Guest Post: Resurrecting Location-Based Games

geo1Today’s guest post comes to us from David Bisceglia, Founder and CEO of  The Tap Lab, a mobile game studio focusing on location-based titles. His article focuses on what developers of these types of games can learn from previous titles in the genre.

Many of us grew up playing classic backyard games like Capture the Flag, Pickle and Marco Polo. The digital variant of these games are known as location-based games, a genre that has been around for over a decade.

A Brief History of Location-Based Games

In 1999, the first mobile phones with GPS hit the market. This set the course for the pioneers of location-based games. Dodgeball, one of the first location-based social networks, and a GPS-driven scavenger hunt called Geocaching both came to market in 2000. The major map data providers, Google Maps and Open Street Maps, were established by 2005 and the launch of iPhone and Android phones with GPS soon followed. From 2009-2010, venue data providers including Google Places, Foursquare and Factual placed the final piece of the puzzle for the mobile games we see today.

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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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Social gaming news roundup: China, Google and PerBlue

Chinese social, online game markets booming - According to information released at the 2011 China Game Industry Annual Conference, China’s online gaming sector (MMOs, casual games and social games) is now worth more than 42.85 billion yuan ($6.8 billion), 32.4 percent more than it was worth in 2010, reports Penn Olson.

Persona 3 Social has 1 million members – Persona 3 Social, the social spin off game of PS2 hit Persona 3 has over a million members on Mobage, according Siliconera. The news bodes well for the Personal 3 Social creator Index Corporation’s next game, Persona 4 Social.

TeePee Game partners with OK! TeePee Games, a games discovery service based in the UK has signed a deal with The Express Group, the publisher of supermarket tabloid OK! to create a branded games discovery portal for the company’s UK Facebook group called OK! Games.

Vostu adds more Android games to its portfolio – Latin American social games developer Vostu is quietly expanding into mobile. The company soft launched three Android titles last year and will be releasing four more in the first quarter of 2012 according to Business Insider.

Monumental Games shuts down – UK-based Monumental Games, creator of the Facebook 3D MMO Little Horrors and the Prime toolkit for 3D browser and Facebook games has shut down, laying off 20 workers according to a report on Develop.

Cave pivots to social – Andriasang is reporting that Japanese developer Cave is shifting its focus to social games following a disappointing earnings report that predicted the company would only make $650,000 in operating profit this year. The company already makes social games for both Mobage and GREE.

Social games cheaters cheat in real life too – According to a new survey from EA’s PopCap Games, people who cheat at social games are likely to cheat in real life. Of the 1200 people polled, eight percent of social games players admitted to cheating, and of those 8 percent, almost half admitted to cheating in real life situations. Although more women than men play social games, men were more likely to admit to cheating in them.

Google Making its own social game – Google has released a video of an upcoming social game it is developing that uses Google Maps. The game will be available in February on Google+.

Kixeye releases Backyard Monsters expansion – As of today, the first expansion for Kixeye’s popular RTS Facebook game Backyard Monsters will be available on Facebook. Backyard Monsters: Inferno will allow players to explore below the surface of the earth.

Kabam expands Godfather: Five Families - Kabam has added another neighborhood to its social game, The Godfather: Five Families. Greenwich Village is now available to all players on the Kabam website, Google+ and Facebook.

Transformers social game coming to GREE – Beloved cartoon franchise The Transformers is getting a social game according a report from Andriasang. The game, titled Transformers for GREE was developed by Interspace and will be available next month.

Pulitzer Prize winner to pen social game – Gamasutra is reporting that Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is teaming with non-profit developer Games for Change to create a social game about female oppression. The game will be released on Facebook in late 2012.

[Launch] Mail.Ru releasing new browser-based MMO – Mail.Ru Games announced this week that it will be releasing a new browser-based MMO called RiotZone early this year. The game is a strategy game designed to appeal to casual gamers.

[Launch] PerBlue Brings Parallel Kingdom to Facebook - PerBlue’s location based MMORPG Parallel Kingdom is going against the tide of Facebook to mobile expansions and moving onto the web. The game is now available on Kongregate, Chrome and Facebook.

CrowdMob’s Mafia Location Game Harnesses Facebook Places to Drive Downloads

Even though Facebook likely has around 700 million users now, it actually isn’t often that we hear the social network is a major driver for user acquisition in mobile gaming — at least compared to FreeAppADay or having an inside connection to Apple.

But a veteran team from the social gaming world is trying to disprove this with its first app Mob Empire, a Foursquare-meets-Mafia Wars game. CrowdMob, which was co-founded by LOLapps’ former creative director Damon Grow, Alex Han and Matt Moore, is among a handful of startups that are trying to build location-enabled mobile games that are genuinely social.

The app, which the company has intentionally kept quiet about since its April 1 launch, pits friends and strangers against each other in a quest to gain control of venues in their city. The game has a modest number of users at the moment with just over 17,000 Facebook monthly actives on AppData, but that’s because the company hasn’t really publicized it to date. Grow said the company is focused on getting engagement of existing users up and ensuring the back-end can scale before marketing or promoting the title.

Continue reading on Inside Mobile Apps.

Social Gaming Roundup: Trademarks, Funding, Earnings, & More

Diamond DashPlayFirst & Wooga Reach Agreement Over “Dash” Trademark — Earlier this week, PlayFirst announced an agreement with wooga over the use of the word “Dash” in wooga’s Diamond Dash Facebook game. The exact compensation wooga makes to PlayFirst remains undisclosed. PlayFirst says its “Dash” trademark was filed back in April of 2008 and awarded in December of 2009.

Howard Marks Focuses In on Social-Mobile Startup Gamzee — Activision co-founder and ex-Acclaim CEO Howard Marks is turning his attention to social-mobile gaming startup Gamzee, says VentureBeat. According to Marks, the developer will be focusing on cross-platform games built with HTML5, in theory allowing them to make games that run on social networks, mobile devices, and the web.

We R Interactive Secures $5 Million in Funding — London-based online games publisher and I AM PLAYR creator We R Interactive announced a second round of funding closed from private investment worth $5 million. The funding is allegedly going towards supporting the international expansion of their I AM PLAYR title.

Gameloft Makes Its Own “FarmVille” for iOS — Mobile developer Gameloft has released a new game for iOS this week by the name of Green Farm. The new title is essentially a mobile-social rendition of Zynga’s popular Facebook title, FarmVille.

DominateIGN Launches Game Check-In App — Gaming network IGN is entering the social-mobile check-in space with the launch of its free app, Dominate. Players can “check-in” the games they are playing and become the “Dominator” of the games they play the most. It’s a very barebones app and it sounds like this might be a little late considering recent big ticket acquisitions in the space of companies like OpenFeint, which offers similar mobile game ranking features.

Live Gamer Partners with Skrill — Online game monetization solutions provider Live Gamer has partnered with payment company Skrill, according to VentureBeat. Through the partnership, online games publishers will more easily be able to incorporate both the former’s virtual goods platform and latter’s Moneybookers payment system.

Konami LogoKonami Reports Fiscal Earnings – Social Games Grow — Core games publisher Konami reported its fiscal earnings this week, noting growth in its social games sales, increasing from $156.7 million to $195 million. Gamasutra reports that the company will be putting greater effort into its social gaming portfolio over the course of the next year.

Social Games May “Crash Very Hard” — In an interview with Industry Gamers, game developer and Silicon Knights founder Denis Dyack forecasts a bleak future social games, stating that “it’s probably going to be one of the biggest bubbles and explosions that our industry’s seen in a long time and I think when it crashes it’s going to crash very hard.” His reasoning, in a nutshell, is that social games feel more like marketing rather than “real gaming,” and thus the market isn’t all that sustainable.

How Location-Based Services Changed Social Games in Asia

[Editor's note: PapayaMobile chief executive Si Shen shares her perspective on the importance of location for social gaming in Asia.]

As social gaming on mobile devices continues to grow throughout 2010, so will the number of applications offering location-based services. But will 2011 be the year that location-based social games take off in the U.S? With smartphone ownership continuing to expand, we’re presented with an opportunity to add location awareness into social games, adding unique experiences for users and creating new business models for developers.

To provide inspiration to U.S developers and to offer a glimpse of the possibilities that location-based services bring to social games, I’d like to share with you some unique insights into the Asian Market, particularly Japan, where location-based gaming has been popular for some years now.

The largest social gaming platform in Japan, Mobagetown of DeNA, was released in early 2006. China’s Tencent launched its mobile QQ with a gaming platform at the end of 2006. Although we see some U.S. developers starting to integrate location elements into mobile social games, the Asian market has a longer history of using location-based services in mobile social games.

The Japanese market has been experimenting with LBS mobile social games since 2005. One of the first location-based games, Colonial Living PLUS, was released in May 2005 by COLOPL. This game is a standalone LBS social game in which users build and maintain their cities. In mid-2010, it had about one million registered users, with 90 percent over the age of 20. The games are designed so that users have to go back in frequently to take care of their cities.

The location information adds another dimension around which users can interact and explore new opportunities for fun and entertainment. Since the location information is relevant to most mobile devices, all existing social games can be integrated with some location elements. For example, a farming game can connect virtual farms with real locations; a mafia wars game can hide the weapons in virtual locations that are associated with real locations; and the “virtual neighbors” in a pet game can be associated with pets that are close to you in the real world.

Location elements can be made as a ubiquitous API that can be integrated into any social game. Google is the first company to share location information as open APIs. A Chinese company, Beiduo, that has millions of registered users, is a pioneer in sharing location information and my company, PapayaMobile, is the first to release a LBS SDK that allows other applications to integrate location information associated with users’ social graphs.

There are more games – in various categories – on the way that are specific to LBS. The largest category is the city development games, like My Town, where users build a virtual world based on their real location. It can be easily integrated with a virtual currency system. Since the city development games are associated with real locations where users have an attachment, it is very easy to build loyalty to the game. The Japanese game Colonial Living PLUS is a good example.

The other large category is “take-over-an-area” games, such as Foursquare, in which the company’s 5 million users occupy or conquer a location by continuously visiting it. These games can be combined with promotions for local businesses. There are also other game-oriented happenings in this area in Asia. The “Mobile Country Takeover Battle” developed by Japanese company Mapion is a great example. Players use the “takeover” command to conquer the region, and repeat until they conquer all of Japan. By conquering a certain area or by answering a quiz, users earn points. However, the “Mobile Country Takeover Battle” is a relatively small game in terms of registered users.

There are other examples including scavenger hunt games, photo uploading games and even location-based dating games. One interesting example involves GPS graffiti and traces a user’s whereabouts to create a drawing on their mobile phones. Several years ago in Japan, an interesting application came via a game that focused on signal gathering – users would go to different locations and gather cell phone signals to earn experience points. Although this game is not relevant in Japan anymore, a similar game for AT&T in San Francisco would be beneficial considering the connectivity issues – and consumer complaints – that the company faces.

LBS is becoming a common feature for many social games, but in order for it to be effective on a social platform, it must achieve massive user numbers. Sharing user locations and points of interest via social networks is a trend for all game developers (LBS and otherwise). Usually third-party developers can call on LBS APIs to get users location-related information so that it can be used to enhance and personalize games. Because a lot of third-party developers use a unified database of location information and user profiles, the LBS information is more effective because it is connected to social graphs. For example, more than 50 percent of Papaya Farm users actually use the LBS check-in function of the Papaya SNS. Sharing the Papaya location database with the other developers makes it much easier to achieve a comprehensive point of interest database. There are currently eight million registered users on Papaya sharing their location information with each other, and this location based information is used by 12 Papaya applications and 150 third party applications that have integrated our Social SDK.

More importantly, LBS will bring a new business model to social games by combining local business and gaming. For virtual city based games, the virtual currency system can be easily integrated into the game. For games where virtual currency is not relevant, the combination of gaming and local business coupons can provide a great way to promote services to relevant users. The social-graph-based recommendation system, combined with location-relevant information, provides comprehensive suggestions to users for local businesses.

China’s largest local business directory, Dianping, with 10 million users, has a great business model combined with location information. When players use Dianping’s local information, it provides coupons that are relevant to their specific location and profile. It allows users to check in to specific local businesses and become the “king” of the location. The “king” is then rewarded with coupons or discounts at the specific local business.

So what does this all mean for the U.S. market? Asia is leading the way in location-based social gaming and is many years ahead already. The region is showing the world the kind of location-based social games we’re likely to experience in the near future. Expect 2011 to see the continued rise of “take-over-an-area” games such as Foursquare, a deeper integration of location-based services into mobile social games and a new wave of popular location based games that you haven’t even heard of yet.

Si Shen is the Co-Founder and chief executive of mobile social gaming network provider Papaya Mobile Inc.

SCVNGR Raises $15 Million More for Location-Based Games

The hype about location-based services has died down a great deal in the past few months, particularly as the realization set in that even services with large numbers of signups don’t get many regular visitors. But SCVNGR, a location-based startup that relies heavily on gaming concepts, appears to be ramping up anyway.

SCVNGR just raised $15 million in new venture funding, at a hefty $100 million valuation, according to TechCrunch, and will be using the money for growth overseas and continue work on the platform.

Some of the deals that SCVNGR scored in 2010 were likely an impetus to the funding. The company worked with institutions like the Smithsonian, the New England Patriots and the movie Inception; by the end of the year, it claimed over a thousand paying clients with over half a million users. It’s available on both the iPhone and Android, platforms that are themselves growing quickly.

Competitors like Foursquare and Gowalla, with less game elements, appear to be fading somewhat from the spotlight, although that’s not to say they have no chance of success. But SCVNGR’s funding, only slightly smaller than the $20 million Foursquare raised last June, will likely focus attention on what it’s doing.

This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

IF LogoCheck out the top headlines and insights this week from Inside Facebook— tracking Facebook and the Facebook platform for developers and marketers.

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Friday, November 12th, 2010

This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

IF LogoCheck out the top headlines and insights this week from Inside Facebook— tracking Facebook and the Facebook platform for developers and marketers.

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Thursday, October 21th, 2010

Friday, October 22th, 2010

Announcing Inside Social Apps InFocus 2011 – Coming January 25th in San Francisco

January 25th | San Francisco

Inside Network is proud to announce our second conference on the future of monetization on social platforms: Inside Social Apps InFocus 2011, exploring the key uncertainties and opportunities in social games and applications in 2011, happening January 25th in San Francisco.

Social applications first emerged in 2007, and are today maturing into a global media ecosystem. With the launch of the Facebook Platform, followed by platforms from MySpace and other social networks, developers worldwide could leverage the social graph to create new kinds of social experiences never before possible.

Now, three and a half years later, what started out as sheep throwing and vampire biting has quickly become a profitable billion-dollar industry, punctuated by numerous major acquisitions by the world’s leading media companies and developers. But now, new challenges are emerging, affecting big players and new entrants alike.

Inside Social Apps will investigate the latest trends and challenges for social applications, and look at what’s to come for developers throughout the space – including the growth of virtual goods and social applications on mobile devices.

What are the biggest uncertainties and opportunities facing the future of social games and applications in 2011, and who is leading the way?

Inside Social Apps InFocus 2011 – January 25th in San Francisco

Inside Social Apps InFocus 2011 takes place January 25th, 2011 at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco, and brings together the world’s leading entrepreneurs to weigh in on the future of social app and game monetization.

Inside Social Apps will be a one-day summit led by Inside Network’s Eric Eldon and Justin Smith, and will take in-depth investigative approach to the day’s discussions. At Inside Social Apps, Inside Network will work alongside founders and executives of the top social networking, social gaming, mobile social gaming, payments, and virtual goods infrastructure companies to analyze the most important issues affecting the industry. Inside Social Apps is geared towards developers on Facebook, iPhone, Android, and emerging online social platforms.

Inside Social Apps will be a content-rich day of critical discussion, followed by an evening and nighttime of casual networking.

Who Is Speaking?

We’re excited and honored to announce the following 15 confirmed speakers at Inside Social Apps InFocus 2011:

  • Atul Bagga, VP Equity Research, Games, ThinkEquity
  • Bill Gossman, CEO, hi5
  • Bret Taylor, CTO, Facebook
  • Deborah Liu, Commerce Product Marketing, Facebook
  • Eric Chu, Group Manager, Android Platform, Google
  • Jason Oberfest, VP Social Apps, ngmoco:) (now part of DeNA)
  • Kevin Chou, Co-founder and CEO, Kabam
  • Manu Rekhi, GM Games, Content, and Platform, MySpace
  • Peter Relan, Executive Chairman, CrowdStar
  • Raph Koster, Former President, Metaplace; VP Creative Design, Playdom (now part of Disney)
  • Rex Ng, Co-founder and CEO, 6waves
  • Rick Thompson, Co-founder, Playdom (now part of Disney), and Investor
  • Sean Ryan, EVP and GM Games, News Corporation
  • Sebastien de Halleux, Co-founder and COO, Playfish (now part of Electronic Arts)
  • Vish Makhijani, SVP Business Operations, Zynga
  • Eric Eldon, Editor, Inside Network
  • Justin Smith, Founder, Inside Network

A full agenda will be announced shortly. Keep an eye on InsideSocialApps.com for more information.

Register Now


A limited set of 20 “early announcement” tickets is now available at a special announcement price of $149. This price will change when these first 20 tickets are sold out. Space will be very limited, so we encourage you to register early.

From all of us at Inside Network, we hope to see you on January 25th in San Francisco!

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