Tag Archive | "commander"

Snapchat goes to space with NASA Live Story

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Image courtesy of Astronaut Scott Kelly

Disney Interactive Adds Squad Wars to Star Wars: Commander

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Disney Interactive launched Squad Wars in Star Wars: Commander on mobile. The update adds squad-based battles to the base-building combat game.

With this update, squads can go to war against other squads in timed events on the new in-game planet of Sullust. Players need to reach at least HQ Level 5 to access this Squad Wars feature. Each Squad War supports up to 15 players on each side, and will pit one Rebel squad against one Empire squad.

Star Wars Commander Squad Wars

Once a squad adds itself to the Squad Wars matchmaking queue, the game will match the squad with another squad of the same level. Once a match is found, players have 24 hours to plan for the upcoming war.

During a Squad War, players will receive a temporary base, which is a duplicate of their main base. This allows players to edit their base with a defensive layout for the Squad War, while not affecting the rest of their gameplay. During the planning phase of a Squad War, players can also send troops to other users in their squad.

Once the planning phase is over, a second 24-hour timer begins, and players can begin attacking enemy squad bases, as well as three new Factory Outposts (new computer-controlled bases). If players capture a Factory Outpost, their Squad will receive a buff, which can impact future battles. A squad can attack and capture a Factory Outpost even if it has already been captured by the other team; however, Outposts will become more difficult to capture each time possession changes.

Each squad member can complete three actions during the battle phase of a Squad War. That is, players can launch three attacks against Factory Outposts, they can attack three bases controlled by other players or they can complete a combination of the two. A Squad War ends when every player on both squads has completed three actions, or when time runs out. The winning team will receive Supply Crates.

While Squad Wars are initially available on the new planet of Sullust, they will eventually be expanded to existing in-game planets, such as Hoth and Yavin 4.

Star Wars: Commander is available to download for free on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Amazon Appstore and Windows Phone Store.

Article courtesy of SocialTimes

Obama Is #TeamSpotify, White House Releases Two #POTUSPlaylists

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Barack Obama on phone

How Obama Can Say “We Don’t Have A Domestic Spying Program” Without Lying

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Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 12.54.00 AM

President Obama found himself defending the practices of the National Security Agency to comedian Jay Leno Show last night. “We don’t have a domestic spying program,” said the Commander-in-Chief. “What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terrorist attack. That information is useful.”

If Obama’s denial sounds suspicious, it’s because he’s playing semantics. While the NSA is supposed to focus on foreign suspects, they can monitor any individual who corresponds (is “connected”) with terrorists. According to the NSA, surveillance programs sweep American communications up to 3 ‘hops’ from any suspect (a friend of a friend of a friend is 3 ‘hops’ in a network).

Most Americans are three degrees away from hundreds of thousands or even millions of other citizens. If I have 100 friends, and they each have 100 friends, I’m 2 degrees from 10,100 people (assuming there’s no overlapping friendships).

Using the ’3 hop’ rule, the NSA can effectively spy on millions of Americans, even if they don’t technically start with domestic targets.

As he did in his first TV interview about the NSA, the President continues to play games to downplay the extent of domestic spying. When a politician doesn’t talk specifics, it’s usually because he or she is hiding something.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

What Games Are: Playing In Interesting Times

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Editor’s note: Tadhg Kelly is a game designer with 20 years experience. He is the creator of leading game design blog What Games Are, and consults for many companies on game design and development. You can follow him on Twitter here.

It’s no great revelation that financial reports can be arcane and hard to interpret. Everything is balance, trends, pointers and a series of evolving narratives that subtly dance with one another across a crowded floor. There are always new angles to consider, players in the mix and potential directions to be taken. Yet despite all that, meta-trends do emerge, larger tides that lift all ships or founder them. A few years ago social gaming was that meta-trend, and it produced a flurry of activity in investment and acquisition as the potential of getting games in front of hundreds of millions of users for low cost struck a chord with investors and VCs alike.

At other times everything seems in flux, and that seems to be the prevailing mood at the start of 2013. Last year may have seen a considerable degree of mergers and acquisitions (although the number of transactions were down 27 percent, their average size was up 60 percent), but it’s not clear what any of them are supposed to mean. This is a theme also being reflected in reports, such as the executive summary of Digi-Capital’s latest Global Games Investment Review. This year the company seems to think that games are all a bit up in the air and is strongly advising caution. With a billion dollars less invested in social games (a 94 percent drop!) and Kickstarter only representing around 6 percent of all investment activity, the overriding theme is transition, changing dynamics and, well, chaos.

Anecdotally, this is also being reflected on the development side. Studios are very hedgy about their prospects for 2013 and adopting a wait-and-see stance for every new platform announcement. Everyone wants to know where to spend their development money most effectively, and nobody seems able to tell them. Given how social has stalled, mobile seems packed to the gills, tablet is increasing and cloud gaming went bust it’s hard to be confident about where games will go in the next 12 months. As the proverb goes, we seem to be living in interesting times.

Yet I think there are still some beacons to navigate and sharp rocks to avoid. Here are five examples:

1. Facebook Games Are So Very Over

The more I read about Facebook’s Graph Search, the more I’m convinced it’s a ticking time bomb. Not only does it open the door for all manner of creepy PR disaster stories, it will make muggle users (i.e. those who don’t pay attention to the tech press) very uncertain about just how safe they are online. It might look great in demo, but nobody actually needs to search their social graph that often for information. Recruiters, stalkers and daters, on the other hand, will. Not only is it a boondoggle, it’s a potential user killer, and it reflects a deep lack of focus in the company. The general problem seems to be that while a scrappy startup attitude propelled Facebook to massive success, Zuckerberg and his team seem to be struggling to define what a mature Facebook looks like. He has his billion users but isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do with them.

For Facebook games none of this augurs well. Likewise the recent platform change to deliberately hide once-publicly available app usage information behind a cloud of ranks and inferred positions is a deeply suspect move. Not only does it allow for vanity metrics to go unchallenged, it means developers will be considerably less able to conduct market research. And discovery remains a big issue. The App Center has largely failed to shift the needle quantitatively or qualitatively, and so Facebook as a platform languishes and continues to be a game of who can afford to pay the most in customer acquisition.

While I certainly don’t expect Facebook to stop serving games, over the last 24 months it has become the new Yahoo Games or Real.com. It’s a dead zone and really only of interest to those who want to burn a lot of money to acquire users. With all due respect to Zynga, something is very wrong with a platform when the top games on its charts are still the same old poker, a middling sequel to FarmVille and a bunch of very tired-looking content underneath that. It means it’s over.

2. The “Mid-Core” Is Not Next

“Mid-core” is a term that has gained some currency in industry circles in the last 12 months as a kind of halfway house between “hardcore” (Call of Duty/World of Warcraft types) and “casual” (everybody else, but usually with an inferred slant – meaning women). To be mid-core implies that the previously casual player is on the road toward becoming a PC or console gamer, or is developing instincts in that direction, or that a previously hardcore gamer is disengaging. In theory the mid-core is a space that companies like Kabam and KixEye occupy, and Zynga has made moves in the space as well, and it’s supposed to be the social market that explodes next. I think not.

While I have no doubt that many ex-console gamers now play games like 10000000 or Spaceteam on their iPads because of greater convenience, there is no mass audience of casual players slowly levelling up to become proper gamers. As far as we know, KixEye’s War Commander is a well-performing game in terms of ARPPU but – up until Facebook killed transparency on its reporting this week – has only ever had maybe half a million daily active users. That’s a good number for a respectable niche of a market, but nowhere near “explosive.”

While I do think that there is a generation-two of social games, mid-core games are not it. Generation-two games need to be much bolder in their vision, frankly, and focus on delivering genuine value through social connection. More than we are currently seeing across the whole spectrum of social gameplay. At some point the basic roleplaying and simplified strategy-raiding games just wear out, and mid-core really is really just an elaboration of those basic principles.

3. Social Gambling Is Overheated

I’ve been saying this for a while.

Although many analysts expect Zynga to partially become a gambling company in the hope of returning to explosive success, I don’t think it’s going to work out. Not only is the farming game audience different to the roulette and slots audience, there are already hundreds of providers in that space. It’s simply not the kind of virgin market as that which Zynga was able to so successfully inhabit in 2008-2009 by being smarter with the platform levers than everyone else. It’s crowded, and in many cases the core idea is already out there and being flogged to death.

Some of the players in this space, from Jackpot Joy to King.com, are intimately familiar with how to deliver socialised gambling products. It varies from country to country, but in the UK television has been awash with companies advertising Slots, Bingo, Poker, Blackjack, live betting and so on for years, and those providers have likely saturated most of the customers that would have been prime targets already. There are also many providers on Facebook offering social slots and the like, and many more who’ve found that that has become an overly stuffed market.

Other than the fact that it has large user numbers in its network, I don’t really see what Zynga brings to social gambling that isn’t already there. Zynga’s been stuck in a pattern of sequel-ing and trying to hold onto the users that it has for a while, with many pundits predicting that they may even decide to go back to private in the not-too-distant future. How that is supposed to be rescued by yet-another-Bingo title is beyond me, and as Zynga is the bellwether in this market the same question applies to other providers, too.

4. Microconsoles

It is universally expected that Sony and Microsoft will launch new PlayStation and Xbox hardware this year, and the talk around the campfire has it that both will make very large announcements at the Game Developers Conference at the end of March. Nintendo has already launched its next-generation machine too, the Wii U, but it seems as though it’s unlikely to be the smash hit that the Wii was (although with Nintendo you never know). The troubling aspect for all three is how they increasingly seem out of step with the much more fluid app-style market that mobile devices have driven, both in terms of hardware iterations and how they sell software. In the seven years since it launched, for example, the Xbox 360 has remained largely the same beast. And yet Apple has managed to launch six iterations of the iPhone and five iterations of the iPad (including the mini).

Furthermore, the number of companies who are able to provide software for these premium machines continues to drop. With THQ effectively being fire sold next week, eyes are looking to the other second-tier publishers like Capcom, Ubisoft, Square Enix and Take Two and asking how long they can expect to play at this level. The question of whether there will be enough games to satisfy all three platforms is becoming very real, as is the question of whether it will effectively become a two-horse race soon. Finally there are the questions of cost, inflated expectations and whether ultimately the console business is on a path to becoming entirely vertical.

There’s a sentiment among developers who work outside the walled gardens of the console that these platforms just do not understand what the app and service mentalities have done to games in the last few years, and instead keep trying to deliver premium retail propositions in a world that doesn’t care about that so much. Certainly the precipitous drop in retail sales of console games combined with public market valuation of the console sector (again according to Digi-Capital) seems to reflect that sentiment. And yet the only messages coming out of Console Towers are about grand visions, huge technologies, massive Blu-ray discs, roll-up media services and $60 price tags for games. This is why I think 2013 may actually be the year of the microconsole.

Small devices like the Ouya and the Gamestick are threatening to do to the console market what the netbook did to the laptop market. They’re focused, open, mostly Android-powered and fundamentally being driven by app thinking rather than hulking retail propositions. They promise to be cheap, nimble, open to develop for and to have free-to-play games. Nobody’s close to saying that there’s an obvious winner in this space yet, and it feels as though it probably needs a large backer to step in and legitimise it. Samsung perhaps. Or perhaps fulfilling the eternal threat of something to do with the Apple TV will really kick microconsoles into high gear.

However the prospect that a game console might return to its roots as a dumb machine that displays games on your TV, which small studios can write and run games on much as they have on PC, social, mobile and now tablet is incredibly exciting. Whereas Gormenghast-sized beast machines that don’t know whether they want to be game, TV, Internet, social, music or movies boxes? The question not being asked is whether anyone really wants that machine at all. Why else do you think Ouya raised $8.9 million out of thin air on Kickstarter?

5. PC Is Alive And Kicking

Speaking of Kickstarter, PC games had 73 percent of the volume of videogame crowdfunding in 2012 and 63 percent of the value. This far outstrips any other platform or type of game (with the possible exception of tabletop games). At the same time much of the enthusiast gaming press and communities are of the opinion that the PC is still the prime game platform going into 2013. Many have concluded that tablets are neat, but not yet ready for serious play. PC gaming action also continues to aggregate around Steam, and whatever Valve may be doing with hardware. And while I maintain that the Windows 8 Store will prove to be disruptive to the PC gaming space given time (60 million licenses sold so far despite its many woes), what’s clear is that the gamer is still in love with the mouse and keyboard.

So if they are supposed to all be going post-PC, it doesn’t look as though anyone has convinced them as to why yet. Nor does it look like anyone in the near future is going to do so, perhaps not even (for the first time in living memory) console makers. They still love their high-end gaming rigs and their sense that PC is where indie games thrive. They love that quirky sense of openness, and the notion that their machines are where “proper” games live. All of this means that, despite the tech blog narrative saying otherwise, most of the marketing story successes in games are coming out of PC land. MMO playing is still largely happening in PC land. Weird hardware like the Nvidia Shield and the Razer laptops are still appealing most directly to PC land.

And here’s the kicker: If the PC does shrink as a market to the point that it really only becomes about Alienware and similar machines specifically tailored for power use, the PC gamer and game developer is perfectly fine with that. They do not care in the least whether there’s a PC in every home: For them a gaming PC is still considered a pride purchase, a thing of love rather than a word processor with Internet. And I think they’ll still be around next year, and the year after that. And so on.


In Digi-Capital’s executive summary, the advice is about acquisition opportunities, exits or investment opportunities. However, the tone across all sectors is very tentative. Be selective, avoid big moves, think limited or organic. The phrase “Avoid large, value-destroying M&A” pops up again and again. All of which essentially means “hold onto your hat.” For outer markets (by which I mean those involved in casual, light, social and so on) this is a sentiment that I find myself agreeing with.

For inner markets, not so much. As a lot of the more peripheral plays rise and fall quickly, the more focused companies at the centre who offer games to those who already have an interest continues to rise. It may be a very complicated time for those who have built businesses largely with eyeballs and revenue in mind first, but it’s also a time when Minecraft has crossed $250 million in revenue. The difference is increasingly not between one sector over another, but between passion and novelty, dedicated audience versus idle distraction. Increasingly the latter is looking troubled.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

“Jewel In The Night”, The First Christmas Carol From Space

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Carols in the Cupola 268C1505

The first ever musical recording in space (that we know of anyway) was performed just a few days ago on the International Space Station by Col. Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station. The song, which is already climbing up Reddit’s r/Music page, is an original Christmas Carol called Jewel in the Night.

Based on the commander’s Facebook and Twitter pages, he and his crew are celebrating Christmas in every way possible while they’re away from their families. They even have a Christmas tree on the ceiling, thanks to what the commander calls “the beauty of a weightless Christmas.”

Col. Hadfield is married, with three adult children, one of whom sent us his Christmas Carol.

The song is interesting, as it depicts Christmas from a birds’ eye perspective, from space. The International Space Station crew is spending Christmas as far away from Earth as possible, and while I try to stick with the classics, no situation is more suited to an original melody.

Here’s the SoundCloud file:

It’s crazy to think that someday, probably soon, when space travel has become a consumer industry, that this could be the Christmas Carol of outer space.

I mean, we made it through the Mayan Apocalypse (and the Black Friday Apocalypse), so in my book we’re good to go for at least a few more centuries.

In other words, get used to Jewel in the Night. One day, it too will be a classic with Oh Holy Night and Jingle Bells.


So bright, Jewel in the night.
There in my window below.
So bright, dark as the night.
With all of our cities aglow.

It’s long been our way
To honor this day
And offer good will to man.

And know, where eever we go,
It’s come round to Christmas again.

So far, shines every star.
They’re without limit to see.
So grand, far away land
Beckoning, calling to thee

And let it be shown
Where ever we go
In all of the wonders above,

With all that we bring
There’s no finer thing
Than this message, this province of love.

A love for the families
That gather below.
Love for the stranger
That you’ll never know.

For those who aren’t with you
Who wander above.

So bright, jewel in the night.
There lies the cradle we knew.
Home of all that we love
And all of our memories, too.

It shall be our way
To wander away
And take with us all that we know.
And never cease this message of peace
From Bethlehem so long ago.

It shall be our way, to wander away,
And take with us all that we know.
And never cease, this message of peace,
From Bethlehem so long ago.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Ho, Ho, Ho: Track St. Nick On Google’s Santa Tracker

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Every time you ignore Bing, an angel gets his wings

The Google Santa Tracker lets you follow Santa Claus as he delivers presents in real time. The dashboard shows where Mr. Claus is going, where he’s been, how many presents he’s delivered, how far he has traveled, and fun statuses like “Mmm those cookies were delicious.”

In typical Google fashion, the tracker is loaded with fun, interactive features and a number of games, including dropping presents into chimneys, a sleigh ride with Rudolph and Santa, and a jetpack race.

You can also send a personalized message from Santa to a phone, via email, or through Google+.

Google has worked with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) on a Santa tracker since 2007, but NORAD went with Microsoft’s Bing this year and Google decided to build its own St. Nick map. I’m tempted to make an Apple Maps joke here, but I don’t want my iPhone to turn into a lump of coal on Christmas.

PC World has a great bit about how NORAD became involved in tracking Santa in the first place:

How did a military defense agency get into the Santa tracking business in the first place? Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, a newspaper published the wrong phone number for Santa Claus. Instead, it published the direct dial number for the commander-in-chief of NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD).

In the spirit of the holidays, CONAD’s director of operations, Harry Shloup, rolled with the snafu and had his staff field the calls from kids flooding into his agency asking for status reports on Santa. That night, a tradition was born.

This year, don’t ring up government agencies looking for Santa Claus. In addition to the Google and NORAD-Bing Santa Trackers, you can follow Santa on Google+, download an Android Santa Tracker app, install a Chrome extension, and follow Kris Kringle in 3D in Google Earth. And, of course, the Google doodle today is also holiday themed.

What’s Next For Social Mobile Games?

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facebook games logo

Editor’s note: Julien Codorniou is the head of EMEA Game Partnerships at Facebook where he works with the growing social games industry in Europe. Follow Julien on Twitter @codorniou.

New social gaming companies are emerging around the world (hot spots right now are Moscow, Tel Aviv and Helsinki), and in my role I get to speak with developers every day. Regardless of the size of the company, their locale, or the platform on which they’re building, I typically hear the same questions:

  1. Do social games translate to mobile?
  2. Are game developers leaving Facebook for mobile?
  3. How do I get my game discovered and installed?

Here are my answers for why social is good for mobile games.

1. Do social games translate to mobile?

Mobile games are better when they are social for one simple reason: Games are more fun with friends. Games have always been social, from backgammon and chess to board games. Along the way, friends have been a central part of the game experience, including how we discover, play and talk about games. Social design concepts work wherever people are playing games – on desktop web and increasingly on mobile. As the online gamer demographic becomes more diverse, the best way for an app to grow is by reaching people and their friends across all screens.

Mobile developers can integrate their apps with Facebook SDKs to make them social, including adding Facebook Login and enabling multiplayer gameplay with friends. When you take a mobile app from solo to social, the opportunities for greater engagement, discovery and growth can be exponential. Social mobile apps plug into channels powered by the activities people share with friends every day, including sending invitations, passing one another on a leaderboard, and – the biggest driver of traffic to apps – posting to the News Feed. The social games industry got its start through games growing and getting discovered on Facebook.com. Social mobile innovation will disrupt the games industry the same way social web games did seven years ago.

People are increasingly bringing their phones – an inherently social device – with them everywhere. Recent data suggests that 58 percent of smartphone users check their phones at least once every hour. The emergence of mobile gaming has introduced a way for people to quickly jump into games from wherever they are.

Many top developers are also finding that if you’re big on Facebook, you can be big on mobile. Wooga’s Bubble Island and Diamond Dash, Jellyvision Games’ You Don’t Know Jack, Nordeus’ Top Eleven, King.com’s Candy Crush Saga, and Playtika’s Slotomania all became popular apps on iPhone and/or Android after getting big on Facebook first.

This is an ideal time to build a social mobile game. Currently more than 45 percent of the top 400 grossing iOS apps are built with Facebook. Soon we will no longer call these apps “social mobile games”; they will simply be “games.”

2. Are game developers leaving Facebook for mobile?

Developers don’t need to choose between Facebook or mobile – you should be thinking, Facebook and mobile. There are 1 billion people on Facebook and 600 million people actively engaging with Facebook on mobile devices. Not reaching these Facebook-connected mobile users is a missed opportunity. From Zynga’s Words With Friends and PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz, to FreshPlanet’s SongPop, FishSticks Games’ Slots Journey, and Supercell’s Hay Day, there is a range of social mobile games that have propelled to the top of the charts.

In fact, nearly 200,000 mobile apps and games are built with Facebook APIs. At any given time, 6-8 of the top-grossing iPhone apps are integrated with Facebook. This year’s Apple’s Editor’s Pick is Bad Robot Interactive’s Action Movie FX, an app integrated with Facebook.

3. How do I get my game discovered and installed?

Discoverability is one of the biggest challenges mobile developers face. Real identity, friends and social distribution can solve this problem.

In order to have your app found among the masses, you need a good understanding of the following areas.

Different Screen, Same Channels: Be Everywhere Your Players Are 

When a person hears of a great game, they don’t think about which platforms it’s available on. They just want to play. Facebook is the connection that brings friends together across devices.

Social mobile games can get discovered and grow the same way games on Facebook.com have for years - including News Feed, Bookmarks, Requests, and the new mobile app install ads. This is true for “mobile-first” companies, as well as developers who started on Facebook.com and are updating to mobile as well.

King.com’s cross-platform Saga franchise has excelled across Facebook.com and mobile by encouraging sharing without spamming. Bubble Witch Saga (Facebook.com and iOS) and Candy Crush Saga (Facebook.com and iOS) have made King.com a top-five developer on Facebook, with more than 50 million monthly active users.

Trash Talk Is Gold

Social mobile games are a perfect setting for competitive play among friends. Players want to reach the next level to one-up a friend and brag about it on their timeline, which brings their friends into the game and creates a viral loop. As a result, Facebook-connected players tend to spend more time and money in mobile apps.

For example, SongPop grew with Facebook across web, iPhone, and Android. Playing a music trivia game isn’t nearly as fun if you play with strangers. Sixty five percent of SongPop’s mobile players sign in with Facebook, and those spend about 35 percent more time and money than those who do not login with Facebook.

Inform, Iterate And Impact

If there’s anything social game developers have learned over the last five years it’s that the ecosystem moves quickly, and if they don’t innovate fast enough, someone else will.

With Facebook Insights, developers can produce games-as-a-service, where they can gather user feedback and iterate based on what’s working or not working. Gone are the days of publishing a game and putting it on the shelves, only to wait for the next version to make updates. Today’s social games don’t have versions. They exist to provide ongoing quality experiences, and people increasingly expect the best.

Buffalo Studios has taken this approach with Bingo Blitz. The cross-platform game provides players with changing landscapes to keep them engaged and coming back for graphics and backgrounds that are available for a limited time. As a result, a quarter of players have been monthly active users for a year or more.

Fads vs. Franchises 

Similar to the movie and music industries, games have historically been a hits-based business. Today’s social game developers can build either quick hits or long-term franchises, but they should be prepared for the natural growth associated with each.

Developers with hits-based games must be ready for fluctuating growth and continue to pump out hits so their brands don’t go stale and they don’t lose users. Alternatively, if you design a game aimed at high retention, such as Texas HoldEm Poker, DoubleDown Casino, and Battle Pirates, you’ll create an experience that gets better as more friends play. Our platform can support both of these types.

Hardcore games are an example of long-term apps, as they attract a loyal user base that monetizes well over a period of time. Kixeye’s games, such as War Commander, have immersive graphics and engaged audiences, where the average length of time a player spends in the game is nine months to a year.

More than 10 percent of Kixeye’s players are paying customers, and the average player comes back three to four times a day, for more than 30 minutes each session. Specifically, 25 percent of revenue for Battle Pirates comes from people who have played the game 12 months or longer, and War Commander gamers play more than two sessions a day and spend 1.5 hours battling their friends/enemies on an average day.

Social Enhances The Freemium Model

An overwhelming majority of mobile developers are building their businesses with a freemium model. Discovery is still key here. Eyeballs lead to installs, which can lead to money.

Buffalo Studios uses social to its financial advantage with its mobile games. Eighty percent of Bingo Blitz‘s mobile revenue comes from Facebook-connected players. On average, people who log into the game with Facebook generate three times the amount of revenue and play twice as many rounds.

The Santa Opportunity

This holiday season Apple is expected to sell a record-setting 46.5 million iPhones. As people open their new mobile devices, they’ll inevitably ask friends and family which apps they should install. Imagine fueling this type of social discovery and word of mouth at scale among friends and family all year long, where your game is the app being recommended.

Be part of the disruption. Build the next great social mobile game.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Founders, ICE And The Rise Of The Entrepreneur Influencers

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Watching the dawn come up with a bunch of European entrepreneurs on tour in Tel Aviv this week, and hanging out with many of them at the recent F.ounders conference in Dublin, made me realise one thing: these guys just don’t care. They will do anything it takes to make it happen. Their attitude is in stark contrast some of the issues they face. Sometimes, when you look at the dire economies and the regulations European entrepreneurs have to deal with, you would forgive them for moving entirely to another part of the planet. Not only two they generally have to deal with less access to funding than their US counterparts, but also the EU commission looking over their shoulders with continual changes to Cookie and privacy laws. But increasingly they are waking up to the fact that they may just be at the start of a journey which sees them develop not just economic power but gradually, political influence.

As one founder put it to me on a bus ride to a meeting at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv – where the 50 founders as part of the ICE Group were to meet the Israeli startup community and the British Ambassador “I’m going to spend the next year travelling the globe, and then I will make my decision on where to start up.” That means government realising they will have to woo this new economic class, or rick missing out on the high growth companies of the future.

That attitude is endemic in this group of people.

With its combination of mailing list and real-world trips to form bonds between its member entrepreneurs, ICE – the slightly tongue-in-cheek named International Conclave of Entrepreneurs – is drawn from a mostly London-based founders, but has increasingly spread its network to Europe and the US. Founded by Alex Hoye (CEO of Latitude Digital and former Co-founder of GoIndustry) and Joshua March (CEO of social management startup Conversocial) the group was born in 2009 out of simple informal vacations with fellow entrepreneurs. The group stays within the Dunbar number of 150 – the ideal number for a group to retain strong social bonds.

Since then ICE has been a highly curated member-only network.

But something changed this year when the group decided to take a delegation to Tel Aviv to meet both the startup community there (mainly at the DLD Tel Aviv conference) and officialdom. But what started out as informal networking sessions ended with the the group being presented to the British Amabassador and Israel’s President, Shimon Peres.

It’s at this point the game changes from simple business networking to something else entirely.

This is further evidence that entrepreneurs in Europe are not longer of a mind to simply stand on the sidelines and watch as their governments legislate without their input.

Out of much of Europe, the UK government has been perhaps the most proactive on this score, creating a Tech City body in London which, despite it’s PR brief, has often turned out to be a Trojan Horse for new legislative ideas around startups and, more recently, moves to create a new stock exchange listing mechanism.

Over in Berlin, the German government recently woke up to the rapidly growing ecosystem on its doorstep, with the Economics and Technology Minister Philipp Rösler recently being presented with a ‘Berlin startup manifesto‘ aimed at persuading the federal government to drop tax proposals set to hit innovative young companies hard.

Almost at the same time in France, the Hollande government has been battling a wave of entrepreneurs telling them their new tax proposals will have dire consequences for startups. The jury remains out on the outcome.

And recently, there was good news coming from a less likely place for startups, when Italy’s technocratic government enacted new laws to allow for a new kind of limited company, aimed at startups, and a €200 million fund for startups – this, after much pressure from Italy’s tech startup community.

All over Europe, entrepreneurs are gathering, whether it be Founders Forum, the new CEO Dinner initiative, the new Dutch startup collective, the Silicon Milkroundabout hiring frenzy, the London Startupmafia.org, the ‘Estonian Startup Mafia‘, and beyond to the Garage Geeks in Israel or the the PEEKs in Ramallah. There’s no way I could list all the groups out there.

But slowly, surely they are organising.

And when the Founders conference in Dublin recently convened for the third time, it wasn’t the Irish President and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) they met (that was last year’s edition), but General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe of NATO.

Indeed, the links forged at the likes of Founders or ICE may be far more powerful than any kind of lobbying – eventually we will see IPOs and ‘mafias’ like the Paypal mafia go on to launch yet more companies. And because the policy makers see for themselves the creativity and success of these entrepreneurs, they go on to shape the legislation to suit (at least one hopes they do). Success, ultimately, can be more powerful than lobbying and government initiatives.

While Bravo TV in the US is poised to air the Silicon Valley reality TV show, the true reality is that entrepreneurs globally, impatient as always to change the world, are starting to work out how to flex their collective muscles, first by simply forming stronger and deeper friendships, and then by taking their ideas to the highest echelons of power.

As ICE’s Alex Hoye tells me: “The primary goal for ICE is for founders and to get to know one another to then be there for one another over time, and that has not changed. However, the inspired welcome we received from Israeli founders, investors and government make it clear that the community is global with mutual lessons to share, and we will continue to step up our game to match that.”

And as Alexia Tsotsis has said time and time again, tech is going mainstream. And mainstream implies influence at the top.

Reality TV shows will come and go, but the actuality is that real entrepreneurs are poised to take the world by storm.

Trying watching this:

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Why Zynga Failed

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The year was 2008 and Zynga had it all figured out. Facebook became a portal to games for those who had never played. Viral growth there was unchecked. Facebook ad rates were low, so buying traffic was cheap. And most games were played on the desktop. But soon everything changed, and Zynga never recovered.

Here’s a look at four big shifts that caused Zynga’s power and share price to plummet.

Too Many Developers, Not Enough Softcore Gamers

In the years leading up to Zynga’s ascent, video games were seen as something for hardcore gamers. That’s not how they started, with easy-to-learn arcade games like Pong and Pac-Man attracting mass audiences.

But as gaming machines got more powerful and home consoles developed, the games got more complicated and so did the controllers. Mom didn’t play Halo or Final Fantasy. Or more accurately, she couldn’t.

But Facebook put what was essentially a gaming console in front of millions of non-gamers. Mark Pincus recognized this and built games for a mass market. Click click click, simple tasks, something for everyone. However, soon other entrepreneurs wised up, fracturing the market.

In the five years since, the gamers got smarter, too. The most popular games are still pretty simple, but mid-core games like strategy simulator War Commander are gaining steam. Some people who used to be content clicking FarmVille crops have moved on to more complicated games.

Clicks Got Costly

Back to 2008. There was a big untapped market of new potential gamers on Facebook, and Zynga needed a way to reach them. Yet brands weren’t too interested in Facebook ads yet, and other game companies hadn’t realized how powerful they could be for user acquisition. That meant the cost of a Facebook ad click was low, and you didn’t have to make too much money off a gamer to get a return on investment.

So Zynga scrambled to raise a bunch of money, $40 million over three rounds in the span of seven months. It bought huge volumes of ads, so many that it accounted for a big percentage of Facebook’s revenue at the time, as much as 10 percent.

Eventually, direct advertisers, brands, and other game companies started pouring money into Facebook ads, and rates increased. Some reports peg the cost per click at around $0.27 in 2009, whereas now they’re almost 3x as pricey, up to $0.88 this year. That means Zynga can’t buy new users as efficiently as it used to. That forces it to rely on organic viral growth, but unfortunately…

Facebook Got Sick Of Game Spam

When Facebook launched the news feed and the app platform, it didn’t quite anticipate how they’d be combined. Zynga quickly became a viral juggernaut. It built games where you’d win by asking friends for help, and constantly interrupted play to ask you to share “Can you milk my cow?” stories to every one of your friends. This meant that each user it bought through ads might bring in two more friends by promoting its games through the news feed.

Game spam from developers like Zynga soon got so bad it threatened to drown out status updates and photos from friends, ruining the Facebook user experience. So Mark Zuckerberg took a stand, saying in an interview:

“ A lot of users like playing games, but a lot of users just hate games, and that made it a big challenge, because people who like playing games wanted to post updates about their farm or frontier or whatever to their stream. But people who don’t care about games want no updates. So we did some rebalancing so that if you aren’t a game player you’re getting less updates.”

The virality bonanza was over for Zynga.

Screens Got Smaller, So Did The Margins

For years, Zynga got to sell virtual goods on its Facebook desktop games untaxed. It was essentially selling cost-less copies of digital images for real money, and the margins were great. Facebook finally forced all developers onto its virtual currency Credits in July 2011 and started taking a 30 percent cut. Zynga might have negotiated a slightly lower tax but it was still a hit to its bottom line.

Back in Zynga’s heyday, most Facebook usage was on the desktop where its games were. But the shift to mobile was quick. It seemed to take Facebook by surprise, and it hit Zynga, too.

The gaming giant only had freemium experience, and hadn’t built games that you bought before you played. It needed to learn to build games that were deeply engaging every session, opposed to ones where you went in and did chores. Living on the iOS and Android platform also meant giving away 30 percent of purchase revenue.

Zynga’s solution was to buy its way in, but that hasn’t panned out. It purchased Newtoy for Words With Friends which was a huge hit, but it hasn’t been earning tons of money and the founders just left the company. It acquired Draw Something developer OMGPOP at the height of the game’s popularity, only to watch it tumble off the chart forcing Zynga to write off as much as  $95 million.

Zynga IPO’d 10 months ago at $10 a share. Today it fell another $0.23 to just $2.48 after cutting its revenue projections. The road to recovery will not be easy. It may require more advanced games that are inherently viral and built specifically to monetize on mobile. That will require it to stop the bleeding of talent and find fresh blood who truly believe in Zynga’s mission to connect the world through games.

[Image Credit: Dabe Alan via Penny Arcade]

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

October 2016
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