Beyond Zynga (and Twitter): Social Gaming With Purpose

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of game mechanics and social games – in fact one of the companies I’ve chaired (Creative Enclave) launched the first truly massively multiplayer social game on the Facebook platform in 2007. Back then, Zynga consisted of no more than a handful of staff. Back then people didn’t take social games that seriously.

Today, however, it is a totally different story. Social games are BIG business. Take a look at some of the stats emerging from the S-1 Zynga filed as it catapults towards an IPO: 38,000 virtual items are created within their game portfolio a second. Yep, you read that right – a second!

Zynga has 60 million DAUs (daily active users) and here’s the kicker for me: they conduct 2 billion minutes of play a day!!!

What is that telling you?

Some relatively privileged folks have a ton of idle time?

Play is really pivotal to the human psychi?

But are we at the point in our development as a species and as custodians for our planet where we can afford that much ‘down time’?

We still have people starving by their millions, we still have diseases that could be cured or prevented. Surely, we owe it to ourselves to focus on solving these issues before we embark on such wholesale frittering away of our time?

Yes and no.

YES, playing games like Farmville doesn’t progress humanity.

But also NO: I am not advocating that we do away with play altogether. Far from it. As I said at the outset, I am a huge fan of play.

What I am in favor of is social gaming with a purpose.

What if, in the course of having fun within a game, a user wasn’t only growing their capabilities as a mafia boss or trainmaster, but they were also (or instead) using their brains to help solve seemingly intractable disease puzzles?

Social gaming should help people come together to improve the world we live in. If we are playing games, let’s ensure they have a higher purpose. Let’s ensure they enable us to make greater insights into our pyschi, improving our understanding of our emotions, of our bodies and ultimately moving us to the point where we are not bounded by disease and scarce resources.

Aligned with this insight I want to draw your attention to the move by some of the Twitter co-founders back into The Obvious Corporation. I’ve written a fair amount about Obvious and product factories, but what is really interesting (especially in the context of this post) is the mission statement of the new Obvious:

The Obvious Corporation makes systems that help people work together to improve the world.The proliferation of technology can seem superfluous, but with the right approach, technology can benefit individuals, organizations and society.

It seems that others, like Ev, Biz and Jason are thinking along similar paths.

[As a footnote, I do recognize the great work Mark and the Zynga team are doing in supporting disaster relief. What I am advocating extends far beyond that focus.]

 

The Amazing Foursquare Race

Endemol USA has levelled up to become the mayor of reality TV.

According to Variety, they are partnering with Foursquare to created a new show that is “likely to have an ‘Amazing Race’-style competitive element, in which participants travel to various sites.”

This could signal a deeper level of engagement between users of emerging technology and television programming. For example, a Foursquare user could leave clues for participants in the race at various locations. Or users could vie for the right to be mayor of a venue that racers must check in at and be the local person greeting them as they come running through the venue.

2010: The Year of the Tablet, How Publishers Shape It

The following Sports Illustrated concept piece by The Wonderfactory for Time Inc shows some of the key themes that will shape tablet-based consumption of information:

  • customize the layout to suit your tastes or keep the editor’s view;
  • verticalize the content to suit your interest areas;
  • easily curate ‘finds’ to your networks
  • inclusion of social gaming, but absent were meta game mechanics.

Sports Illustrated – Tablet Demo 1.5 from The Wonderfactory on Vimeo.

Foursquare Boosts Public Transit Use

foursquareThe location-based mobile network Foursquare has partnered with San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART to locals) to encourage use of their train service across 43 stations in the Bay area.

As regular metarand readers know, I am a big fan of game mechanics. Foursquare combines social networking elements with game mechanics, encouraging users to explore their neighborhoods and make recommendations.

For example, a user can become ‘mayor’ of a specific cafe or pub by checking in there more than anyone else. Updates are shared across services like Twitter which announce when someone takes over as mayor.

I’ve found these tweets somewhat irritating, but I think that is due to the way they are written – it’s usually a few microseconds into my scanning a tweet before I realize its a Foursquare announcement and I move on.

Foursquare

The BART partnership with Foursquare involves awarding $25 promotional tickets to riders chosen at random from those Foursquare users who log in at BART stations. Users can also duke it out to see who becomes ‘mayor’ of various stations on their regular commute routes.

All up, an innovative use of social media, mobiles and geolocation to boost public transport usage.

Designing for social business: game mechanics as catalyst

The Deloitte Tribalization of Business Study, which I discussed in my previous post, identified that “the biggest obstacles to creating successful communities are getting people to engage and participate, and getting people to keep coming back.”

I’m a big believer that incorporating game mechanics into the design of social business systems can have a significant catalytic effect.

Making business fun, makes for better business.

Ultimately, if designed right such systems can achieve the required inflection points – critical mass, etc to overcome the obstacles noted in the Deloitte study.

Let’s play a game. I’d like you to watch the following video. While you do think of an analogy and follow a linear narrative.

The stairs at the start of the video represent a business before it’s been optimized for social business: functional, static, requires effort. People grudgingly use them.

The escalators are installed. They’re shiny, they move fast and require little effort. Everyone jumps on board. But after a while they lose their soul, they’re just as boring as the stairs were. No-one smiles.

This represents a business that has had social media tools installed without following a systematic design process. At first it seems awesome that you can have a wiki, “Hey look, I’m talking to my other colleagues in sales”.

“It’s amazing. I set up not just one blog, but one for every day of the week!

The company sees the light. They decide to go back to their core business functions – the stairs – and design them right. They integrate game mechanics into their social business systems.

Everyone loves them. People leave work with a smile on their faces. They don’t mind a bit of effort, because they are loving doing it. The system (stairs) now allow people to express themselves creatively.

The business has got its soul back!

VentureWrap: Zynga Brings Kleiner Into Play With $29M

The Potrero Hill, San Francisco-based Mark Pincus social games venture, Zynga Game Network has closed a $29 million Series B funding round led by Kleiner Perkins.

New Kleiner partner and former Electronic Arts Chief Creative Officer Bing Gordon will be joining the board and getting actively involved in operations.

This follows a recent $10 million Series A and the investors in that round (Avalon Ventures, Foundry Group and Union Square Ventures) have participated alongside Kleiner and IVP in the Series B.

I suspect this funding will be used to fuel a number of acquisitions. This is borne out by Zynga’s additional announcement that they have acquired YoVille, a virtual-world app that has over 150,000 daily active users on Facebook.

[Hat tip to Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures]

Scrabble Officially On Facebook

Electronic Arts has teamed up with Hasbro to bring SCRABBLE to Facebook and Pogo.

Launching later in July, SCRABBLE will be the first EA Hasbro-licensed property to go live on a social networking site. EA has plans to release a number of other Hasbro properties later in the year.

The SCRABBLE Facebook app will allow head-to-head challenges and players can choose between a real-time turn-based game or pause and pick up the play later. Scores and stats wil be tracked and players can be ranked. In addition, players will have access to built-in chat, dynamic animations and be able to access world lists.

Venturewrap: GameDuell Gets $17M From Wellington Partners

Berlin-based skill games company GameDuell has secured over $17 million in Series B venture funding from Wellington Partners.

With a current user base of 10 million members in Germany, France and Spain, the company will use this funding to expand into the United States and other European countries.

The last funding round for GameDuell, which is headed up by a team of experienced Internet entrepreneurs (Kai Bolik, Michael Kalkowski and Boris Wasmuth), was in 2004.

The company’s skill-games include Mahjong, Pool, Solitaire and Sudoku and they are Germany’s third largest online advertiser with more than 200 media partnerships and 80 staff.

Announcing MySpace devJams across Australia

Following on from an awesome devJam in Sydney on June 5th, I’m pleased to announce that I’m going to be hosting a further three events in Australia in July.

These events are a must attend for everyone who codes and has an interest in building social media apps.

There will be door prizes and the opportunity to head over to San Francisco and/or Tokyo – read more about these opportunities and each of the events from the following links:

We are working on rolling out similar events in other major cities across Australia.

I’d like to thank the guys from Mitchellake for providing us with their uber cool offices for these events.