Oneforty’s Twitter App Store Makes Games Easier to Find

onefortyThe prospect of Twitter as a social gaming platform is something that’s been touched on numerous times in the past, but it wasn’t until last week that that concept really felt plausible. Author of Twitter for Dummies, Laura Fitton launched a brand new platform called oneforty that will act as an actual app store for the Twitter network.

Okay, granted, Twitter does have a directory for its apps, but this is a mere list of what can be found. What makes oneforty stand out is that any user can tag, sort, and review over 1,300 different applications such as Tweetie, Bit.ly, twitterfeed, and CoTweet. Furthermore, and like a Facebook app’s splash page, each application gets its own space where users can add comments and screenshots. Sounds a lot like a wall on a Facebook Page, doesn’t it? Of course, this page needs to be managed — thus any of its developers are able to register with oneforty and “claim” an app so they can manage its page. With this new listing of games and apps already ranked and containing user reviews, the usefulness behind it is already significant. However, oneforty is dubbed an “app store,” and as such, some form of monetization is expected to be involved.

While most Twitter apps are free, there really isn’t much to monetize from them. However, if a Twitter app does have a cost, then oneforty will keep a small share of it. In addition to this, the new platform is looking to offer premium promotional locations on the site for developers. Said placement is similar to where sponsor advertisements would be placed on most web pages. Considering the increased distribution success that has stemmed from other application directories and stores containing ratings and user reviews (iPhone, Facebook, MySpace, etc.), this cost may turn out most worthwhile.

Wrought with social mechanics, rankings, and even monetization features, oneforty marks a huge step forward for Twitter as it continues to evolve into a greater space for both games and apps.

[image via VentureBeat]

New Games Portal: Arcade Warfare

arcadewarfareA new games portal launched on Friday for all those online gaming connoisseurs. Arcade Warfare is the name, and is a platform focused around not only those that love games, but those that love to make them as well; allowing for competitive prizes and user uploads.

As it stands, the games portal hosts over 4,000 different types of games that span every type of genre and time period. Primarily Flash or Shockwave based, titles vary from 2D fighters such as “The Incredibles,” to shooters like “3D Swat.” Perhaps most interesting, Arcade Warfare contains a myriad of older, more classic titles such as Duck Hunt, Asteroids, and Contra that are mixed together with newer, web reditions of modern games such as Call of Duty 2.

The portal certainly has a nice selection of games, but if there is any one issue with it, it is that finding a game initially is rather obnoxious. All of the games are sorted by category (action, adventure, shooter, etc.), but each category can only be browsed, and so that impressive 4,000+ games now becomes a devastating hindrance.

incrediblesThe problem is that virtually no user is going to browse all 4,000 games. There is no way to sort them by times played, ranking, or when it was added. Thankfully, at least there is a section for “Top Rated Games” and “Newest Additions” on the home page at least. Yes, the site does have ranking systems for games, as well as user comments, but the rankings are only on the game page, so the user has to click on each game to see if other users have said if its any good. It might seem nit picky, but with thousands of games, and around 15 or so seconds needed to load the game’s page and go back, you can only look at four games in one minute, eight games in two minutes with eight, and so on. There are roughly 48 games on one page. So, that means 12 minutes to look at all of them. The company should focus on making navigation faster. For example, it could offer a thumbnailed view of dozens of games in one page. Remember, on average, websites have under one minute to interest a user (10 seconds for the initial splash page).

In terms of social features, the site is okay. Not great, but okay. The big draw is that developers can upload games, but with its distribution problems, that is more or less shot until it becomes more user friendly. There are, however, discussions forums, site statistics, and the aforementioned comments, but none of these really stand out. Frankly, it is the friends lists and ability to earn points and win prizes that is most interesting. Even still, the former is highly unintuitive compared to something like Facebook (in the game, you friend directly from their profile pages, it seems). While you can see what games they’ve played, it is only on their profile and not in a visible location like a news feed would be. As for the latter, points and prizes: The points are earned from playing games, but at the moment no prizes seem to be available (of course, that’s probably due to it just being released a few days ago).

Overall, Arcade Warfare has a fantastic selection of games that would appeal to a very wide range of individuals. Unfortunately, it’s just too hard to find the good ones. Nonetheless, if the usability issues in question can be fixed, then this games portal could very well take off.

Digital Chocolate Creates New Virtual Goods Platform

logo_digitalChocolateBack in May, Trip Hawkins, founder of Digital Chocolate (not to mention Electronic Arts), made the comment that the way to monetize iPhone games was with virtual goods. Well, it looks like that statement has taken life, as the company has just announced the creation of a new virtual goods platform and game project, NanoStars.

What is most curious, however, is that NanoStars does not look to feature virtual goods in the traditional sense (weapons, furniture, clothing, etc.). The project is slated to revolve around 100 virtual characters that people can buy and use in a myriad of games titles, the first of which, NanoVerse Castles, is scheduled for release in Q4 of this year.

According to Hawkins’ statements to ME, the project will be cross-platform (likely iPhone and Facebook) in order to encompass a greater breadth of users as well as increase the variations of purchasing methods (i.e. credit cards, the Apple App Store, carrier bills/subscriptions, and offer completion). However, what is most curious about the announcement is that the virtual goods are described as “living, breathing life forms.”

As was said, each good will be a character, but it is the objective of Digital Chocolate to have players form a sort of “relationship” and connection with the ones they buy. As such, the goods have been conceptualized as pop culture and historical references such as Octomom, “IDidNotInhale,” and Robin Hood. Furthermore, each character will encompass different benefits for each NanoStar game.

NanoVerse Castles makes for a good first example. For clarity’s sake, it is a card game, and based on the ME post, using a character — say, Robin Hood — in the game will allow a player to exchange a low card of their’s for a high card of the opponent. However, Robin might equate to something else in a different type of game, such as unlocking a better player in a sports game, or becoming a cool piece of furniture or weapon in another.

Currently, Digital Chocolate has not revealed any specifics beyond initial announcements, so it is unknown as to which platform NanoStars will first appear on. Nonetheless, Hawkins says that this idea has been a long time coming and is leveraged off of the publisher’s earlier games, DChoc Café and Party Island, so whichever platform it releases on, you can bet it’s going to be successful.

XPO Games Turns Gaming Into A Social Network

xpo gamesWhen it comes to PC gaming, there are two dominant places for it: Online games portals, and social networks. XPO Games, however, is a young portal that was launched in May, and looks to combine these two worlds into one cohesive package. It’s a social network that features games, and is itself designed entirely around them.

It’s not looking to merely support the playing of online games, but actually supports game developers as well. The core focus, it seems, is to support user-created games made in Flash. Of course any sort of user-generated content runs the risk of being mediocre, but each game is ranked based on number of game plays and user ratings, which tend to be fairly accurate. Also, the variety of games is astounding, ranging from puzzlers like “Bubble Breaker” to quiz games like “Let’s Get Pregnant” (no, it’s not what you think).

pregnantIn case anyone is wondering, the “Let’s Get Pregnant” game actually got a decent user score (it’s about guessing how many months a woman is pregnant… get your mind out of the gutter). What makes this important is that it was not only entertaining, but it was rated so by users of the portal.

Other notable features in XPO include messaging, user profiles, aforementioned ratings, user walls, friends, favoriting games, and groups. Above all these, however, is the fact that news feeds are also included. This is something that seems left out of most gaming portals. Users are informed whenever a friend accomplishes an achievement, gains a high score, or uploads a game, thus adding a distribution method for developers not unlike Facebook. Beyond feeds, there is also something called “LSS” or the Live Scoring System that allows players to compete against one another in any game, at any time, in real-time.

If nothing else, it’s interesting that XPO is trying to create a social layer that spans all of its games. Online gaming portals are often independent of social capabilities, though that has changed significantly over the past few months as more and more portals adopt social features (i.e. Candystand.com or myLifetime.com). The latter, Facebook and its ilk, focuses on providing much more than just games.

Frankly, XPO Games is certainly a good place to bookmark for any frequent online games player. If for no other reason, it makes for a great outlet to play some very out there and very fun games, and really goes to show what sort of creative capabilities people have. Not only that, but it makes for yet another means to get the names of all those young start ups and indie developers out there.

NumberJumper: A Puzzle Game That’s Harder Than It Looks

NumberJumper ScreenShot1 NumberJumper is a deceptively simple new puzzle game, launched on Facebook earlier this month. For casual gamers who want a challenge, it’s worth a look.

In the game, players are presented with a grid of blocks, numbered 1 – 7. The objective is to line up four of the same number horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Here’s the trick though: Every time you make a move, two new numbers appear, so each one needs to be planned very carefully.

Also, the numbers slide across the grid, so if there is no path leading to where you try and place it, then you cannot make that move. So, again, this means that very careful movements as well as some patience is needed.

NumberJumper ScreenShot2But, one cannot be too careful as the developers have incorporated a time limit. To balance this out, removing consecutive groups of numbers adds time back onto the clock. More often than not, however, space on the board is what seems to run out first, and if there is not enough real estate left for new numbers, the game is over.

As one can probably imagine, the game includes a simple scoring system with leaderboards so you can see how you’re doing versus other players.

When you first start playing, it feels a lot like a matter of just survival and is somewhat difficult to devise a working strategy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make the game a little annoying at first.

Curiously enough, the game was strangely alluring, despite annoyances. At first it merely feels like bad luck when blocks appear right where you were planning to place a fourth number, but there are ways around it. Eventually, a strategy does begin to formulate as you end up trying over and over and over again to beat your last score until you realize, “hey, wasn’t I doing something more important?”

Though it is bad for time efficiency, NumberJumper’s addictive nature certainly makes for a fun, deceptively simple game.

Forget Those White-Label Games, Check Out LOLApps’ Diva Life

divalifePopular white-label application developer, LOLApps had earlier this year told Inside Facebook that it was looking to create a white label platform for games. It has previously created ways for Facebook users to create their own quiz and gift apps. So, it recently seemed to us that Yakuza Lords might be a precursor to a new game creation platform. But as it turns out, LOLApps has since explained to us that they had actually experimented with a white label game creator last year — and are now moving into making their own games.

The lessons learned from the experiment were quite clear, the company tells us. Apparently, the ability to create quality games through a user generated application did not come very easily. The target audience for a game creator needs to be those that are not only passionate for games, but also have a strong understanding of game mechanics, art, story telling, and in the case of a social game, time to maintain it. Suffice to say, most Facebook users don’t satisfy all of these requirements. Most users are not game designers, which is why most user generated game content is mediocre, at best. LOLApps saw this and decided to focus on launching their own high quality, in-house games.

Since Yakuza Lords, the latest game to be released from the social developer is Diva Life. From the looks of things, LOLApps is indeed starting out with the Zynga routine: Creating different flavors of the same genre. Suffice to say, that means that Diva Life plays similar to, though not completely the same as, Yakuza Lords. However, rather than being a Japanese gangster, you are a movie star.

shoppingPlayers start off as a young starling completing gigs, building an entourage (a “mob” essentially), and upgrading your star-studded-stats. Also, unlike mafia-style games you don’t buy land, but rather, you buy publicity. Radio jingles, commercials, and even blogs earn you some extra cash flow by the hour. Even purchasing items is a little different. Instead of just weapons, armor, and cars, players have to worry about random items like business cards, designer clothing (of course), cars (okay, that‘s the same), and a new one, services, that consists of waxes, facials, and manicures.

The game also seems to have a progressive narrative that is broken up into chapters. This seems to be a gating system that prevents people from doing “high level” gigs, while telling a story at the same time, and makes for an interesting way to break up each leg of game progression. Beyond this, the art style, like Yakuza Lords, is phenomenal. Though it is only text and still images, the artwork just fits and screams Hollywood from a diva’s perspective.

All in all, Diva Life is a solid RPG. Granted, it does have elements we have seen before, but with well thought out artwork and narrative, this familiarity ought to do well in attracting new users. Despite quality, however, it is perhaps unfortunate for some that that a better white label game creator is not on its way at the moment. Nonetheless, considering the quality of user generated content compared to the quality of games like Yakuza Lords and Diva Life, it is probably for the best.

Conduit Labs Raises $3 Million

loudcrowdConduit Labs, maker of social music site Loudcrowd has just raised $3 million in a second round of funding, as discovered by PaidContent in an SEC filing. This marks the second set of financing for the young company, as it raised $5.5 million from Charles River Ventures and Prism VentureWorks back in 2007.

The funding will likely go toward further developments within Loudcrowd, which seems to have been doing decently well in recent months. It reported more than 2 million game plays as of May.

The site allows players utilize the “Party” space, letting people simply hang out and “chill” with other avatars or “dance” with them through a simple click and playing the Dance mini game. Interestingly enough, dances can be funny, flashy, or flirty, and are addictive enough to coax roughly 20% of Loudcrowd users into dancing and hanging out around eight hours a week.

Of course, if this isn’t your style, users can play games of the original version of Loudcrowd which was launched this past March. However, the club-themed site has since added two interesting features: Impress and Spark, both of which are available through the aforementioned social Party feature.

impressImpress is actually more of a vocabulary type of game. As dull as that might sound, it is executed in the fashion of a sort of rap battle. Players are presented with an open-ended sentence and have to click floating word bubbles containing words or phrases that might fit as they move about the room, while avoiding words or phrases that wouldn’t fit. It seems easy enough, with a simple point and click mechanic, but with such a limited amount of time (like “spitting rhymes”) it is actually quite difficult.

sparkThe second addition we saw on Loudcrowd was more of a puzzler: Spark. This one should be extremely interesting for the casual audience since traditionally, most casual players are looking for a challenge of the mind. Well, this particular challenge is based both on visuals and sound. Players are given a track and a set of light bulbs (consider them circuits) on a grid. The objective is to direct electricity from one conduit to another, by rotating the light bulb/circuits, while avoiding red barriers and having it move in rhythm with the music. While it sounds simple enough, there are a limited number of moves, so each successive puzzle becomes significantly more difficult.

As with the original Spin and Dance games, these new titles are able to unlock new music tracks to listen too (as they play in the background constantly), and frankly, none of it is too bad at all. Suffice to say that this makes for an excellent outlet for new artists to get noticed, and thus far, Loudcrowd hosts over 250 tracks from 50 artists including the Canadian duo, MSTRKRFT, Santigold, Justice, and remixes from Juan MacLean.

All in all, the games are fun, and have a unique flavor for a variety of palettes. Of course, the site is still growing, but it seems to be doing well thus far, and the music alone makes for a great site to just have playing in the background. The idea is great, and with a new chunk of funding coming down the pipe, it will be interesting to see what the next Loudcrowd evolution will be.

PlaySpan Survey Shows Some Interesting Virtual Goods Stats

Sating the curiosity of developers, the market research firm tailored specifically to video games, VGMarket, and online monetization company PlaySpan conducted a survey to garner a better estimation on just how many players are spending real money on virtual goods. Conducted between July 15th and 31st of this year, the survey of 2,425 pulled from a variety of customers ranging from those that made online purchases through the PlaySpan Marketplace, made use of the retail-based Ultimate Game Card, or utilized the more recent virtual currencies acquisition, Spare Change.

Digital_Goods_By_GenreCovering this wide expanse of purchasing options, the PlaySpan/VGMarket survey discovered that 58% of surveyed gamers bought virtual goods with one of the aforementioned methods, in the last year, for a free-to-play game. Coming in second, over the same course of time, was massively multiplayer online games at 34%, followed by a mere (by comparison) 23% were social network games.

In addition to having the highest number of purchasers, free-to-play games also saw the highest expenditure. The median average spent among users was approximately $75 with MMOs and social network games coming in at around $60 and $50 respectively. Of those reported, 80% of those surveyed admitted to buying virtual goods for themselves with the remaining 20% buying them for others as gifts. On average, they also proclaimed that they were currently playing three online games.

What form of virtual goods is being purchased most. Well, according to the survey, in-game currency is on top with 71% of players having purchased it in some form or another. Seeing as how virtual currency can be used to make purchases across multiple games on a network, it seems logical that it would be first. However, the difference between #1 and #2 is staggering.

Virtual_Goods_BuyersAccording to the report, weapons were the second most purchased item at 37%, followed by subscription codes at 30%, wearable items at 26%, power-ups at 25%, virtual gifts at 19%, and maps and levels at a scant 16%. In fact, not only did a higher percentage of users buy virtual currency, but the median number of transactions for them were higher as well (7) when compared to all other types of virtual goods (5).

Currently, this is all the information that has been released from PlaySpan and VGMarket, but according to what they have told ISG, additional components of the study that include individual virtual goods seller data may be released in the future.

Come2Play Adds Virtual Currency Monetization Platform

come2playIt was over a year ago that we first looked at the white label social gaming platform, Come2Play. Since then, he company has been pretty quiet. Nonetheless, it looks like they are busy again with their latest, and quite significant, addition to the platform: Virtual currency monetization.

For those unfamiliar with Come2Play, it first launched with a service that lets web site owners easily integrate a customizable social gaming channel into web pages. Each channel contains game galleries composed of titles submitted to the Come2Play network, and include multiple play rooms, chat, and virtual goods rewards. Last October, multiplayer API was added, and while, at the time, it only was capable of supporting two-player games, when combined with the existing virtual goods, it paved the way to this latest release.

All of Come2Play’s supported games allow for players to challenge one another, according to the company. Now, the concept of challenges, in and of themselves, is not terribly out of the ordinary. They have been a standard social element in the space for a long time now. However, these Come2Play challenges add a little something to this traditional feature.This is something we have only recently seen with the company PayoutHub, which allows monetization through competitive tournaments.

Here’s how Come2Play’s challenges work: In any challenge, players are able to wager X amount of virtual tokens. The winner of that challenge then takes the total amount of the challenged tokens, which can then be used to make virtual goods purchases. Tokens are also attainable via purchase through the “Token Store” as well as through the completion of advertisement offers.

come2play_developer screenRight away, one can begin to see the revenue potential from this latest addition. Already, profits for in-network banner advertising revenues – now carried over into these new virtual currency purchases as well – are split, with all publishers receiving 40% of all proceeds. The remainder is then divided evenly between Come2Play and the developer, but with the growth of virtual goods and currencies in the United States, 30% is hardly something to scoff at. In fact, overall growth was worth around $265 million last year, and is projected, according to Piper Jaffray, to reach over $600 million by the end of 2009. We think that number may be a bit low.

Come2Play certainly looks to be a viable opportunity for both developers and publishers alike. With multiple monetization opportunities through the platform it makes for a very safe looking endeavor for any of the stated parties, and covers most, if not all, the bases for earning potential.

Muggmaker, for Creating Custom Caricatured Avatars

Muggmaker MuggMuggmaker is a profile avatar creator, with newspaper-quality animated caricature styles that users can use to create images of themselves. While the app is tiny, with only a couple thousand monthly active users, it’s worth a closer look.

Created as a side project by Jon Keegan, a long-time print illustrator for clients such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, and HarperCollins, Muggmaker is a 2D avatar creator for Facebook containing a level of detail reminiscent of mainstream games’ avatar creators such as City of Heroes or Elder Scrolls. Okay, before people get all in a huff, no, it is not anywhere near as complex as the said examples, but for a flat Flash creation, on Facebook, it is quite impressive and those are the titles that come to mind.

muggmaker screenshotLimited to only a bust, users are able to modify a great deal of facial features such as eyes, ears, nose, and upper body. Each feature has a fairly large list of feature types ranging from pointy to bulbous noses, for example, and these are then further customizable with rows of slider bars that adjust height, width, rotation and so on. Moreover, you can even click on the feature to move it, manually, around the face, so unlike the mainstream examples, you could make something with a bit more of a Picasso-feel to it. Unfortunately, you can’t move features around enough to make a true Picasso, but it is fun to try.

Of course, colors and clothing can also be changed, and users are even able to grant their new avatar with some equally adjustable animations. Again, it is 2D, so they are a bit simplistic but are still fairly amusing. Top this off with a collection of backgrounds and your Muggmaker avatar is ready for profile publication. It’s a very unique and stylized addition to your Facebook page, as long as millions of other Facebook users don’t start using it.

Though Muggmaker may not be a mainstream game’s level of customization, it would be difficult to deny that it has taken, at least, a step in that direction. With the level of detail available to users on such a small and simplified scale, imagine the possibilities when adapted to a larger Facebook game for a company with significantly more resources. With current avatar customization for most games consisting of merely pre-set clothing and faces, this level of user expression could do wonders for the social space – a space in which user expression and uniqueness is one of the most sought after commodities.

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