 120,000 daily active users, the game now has over a million Likes on Facebook.

However, Bailey also wryly notes, “you have to be careful about encouraging the fans because we’re up to at least ten people who have Pot Farm tattoos. Some of them look pretty jailhouse.”

“Google’s old and fat.”

While East Side Games has found success on Facebook, Google+ is another story. Recently, the company made headlines when its monster-battling game Zombinis was launched as a 30-day exclusive for Google’s social network. Although East Side Games was happy with the coverage and the ensuing attention, Zombinis hasn’t proven as successful on G+ as it is on Facebook, but the developer’s able to simultaneously maintain both versions of the game.

“It’s more work to take Zombinis off [G+] than it is to leave it on,” Bailey explains. “It’s a minimal amount of effort to keep it going; if it wasn’t doing as well on Facebook and the only source of income was coming from Google+, we’d have to think about turning it off.”

According to Bailey, the biggest challenge for G+ is that it doesn’t understand social games and the third party app experience. “It’s the challenge with any big company. It’s the same challenge Facebook has. If Facebook were to launch a third party game platform tomorrow, they’d fuck it up royally. They’re big and fat and bloated and it’s so hard to innovate in a multi-thousand person company. When Facebook launched their game platform originally … they were a scrappy young upstart. So they made a bunch of ballsy choices in the early days that allowed them to be successful.

“Now — I’ve seen it so many times — when you’re a big corporation, it’s hard to be innovative. It’s hard to  move fast. It’s hard to get a team of people who take ownership of the product and drive it with an entrepreneurial view. Google can’t do that. Google’s old and fat.”

Moving forward on mobile

East Side Games itself is striving to keep itself from becoming “old and fat” by constantly  working on new projects, across multiple platforms. Bailey tells us the development team has built 13 to 15 games, but only a few have made it to completion. A recent example of this is a pachinko game the developer created for mobile platforms: Although a prototype was built, the studio decided not to go any further and killed the project. “We fail a lot, but we fail fast,” he admits.

The company has about a half dozen other games in development right now, but can only talk about a few of the upcoming mobile projects: Ruby Skies (pictured above) and Dragon Up. Ruby Skies is an iOS exclusive and is a “romantic exploration game” described as a combination of Adventure World and Harlequin Romance.  Players control a Cupid (or Venus) -like character who travels through time to various islands. Players use energy to explore the map, find items and give them to other characters in order to establish romantic relationships. Dragon Up, meanwhile, is much earlier in development but will contain elements of Tiny Tower, Dragon Story and DragonVale.

Ruby Skies is due out within a few weeks, while a version of Dragon Up will hopefully be available to show off in time for Casual Connect later this month.

 

EA’s Strike Fortress proves HTML5 can deliver a social cross-platform action game

Electronic Arts proved that HTML5 can deliver a quality fast-paced title at Google’s I/O conference last week with Strike Fortress, a game that provides a social action experience between Android and PC users.

Strike Fortress is a playable tech demo, showcasing what HTML5 can deliver. Using the Pterosaur graphics engine, which is JavaScript-based, the game delivers full 3D graphics that showed none of the telltale problems with animation that HTML5 is notorious for. The gameplay delivers a player-versus-player experience, similar to the action/real-time-strategy play of League of Legends. Players control a battle mech as it stomps around a game arena, trying to take out opposing players’ bases with the aid of AI-controlled tanks that automatically spawn and progress across the map.

There were two ways to play the game at Google I/O.  Players on PC could use console controllers to directly control the battle mechs roaming around the map. Meanwhile, users with Android devices were able to scan a QR code that would bring them directly to the game in their browsers. When using a mobile device, players were presented with a top-down map of the arena they could drop support crates, mines and missiles around. Mobile players acted as free agents and could help or hinder whoever they wanted, with the results of their actions being played on a wall-mounted television. We only saw two mobile users playing in a game, but Driscoll tells us there were as many as ten Android users playing at a time.

The game was worked on by a group of Carnegie Mellon students and the team from EA’s Chief Creative Office, based on an idea EA had for an Xbox title. According to designer Daniel Driscoll, the task was particularly daunting for the students since none of them had programmed in JavaScript before. Driscoll tells us part of the reason HTML5 isn’t successful yet in the game industry is because it’s part of the JavaScript environment. Driscoll says there is a dearth of game developers who also have JavaScript experience, primarily because it’s “a language less efficient than what people want.”

EA doesn’t have any plans to release  Strike Fortress, instead, the game was created as a project for the company’s Chief Creative Office to prove that a game like this could be done. Driscoll doesn’t rule out the possibility of the game getting a wider release in the future, but for now it’s serving as an example of how far game developers can go with Java WebGL.

Band Stars review

Band Stars is a new game developed by Six Foot Kid and published by Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride creators Halfbrick. The new game is available now via the Chrome Web Store and with added social features on Google+.

Band Stars casts players in the role of a band manager. Beginning by hiring four musicians, the player must record songs, collect royalities and rise up the charts on a quest for stardom. Over time, players will hire new musicians and purchase new equipment to make their productions more and more elaborate.

Gameplay in Band Stars is similar to Kairosoft’s popular mobile title Game Dev Story. Players first choose a music genre and lyrical style, with bonuses given if the two are thematically appropriate for one another. They must then select one of their musicians to write the song and wait for a short period as the writer earns “points” in several different categories for their latest creation. Once the writing phase is complete, the player must assign band members to appropriate instruments for the song’s recording session, during which all participants earn further points for the song. While performing, the player may spend earned “Inspirado” points on solos, which enable individual characters to provide bigger boosts to various point categories. Finally, the “polish” phase sees players assigning a single musician to production duty to earn the last few points, and upon completion the song’s initial chart position is calculated. The song then continues to sell copies for a short period, after which players get a cash bonus and ongoing royalties (both of which must be collected manually by mousing over “treasure chest” items, encouraging players to check in on the game regularly) and proceed to do the whole thing again.

It’s a relatively simple formula with a little light management added by the inclusion of an “energy” system for the band members — though this isn’t a traditional social game “you may click this many times without paying” mechanic. Rather, each band member gets more tired as they do more jobs — if one member writes the song, performs on it and produces it, for example, they will get more tired than someone who just shows up to play keyboards. In order to restore the characters’ energy, they must be dragged and dropped into various items of “resting” furniture such as a bed and a hot tub. Their energy then slowly restores over time, or players may purchase energy drinks using real money to immediately refresh their musicians.

Progression comes as the player builds up a fanbase for their band. Initially, players may improve their band’s performance by purchasing new instruments and upgrades; over time, it becomes possible to sign with different record labels, which provides bonuses to songs when they are released. Completing various quests also unlocks new song genres and lyric styles — this is the one deviation from the Game Dev Story formula, which left things completely freeform to the player and unlocked new content through rather arbitrary criteria.

Band Stars is pretty good overall. It has an endearing visual style and plenty of character to it, and it doesn’t fall back on established social game formulae, preferring instead to take its cues from a well-known (though relatively niche) mobile title. An in-game leaderboard function encourages competitive play with players from around the world and it’s possible for players to “follow” friends’ bands and see what they are up to. The in-game profanity filter (which comes into play when naming a band or track) is a little too enthusiastic, however, believing the word “smoky” to be deserving of censorship, and it would be nice to hear more variations on the music the player’s band plays while they are performing. These small flaws aside, Band Stars is well worth checking out — though it remains to be seen whether it will be able to build up a big enough audience to be profitable on Google+. Halfbrick is a mobile specialist, however, so it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see iOS and Android versions of this game at some point in the future — it would certainly work well on mobile.

Band Stars is available to play now via the Chrome Web Store or Google+.

Play

A good social adaptation of the “Game Dev Story” fomula.

Pettington Park review

Pettington Park is a new Google+ release, developed by Loot Drop and published by Zynga. The game is a markedly different experience from the developer’s other recent release Ghost Recon Commander, but as other developers and publishers are starting to abandon G+ as a viable social games platform, will this title have what it takes to survive on Google’s social network?

Pettington Park is a game that tasks players with building a successful amusement park for either the dogs or cats faction, who are locked in an eternal struggle for supremacy. The player selects their faction and designs an avatar of the appropriate species upon starting the game for the first time, and is unable to change this choice once play has begun — though their avatar can be outfitted with alternative clothing items. Faction choice determines which team players will be on in the game’s light player-vs-player elements, and also affects the ongoing narrative that runs through the game’s quests.

There are lots of things to do in Pettington Park. Primarily the player will be concerned with securing a source of income in the early stages of the game, which comes from constructing arcade machines. This is accomplished in the same way as building structures in similar titles — structures are placed from the shop, and then require several clicks’ worth of energy plus some collectible resources to complete. Players may ask friends for resources, but most can either be scavenged or purchased, meaning solo players are able to make progress without running into a form of friend gate.

Each arcade machine comes from a particular region, most of which are groan-inducing animal-themed puns on real-world countries, and placing decorations from that region near the relevant arcade machines boosts their profitability and the potential for high scores — for all the machines are playable, offering a variety of minigames ranging from takes on pachinko to match-3 puzzlers.

Pettington Park’s non-player characters will occasionally wander over and play the arcade machines, providing the player with a slow source of income. But if the player wishes to compete in the “cats vs dogs” component of the game, they will have to play the games themselves. This costs “tokens” to accomplish. Tokens are an in-game currency that is reserved purely for playing the arcade machines, and are stored separately from the player’s energy, soft and hard currency stocks. Additional tokens may be acquired by visiting friends, allowing social players to make larger contributions to the “war” effort. Upon completing a play session, the player’s high score is tallied and boosted by any nearby appropriate decorations. The player is then given a rundown of how cats and dogs are shaping up against each other in the overall war effort, and is then encouraged to play more either to secure their faction’s lead or to retake the top spot from their opponents. A detailed weekly “challenge checklist” allows players to see how the two factions compare in terms of specific game high scores, number of plays, number of machines built and total scores. The challenges reset every week, allowing for balanced competition.

Pettington Park is clearly trying to provide something a little different from conventional building games, and in that respect it succeeds quite well. The inclusion of the playable minigames helps break up the monotony of clicking on things to harvest resources, and also provides players with something to do while their energy restores. The player-vs-player component (or, perhaps more accurately, faction-vs-faction) also helps provide an incentive for players to check in on the game more regularly, particularly if they are competing against a friend in a rival faction. The game’s story — in which the player’s avatar is an important character with its own dialogue rather than a passive, silent observer — is gradually revealed through some of the game’s quests, also adds an element of intrigue to the proceedings and further incentive for players to keep playing.

The only question looming over the game is whether it will be a success in the long run. As we have already seen from Wooga’s departure and EA’s closure of Bejeweled Blitz, developers and publishers are seemingly starting to lose faith in G+ as a viable platform. At present, Pettington Park does not feature many avenues of monetization — at present, hard currency is only used for speeding up the “reboot” of an arcade machine after its income has been collected, a couple of vanity items for the player avatar, and energy/token top-ups. For the game to be profitable, it is going to need to attract a decent-sized audience. Judging from the in-game statistic on the number of “Pawchinko” machines built — the first arcade machine players are given access to — there appears to be something in the region of 12,000 players playing at the time of writing, though this is obviously an imprecise calculation. Whether or not the game will be successful in the long run depends entirely on whether Loot Drop and Zynga are able to acquire sufficient users to make the game sustainable. If they can’t, it would be a shame not to see the game launch on Facebook instead — it’s a good quality experience that offers something a bit different from the usual.

Wait

A good game that is very much worth playing, though whether or not the choice of Google+ as its launch platform was a smart one remains to be seen.

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