Tag: playfish (Page 1 of 2)

Conference: Social Gaming Summit, London

Sometimes, the good things come quickly and without much fanfare. Tomorrow (that’s 11 November), the Social Gaming Summit will open its doors at the Stamford Bridge home of Chelsea Football Club in London. And  I will talk about how to bring the social element into the mobile sphere (and, yes, regular readers of this blog will be rather familiar with my stance on this).

So if you fancy a trip to Fulham to hear from the social games gurus from Playfish, Facebook, Playdom, RockYou, PopCap, etc, etc, please come along (a full speaker list is here). It is a tremendous line-up and should be tons of fun!

The conference programme is here and you can sign up here.

Virtual Goods Boom in 2010!

I stumbled across an interesting piece of intelligence today, which looked at the development of virtual goods in the market place. According to this, median spend on virtual goods by users in North America has climbed a whopping 67% year-on-year to $50 p.a.

Equally interestingly, males are the largest spenders and, broken down by ethnics, Asians (26%) lead Hispanics (20%) by some margin over whites (11%).

So far (sic!), most virtual goods (how many? I don’t know) are purchased from stand-alone web-based games (World of Warcraft anyone?) but 31% had bought items in social networks (that would be the Zyngas and Playfishs of this world) with 29% in “network-based games” (what are they, I wonder). Facebook credits were used by 16% of buyers. Mobile? No word. It’s coming though: do bear in mind that there are 3x more mobile subscribers in the world than Internet users! And, yes, that’s true…

EA & Playfish: Gaming Being Re-Defined

In my last post, I hinted that the Google/AdMob deal might just not be the #1 deal of the week and, whilst one can of course dispute this, here’s why:

On the same day Google’s AdMob acquisition was announced, there were more guys walking to the bank, namely the good folks from Facebook games kings Playfish (well, joint kings with Zynga) who have been acquired by Electronic Arts for a cool $400m (incl. earn-outs).

Why is this more significant? Because it is (like Google/AdMob) a cross-platform play that (unlike Google/AdMob) also expands the basis of business models deployed. Playfish derives the majority of its revenues from so-called virtual currencies, and in particular also from lead-generation deals (which recently have become “a little bit” under fire for queries of their ethics). But ethics or not (and Playfish seems to have been fairly clean in this respect), the main point is that there has been a business model that is new, well -ish: it is not reliant on display ads nor paid subscriptions or download fees, etc. It is a new form of engagement there, crude in its beginnings but new no less: users are encouraged to interact with brands in exchange for personal details. Now, if done – as often – crudely, this has a bad feel.

But brands might also want to grab this with both hands because it offers unprecedented opportunities to truly enagage their users: interact with them and they will be more forthcoming. Behave and their sentiment will be positive. Be sincere and they will recommend your brand to their peers (which accounts for 74% of purchases online!). Check my recent keynote on this topic…

EA had changed the mobile gaming world when it acquired Jamdat by using a significant distribution footprint and leverage it with its own brands and the financial muscle only someone with its revenue HQ outside mobile could at the time. The acquisition of Playfish provides a similar footprint in the online world (do not forget that Facebook is “only” the largest bridgehead of online games).

As with Jamdat, EA is expanding the options of available business models and this is to be commended!

So, Google: App Store or Web? Or Both?

Last week, there was the Mobilebeat conference on, and – amongst many other things – a lot of guys felt they had to air their opinions on the future of mobile apps or, errh, no apps. They spoke so elaborately about it that even the revered FT (albeit in its blog section) and the BBC felt compelled to run stories. Amongst others, the CEO of “indie” app store Get Jar and Google’s wonderful Vic Gundotra, VP Engineering and also equipped with this most valleyed of all Silicon Valley job titles, i.e. “Evangelist” (I would really like one like this, too!), in his case for developers spoke about where they saw information and entertainment on mobile phones going in the future and how the ecosystem would look like.

Now, let’s get serious.

What was Said?

First, GetJar‘s CEO sees the market for mobile applications becoming – get this – as big as the Internet (woah!). He then said also that it would peak at about 10m apps (in total?) by 2020. Hmm. GetJar then went on to warn that the number of developers would drop “drastically” and that only about 10% would be able to survive. The others would take their skills elsewhere. So where then? To the web? (This is of course interesting also because GetJar will deliver Sony Ericsson’s App Store…).

It is here where Google comes in. Gundotra said that, according to Google (and who would question them), the web had won. Even (!) Google was struggling with the device fragmentation in mobile and many, many applications could be delivered through “incredibly powerful” browsers as well. He even borrowed Steve Jobs for his argument, pointing out that the Apple CEO had announced that the iPhone was “Built for the Web” upon its launch.

There were others who contributed: Nokia’s Head of Services reminded everyone that Nokia was there to help with its Qt (Cutie, geddit?) cross-platform application network . The Symbian Foundation’s Executive Director, Lee Williams queried the need for more app stores and called, instead, for more than “just a bucket of apps”, which should look like an aisle with the very stuff that specific consumer is interested in and which (s)he could wander down at leisure.

They all however concluded that it [scil. the mobile web] was not there yet. Hm again… Let’s try to disentangle this all:

The Needle in the Haystack

Upon the launch of the app store and the wondrous stories of the iShoot developer Ethan Nicholas who coded in his bedroom after work only to resign from his day job weeks later because he made more money than he had ever thought. A lot of developers read that and, since it is the wet dream of every games developer (earn cash with an honest game without the “suits” fiddling with your game in between; anyone remember Copeland’s skateboarding turtle?), embarked on the journey themselves. And then they found, oops, it does not work that way? Why not? Well, because there are more than 400 applications going live every day. And with the sheer number of them, it could well be that the best app ever written is already out there but buried deep a couple of categories down in the app store.

This is no big surprise. It is how it works in any sector: one smart kid is not enough, you also need the environment and a lot of other building blocks to have a winner (as reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton is painfully realizing this year).

In the app store’s (and a gazillion other) case, this means that you have to make sure that you gain some attention. From Apple (or any other app store operator), from the press, from the users out there. And this is not news. There have been very well written pieces about this galore (see here for just one of them).

So will this mean the fall of a lot of the developers that went about their business thinking the app store magic would do away with centuries of business logic (there is a reason why companies have sales & marketing departments, you know…)? Yes, very probably. But does that mean the app model is flawed? No.

The Hit Dilemma

One of the Mobilebeat participants, namely Playfish, creators of some of the most successful Facebook games who released on the iPhone, too, complained about the hit-driven nature of games on the App Store. Whilst I am painfully aware of this dilemma, one has – again – to point out that this is pretty much how most of the economy works, too, unless, that is, one builds a superior and dominant brand (Tetris would be the example for the games world).

Other industries know this, too. Everyone knows IBM is a leading computer maker. Hardly anyone remembers that the Dutch electronics giant Philips used to be one of the biggest players in that market (not even Wikipedia mentions this); their CeBIT booth was bigger than IBM’s throughout the 70’s and early 80’s (my dad worked for Philips then; I need to dig out some pictures). What happened? Hey, they missed some crucial disruptive innovations and they were history…

What I want to say is that no one is immune to the demand for constant innovation and improvement (otherwise some Firefox will sneak around the corner and steal market share). The reason why this hit dilemma is more painful in mobile games than elsewhere is the relatively small size of the market to date: it is more difficult to build reserves than in other, more established sectors.

How Many App Stores? Mee too, me three, me four, …

With Apple’s roaring success with the app store, the whole industry stampeded to put out their own, and they have been moderately successful or failed. But it is early days! Why did they fail? Because they equally had hoped that one thing and one thing only (just name your bucket of apps an “app store”) would heal the painful failure of the sector in converting otherwise gladly paying users to also using, consuming, contributing to entertainment and information on their mobiles. Now, this overlooked that Apple’s model did not only consist of a storefront. It also consisted of a fairly simple developer programme (with a click-through agreement), a fair(er) revenue share to the developers and unprecedented ease of use in getting to the app of one’s choice. Try and apply this to, say, the launch of Nokia’s Ovi Store

So do users need more than one store? No, not in general. If you can get all you ever need, want or desire from one destination, you don’t need another one. This however becomes a little precarious with a view to monopolizing channels. You would never know if there are not some that are a little more equal than you… So, having Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc. next to Internet Explorer did the world a ton of good. And having Nokia, Sony Ericsson, the carriers working on alternatives to Apple’s app store is arguably of equal value. Will the user care? It depends on the execution: Google’s superior search algorithms made the old-style catalogue model previously found in search engines superfluous; why do I need to sort something if I have a little fairy that races to get me what I want in no time? So: if I have a bucket that comes with a little fairy, I don’t need long, long supermarket aisles. I’d rather get it home-delivered by the search fairies.

It’s the Usability, stupid!

Now to the key question: separate apps or web? Now in Google’s case, their pleading is somewhat obvious: well, they would, wouldn’t they?

Google, on the other hand, has apps out on most platforms for most of their web services: Be it Gmail (great Blackberry app!), Maps, or – all in one – their iPhone Google app, it comes as an app. And why?

Because it would otherwise be unusable! OK, let me rephrase that: the delivery of browser-based applications through mobile phones suffers some very severe setbacks today, amongst which usability on a small screen, constant connectivity and bandwidth. Whilst the latter two are arguably solvable some time soon, the former is a little trickier: when delivering to a mobile device, you not only have to download all underlying data (graphical assets, etc) but also an interface that works on that device. And because of the small form factor of mobile phones (even in the case of large-screen touchscreen phones like the iPhone), this is likely that your user experience will be significantly worse than on a large screen equipped with mouse, touchpad, etc. Apps can bridge this usability gap, and I would argue that this is precisely why Google is producing them. The underlying content can often (not always) well be delivered from the cloud but the UI of small devices is crucial to their sensibility.

With both (mobile) browser technology and handsets improving, the space available for services that can sensibly (and with superior costs) be delivered from the cloud (i.e. through the web) will increase, and steeply. However, there will always be applications that will either be impossible to deliver via the web (name a high-end 3D racing game on the web) or where a specific mobile UI would greatly improve the usability of any service.

It is another question if these will be delivered via flexible widgets or larger, more comprehensive apps (functionally, a lot of apps effectively are covert widgets); this will simply be (and remain) a question on the complexity of any given task and the ease and superior (or not) delivery an app would provide over a browser-based service. There will be an equilibrium between the two but I posit that there will remain large areas where browser-based delivery will not be able to compete with specific applications (that will draw on data from the cloud as well). Incidentally, 58% of Wired readers agree with me (and another 17% don’t care; check the bottom of the article) 😉

This can be seen on the (“normal”) web, too: Google Docs (Google’s online suite of office applications) is, despite a lot of effort and being free to use, an utter underdog to MS Office or Open Office (the only numbers I could find give Google Docs a market share of between 1% and 5%). It is, I think, because downloadable office “apps” are so much more usable (and react instantaneously irrespective of my ISP’s moods) than online services. The complexity of the computing (and – more importantly – the bandwidth necessary to deliver it) is just too overwhelming (see here for a previous post on this).

More evolved mobile apps often are (and/or will be) a hybrid: they offer a front-end that optimizes the data drawn from an online environment for use on a specific mobile device. It will not be an “either/or” but an “and”. Anything else would anyway be so last century!

In Conclusio:

Whenever possible, services will move online because it is cheaper to produce. Whenever necessary, they will be delivered through dedicated apps because it is required to use them!

Why an iPhone Deal with Verizon Wireless would be Cool

Today, interesting reports surfaced (or re-surfaced?) according to which Verizon Wireless and Apple are in discussions about bringing the iPhone to the former. However, because Verizon runs on a CDMA network and Apple has only ever supported GSM, commentators reckoned that this deal might be for Verizon’s next-generation LTE network. And this is when one can start dreaming…

To recap: Verizon will be amongst the (if not The) first tier-1 network operators rolling out the next generation of wireless networks under the LTE standard (see here for more on this). Under LTE, unprecedented wireless bandwidth will be available, comparable (or exceeding) what households in Western and Far-Eastern countries have in their homes today. But then you would have it of course wherever you are (well, if the respective technology is installed).
Due to the immense speeds, a lot of people think that the first big change will be on the (computer) broadband side of things: no need for wireline access if the speeds are the same and you can actually wander around and through town and always be with your provider. Simplicity, ease of use, bliss of connected life.

When it comes to mobile handsets (previously known as phones), the iPhone is of course (and despite the heckling by its many critics) arguably the most successful multimedia device known to man (so far). To marry this with these speeds? Ah, what would await us (see here for earlier thoughts). The iPhone (if they can fix the battery life) would be perfectly suited to bring the new lush wireless life to the masses (albeit first to the more affluent ones): rich graphics, innovative inputs and the fairly unique form factor would show the opportunities off rather beautifully and could hence aid to avoid the post-3G hangover where people asked themselves why on earth they should get 3G phones: there was nothing much to do with them (other than being able to make “faster” phone calls…).
The most common uses would arguably be music and apps with the latter being even more successful than the former: it is estimated that iTunes took 6 years to record 6.8 bn downloads; the App Store did 1 bn in only 9 months (or 1.3bn p.a.), which would equal 7.8 bn in 6 years if no further growth would occur. Anyway, with 1.1 bn downloads p.a. not being too shabby either, let’s take both, so what do we get?
On the music side, it would either mean quick and high-quality downloads or, more likely (?), streamed music. The same applies to the VOD and movie segments.
On the apps side, LTE would arguably push the envelope into two directions: (1) high-end, graphically rich games, and (2) ultra-connected social games that seamlessly bridge media platforms. Now: both types had their advent on the iPhone. Speak to any number of high-end games makers, and they will tell you that their life became much easier since the iPhone was there. Look at products like EA’s Scrabble (with full Facebook integration), Playfish‘s games (coming from the other end, i.e. from Facebook to iPhone), etc and you have the foundations laid here, too. With LTE, all this becomes mass-marketable to a much higher extent. And this would be real fun!

Mobile Social Gaming?!

I’ll be giving a presentation at Casual Connect Europe in a few weeks and have hence been looking a little at the concept of social gaming. In particular with the iPhone success story, this concept has received its fare share of the limelight recently – and rightly so: the unique distinguishing factor of a mobile phone is that it is always with its owner and that it’s always on, making it the perfect tool for connecting with people (well, this is what they were invented for in the first place), and the iPhone does that well not only with voice or SMS…

The “social” aspect of mobile gaming has mostly focussed on this connectivity and this is also what has been haunting it, at least in most parts of the world because of the horrendous fragmentation on the carrier and handset side. To make a fully integrated connected mobile game, one needs to integrate with a vast number of carriers (in the US, the situation is a little different – integration in only the 3 or 4 biggest carriers – Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint/Nextel and maybe T-Mobile, and you’re in business big time; there is e.g. WPT Texas Hold’Em that scored tremendous commercial success, including full web-to-mobile-to-web play), and they cannot seem to resolve on a common standard; nearly every carrier runs its own little system…

However, do games really have to be fully connected multi-player with in-game chat, buddy lists, alerts, etc, etc, in order to be “social” games? I do not think so. They “merely” have to become a social object, and set in an environment to leverage the social aspect of this (there’s more from Jyri Engestrom on object-centered sociality). This does not work for every game in every case but there are plenty of examples out there both in mobile and online: Playfish (founded by mobile games veteran Kristian Segerstrale) runs a number of games on Facebook that are stand-alone single-player games but integrated into Facebook in a way that pushed them all the way up the rankings. Digital Chocolate runs a very successful franchise with TowerBloxx on mobile and online – again a single-player game with hooks into existing social networks (the latter providing the environment that facilitates them becoming a social object). Orange Israel recently created a raft of online destinations around Totomi: a micro-site, a Facebook Group is all you need to create a community around a game.
So whilst I am and will remain a big fan of connected games (phones are to connect with people!), some simple data streams out (high-scores, etc) AND links into existing social networks are actually likely to activate a lot of the potential in there. 
I will be continuing to ponder this, and I would be most grateful for any input!

Playfish fishes for big bucks

Playfish, the social network gaming company founded by wireless industry veteran Kristian Segerstrale, announced a series B round worth a very respectable $17m from Accel Partners and Index Ventures. Playfish boasts 10m monthly users and claims that 4 of its 5 games are in Facebook’s top 10. The company also said it recently joined Google’s in-game advertising solution and presumably banks on capitalizing on this success. No word on financials but they surely are getting their slice of it (just how thick that slice is, I’d like to know). No word either on any mobile activities (which might be coming given Kristian’s background as founder of Macromedia).

Playfish’s mantra is to enable people to play games with their real-world friends via the infrastructure provided by social networks, and I can confirm that this works: I am an avid player of their games, particularly “Who has the biggest brain?” (I am no. 5 amongst my friends so far; a list which is topped by Kristian and I cannot help but think that he might possess cheat codes…).
A round of this size by investors of this pedigree raised in these times deserves our unreserved respect. You rock, guys!

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén