Happy Wars review

Toylogic’s Happy Wars recent launch on Xbox Live caught many of us by surprise, as one would think the first free-to-play game hitting the platform would receive more fanfare. The arrival of a F2P title on consoles is arguably the beginning of a larger movement within the video game industry to bring social titles onto what have been traditionally closed platforms. After spending a few days with Happy Wars we can confirm that it’s certainly a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go before we reach that destination.

The game is a multiplayer action RPG, much in the same vein as Riot Games’ behemoth League of Legends. Happy Wars’ core gameplay is a combination of Team Deathmatch and tower defense.  Players are automatically assigned into two teams who have to make their way across the game map  in order to capture the enemies’ castle. At the same time, the team has to prevent their opponents from breaking into their own castle via cartoony and relatively bloodless combat. There are multiple ways into a castle, either by demolishing the main gate or building siege ladders in order to scale the side walls.

Along the way players can construct towers where there are foundations already in place, which can then act as respawn points should a player get taken out. If an opposing tower is already erected, players will need to destroy it before constructing their own.

There are three main classes to choose from: warrior, mage and cleric. Warriors are (surprise) the cannon fodder in matches, charging at enemies and trying to take out as many opponents as possible before they in turn are killed. Mages can launch ranged attacks as well as provide buffs that let friendly characters deal even more damage. Clerics, meanwhile, serve as support in several different ways: they can heal friendly characters, build defensive turrets to use at the castle and can construct the ladders and siege engines used to help take enemy bases. (more…)

The Xbox 360’s first free-to-play game Happy Wars hits XBLA

Developer Toylogic’s Happy Wars, which quietly hit Xbox 360’s digital store Xbox Live Arcade Oct. 12, is the home console’s first free-to-play game.

Happy Wars is multiplayer action game with a cartoon style in which two teams battle across variety of combat arenas. As many as 30 players can play the same match and choose from three character types — Warrior, Mage and Cleric, each with unique set of abilities.

As is the norm with many of the free-to-play games we cover here at Inside Social Games, Happy Wars monetizes by selling vanity items (outfits, skins and gear) and a special in-game currency (Happy Tickets) that can only be obtained by spending Microsoft Points, which cost real money.

At the moment it seems as if there is no way to spend real money to directly purchase items that will give users an advantage in the game, but players can spend Happy Tickets to enter raffles in order to have a chance at winning items with improved stats.

Inside Social Games usually doesn’t cover home console titles because those are traditionally closed platforms, but we will cover free-to-play games that employ the same monetization methods that are the standard on Facebook and other social, open platforms. With free-to-play games like DC Universe already up and running on Sony’s PlayStation 3 and more free-to-play titles like Ascend: New Gods coming to 360 in the future, we think releases like Happy Wars is part of an upcoming trend that is worth keeping an eye on.

You can look forward to our review of Happy Wars later in the week.

Ghost Recon Commander complements FPS action with social strategy gameplay and crossover content

Ubisoft is gearing up to launch Ghost Recon Commander on Facebook, the first game developed by Loot Drop after the studio’s Cloudforest Expedition was shelved last year by RockYou. The game is designed to interact with Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, a console and PC game releasing May 22. This is Ubisoft’s second Facebook companion game after 2010′s Assassin’s Creed-based Project Legacy.

Ubisoft VP of Digital Publishing Chris Early tells us that Ubisoft came up with the general theme for the Ghost Recon Commander, but was relatively hands-off when it came to designing the game’s mechanics beyond the idea of crossover content. Loot Drop co-founders Brenda Brathwaite and John Romero set out to create a Facebook game that would appeal to core gamers, while leveraging some of the lessons learned from Ravenwood Fair — the Lolapps game on which the two worked before forming their own studio. The game was shown for the first time to press at a private event at the beginning of the month.

Gameplay in Ghost Recon Commander requires players to establish and supply small squads of soldiers (“Ghosts”) that are sent on black-op missions, which include rescuing hostages, item retrieval and eliminating all enemies on a map. Each successful mission earns soft currency cash, which is used to buy new equipment for characters and to construct a base, which supports the squads. Replaying these missions increases the player’s cumulative score, which increase star ratings and net larger rewards. The game will launch with one campaign containing 10 missions, but more missions will be added soon after.

The squads are the main focus of gameplay. Squads can have up to three squad members on a mission, filling these roles either with hired Facebook friends or with generic characters supplied by the game. Different character classes provide varying squad bonuses like more critical hits, longer range and increased stealth. Squads automatically follow the player-controlled character though players can turn off this feature by clicking the “follow” button and control individual squad members. This can be useful if a player needs to leave some friendly non-player characters behind to keep them safe, but breaking a team up removes the bonus they receive when acting as a single unit.

Early describes the gameplay as “hidden turn-based” because the mission portion of the game feels as though it’s happening in real time, even though the activity is turn-based. Enemies will move and take actions each time the player’s squad moves or takes an action. That means a player can walk away from their computer for several hours even if they’re in the middle of a mission and pick up where they left off without being attacked by enemies. Exiting the Facebook canvas won’t require a mission to be started over from the beginning, either.

Outside of missions, players engage in base building to increase their character’s stats. As players stock their field camp with structures and equipment, each item boosts a squad’s attributes. Examples of this include medical tents that increase health and damage resistance and training targets that improve accuracy. Early says there will be a social feature allowing players to visit friends’ base camps at the time of launch, but this wasn’t available during the demo. Early also tells us that player-versus-player gameplay will be implemented at an unspecified time in the future.

Ghost Recon Commander monetizes through the sale of weapons and buildings, which can be bought with hard or soft currency. Players’ Ghosts don’t automatically return to full health between missions, so recovering hit points requires players to either spend soft currency or wait for them to gradually regenerate. Players may also choose to spend money on purchasing additional bullets during missions, though these are resupplied over time.

The crossover content feature is similar to what we saw in EA’s Dragon Age Legends, where playing one game unlocked content in another. Ghost Recon Commander allows players to link their Ghost Recon: Future Soldier activity via Ubisoft’s uPlay player account system. Playing each of these games will unlock weapons and weapon skins in the other. Additionally, progress in Future Soldier will unlock more Ghost characters to recruit as squad members in Commander.

Early tells us Loot Drop is working on cross-platform versions of the game are planned for iOS and Android, though these will be released after the Facebook launch.

Ghost Recon Commander is expected to go live on Facebook today.

Social Gaming Roundup: Conservation, Facebook Ports, HTML5 Publishing, & More

MyConservationParkHelp Endangered Species Through Facebook — Social games startup Good World Games is looking to give players a means to help endangered species through its first Facebook game, MyConservationPark. Fifteen percent of virtual goods purchased in-game will be donated to programs such as the Din Fossey Gorilla Fund, Sea Shepherd, Wildaid, and Orangutan Outreach.

Fruit Ninja Coming to Facebook — Mobile developer Halfbrick is expanding its popular Fruit Ninja iOS game to the Facebook social network. The company tweeted that” Fruit Ninja Frenzy” would be coming to the platform “soon,” and that users can earn a chance at testing the Alpha stages by filling out a short survey. Halfbrick also previously announced the game’s coming to Kinect, Microsoft’s full-body motion controller for its Xbox 360 console.

Square Enix Sunsets Social Games on Mobage — According to a post from Siliconera, Square Enix isn’t doing too well on Japanese social network Mobage with its game, Samurai Eleven. Both it and another Square Enix title, Snowboard Life, will shut down on June 30th.

Infinity BladeInfinity Blade X to Come to Mobage — Japanese company DeNA announced that the popular iOS title Infinity Blade will becoming to its Mobage platform. Infinity Blade X will be the first Mobage game run with the Unreal Engine. The game is a collaboration between Epic Games and ChAIR Entertainment. It’s expected to be released this fall.

GameSalad Launches HTML5 Game Publishing — GameSalad, a startup that allows game makers to more easily develop and share mobile and web-based games, has announced the launch of its new HTML5 publishing capability. Users will now be able to games across multiple web browsers, gaining access to an audience of over 1 billion.

Moshi Monsters Creator Valued at $200 Million — According to TechCrunch, Spark Ventures sold half of its stake in Mind Candy for $4.9 million, marking at 15x return. The valuation of the company is now noted at $200 million. Mind Candy is the creator of kids’ virtual world Moshi Monsters.

Games at GoogleGoogle Moves Into Social Gaming — Engadget spotted a new job posting from Google that fuels speculation tech giant is getting into social gaming. Unfortunately, no further details beyond their search for a product manager, for a property dubbed “Games at Google,” is known.

[image via Engadget]

Social Point Raises €2.4 million — In funding news, Barcelona-based social games company Social Point has raised €2.4 million ($3.4 million) in an investment round with Nauta Capital. Its games have been getting a lift in monthly active and daily active users over the past week or so.

What Zynga Will Look Like as a Public CompanyAllThingsD gets some accountants to muse on what we might learn about Zynga’s under-the-hood area when the social game developer goes public. Based on what Zynga shares, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other governing bodies could develop formalized methods for accounting the sale of virtual goods in social and mobile games.

[Announcement] Bigpoint Hits New Milestone — Germany-based online games company Bigpoint has announced new milestones this week. The company states that it now hosts 200 million registered users, integrates over 180 payment solutions, hosts over 1000 media partners, and processes over 1 billion transactions a day.

Social Gaming Roundup: RockYou Layoffs, Offer Walls, Virtual Greats & More

RockYou Restructures, Lays Off Employees — Social game developer and advertising network RockYou, which was once considered an equal to Playdom or CrowdStar, has laid off a significant number of employees, according to TechCrunch. The company is moving to focus only on social games, like its recent release Toy Land.

Deal United Introduces Offer Wall Converter — At the Virtual Goods Summit, Deal United announced the launch of its Offer Wall Converter, which will allow easy integration of Deal United’s pay.by.shopping platform alongside existing offer providers. Additionally, the company is offering a $50,000 sign up bonus for the first 10 online games to use the Offer Wall Converter.

iJet

i-Jet Media to Raise $20 Million — Russian social games publisher, i-Jet Media is seeking to raise $20 million in funding at a $100 million valuation, according to Vedomosti. I-Jet says that the funding will be used to further expand the company and enter new markets.

Virtual Greats Continues to Grow — Earlier this week, we noted the growth of virtual goods with Virtual Greats’ integration of branded goods within PageFad’s sports games. The company just announced another partnership, this time with Mentez, to bring branded Paris Hilton virtual goods to the Latin social network, Orkut.

MMMApp Genius to Reward Players for Losing Online — App Genius has announced the launch of their new title on Facebook, My Mad Millions, where users try to spend $300 million virtual dollars. As a reward, the top 20 percent of active players (chosen twice a month) will be rewarded with 50 percent of the game’s revenue.

Gossip & Ultima From EA — There’s been a huge among of gossip and ranting out of Electronic Arts recently about its problems producing successful MMOGs. Among the rants, the anonymous “EA Louse” alleged that the classic Ultima franchise is coming to Facebook as a pet project of an EA exec.

BonfireBonfire Studios May Have Cost $6.3 Million — A form D SEC filing submitted by Zynga notes that the company paid at least $6.3 million for Bonfire Studios; the developer acquired by the company earlier this month.

Zynga Expands Further — In other Zynga news, VentureBeat noted a list of new job postings from the company, including positions at what appears to be a new Seattle office.

Save Energy With Social Games — After a round of angel funding, Formative Labs has said that they’re looking to teach people to save energy, says TechCrunch. While the company has not disclosed details on how, they will be using social gaming.

App HubMicrosoft Unveals Windows Phone 7 & App Hub — Microsoft announced this week the coming of a new series of Windows Phone 7 devices, as well as App Hub, where Windows Phone and Xbox Live game developers can find everything from development tools to support.

Scoreloop Partners with Samsung — Social, mobile gaming platform Scoreloop is partnering with Samsung this week, making the Scoreloop SDK available to developers of the smartphone platform.

KivaKiva’s Biggest Rival — Micro-lending startup Kiva attracted some attention this week by calling Zynga its biggest competitor. Why? Because Zynga games soak up attention and disposable income online, drawing those resources away from non-profits and other social causes. A video from TechCrunch explains Kiva’s plans to compete over the next five years.

Gravity Bear Rants About “Gamification” — Social developer Gravity Bear has written an amusing rant against gameification, the process of adding game elements to non-gaming media. While much of the digital media industry appears excited about the concept as a business model, Gravity Bear says the concept is just a fad.

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

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

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

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

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

About the Report

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

We focused and organized the report around the following areas:

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

Each section contains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents






About the Authors

charles-hudson-headshotCharles Hudson

Former VP Business Development, Serious Business

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

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

justin-smith-headshotJustin Smith

Founder, Inside Network

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

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

Get the Annual Membership

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

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

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

New Hires in Social Gaming: Bebo, Booyah, Crowdstar, & More

It’s been a busy week of hiring for major social developers, according to data from both data from LinkedIn and a few of the companies themselves. There have even been a few major hires this past week as well including a new VP of Finance & Administration for Crowdstar, Victoria Bourne, and a new Game Design Lead for Digital Chocolate, Joshua Dallman. In addition to these, Zac Brandenberg is appointed the new CEO of Meteor Games, while Xbox Co-Creator, Kevin Bachus joins Bebo as its new Chief Product Officer. And be sure to check out our interview earlier this week with Henric Suuronen, who has just joined Wooga as a studio head after a successful stint at Digital Chocolate. Beyond these, there was the ongoing title changes within Slide due to its acquisition by Google, as well as internal changes at Playdom due to its acquisition by Disney.

If your company is bringing on new people or doing a notable promotion, be sure to let us know. Email editor (at) insidesocialgames (dot) com.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to make a move yourself, be sure to check out our Inside Network Job Board.

Here’s this week’s list:

Bebo

Booyah

  • Jeff Skaggs – Formerly the Director of West Coast Sales at appssavvy, Skaggs joins Booyah as their new West Coast Director of Sales.

Crowdstar

  • Victoria Bourne - Bourne joins Crowdstar as their new VP of Finance & Administration. Prior to this, she was the VP of Finance at Cellfire.

Digital Chocolate

  • Carole Riault- Riault changes positions at Digital Chocolate from a Localization Tester to one of their newest Account Managers.
  • Joshua Dallman – Leaving Playdom after Disney acquired it, the former Studio Game Design Lead from Playdom joins Digital Chocolate as their new Game Design Lead.
  • Miikka Luotio- Another job change at Digital Chocolate as Luotio switches from a Producer to an Associate Product Manager.

Kabam

  • Tess Chu – Previously an Engineering Manager for Linden Lab, Chu joins Kabam as their newest Sr. Engineer Analyst.
  • Brad Bonkoski- Now a Senior Software Engineer for Kabam, Bonkoski’s previous experience stems from Yahoo! where he was a Tech Lead & Engineering Manager.
  • Christian Biermann - Formerly a Lead QA Analyst for Playdom, Biermann takes on the same role, as Lead QA Analyst, for Kabam.

Meteor Games

  • Zac Brandenberg – Announced as the new CEO of Meteor Games, Brandenberg  is a digital media veteran, serving previously as the CEO of digital advertising platform Hydra.

Mindjolt

  • Luong Tam – A former Flash Developer for MySpace, Tam joins Mindjolt as their newest Developer.

Playdom

  • Noor Mohammed- One of many transitions beneath the Disney guise, Mohammed moves his Senior Artist role under Playdom to the same role under the Walt Disney Media Group.
  • Ryan Ragona- Formerly a Senior Software Engineer under Playdom’s tag, Ragona is now a Development Lead under Disney Interactive Media Group.
  • Thi Nguyen- Nguyen joins Playdom as its newest Associate Producer. Prior to this, she was a Legal Clerk for Sega of America, Inc.
  • Christopher Chapman- Under Playdom, Chapman held the role of Senior Web Developer. Now moving under the name of The Walt Disney Company, he fills the role of Web Developer.
  • Andy Sponring- Filling “Assorted Roles” at Playdom, Sponring moves into an Associate Producer position under Disney Interactive Media Group.
  • Faiz Kamarul Baharin – Previously a Story Intern form Red Giant Studios, Baharin joins Playdom as a Junior Artist.
  • Jason Dickson – Formerly a Quality Assurance Manager for SouthPeak Interactive, Dickson is now a QA Lead for Playdom.
  • Kara Baskett- Baskett joins Playdom as their newest Recruiter. Prior to this, she was a Strategic Staffing Specialist for Mead Johnson Nutrition.
  • Jimmie Tyrrell- Now a Development Lead under the Disney Interactive Media Group, Tyrrell was previously filling the same job role under Playdom.
  • Edvard Toth- Toth remains under the Playdom tag as their new Art Director. Previously, he was one of their Senior Flash Developers.

Playfish

  • Bob Weiler- Weiler joins Playfish as their newest Sever Engineer. Previously, he was a Staff Engineer for StubHub.
  • Duncan Brown- Formerly an Art Lead at Playfish, Brown moves up within the company as their newest Art Director.

Slide

  • Ryan Ye – Part of the continuing Google transitions, Ye switches from Technical Lead under Slide to a Member of Technical Staff at Google.
  • Yongrong (Damien) Hou - Previously an Engineering Lead at Slide, Hou also becomes a Member of Technical Staff at Google.
  • Aris Chen – Coming under the Google tag, Chen becomes a Designer. Previously, Chen was a Graphic Designer at Slide.

Zynga

  • Sterling ReamesZynga gains a new Animator in the form of Reames, who filled the same role at the recently acquired Conduit Labs.
  • Julie Ray -- Ray joins Zynga as their new Stock Plan Administrator. Ray was formerly a Sr. Manager for Sybase.
  • Mike Bailey – Previously a Senior Quality Assurance Tester at DCS, Baily is now QA Analyst 1 at Zynga.
  • Farzam Farrokhi- Joining Zynga as their new Senior MySQL DBA, is Farrokhi who was previously a  DB Engineer, Business Analyst, and BI Analyst for Five9.
  • Nathan McGee – Formerly a Senior Producer of Social Media for CafePress.com, McGee joins Zynga as a Contracted Community Manager.
  • Melissa Sawicki- Sawicki joins the social realm as Zynga’s newest Designer. Prior to this, she was a Designer for console developer Rockstar Games.
  • Binu Philip- Philip joins Zynga as their newest Architect. Before this, he was a Principle Engineer for Yahoo!
  • Daniel Wiggins- Another person, Wiggins, from mainstream video games joins Zynga as part of their Corporate Development. Wiggins’ experience stems from Finance at Turbine.
  • Andy Scott- Now a Development Manager of Warstorm, Scott remains under the Zynga tag, but was previously a Senior Software Engineer.
  • Sudhanshu Sethi- Prior to joining Zynga as a Sr. Information Security Project Manager, Sethi filled the same role over at PayPal.
  • Erik Island- Also from PayPal comes Island, a former Senior Analyst. Now, he joins Zynga as “Data Analyst.”

Promoting Puzzle Quest 2 on Facebook with… Puzzle Quest 2

Puzzle Quest 2: Mage TrainerD3Publisher is promoting its upcoming summer title for Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo DS, Puzzle Quest 2, with a Facebook match-three game, Puzzle Quest 2: Mage Trainer.

And the app is worth playing in its own right.

Other examples of Facebook apps that have served as promotions for console titles include the complex and ultimately epic Sony role-playing, The Agency: Covert Ops, EA’s Dante’s Inferno RPG and its more simple Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues. The apps were utilized to promote an upcoming massively multiplayer online shooter, and action-adventure and cinematic adventure console console games, respectively. Some have continued on in popularity long after the launch of the titles they were made to promote game — The Agency is still at over 300,000 monthly active users, for example.

As far as Puzzle Quest 2: Mage Trainer goes, it is dubbed a prequel to the upcoming puzzle-RPG title of roughly the same name. In this particular rendition, however, users are only granted a variant of the sorcerer class (there are four in the main game), and rather than moving about an over-world from puzzle to puzzle, players are presented with a familiar Bejeweled-like screen.

Oh, but no, this is not Bejeweled Blitz. This is what the popular PopCap game would be like if you were to go head to head in a battle mode against goblins, ghouls, and other nasty critters. That’s right. Using the same match-three mechanic, Puzzle Quest 2 has the player and their non-player monster opponent take turns matching colored gems. Here’s the catch. There are five colors, skulls, and armored gauntlets. For each gem destroyed, one “mana” of that color is given to the player (so if you match three red gems, you gain three red mana).

BattleAbove the player’s portrait is a number representing their health, and below it are your available attacks and spells. Each spell consumes one turn and requires a certain amount and color of mana to wield. For example, the first spell granted is called Mage Strike and it requires three red, and three blue mana. Furthermore, it does one extra damage for every three blue mana points the player has. With these added effects, players can actually formulate attack strategies on how best to defeat their enemy.

In regards to the skulls and gauntlets, the former does damage to the opponent based on how many skulls are destroyed (there are also exploding skulls that do more damage and blow up adjacent gems), while the latter grants you the ability to use a simple, low-damage melee attack once you have unlocked it.

As players play and win, they will gradually increase in level. This, so far, does not appear to do much for difficulty, – though luck can often be against you – but the big bonus is that players unlock new and more powerful spells to use in their battles.

To add to the strategy element of Mage Trainer, players can earn extra turns by matching four-of a-kind, and an extra turn plus a “wild card” that matches any colored gem with a five-of-a-kind. Marry this with the Bejeweled-made-standard of combos, plus the fact that you can study the board and remove the colored gems the enemy needs to attack, and you have a very deep and strategic strategy/puzzle game.

Main GameUnfortunately, the game isn’t perfect. Frankly, its social elements, like most console promotion titles, is rather lacking. All it consists of is inviting friends and tracking each others’ scores via a leaderboard. Considering that there is a bright green button entitled “Challenge Friends!” it felt like a brilliant opportunity to throw in some synchronous battles in there somewhere. You know, a literal challenge. Disappointingly, that is not the case, and if it is, it sure isn’t very obvious when the Challenge button still goes back to the invite a friend prompt; even after one has accepted.

Beyond this complaint, it would be nice to be able to pick and choose what spells and weapons can be used. As it stands, players appear to be granted default abilities as they level up. Perhaps, this is just something reserved for the DS and Xbox Live main games, but it would still be nice to have all the same.

Regardless of any issues we have with Puzzle Quest 2: Mage Trainer, it is still a fun, easy-to-learn and addictive game to play, if you’re into the casual gaming style. Moreover, it’s complex and deep enough to satisfy the more strategy-oriented mainstream gamers looking to mess with a free title. Having launched into open beta less than a month ago, Mage Trainer is currently earning just shy of 10,000 monthly active users. With these growing numbers, it ought to do its job well when Puzzle Quest 2 launches in June. And, like The Agency, it could stay a Facebook hit, especially considering the popularity of some other puzzle games on Facebook.

Social Gaming Roundup: Booyah, Pre-Paid Cards, iPad, & More

MyTownBooyah Lands $20 Million, Partners with Google - Monday, mobile and social game developer Booyah announced the closing of a $20 million round of financing led by global venture firm, Accel Partners. Additional investors included Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and DAG Ventures. Moreover, investor Jim Breyer was added to the company’s Board of Directors.

Not two days later, Booyah also announced a new partnership with Google at the I/O Conference, making them the first partner of Google’s Places Web Service feature. To add to the company’s successes, the mobile developers popular location-based title MyTown is also noted to have, now, over 2.1 million users.

Hands-On Mobile Expands – Mobile games company, Hands-On Mobile, Inc. announced the hiring former Linden Lab Vice President of Strategy and Emerging Business, Judy Wade, as the company’s new president and CEO where she will be tasked with growing the developer’s presence on both mobile and social platforms. Additionally, Hands-On Mobile has also announced that it will be moving into the the latter platform with the help of social developer FunClick.

MS PointsPre-Paid Cards Top Sales – NPD Group released an interesting bit of information this past week, stating that of all video game accessories in the United States, pre-paid points cards for online games and services (i.e. virtual currency on Xbox Live) are the number one seller. Among these cards, the top tamale was the 1600 Microsoft Points card that costs $20. Considering the US spent over $1 billion in virtual goods last year, the high sale of virtual currency cards is hardly surprising.

OpenFeint Partners with Hudson Soft – News from across the sea as Japanese developer Hudson Soft announced the addition of OpenFeint to its collection of iPhone titles. With the new partnership, Hudson will not only integrate the standard achievement and leaderboard systems that come with the social platform, but will also add five games to OpenFeint’s FreeGameoftheDay.com including Aqua Forest 2, Catch the Egg, Haunted Pics, Shooting Watch, and World RPS.

iPad StoreiPad Store Goes Global – Though the international release of the iPad was delayed initially, it looks like the Apple iPad Store is now appearing across the globe. According to TechCrunch, it looks to be a worldwide release and there has been confirmation in the UK, Belgium, Spain, Israel, France, the Philippines, and New Zealand.

PayPal Announces Mobile Payments Library for Android – Online payment service, PayPal, announced the Mobile Payments Library for the Android mobile device. Through the platform, developers can integrate PayPal payments into their Android apps, effectively allowing for in-app transactions. As far as credit card transactions go, these will, of course, be handled through PayPal themselves.

EliminateEliminate Offers Double Credit Weekend – According to TouchArcade, mainstream first-person shooters (i.e. Call of Duty) have often offered their players extra experience points for playing multiplayer bouts during certain weekends. Well, developer ngmoco is taking a page out of this book offering its players “double credit compensation,” until Monday at 12pm PST, for the popular, freemium iPhone title, Eliminate. Players that play over the next few days will earn double points per deathmatch. However, the same cannot be said for cooperative play.

Apple Selling Over 200,000 iPads a Week – Here’s a little tid bit of information from All Things Digital that has come to light regarding the impressive success of the new Apple iPad: Apparently, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky, the iPad is selling over 200,000 units per week. Already, this is greater than the Mac in the U.S. and is closing the gap on the iPhone 3GS. As for the data behind these numbers, it is noted that it will be revealed at the iPad Games Summit this June.

Social Gaming Roundup: Booyah, Kwedit, Capcom, & More

MyTownBooyah Upgrades MyTown – Location-based iPhone app, MyTown, from Booyah has been growing significantly since its initial release. However, this week brought yet another significant upgrade to the real-world Monopoly-like title. Now, with the 3.1 update, the game changes yet again with the addition of in-game collectibles and rewards for checking in, purchasing new locations, or upgrading old ones. Additionally, the new version has 10 new levels, the ability to research top trending properties, accuracy bonuses for checking-in closer to the target local, and even the ability to view Facebook profile pictures and timestamps on others’ check-ins.

On another note, the social/mobile app has seen a 100% gain in users in less than three months, sitting at roughly 2 million players. Almost double that of its chief competitor, Foursquare.

KweditKwedit Repayment Rate Growing – Launched back in February, the quasi-credit company, Kwedit was a curious idea, at best. Essentially, the firm provided a means to purchase virtual goods by making a “promise” and paying back the money later by going to a 7-11 or mailing cash. The only negative, was if you didn’t pay, you got kicked out of their system. The company announced some results, the past week. One out of three users are paying back promises with a little less than 20% of initial promises repaid and 72% of second promises. Furthermore, 22% are repaid within 24 hours and 66% in the first week. Most importantly, publishers using Kwedit are seeing a 5% increase in revenue; a number the company expects to soon reach 10%

Capcom Integrates Social Features with OpenFeint – Aurora Feint’s OpenFeint mobile social platform got one of mainstream gaming’s larger developers signed up: Capcom. Using the platform to support features such as achievements and leaderboards, the console developer has launched both Dark Void Zero and Hatchlings for the iPhone.

VIP ProgramApple VIP Program for iPhone Apps - Apple is planning a new advertising program called ViP (Verification of iTunes Purchase) to give its iAds a more competitive advantage, as TechCrunch spotted. Developers that use iPhone ads to drive their downloads and purchases will have direct access to iTunes purchasing data for their app, measuring conversion rate and ad impressions to downloads. The tracking is done via a “proprietary direct link from the ad to the App Store,” and once a user “downloads your app, they won’t ever see your ad again.”

IBM to Create City Builder Game for City Planning – This past week, IBM revealed a new type of virtual world/game by the name of CityOne. Unlike the social counterparts we have seen in the past few months, this game will be a free world meant to guide players through quests and teach them about city planning issues such as energy and water. However, the catch is the game’s various missions will be seated in actual real-world scenarios, and is noted to be a means to help train future city planners. The game is slated to debut this fall.

App Store Spam - As if getting discovered in the Apple App Store weren’t hard enough, a recent post by well-known developer Marco Arment shows a number of spam applications appearing for various searches. The example given was a search for a game called “Angry Birds” and six out of ten results were scams and ripoffs promoting “cheats” or “guides” for the searched title. Furthermore, most are also guilty of ripping off both names and icon trademarks.

myFarmThe Origin of Farm Games – Though FarmVille may be the most popular, China Social Games has done a detailed study of how the birthplace emerged. The earliest versions of farming games go as far back as 17 years with the title SimFarm in 1993 from Maxis and then again with Victor Interactive Software’s title, Havest Moon, in 1996. However, in regards to social farming it was popularized initially in both China and the U.S. at approximately the same time in 2008 with Five Minutes’ Happy Farm and Take(5)Social’s (playSocial’s) myFarm.

Farm Town also started around the same time. While Take(5)Social claims that the developer, Slashkey, copied its app, our understanding is that this is not the case. Instead, Farm Town combined aspects from a number of other formative social games, like (Lil) Green Patch, on its own.

One Million iPads Sold – Many wonder how the iPad will do in the long run; especially when compared to the iPhone predecessor. Well, according to Apple, April 30th was the milestone for the 1 millionth iPad sold, just 28 days after its initial launch in the United States. To add some perspective to that, the iPhone took 74 days to reach that same number.

Hive Media Launches New Game & Social Platform – Earlier in the week, Hive Media launched a new social game called My Hollywood Studio, as a means to display its new social platform. The game itself is a quaint title where players move from being nothing to big time Hollywood names and is based on the PC title, The Movies. As for the platform, caters specifically to larger brands with intellectual property. Furthermore, through Hive’s “Collaborative Content Delivery Platform” — which is a fancy name for a templating system — developers can easily upload video, graphics, texts, and so on to create varying genres of games. Thus far, Hive Media’s first partnership will be Michael Bay’s “The Institute.”

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