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.]

 

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]

The Big Picture: A Vision For Social Media

Imagine a world in which:

every single human being is posting their thoughts and experiences in any number of ways to the Internet.

This is the world that New York-based VC, Fred Wilson, sees within his ‘grand vision‘ for social media.

I applaud Fred’s simplicity. All too often the bigger picture can become obscured by over complication. If we take a look through his firm’s portfolio, we quickly see that he is pulling together a mosaic that will progress us towards achieving his vision:

Twitter – microblogging

Disqus – distributed comments

Oddcast – conversational chararacters

Tumblr – microblogging

Zynga – social gaming

There are a bunch of other companies in the Union Square Ventures portfolio, but these are the stand out ventures that speak to Fred’s simple vision.

Turning this vision into reality will take a lot more determined effort by all of us. Besides supporting the right technology pieces, achieving standards (think what Gears is doing for HTML5), and gaining wide user traction there are regulatory and plumbing issues that will need to be solved.

Currently we see a lot of infighting and an almost continuous bitchmeme, at present this seems to be over whether Friendfeed is better than Twitter. And this within the context of a world in which millions are unable to express themselves, a world in which millions are dying because of oppressive regimes.

It is high time the social media industry rallied together. By focusing on this simple end goal, by setting a target we can come together around, we can achieve so much more.

[Picture courtesy of hellomartin]

Appspace: MySpace Opens App Gallery, Zynga Opens API

The world’s largest social network, MySpace, has officially opened its Application Gallery.

Every application gets its own profile, from where its developers can directly interface with those users who friend the app.

Truth Box by Suren Markosian tops the app install leaderboard with over 560,000 installs. The app promises to let you find out the “truth about yourself” and discover what others really think about you.

Not far down the chart at No. 4 is Ace Texas Hold’em Poker with 86,000 installs. This app is part of the Zynga Game Network, which is one of the companies to have embraced the MySpace Developer Platform since it became available in February.

Zynga Game Network is named after CEO Mark Pincus’s favorite pooch – Zinga, whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently over at his favorite San Francisco kennel, ahem…office.

The company has launched a Game Center, an open API that will allow developers to connect into a network of game apps. This will effectively create a channel and enable a network effect or viral loop to grow.

What’s the meta take on these two moves? The appspace is a rapidly evolving environment and brand owners and developers are well advised to watch closely as both the MySpace platform matures and Zynga tests out various mechanisms like their Game Center and Social Bar.

[Disclosure: Randal Leeb-du Toit is an advisor to MySpace’s parent company, Fox Interactive Media and Chairman of app developer, Creative Enclave]