Joyent today launched three new services targeted at online gaming studios. They’re noteworthy on their own because of the natural symbiosis between online and mobile games and cloud computing, but they’re also part of a greater trend of prepackaging cloud solutions for specific audiences.
How big is big enough? When do new consumer technologies really start to catch on? What happens when they do? These are questions of critical mass, and there’s plenty of historical evidence to point at the answers.
TechCrunch thinks Facebook will launch a new games portal in mid-November, and the company doesn’t really deny it. Back in September, Facebook changed the way game updates worked in its news feed. Only fellow players would see them, which Facebook said would encourage engagement but likely killed a lot of viral pass-along. Of course, Facebook encouraged game developers to use more conventional means of audience acquisition, like, ahem, advertising. Facebook users do a good job of spreading apps virally, but Facebook itself has never had a very good apps or games hub. Perhaps a robust games “channel” would even embrace a paid promotion system. Some might call that payola. I’d liken it to paid search listings, which, as long as relevance is enforced and bad offers pushed down or out, are a good thing, both for promoters and users.
For third-quarter social media and real-time technologies, most of the action was in consumer services, and much of it — from social gaming to location-based services and advertising dollars — was influenced by Facebook. Here is a brief look back at the NewNet action highlights from last quarter.
A startup called Uken Games makes social games that allow you to synchronize your player profile and other game-related data across platforms, so that when you shift from playing on the PC to playing on your phone, you can pick up right where you left off.
Social gaming is in play today. Japanese social games publisher DeNA paid $400 million for mobile games studio Ngmoco, that reportedly already has some Google money invested in it. Zynga sold $6 million in stock, which might indicate what it paid for Bonfire Studios. Behind the scenes, location-based game maker SCVNGR took a small step towards Facebook-like Pages with its profile pages for marketers, and Kontagent, which aims its analytics tools on social gaming, rolled out an upgrade. While the M&A activity might sound like consolidation, the fact a tools company can seemingly make a living selling into studios suggests there’s still a lot of fragmentation – and opportunity – out there.
I’m seeing some innovative business models for social gaming today. TheIceBreak is holding back details, but it’s got a dating if not matchmaking element to it. Apps Genius will return 50% of its revenues (from people buying virtual cash) to the top players every day, much like some premium-priced fantasy sports leagues give cash to winners. Meanwhile, PayPal is set to announce a new micropayments system for digital goods towards the end of the month. Social gaming accounts for $800 million in virtual goods sales in the US, according to one study. If that’s accurate, it’s five times bigger than advertising on social games.
Zynga CEO Mark Pincus invited social game developers to band together to create an “app economy” at the Inside Social Apps conference in San Francisco. Maintaining the structure of applications built on top of platforms will be key to Zynga and its competitors’ success, he said.
Here’s some good news in a particularly troubled time for Internet startups, and it’s especially piquant for anyone who’s been following the rise (and challenges) of social gaming: Offerpal Media is announcing today that it has secured $15 million in Series B funding led by D. E. Shaw Ventures. (InterWest Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners, original investors in the Fremont-based company, also participated.) Read More about Offerpal’s Virtual Money Service Gets $15M In Funding
While it may temping to lump every game that has chat or a shared leaderboard under the social gaming umbrella, to do so muddies the water of a category that just may be the natural progression from social networking. It’s time to define what we mean by social gaming, so that we can better focus on the actual value we are creating for the players themselves — and avoid the trap of slapping a sparkly new phrase on any gaming startup that wanders onto the scene.