Archive for December, 2010

Sony launches new Facebook free-to-play; James Patterson: Catch A Killer

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

In addition to PopCap’s Zuma Biltz, and GameStop/Jolt Online’s Utopia Kingdoms, Sony Online Entertainment isn’t leaving any pixel hungry fans out in the cold this season. Launched yesterday, SOE wants to bring a little free-to-play mystery to your holiday season. Billed as a puzzle adventure game, James Patterson: Catch a Killer is up an running on Facebook, and combines best-selling author James Patterson’s content with the interactive game play style of Facebook games.

“We have an incredible relationship with James Patterson and worked closely with him on the development of this game to explore interesting and creative ways we could approach his unique way of storytelling within a Facebook game environment,” comments SEO head John Smedley. “Fans of James Patterson and crime dramas will enjoy James Patterson: Catch a Killer as it combines social gaming with the mystery and suspense of a Patterson novel to deliver an interactive and entertaining gameplay experience.”

Playing as protagonist Alex Cross, the title challenges would-be-sleuths to decipher cryptic puzzles and use technology and skill to help the good guys bring home the bad guys. A series of clues and hidden items, complete with gritty CSI-esque crime scene photos await, as players piece together fingerprints and DNA sequences to discover the truth. And while the sleuthing is the mainstay of the title, SOE has taken full advantage of the Facebook platform’s offerings, as Catch A Killer also features a virtual world where players can interact with friends, invite them to the game, gift items, and publish achievements to their news feed.

You’ll note the “gift items,” as Sony has built in a microtransactions mechanism, whereby players may send gifts to other players and/or friends, as well as purchase Energy Packs and other in-game items to enhance their playing experience. Players may use Station Cash, Sony’s own virtual currency to purchase said items. Again, the title is free-to-play, but based on SOE’s previous experience with free-to-plays (read: Free Realms), chances are Sony’s got a few enticing offers that are sure to draw in the microtransactions.

“Sony Online Entertainment has delivered a really unique online crime drama experience,” said Author James Patterson. “I think fans of Alex Cross – and of crime stories in general – will really get into the experience of becoming a detective and solving mysteries online.”

James Patterson Catch A Killer is available to any and all would be Sherlock Homles’ directly at Facebook, with more detailed information about the title at playcatchakiller.com.

 

GameStop and Jolt launch Utopia Kingdoms, PopCap launches Zuma Blitz

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Nothing says The Holidays more than fresh, fun, and free-to-play, like new games. To this end, both PopCap and Gamestop and Jolt Online have recently launched new titles just in time for the upcoming Holiday season.

GameStop and Jolt Online launch Utopia Kingdoms

Launched yesterday, GameStop Corp. and Jolt Online Gaming have introduced a new free-to-play Facebook based game, Utopia Kingdoms. Built upon one of the longest running browser based games of all time (since 1998), Utopia, Jolt’s newest iteration includes all the classic elements of cunning and guile needed to succeed. As with it’s predecessor, GameStop/Jolt have made the game accessible to all, promising simple, easy-to-understand mechanics that will allow just about anyone to dive right in, and be up and playing in no time.

Players have a choice of 1 of 6 unique races, Humans, Orcs, Dwarves, Avians, Elves or Dark Elves, and are tasked with commanding an army with 16 different battle units with 6 race-specific units. As with most Facebook based games, players can team up with friends and battle together, all the while learning new skills and strategies that ultimately lead to a unique game experience. Players may either focus on their armies and fighting strength, or conquer the world through crop harvesting and trade revenues.

“GameStop is a multi-channel retailer committed to video gaming. Jolt’s Utopia Kingdoms is a great example of how we provide our customers with online games they can play anytime, anywhere and on any device,” comments GameStop Executive Vice President of International Mike Mauler.

PopCap launches Zuma Blitz

If your Plants have versed some Zombies, or your jewels are all Bejeweled, no worries, as PopCap is back with a new installment of Facebook fun. Launched on Facebook yesterday, Zuma Blitz focuses on ball-blasting fun, and this Facebook title is the successful adaptation of PopCap’s hit Zuma franchise. Having already sold over 20 million units worldwide, this iteration of Zuma also features the games’ competitive as well as cooperative modes.

Specifically tailored to Facebook, Zuma Blast is compressed into a short, digestible, format of one minute per game. Players may compete with Facebook friends by clicking (exploding) as many balls as possible within the 60-second time frame.

Building on this competitive theme, Zuma Blitz on Facebook features weekly tournaments and leader boards, with new game levels introduced on a weekly basis. An XP system provides additional power-ups and capabilities, and a healthy dose of time extenders, score multipliers, and other in-game accelerants have been tossed in for good measure. And last, but certainly not least, PopCap has built in an in-game performance and status tool that allows Zuma Blitz players to keep tabs on not only their own, but friends’ status and progress as well. Stats include medals won, achievements earned and experience level.

This is PopCap’s second sociale game on Facebook, now joining the 40 million+ user Bejeweled Blitz.

 

Zynga’s CityVille attracts over 22M MAU in just 11 days

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

According to a new report out by Inside Social Games, Zynga’s most recent offering, CityVille has attracted over 22 million monthly active users in just 11 days since it’s release. In comparison, Zynga’s prior offering, FrontierVille managed only 7.4 million users during the same time frame. Looking back the the ‘Ville that started it all, FarmVille only managed 11M users in 11 days, keeping in mind, this was back in the “Free-for-all” heyday, where Facebook had not yet enacted their strict(er) messaging policies.

So why CityVille? Why now? Why not FrontierVille? One factor is certainly Zynga’s powerful cross promotion network. In addition from promotion on the main Zynga site, remember, Zynga also has a wide network of other ‘Ville titles to push their messaging through. Canabalization? Perhaps, but obviously one that’s paying off for Zynga. Another catchy feature Zynga implemented this time around; CityVille face, Sam, becomes an automatic neighbor to all FarmVille players. When farmers visit her farm, voilà, a link directing them to CityVille. Smart.

Localization. As mentioned in a previous post, CityVille is Zynga’s first widespread localized game. By localizing and translating into Spanish, French, Italian, and German, Zynga was about to pick up between 100 and 200 million native speakers via Facebook. However, that’s not to say that Europeans are rushing into CityVille, as Inside Social Games points out, a large portion of usage is coming from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well as eastern European countries who’s languages were not included in the localization. This falls perfectly inline with a previous statement I’ve made about early adopters, and no matter what the language, players will play. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that Zynga has instituted these languages, but at the same time, the question remains to be asked – for all the time, money, and effort that was put into a project of this scale; is it really worth it all at the end of the day?

If you thought the days of Zynga ‘Ville based requests flooding your sidebar or inbox are over, think again. Clearly, there’s a bit of nepotism happening between Zynga and Facebook, as Zynga seems to be able to “work the system” just a bit harder than everyone else without a Facebook backlash. LOLapps anyone? What Zynga’s up to this time around is more or less the same old tricks. For example, an opening quest involves asking (recruiting) your friends to send you some chocolate. This flies directly in the face of Facebook’s own policy which prevents developers from incentivizing the use of communication channels. Right. Additionally, Zynga also sends out a daily email blast to all players reminding them to login to collect a bonus. Just how Facebook will handle Zynga (or not) remains to be seen.

Given CityVille’s current DAU status, in comparison to their MAU status, this game looks extremely healthy, with numbers around the 66% mark. If CityVille stays the course, they’re on track to break 30 million MAU later this week, a figure that hasn’t been duplicated since Café World one year ago. Likewise, this trajectory would put CityVille on top of FarmVille’s 54 M MAU.

 

Gameloft takes international charts by storm – a sign of things to come?

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Paris based Gameloft recently reported some hard numbers surrounding their most recent offerings Eternal Legacy and Dungeon Hunter 2. It’s a fair statement to make that Gameloft has obviously struck a chord with mobile gamers, as both titles have broken the top 10 of Top Grossing Games worldwide. The anticipated hack-n-slash Dungeon Hunter 2 has reached the #2 slot in the U.S., France, Canada, China and Germany, which Eternal Legacy has hit #5 in the U.S. Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and China.

Eternal Legacy is Gameloft’s first entry into the JRPG market. If you’re not quite sure what an J RPG is, you’re not alone. The J in this case stands for Japanese, thus a Japanese role playing game. And as you’d expect, Eternal Legacy has every and all Japanese fantasy component you’d expect: Characters with swords as big as themselves, intense and involving storylines, and turn-based combat. If any of this is sounding remotely similar to Final Fantasy, well…let’s just say you’re not far off. And if JRPG’s are your thing, as Gameloft has discovered, you’re not alone.

Dungeon Hunter 2, on the other hand needs no introduction. Gameloft’s highly successful Dungeon Hunter took the apps world by storm, and v2 packs even more rich graphics, character classes, and a darker, more “mature” storyline. Noteably, Dungeon Hunter 2 is Gameloft’s first title that fully integrates with Apple’s Game Center, meaning, if solo dungeoning isn’t your cup of tea, Game Center will allow you to multiplayer with up to 4 people online. Naturally, with Game Center integration, players of Dungeon Hunter 2 will be able to earn (and show off share) achievements and compare rankings with friends.

“The continued success of our games in the Top Grossing Games chart tells us, that more than ever, gamers welcome high quality titles in the App Store,” said Gonzague de Vallois, senior vice president, publishing, Gameloft. “The immediate success of Eternal Legacy and Dungeon Hunter 2 is on par with our expectation and we look forward to the evolution of these strong brands.”

Overall, this global success is, what I believe, a harbinger of things to come. We’ve already seen the explosion of casual and mobile gaming in North America, and more and more developers are now looking to spread their wings globally. We’ve seen Zynga buying up studios across the world, and subsequently localizing versions of their hits. DeNA CEO Tomoko Namba has hinted at a European acquisition, only months after a strong North American showing with the purchase of ngmoco.

 

DeNA – a hit in Japan, making progress in the U.S. and now targeting Europe?

Friday, December 10th, 2010

DeNA’s certainly no newcomer to the party, but they’ve been quietly amassing success in Japan prior to earlier this year. Call it their “Coming Out” party, DeNA’s been on a roll this year, most notably acquiring social and casual games maker ngmoco just a few months prior. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that DeNA isn’t just happy dominating Japan, and marching forward with the U.S., as they’ve now got their sites set on a European acquisition.

As noted by develop-online’s Rob Crossley, DeNA is expected to turn $1.2 billion in revenues from it’s 20 million users this year. Speaking at this year’s LeWeb event in Paris, DeNA CEO Tomoko Namba hinted at the fact that this capital could be used to fund a European acquisition. And what better place to drop said hints than at Europe’s largest tech conference, packed with every audience under the sun from indie developer to major corporation. Namba also did her countrymen proud when she pointed out that the relative strength of the Yen, alongside a slowing growth rate in Japan is placing a number a Japanes firms in a position where Western acquisitions simply make sense. When specifically asked if DeNA had any European acquisitions on their horizon, Namba replied, “Oh Sure.”

Remember, it’s not just ngmoco that DeNA has made headway into the U.S. market with, as they’ve snatched up a few smaller social game developers, including Mountain View, CA based Gameview, and have invested, or rather, become a “strategic partner” in OpenFeint technologies.

However, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns for DeNA, as it seems as though DeNA’s made a few enemies along their assent to the top. It was reported that the Japanese Fair Trade Commission raided DeNA’s offices yesterday, as they investigate allegations that the company had employed unfair competitive practices in relation to their developer’s partners, as well as competition mobile social network operator Gree. What and how the Japanese Fair Trade Commission deems as “unfair” remains to be seen, but an anti-monopoly charge has also been called against DeNA, so before you writing home about the great rise of DeNA, let’s wait and see how this shakes out. Who knows, maybe that money won’t be headed for Europe, but rather to the reparation coffers.

 

MindJolt scores partnership with BIM to bring games to over 110M

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Chances are, your Joe Average consumer has never heard of MindJolt, or at least not by name. And while that might be the case today, all of that could change tomorrow, as San Francisco based MindJolt has recently announced a partnership with Broadcast Interactive Media, or BIM, a leading content, revenue, and technical solutions provider for local TV, newspaper, and mobile websites in just about every U.S. market.

Reaching more than 110 million unique visitors per month via their 900+ websites, BIM will now feature MindJolt social and casual games. Clearly, a huge shot in the arm for MindJolt, but also a win/win situation, as MindJolt’s content is sure to not only attract new visitors to these sites, but also keep them around for an extended time period, ultimately resulting in a much deeper engagement across the entire network.

“Visitors to BIM’s client sites come seeking local level news and entertainment,” explained BIM CEO Timur Yarnall. “Through our partnership with MindJolt, we continue to build on the broad offering of high quality content delivered by our network. MindJolt offers site visitors a chance to enjoy great games, share scores, and socialize with friends. This partnership will bring a new level of social engagement to the BIM platform.”

Certainly, not each and every one of BIM’s 110 million uniques per month will engage in MindJolt’s offerings, but if even half did, this would effectively more than double MindJolt’s current average of around 20 million unique visitors from across the web. In other words – this is a major deal for MindJolt, and one that has the potential of bringing them to the coveted household name status, a feat accomplished thus far by only one social gaming company: Zynga. Ultimately, this deal with BIM will help MindJolt sidestep one of Zynga’s shortfalls, the Facebook dependency.

“MindJolt is an open platform focused on delivering games to game fans wherever they play. Whether it be through popular sites or social networks, our strategy is to extend the reach of our casual and social game service across the web,” said MindJolt COO Colin Digiaro.

 

Digital Chocolate- using cross platform strategy to rocket to the top

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Digital Chocolate. If you’ve not yet discovered their offerings, chances are, you soon will. The cross platform producers have recently landed in the number 4 slot on Facebook in terms of daily active users according to AppData. This news arrives less than a month after Digital Chocolate’s previous announcement of achieving a strong 20 million monthly active user figure. By now counting over 4 million daily active users, Digital Chocolate has been able to take on, and surpass, some much larger names in the space, including Playdom (i.e. The Walt Disney Company), and PopCap Games.

According to Digital Chocolate, the secret is in the cross platform gaming sauce. “Our combined market positions on Facebook and mobile platforms make us a unique player in the industry,” said Marc Metis, President of Digital Chocolate. “We’ve broadened our success on Facebook across a well-developed portfolio and extended our social gaming brands onto new platforms like iPhone and Android.”

And broadened their success on Facebook they have. Digital Chocolate can lay claim to the second fastest growing game in the Facebook 2010 season; Millionaire City. Combined with their MMA Pro Fighter hit, Digital Chocolate sank some serious cash into the business, and was able to pump out Hollywood City, Island God, Vegas City, Epic Fighters, and Ninjas Rising on Facebook during the month of November. And it appears as though Digital Chocolate isn’t just a one trick pony, but has been able to attract 1.3 million daily active users outside the Millionaire City realm. According to Digital Chocolate, this figure accounts for more added users than any of it’s competitors, and with the 5 previous mentioned games, has more virtual goods games on the rise than any other Facebook gaming supplier.

Adding to Digital Chocolate’s success is their cross platform stance. As we’ve seen already, becoming, or being, too dependent on one outlet (read:Facebook) can be akin to the proverbial, “Putting all your eggs in one basket,” Digital Chocolate also focuses on the mobile. They’ve been in the space for quite a while, in particular the free-to-play arena, as Digital Chocolate was one of the very early adopters of OpenFeint technology. Since this time, they’ve gone on to expand their mobile offerings, as well as the platforms that run them. When speaking mobile gaming, naturally the iPhone must be included, but Digital Chocolate also has a number of pixel packed punch in the Android world. They’ve recently released Millionaire City, MMA Pro Fighter, and Hollywood City for both platforms, and have promised a number of additional titles soon. With over 100 million worldwide mobile device downloads, clearly Digital Chocolate is on to something here, and is certainly worth keeping an eye on over the coming year.

 

ComScore: Android closing in on iPhone

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Leading metrics firm ComScore has recently published it’s MobileLens report, with Google’s Android OS making a strong showing across the board. The report, which covers August – the end of October found that Google, read:Android based devices now account for 23.5 percent of the U.S. smartphone marketshare.

Looking at the numbers in terms of OS, it appears as though RIM’s BlackBerry is still leading the pack, commanding a 35.8 percent marketshare, with Apple and Google now fighting tooth and nail for the number two spot. At the end of October, 2010, Apple held 24.6 percent of the market, while Google, 23.5 percent.

What’s also important to keep in mind with these numbers is, not only are they now 2 months old, but the growth rate. As referenced above, in July Google held a 17 percent marketshare, while 3 months later that share had jumped to 23.5 percent, a 6.5 percent gain. At the same time, Apple had only increased it’s share by 0.8 percent. If this trend remains on track, it’s very likely that Google might already have a lead on Apple at the time of this publication. Also noteworthy; during the same time, RIM’s marketshare dropped a significant 3.5 percent. Doing a bit of cocktail napkin math, it’s entirely possible that Google may now be nipping at the heals of RIM’s once commanding lead.

While this seems happy happy joy joy for Google, it’s not the best news for games and apps developers. A lack of a single, unified hardware specification means that each and every device has it’s own unique set of “can do’s” and “can’t do’s”. Why would this matter? Other than the obvious set of unique challenges various forms of hardware present, according to ComScore, gaming is also becoming increasingly important to smartphone owners. While up only 1.4 percent, 22.3 in July to 23.7 percent in October, gaming on smartphones has overtaken music listening usage, and is closing in on the social networking category, with less than a percentage point between the two.

It’s also important to keep in mind, as pointed out by Kyle Orland of Gamasutra, the ComScore survey did not take into account iPod Touch devices, which, while not mobile phones, will do just about everything else an iPhone will do (and iPad for that matter – although it’s size format does significantly disqualify it from this survey).

 

Planet Calypso to auction largest virtual property yet: Medusa’s Head islands

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Swedish developer and publisher First Company Planet has recently announced an upcoming auction of massive proportions. Well noted for their record setting virtual property sales, Planet Calypso is off to repeat history, but naturally, raising the bar in the process. This time around, Planet Calypso will see the auctioning off of the Medusa’s Head islands. The lucky winner of this auction will also receive a place in the record books for largest virtual property ever sold, and has the opportunity to reap serious financial rewards, as evidenced by previous First Company Planet real-estate purchasers. And while most gaming companies seem to be focusing on smaller and lower priced content, read:microtransactions, First Company Planet appears to be enjoying their road of revolution, specializing in the exact opposite, macrotransactions.

The Medusa’s Head Islands are the fourth of such offerings from Planet Calypso, and will be available for viewing as of tomorrow, December 7th, 2010. Bidding is open to both current Planet Calypso players, as well as those who are new to the experience. On December 13th, Planet Calypso will officially put the Medusa’s Head islands up on the auction block. There is no opening minimum bid, however, Planet Calypso is waving their normal 1% withdrawal fee for potential investors bidding $50,000.00 or more.

The virtual island chain contains 8 unique land masses, each capable of revenue generation, according to Planet Calypso. 3 main islands and 5 satellite islands make up the geographical formation, and contain 2 individual creatures, both of which are sure to be on any Calypsian hunter’s list. Additional revenue incomes can be derived from the islands’ other indigenous species, rich mineral deposits, retail, and residential assets. Making it easy for potential shoppers to reach said islands, First Company Planet is kicking in a teleportation system, however players may also reach the islands via air or boat.

If $50k or more seems like a steep price for a virtual investment, consider this: in 2005, Planet Calypso saw an asteroid containing shops, hunting, mining, and a (rather successful) nightclub sold for $635,000,000. The original purchase price was $1,000,000. That’s not a bad Return on Investment by any standard. The original $1M was recouped via various in-game fees from other players in a short 8 months, and was previously noted by Guinness World Records as the most expensive virtual item in the world. Considering that the Medusa’s Head islands contain 8 unique development opportunities, Planet Calypso is expecting some serious investment interest.

While the figures from previous Planet Calypso investments and purchases have carved out their unique slot in the gaming world, it’s important that these high numbers be taken with a grain of salt. Sure, recouping your initial investment may be achievable, based on previous virtual properties sold, however, all profitability hinges upon the First Planet Company’s whims. They could, if they so choose, close the operation tomorrow. Likewise, the popularity of said title could wane overnight, and then what? Don’t get me wrong, if there’s serious money to be made, then it is what it is; an investment. However, if we’ve learned nothing else from Zynga, it’s quite dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket, i.e. Facebook.

 

Ngmoco brings Pocket God to Android and Windows Phone 7

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

In a first for both developer Bolt Creative, and publisher ngmoco, Pocket God will soon find a home on both Android and Windows Phone 7 based mobile devices. Pocket God is now available for Android, with a Windows Phone 7 version arriving shortly.

Having launched in 2009 on iPhone, and selling over 3 million copies, Bolt Creative’s title was the indie hit of the year, and has held it’s own in popularity over the ensuing year. Originally developed from a “side project” idea from creators Dave Castelnuovo and Allan Dye, Pocket God has seen over 30 free updates, including a number of new mini-games, islands to discover, and new ways to crush the pygmy opposition.

“We were delighted to work with the Bolt Creative team on bringing their Pocket God IP to Android and Windows 7 Mobile using the gamemaking resources at ngmoco and we’re certain Pocket God will continue its success on these new devices,” comments ngmoco CPO, Simon Jeffery.

Clearly ngmoco is onto something good here, as fans of the Pocket God series have called for a comic book spawned from the series; another industry first, as no other app has been bestowed with this honor. The comic book series provides, and expands upon the background story of the island’s seemingly immortal inhabitants. The comic book Pocket God has found it’s own unique following, and consistently performs well at the checkout counter.

As mentioned above, this marks ngmoco’s first foray into both the Android and Windows Phone 7 market, just a quarter shy of ngmoco’s Neil Young stating that he likes Android, but is sticking with iPhone. The question is … did ngmoco get the timing right? Android has seen a massive growth in market share this past year, but Windows Phone 7 is just gaining traction. While the Android addition is certainly welcome by the community, I’m more interested in what the uptake on Windows Phone 7 will be. Apparently, Bolt Creative CEO Dave Castelnuovo is thinking the same, “Pocket God has been expanding rapidly since its inception almost two years ago and we’ve always had our eyes on new platforms, to be selected as a launch title for Windows Phone 7 as well as hopping over to Android is something we’re truly happy about,” said Dave Castelnuovo, CEO of Bolt Creative. “Collaborating with ngmoco on these monumental launches is just icing on the cake, their expertise in mobile gaming is unparalleled and their outstanding reputation ensures that these new versions of Pocket God will be the same high quality fans have come to appreciate.”

It seems like DeNA isn’t joking around when it comes to making a serious play at some big market shares.