Socialgamesobserver

The Latest News on the Social Games Market in Europe and Emerging Markets

29Dec/11

A Year in Social Games – Part IV: October to December 2011

By Regina Leuwer

October 4: DeNA acquires Chilean Atakama Labs
Japanese mobile social game company DeNA continues its recent shopping tour and announced the acquisition of Atakama Labs, a Chilean mobile games studio. The acquisition value is rumored to the around $6 million.

October 10: Facebook unveils new mobile platform, commits to HTML5
Facebook’s launched its extended mobile platform. Apart from the expected push towards HTML5 Facebook also made its social channels available for native apps.

October 11: Wooga releases first HTML5 game Magic Land Island
Berlin-based social game developer Wooga launched its first mobile game Magic Land Island on Facebook’s new mobile apps and mobile site.

October 17: Happy Elements raises $30 million to expand to mobile
Social gaming developer Happy Elements has raised $30 million in a Series B funding round led by Chinese firm Legend Capital with participation from existing investor DCM. Beijing-based Happy Elements plans to use the funds to expand in Western markets and mobile.

October 19: German developer Crowdpark secures $6 million for social betting
Berlin’s cluster of promising social game companies is growing.  Crowdpark, a social game developer focused on social betting games, announced it has secured approximately $6 million (€4 million) in new equity funding.

October 31: 6waves Lolapps acquires Chinese social gaming company Smartron5
6waves Lolapps announced its acquisition of Beijing-based social gaming company Smartron5. The acquisition marks 6waves Lolapps’ continued expansion into the Asian market adding to its existing Hong Kong and Tokyo offices.

November 2: RockYou reveals major layoffs, disassociates from Playdemic
Social games company RockYou cut its staff numbers by 54 percent, while also selling back British studio Playdemic to its original founders. RockYou CEO Lisa Marino said that the company is now too big to be profitable.

November 3: Supercell launches multiplayer RPG Gunshine.net on Facebook
After five months of open beta testing, Supercell’s Gunshine.net has launched  on Facebook. As the first real-time multiplayer role-playing game on Facebook, Gunshine.net combines concepts from core massively multiplayer online games with social gaming. The company has received a major  $12 million funding end of March 2011.

November 10: Berlin-based TwinKomplex aims to redefine  social games
The ambitious TwinKomplex project based in Germany’s capital Berlin aims to start a new era of social games. TwinKomplex was produced for over a year and connects social game elements with acted sequences and real-life locations. The game was created in Berlin by virtual economy expert Dr. Martin Burckhardt and the company Ludic Philosophy.

November 28: Yazino pulls its casino games from Facebook
UK-based social casino games developer Yazino made a surprising announcement to shift their games off the Facebook canvas.

November 30: Kobojo opens office in Berlin
Kobojo, the largest French social game publisher, announced the opening of a new office in Berlin, Germany. After also establishing a Spanish office in Madrid, Kobojo hopes to keep growing and further develop its hyperlocalization strategy.

December 1: EA buys KlickNation
EA acquired Sacramento-based social game developer KlickNation, founded in 2008 by Ken Walton and Mark Otero. KlickNation has 350,000 monthly active users across several apps on Facebook.

December 7: Wooga expands to iOS with Diamond Dash
Diamond Dash, Wooga’s most popular game on Facebook with 11.3 million monthly active users, became available as a free download in the App Store. The iOS version was introduced live on stage at Europe’s largest Internet conference Le Web in Paris.

December 12: Playdom launches popular Gardens of Time for iPad
Playdom’s hidden object game Gardens of Time, surprise winner of Facebook’s most popular game in 2011, made its appearance on the iPad.

December 14: Tagged acquires Hi5
Social network Hi5 was acquired by San Francisco-based Tagged for an undisclosed sum.  Hi5 was founded in 2003 and claims to have over 25 million monthly visitors.

December 14: Nexon goes public
Asian online gaming giant Nexon went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange raising $1.17 billion from the IPO. Shares started at 1,300 Japanese yen ($16.68) but already dropped to 1,244 yen ($15,95) after the first day.

December 15: Zynga begins trading at $10 per share
Zynga (ZNGA) announced the pricing of its initial public offering of 100 million shares of Class A common stock at a price to the public of $10 per share. So far, the stocks have remained below the issue price of shares.

27Dec/11

A Year in Social Games – Part III: July to September 2011

By Regina Leuwer

Jul 1: Zynga files for IPO
Zynga filed for an IPO to raise $1 billion. The S1 filing revealed some interesting numbers: In the first quarter of 2011 alone, Zynga’s revenue reached $235.4 million, a 133 percent increase from the previous year.

July 7: Sid Meier’s Civilization World lands on Facebook
The long awaited Civilization World came to Facebook. It was developed by Firaxis Games together with the creator of the Civilization series, Sid Meier. The game, later renamed to CivWorld, failed to meet expectations and has now only 40,000 users.

July 12: EA acquires PopCap Games
Electronic Arts announced an agreement to acquire PopCap Games, the developer of titles like Plants vs. Zombies, Bejeweled, and Zuma. EA is reported to have paid $750 million for PopCap.

July 13: Ubisoft buys French developer Owlient
Ubisoft has announced the acquisition of Owlient, a French developer of free-to-play games. Owlient’s Howrse brand has almost two million monthly active users.

July 18: Lolapps and 6waves sign merger agreement
Social games company Lolapps and 6waves, a international publisher, announced that they have signed a definitive merger agreement creating one of the largest networks of social gaming applications on the web.

July 18: RockYou launches third-party publishing unit
Social gaming company RockYou formed a third-party publishing unit, Studio Partners. Studio Partners aimed to enable developers to expand the reach of their games through RockYou’s network.

July 22: Quepasa and MyYearbook announce merger
Latino social network Quepasa.com with cross-platform social game development studio Quepasa Games, announced a merger with myYearbook for $100 million, comprised of approximately $82 million in Quepasa common stock and $18 million in cash.

July 28: Unity Technologies gets $12 million from Sequoia, WestSummit, iGlobe
Unity Technologies, provider of the Unity development platform for games and interactive 3D, secured $12 million in a Series B financing round led by WestSummit Capital in China and iGlobe Partners in Singapore.

August 4: Nexon invests in social gaming firm 6waves Lolapps
South Korean online gaming giant Nexon invested in newly-merged social gaming firm 6waves Lolapps.

August 11: Google+ Games goes live
Google+ launched its games platform – by the end of the year more than 30 titles are available.

August 18: EA releases The Sims Social
EA announced a social game version of their franchise The Sims. This move turned out to be a massive success – The Sims Social is now among the top 5 games and has 27.7 million monthly active users.

September 15: King.com launches Bubble Witch Saga on Facebook
King.com launched their bubble shooting game Bubble Witch Saga on Facebook. The game became the company’s biggest hit on Facebook and is among the top 10 game with almost 10 million monthly active users.

September 19: Kobojo sets up Spain office
Kobojo, number one publisher in France and one of the European leaders in the social gaming industry for Facebook and mobile, announced the opening of its new office in Madrid.

September 21:
6waves Lolapps establishes $10 million game fund
6waves Lolapps created the $10 million 6L fund to invest in mobile and social game developers.

23Dec/11

Thanks to our Sponsors!

By Sebastian Sujka

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22Dec/11

A Year in Social Games – Part II: April to June 2011

By Regina Leuwer

April 8: Playdom launches Gardens of Time
Playdom announced its first hidden object game re-imagined with social elements on Facebook. Gardens of Time became the most popular game on Facebook in 2011, according to the social network.

April 19: Apple bans incentivized app installs
Apple decided to put a stop to the incentivized app install practice where developers pay for downloads when players install their app in exchange for virtual currency in other games. This strategy was common among game developers to break into the App Store top lists and benefit from the exposure.

April 26: Summit Partners and TA Associates invest $350 million in Bigpoint
Browser-based game giant Bigpoint confirmed that Summit Partners and TA Associates have signed definitive documentation to invest $350 million to recapitalize the company and position it for continued strong global growth.

April 27: Kobojo gets €5.3 million growth funding
French social game developer Kobojo (developer of Goobox and PyramidVille) announced the completion of the first round of its fund-raising campaign, which raised a total of €5.3 million ($7.5 million) from Endeavour Vision, as lead investor, and IDinvest Partners.

April 27: PapayaMobile grabs $18 million from Keytone Ventures and DCM
Beijing-based PapayaMobile, a social gaming network on Android, secured $18 million in a round of Series B funding to expand to other markets.

May 27: Supercell receives $12 million in funding, launches Gunshine beta
Finnish game developer Supercell announced that it has secured an investment of $12 million from Accel Partners, whose previous investments include Rovio (Angry Birds), Playfish and Gameforge. Klaas Kersting, founder of German browser-game giant Gameforge also invested.

May 24: CrowdStar raises $23 million in funding
Social game developer CrowdStar closed its first-ever round of institutional funding in the amount of $23 million.

May 31: Wooga secures $24 million in Series B round
Europe’s largest social game developer wooga received  a $24m Series B investment led by Highland Capital Partners. Tenaya Capital and existing investors Balderton Capital and HV Holtzbrinck Ventures also participated in the funding round.

June 23: Social Point gets €2.4 million
Spanish social game developer Social Point (Social Empires, Men vs Women) also closed its first round and raised a modest €2.4 million from Nauta Capital.

June 28: Google starts its own social network Google+
Google announced its long anticipated social network Google+. By now, Google+ has approximately 67 million users (according to comScore).

June 29: MySpace sold to ad network Specific Media for $35 million
Social network MySpace was sold, to advertising network Specific Media for a mere $35 million. Singer/actor Justin Timberlake also invested and was going to play a major role in developing the creative direction and strategy. What exactly Timberlake is going to do to save MySpace is still unclear.

21Dec/11

A Year in Social Games – Part I: January to March 2011

By Regina Leuwer

January 2: Goldman Sachs invests $450 million in Facebook
The year started with a bang: Goldman Sachs invested $450 million in Facebook at a 50 billion valuation. As part of its deal with Facebook, Goldman is expected to raise as much as $1.5 billion from investors for Facebook.

January 14: RockYou acquires Playdemic
RockYou took over UK-based Playdemic, the developer of Gourmet Ranch. In November, RockYou decided to focus on core business and sold Playdemic back to its original founders.

January 20: Kabam raises $30 million
Social game developer Kabam raised $30 million in series C funding to fuel its aggressive growth plans.

January 24: Facebook announces that Facebook Credits will become mandatory
From July 1st, all social game developers on the Facebook canvas platform are required to process payments through Facebook Credits. Facebook keeps 30% of the revenue from virtual goods transactions using Facebook Credits.

February 9: Visa acquires PlaySpan
Visa acquired PlaySpan, whose payments platform handles transactions for digital goods in online games, digital media and social networks around the world.

February 21: King.com enters the Facebook platform
Skill and casual game developer King.com from Sweden made a move to offer its games and tournament system on Facebook. Today, King.com is Facebook’s 4th biggest game developer with more than 23 million monthly active users.

March 10: Rovio gets a $42 million Series A investment
Rovio, the creator of the Angry Birds entertainment franchise,  announces a $42m Series A investment in the company to facilitate its strategic expansion. The funding round was co-led by Accel Partners and Atomico Ventures, the venture capital firm created by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström.

March 14: Zynga announces RewardVille
Zynga’s cross-promotion rewards program lets players earn Zynga-level points and zCoins, and unlock limited edition virtual goods across Zynga games. Today, the RewardVille app (renamed to ‘Zynga’) has 3 million monthly active users.

March 16: Wooga launches Diamond Dash on Facebook
Berlin-based Wooga released its puzzle arcade title Diamond Dash in March. By December, Diamond Dash is Wooga’s biggest hit and has 11,800,000 monthly active users.

20Dec/11

To Be or Not to Be on Facebook? That is the Question for Social Games in 2012

By Regina Leuwer

Now that Zynga has finally made the step and gone public, opinions are divided as to whether Facebook as a games platform has peaked and is now on the downslope. Industry expert Tami Baribeau has repeatedly argued that Facebook games are not sustainable as a business model and iOS should be the platform of choice if a developer was to start today. Unlike in the App Store, in the top lists of Facebook games, there are hardly any small bootstrapped companies, Baribeau points out.

She also points to the greater creativity and variety of genres on iOS whereas Facebook games often rely on the same set of mechanics (e.g. energy, gifting, neighboring). The top 20 list is crowded with a lot of ‘Villes’ because city building simulation games have proven most successful, alongside casual point-and-click action titles. In the App Store, games can be discovered through categories and editorial recommendations, whereas Facebook doesn’t offer a game directory.

Distribution – Facebook’s biggest asset or liability?

Naturally, Facebook’s Head of Platform Partnerships Julien Codorniou begs to differ. He argues that social discovery and distribution is Facebook’s great asset and on iOS developers outside the top 20 list have a hard time acquiring new users.

CityVille by Zynga is the number one game on Facebook. Zynga dominates the platform with 223 million monthly active users.

Wooga’s Jens Begemann even goes so far to say that on Facebook everything is free – including the platform itself and distribution, until a developer is successful enough to sell virtual goods, from which then Facebook takes a 30% share.  Also, he notes that unlike on other platforms, everybody can start a Facebook app tomorrow, without asking for approval or paying a fee. It sounds like a nice concept indeed, but in the crowded market and with limited viral channels, distribution is not exactly free. In some cases it might be possible to grow organically, like Wooga repeatedly states to, but the majority of developers are facing a rising costs for user acquisition on Facebook. Also, the most successful one, Zynga, spends more than 40M in Q1 of 2011 on advertising. Many industry experts are expecting more layoffs at social games companies in 2012, because the market is too crowded and costs for user acquisition and production of games are rising.

Philip Reisburger of Bigpoint believes that being outside Facebook is an advantage for his company because Zynga’s audience represents 30-40 percent of the active Facebook population whereas Bigpoint with a similarly large audience doesn’t represent 30-40 percent of internet users. “We’re in a bigger market, we’re not relying on a new guy registering on Facebook – we have over a thousand media partners who drive traffic, so whenever they venture into new ground, it’s beneficial for us,” Reisburger told Gamesindustry.biz.

Facebook’s own Social Graph allows games to move out

Login with Facebook – play on the web. Casino game publisher Yazino moved away from Facebook’s canvas in November.

Even outside the Facebook canvas, Facebook remains omnipresent. Almost all browser-based games use Facebook Connect to have their application on the open web for full control over their product and revenues without having to pay 30% Facebook tax, while at the same time still being able to benefit from Facebook’s social ecosystem. UK-based casino game developer Yazino moved away from the Facebook canvas in November but the company still leverages the Facebook Social Graph. So is the future of the Facebook game outside the Facebook platform?

A counter example would be King.com. The Swedish casual games developer (founded in 2003) was already a big player on the web before entering Facebook. Their move to publish games on the Facebook canvas came as late as February 2011 and brought them surges in new traffic – currently over 23 million monthly active users. According to Riccardo Zacconi, King.com’s CEO, the company had 300 million games played on its platform per month in December 2010. Now, after the company became a highly successful Facebook publisher 1.4 billion King.com games are played per month.

A dark horse has entered the race

In the platform race, Google+ Games is a dark horse because so far its unclear whether Google+ will be able to attract and retain a mass audience and if that audience is keen on gaming at all. Google is ramping up its games platform and following a different approach than Facebook’s ‘everybody can publish anything’.

Google Games follows a different approach with preselected and featured games.

Google+ offers a choice of now 33 games that can be browsed in categories such as New games or Top games and also editorial staff picks – something that Facebook deliberately avoids. There appears to be an effort of maintaining a healthy mix in games and genres from Angry Birds to CityVille and Kabam’s story driven Godfather franchise.  This might be a reaction to Facebook’s ‘Ville-dominated’ monoculture as well Google’s own Android Market which is often criticized as cluttered and disorganized in comparison to Apples App Store.

20Dec/11

Gameloft Partners with Google for Release of HTML5 Racing Game on Google+

By Gary Merrett

Gameloft announced a partnership with Google to bring the first 3D HTML5 racing game GT Racing: Motor Academy to Google+.

The racing simulation with over 26 manufacturers and 111 licensed cars allows Google+ users to pass driving tests, participate in racing events, and play against drivers from all over the world with multiplayer options.
“Gameloft is very excited about offering our games to Google+ users,” said Baudouin Corman, VP Publishing for the Americas at Gameloft. “GT Racing is bringing a stunning racing experience right in the browser, and we are happy to be pioneering the field with Google to bring the social gaming platform to the next level.”

Paris-based Gameloft, founded in 1999, creates games for all digital platforms, including mobile phones, smartphones and tablets. The company  is listed on the Paris Stock Exchange and distributes in 100 countries.

19Dec/11

Real-Time Multiplayer Facebook Game Gunshine.net Gets a Major Expansion

By Regina Leuwer

Finnish developer Supercell announced the launch of Gunshine.net’s first expansion, Zombies Online. This new addendum completely overhauls the game’s visuals and adds new enemies, new areas, new quests and a whole new story.

“With Gunshine.net we wanted to introduce something totally new on Facebook, a real-time multiplayer game with highly evolved social features that make it possible for our users to make new friends via the game. Now that Gunshine.net has been out of beta for 1,5 months, it’s time to take the next strategic step – we are launching a full blown expansion like never seen on a Facebook game before,” said Ilkka Paananen, CEO at Supercell.

Paananen states that Gunshine.net’s multiplayer approach was well-received on Facebook. Players are organizing in-game parties, forming alliances and have even conducted an in-game strike. “Most of these people don’t know each other outside the game, it’s the shared interest that brings them together,” explained Paananen.

Gunshine.net currently has 270,000 monthly active users. Its features include an open gameworld to explore as well as social game elements including hiring friends as mercenaries, a PvP arena, global in-game chat and a team-finding feature allowing players to group up and take down powerful bosses.

19Dec/11

Game of the Week – The Godfather: Five Families Brings Organized Crime to Hardcore Social Gamers

By Regina Leuwer

This week’s Game of the Week The Godfather: Five Families was released on Google+ exclusively for 45 days. Kabam’s first major movie franchise aims to combine MMO-style play with social gaming.

Developer: Kabam
Genre: Strategy, MMO
Platform(s): Google+, web
Launch: 7 December 2011
Languages: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish
Monetization: Free-to-play with paid premium currency

What’s inside?

A complex multiplayer mafia social game build on top of The Godfather film series.

Players communicate via live chat.

The game is set during the prohibition era, ten years before the events in The Godfather film take place. Players get to choose which of New York’s five families they want to join as they war for domination of the city.

How to play

Players enter the game as low-level gangsters and join one of the Five Families (Corleone, Barzini, Tattaglia, Stracci and Cuneo), each of which confer unique benefits such as extra income from nightclubs and other illicit entertainment. Every family has a Don – a position held by the user who has achieved the most in-game respect through defeating enemies and conquering territories. Players climb the ranks and gain power by intimidating and collecting from neighbors while gathering weapons, skills and equipment to fight rivals.

The player gets assigned jobs but he can never finish- for each completed job another one is added.

Apart from joining a family, players can also form a smaller alliance, or Crew, with others. The Google+ integration uses Circles to share help, information, and experiences with their Family and Crew. Also, a live chat window lets Crews and families communicate in real-time.

The game has three main scenes: Estate, Neighborhood and City.  Each setting features countless different mini-missions or jobs, such as upgrading buildings, training thugs or researching techniques in the game’s library. All tasks take up a specific amount of time but each of them can be sped up using special boosters. There are four resources: Cash, Food, Steel, Cement and a premium currency called Diamonds which can be used in the shop to buy weapons time boosters  for quicker advance in the game.

The in-game shop contains an endless plethora of upgrades and boosters.

Bottom line

Kabam’s COO Chris Carvalho said at launch that The Godfather: Five Families has enjoyed the best ever beta period for a Kabam game. How this translates into actual numbers is hard to tell. The game combines social and player-versus-player mechanics with great atmosphere and graphics. But it could be just a little too hardcore for casual gamers who might not want to grapple with the overwhelming amount of options.

16Dec/11

More Bubbles: MegaZebra Launches New Game Marble Trails

By Sebastian Sujka

Europe’s second biggest social game developer Megazebra has launched their new game Marble Trails. Megazebra is known for developing rather casual social games on Facebook. The Munich based developer has a portfolio of over a dozen of games reaching from Sudoku to jewel matching games. Most Megazebra users, however, are found on the companies’ Mahjong series, consisting of Mahjong Trails (2 million monthly active users) and Mahjong (about 470.000 monthly active users).

The difference between Mahjong and Mahjong Trails is mainly, as the name suggests,  the trails element: with every level the user is advancing on a map. Once every level on the map has been solved the user moves on to the next map. This feature lets the users see their friends advancing on the map too. The trails’ effect is enormous if you consider the user numbers.

In their new game Marble Trails Megazebra did something very similar. They took a very popular bubble shooting game, added and polished characters into the game and added their typical trails feature.

The game goes like this: The player is leading its character, an adventurous turtle, through differently themed worlds. Each world consists of a set of levels. The core game itself is a spiral trail bubble shooter. At the end of each world there is a boss fight where the marbles strings need to be cleared out of the way to allow direct shots at the boss fight character. Ones the character is beaten the turtle moves on the next map.

The user has a maximum of 5 lives that are used up every time a level is played. One live is refilled every 15 minutes. Additional lives and different power ups can be purchased.

In contrast to Megazebra’s rather relaxing games in portfolio Marble trails is an engaging mix between Popcap/EA’s Zuma Blitz, Wooga’s Bubble Island or Diamond Dash and Megazebra’s successful Mahjong Trials.