Entertainment Industry

Category: Facebook

Games publisher King.com topples EA, Wooga on Facebook, for now

Bubble Witch Saga
On Facebook, the competition for attention among game publishers from the social network's 800 million-plus users is as fast-paced and fierce as any hard-core shooter.

Tuesday's victor (of sorts) is King.com, the small British publisher of Bubble Witch Saga and other arcade titles, which toppled Wooga as the No. 2 game publisher on Facebook, according to AppData.com, a site that tracks traffic on Facebook.

Although King.com was founded eight years ago, it is a relative newcomer to Facebook, publishing its first game, Bubble Saga, on the social network a year ago. It continues to operate more than 150 games on its own site.

Now King.com has 11 games on Facebook that together racked up nearly 10 million daily players as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, with Bubble Witch Saga accounting for about two-thirds of that traffic. By comparison, No. 3-ranked Wooga garnered 9.9 million daily players, while Electronic Arts Inc. came in fourth place at 9.1 million. All three are still leagues away from Zynga Inc., which clocked 65.3 million daily players. 

Since launching Bubble Witch Saga in September, King.com has seen a 143% increase in players who check in at least once a month and a 312% increase in players who log in daily, according to AppData.com.

Why the sudden popularity?

"King.com's games are easy to learn, difficult to master," said A.J. Glasser, managing editor of Inside Network, research group focused on Facebook social games. In addition, its games aren't overly aggressive in urging players to spend money on virtual "potions" that help them advance faster in the games, she said.

King.com should relish its popularity, because it may not last, Glasser warned: "It'll take more than that to widen its daily lead on Wooga and EA."

In fact, when traffic from the last 30 days are taken into account, King.com is No. 4 with 39.1 million monthly players, behind Zynga's 285.9 million, EA's 46.1 million and Wooga's 44.8 million. It was just seven months ago when EA's Sims Social game toppled Zynga's FarmVille as the second most popular game on Facebook. On Tuesday, Sims Social was No. 26 on the charts.

King com-RiccardoZacconiWhen it comes to making money, though, King.com is an old hand. The company has been profitable since 2005, according to co-founder and Chief Executive Riccardo Zacconi (right). It's so profitable that it hasn't bothered to touch a cent of the $46 million in venture financing it has raised over the years and is preparing for a possible initial public offering in the U.S. next year, Zacconi said.

Much of King.com's revenue comes from its main site, where it hosts more than 2.5 billion game sessions a month. Its audience, 70% of whom are women, range between 35 and 45 years old.

Aside from the usual mix of advertising and virtual goods sales, King.com also generates revenue from hosting competitive, skill-based tournaments on its main site (it does not offer tournaments on Facebook).

Here's how it works. Four players each pay a 50-cent entry fee to compete for a $1.50 cash prize. (Online competitions based purely on skill are perfectly legal; only when the element of chance enters the equation do things get legally dicey.) The house, however, wins every time, with King.com collecting 50 cents from each game.

In an environment in which developers brazenly release nearly identical games, how can King.com avoid being squashed by rivals with more resources or being outdone by nimbler start-ups?

"You can't avoid that, really," Zacconi said. "But you can try to be faster, more focused."


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Image: courtesy of King.com.

Zynga launches separate social gaming platform, still 'likes' Facebook

Zynga.com_Profile Page

Seeking to expand its footprint beyond Facebook, social gaming juggernaut Zynga Inc. on Thursday unveiled a new website that it hopes will draw players deeper into its virtual playground.

Zynga executives took pains to point out that Zynga.com is not an effort to distance itself from Facebook. In fact, the new site, for example, requires players to log in via their Facebook account. And any purchases players make on Zynga.com goes through Facebook's payment system, where Facebook takes a 30% cut of the transactions.

"We wanted it to be as easy and seamless as possible for players," said John Schappert, Zynga's chief operating officer. "We think it's complementary to Facebook."

The site is launching with five titles -- CastleVille, Words With Friends, CityVille, Hidden Chronicles and Zynga Poker. Players on Zynga.com can "friend" other people without having to share their Facebook profile information. Those connections, called "Z Friends," see only one another's game activity and are able to help one another complete their game quests. Most of Zynga's games require players to get assistance in order to progress. Zynga published a short video demo to illustrate how the site would work.

Zynga had telegraphed its move to create its own platform back in October. At the time, the effort was called "Project Z," and the company revealed few details on its plans.

The relationship between Zynga and Facebook is symbiotic -- for now. Though the social network commands an audience of more than 850 million active members, it relied on Zynga for 12% of its revenue last year, according to documents Facebook filed in conjunction with its initial public offering.

And though Zynga gets the bulk of its traffic, and revenue, from players on Facebook, the San Francisco company clearly has ambitions beyond the social network.

"Our goal is to connect the world through play and to eventually have 1 billion people play," Schappert said.

The company currently counts 240 million active monthly players.

Zynga.com is but a piece of a larger strategy to reach players wherever they happen to be, on mobile devices and online -- not just on Facebook. The company recently disclosed in its first publicly reported quarterly earnings that it spent half a billion dollars last year building out its computer infrastructure, which it dubbed the Z Cloud, to support its expansion.

Zynga.com also lets the company publish games created by other developers. Among the list of third-party developers hopping on to the Zynga platform are Mobscience, an independent social game developer in San Diego whose titles include Infamous Anarchy, MagicMall and Seapets, and Row Sham Bow, the Orlando, Fla., developer of Woodland Heroes.

Having a presence outside of Facebook could give Zynga more freedom to pursue initatives such as online gambling without having to navigate through Facebook's approval process. Zynga officials have publicly expressed an interest in online gambling, but acknowledged that it could be quite some time before state and federal regulators and courts sort out the legalities of the business.


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Screenshot of a sample Zynga.com profile page courtesy of Zynga Inc.


ESPN to stream conference basketball tournament games on Facebook

As March Madness approaches, ESPN will allow college basketball fans to watch its coverage of more than 200 conference tournament games on Facebook, marking the first time the sports network has provided live games for the sprawling social network.

The games will be made available on ESPN's Facebook pages beginning Thursday. Teams and conferences may also make their games available to be viewed online at ESPN3.

ESPN's move will allow the Walt Disney Co. cable network to take advantage of Facebook's platform to reach young viewers who aren't watching the games on TV.

“Our goal is to make our content available to fans where they want it," said Matt Murphy, senior vice president of digital video distribution for ESPN. "The timing made sense as well. Fans already spend time catching up with friends on Facebook -- and now they can watch games without leaving that environment. It’s a great way for us to reach our fans and increase awareness and usage of ESPN3.”

Millions of people who receive ESPN3 through their Internet providers can watch the games at no additional cost. The same is true for Time Warner Cable subscribers who already pay to receive the programming on TV.


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Photo: Duke University basketball fans taunt Luke Loucks #3 of the Florida State Seminoles at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 21, 2012 in Durham, North Carolina. Credit: Grant Halverson / Getty Images

Has Facebook lost the magic for social games?


Is it game over for Facebook? 

A study from market research firm IHS Inc. seems to suggest that the boom in social games is about to end, if it hasn't already done so. 

The number of people playing games on Facebook remained flat in 2011 compared to 2010, even as the social network itself added hundreds of millions of new users, the report noted. As a result, the ratio of active Facebook users who played games fell from one in two at the end of 2010 to one in four a year later.

Even Zynga Inc., the biggest publisher of games on Facebook, saw a decline in the number of people who played its games at least once a month -- from 266 million at the end of September 2011 to 225 million by the end of December, according to the IHS report.

"Facebook rocketed to prominence as a gaming platform in 2009 and 2010,” said Steve Bailey, senior analyst for games at IHS. “However, with equal speed, the market then settled into a state of maturity in 2011, with conditions becoming markedly more challenging for game operators.”

Bailey noted that with so many games vying for attention on Facebook, it's become more difficult and more costly to lure new players. It's not just games that are crowding the field. As Facebook expands its footprint into other media, music and video are gaining prominence as a source of distraction. 

Finally, game development budgets are steadily growing, upping the ante for companies that want to compete in social games. Games that were whipped up in a couple of weeks for less than $60,000 are being displaced by titles that take months and millions of dollars to produce. 

"Along with the increase in marketing costs for purchasing users, there’s also a development overhead to consider," Bailey wrote. "As with any maturing video game marketplace, production values will also need to step up a notch."

That doesn't mean the party's over. It's just that the drinks cost more and the crowds have become more fickle and discerning.


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Photo: The Facebook sign outside the company's new campus in Menlo Park, Calif. Credit:  David Paul Morris / Bloomberg 


Facebook got 12% of its revenue from Zynga


Facebook, whose initial public offering is slated to be one of the biggest debuts in U.S. stock market history, has disclosed its heavy reliance on a single customer -- Zynga Inc.

In its S-1 regulatory filing Wednesday, Facebook reported that it received 12% of its revenue in 2011 from Zynga, whose social games such as CityVille and Mafia Wars have drawn several hundred million players to Facebook over the years. Zynga launched its own IPO in December.

With $3.7 billion in total annual revenue for Facebook, that translates to roughly $444 million in direct payments from Zynga.

That figure does not include the revenue Facebook receives from displaying advertising around Zynga's games, which accounted for a "significant number of pages," according to the social network's public filing. Zynga's games pull in 56 million players a day, according to AppData.com, a site that tracks Facebook traffic. 

For Facebook, Zynga is both an asset and a potential liability: "We currently generate significant revenue as a result of our relationship with Zynga, and, if we are unable to successfully maintain this relationship, our financial results could be harmed," the Silicon Valley social network giant wrote among its "Risk Factors." 

Facebook has reason for its unease. While Zynga's fortunes are now tightly entwined with Facebook and the social network's 845 million active users, the San Francisco social gaming company has made it clear that it wants to expand its games beyond Facebook. Part of the reason is that Facebook charges a 30% levy on the sale of all virtual goods sold via applications on its platform -- including games from Zynga.

In October, Zynga unveiled a new online destination where its players can congregate outside of Facebook. It's also pushing heavily into mobile games, both on Apple's iOS platform and Google's Android Marketplace.

For now, however, Facebook and Zynga continue to "like" each other, and the friends status between the two remains unchanged.


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Photo: Zynga general manager Erik Bethke speaks at a Zynga event in San Francisco in October. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press



VEVO rolls out Facebook app for bands

Vevo Lady Gaga Facebook CroppedVEVO, an online music video startup, is pressing play on its latest product -- a Facebook app that lets bands and musicians showcase their music, sell albums and merchandise, live stream concerts and collect email addresses from their fans, among other things.

The New York company, jointly owned by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, is the latest player to dive into the crowded do-it-yourself marketing apps and services for musicians.

Digital startups such as ReverbNation, RootMusic, Bandcamp, Topspin and Songkick, as well as established giants such as Live Nation Entertainment, are rushing to be the online broker between bands and fans on Facebook and other digital platforms. This relationship is increasingly important as digital tools give bands the ability to distribute their own music, directly communicate with their audience and build their own marketing campaigns.

On Facebook, RootMusic and ReverbNation currently are the two top music applications, according to AppData.com, a site that tracks applications.

VEVO plans to set itself apart from rivals by giving musicians the ability to present all their music videos on Facebook within a single window -- leading to more clicks and, hopefully, deeper engagement with fans, said VEVO's general manager, Fred Santarpia.

"The key differentiator between VEVO and others is that VEVO carries the official music videos," Santarpia said. "None of the others can offer that as part of their product suite. When those artists are premiering a new music video, they can do that with VEVO."

VEVO was the second largest purveyor of online videos as of July after YouTube, serving up 3.2 billion video views a month worldwide, according to the most recent report from comScore. It also hosted 67.7 million unique visitors in the U.S. in July, up from 48 million a year ago, making it the top music site in the U.S. that month.

VEVO, which makes money from the ads that play before and during the videos as well as the ads displayed around the video window, is giving away its Facebook app to musicians.

The company also splits its advertising revenue with labels, artists and other rights holders. Santarpia estimates that his company, which launched in December 2009, will have distributed more than $100 million to licensors by the end of this year.

The app's debut comes a day before Facebook is expected to announce a major overhaul of the way its 750 million users experience music, news and videos on the social network, with the aim of making things easier for both media and entertainment companies such as VEVO to customize their apps, as well as users to consume and share media.


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Screenshot of Lady Gaga's Facebook page, which uses VEVO's app to play the songstress' music videos and sell albums. Courtesy of VEVO.




Kabam to bring The Godfather to Facebook


Social games on Facebook, sometimes derided as wimpy by some hard-core gamers, may soon make an offer its users can't refuse.

Kabam, a San Francisco developer of social games, on Thursday announced it will come out with a title based on "The Godfather" movie trilogy.

Godfather Logo The game, licensed by Viacom's Paramount Pictures, takes place in New York City in the 1930s, 10 years before the beginning of the first movie. Each player is born into one of the five mob families featured in the films and must fight or scheme their way to the top to become a don of a family.

It's not the first time The Godfather franchise has been adapted to a game. Electronic Arts Inc. made two, one in 2006 and another in 2009. The company declined to make a third because of poor sales of the second game. Nor is Kabam's game the only mob-themed title on Facebook. There's also Mafia Wars, Mob Wars, Gangster Battle, Gangster City and Underworld.

But The Godfather: Five Families will feature a signature Kabam formula -- hard-core game tactics that might turn off squeamish novices but are popular with serious players who are more accustomed to difficult or complex missions with big wins and losses. A player, for example, could spend months building up territory only to lose big chunks of it overnight to another player. They'll also be able to form alliances, attack rival families and even backstab members of their own family to get ahead. In other words, they'll keep their friends close and their enemies closer.

"We're bringing a hard-core Mafia experience to social games," said Chris Carvalho, Kabam's chief operating officer and the former head of business development at Lucasfilm, who struck the licensing deal with Paramount. "We think there's a completely untapped audience for that."

Right now, many in that hard-core audience are tapped into so-called massively multiplayer online games such as Eve Online, World of Warcraft and EverQuest II, all of which charge players a monthly fee. 

Like most social games on Facebook, Kabam's Godfather title will be free. Instead, the company plans to make money by selling virtual weapons or special abilities that could give players an edge over others, said Larry Koh, the game's general manager.

Kabam's approach is unusual in that it targets a narrow range of players who aren't normally associated with social games. Other developers such as Zynga and Electronic Arts' Playfish social games division go after a mainstream audience with games that are simple to play and don't involve much in the way of upsetting losses, but Kabam sees profit in building games for a primarily young, male player.

The privately held company, which has attracted $124.5 million in venture financing, does not divulge its financial figures, but says it is profitable.

Terms of The Godfather license are confidential, so it's difficult to say how much cost the license added to developing the game, which is estimated will have involved 25 employees working a full year once the game launches this fall.


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Miramax looks to boost tiny Facebook movies market

Miramax is making 20 of its movies available to rent on Facebook, even as new research shows the social network has yet to become a formidable competitor in the digital movie market.

The independent studio that spun out of Walt Disney Co. last year is offering films, including "Pulp Fiction," "Kill Bill," "Clerks" and "Swingers," on a new Facebook page called Miramax eXperience. Each movie costs $3 to rent for 48 hours.

It's not the first time movies have been made available to rent on Facebook, as studios seek to capitalize on the word's most popular social network. Warner Bros. began the trend with "The Dark Knight" in March, followed by others, including Universal Pictures' "The Big Lebowski." However, no other studio has launched its own Facebook page with so many movies offered together.

In addition, Miramax eXperience is available on iPads and Google TV.

That could prove valuable, as the inability to watch movies rented or purchased via Facebook off PCs has been an impediment to their success, according to Arash Amel, digital media research director for IHS Screen Digest.

IHS recently released data on Internet movie distribution in the first half of the year and found that Facebook Inc. did not register among the top five distributors. Apple Inc.'s iTunes continued to dominate the market, with 65.8% of revenue, up from 64.9% in the first half of 2010.

Vudu, owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., leaped from 1% to 5%. Microsoft Corp.'s Zune (available on computers and the Xbox 360 video game console) and Sony Corp.'s Playstation store each lost ground, falling to 16.2% from 18.5% and 4.4% from 8.2%, respectively. Amazon.com Inc. stayed roughly constant at 4%.

Vudu has made aggressive moves to expand its distribution on tables, televisions and the Wal-Mart website, which accounted for much of its growth.

"Movies on Facebook will struggle to even get near the top five without a TV-based or device-based ecosystem presence," Amel said. "It's no more than a marketing gimmick right now for studios."

Miramax's Chief Executive Mike Lang has been aggressive in putting his studio's library of about 700 titles online, forging digital distribution deals with outlets including Netflix and Hulu.


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Image: A screen shot of Miramax eXperience on Facebook.

Netflix coming to Facebook overseas, but not in U.S.

NetflixHQ A legacy of Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination hearings means Americans won't get to use Netflix on Facebook.

In a letter to investors that accompanied its financial results Monday, Netflix said that this fall it will launch its Facebook integration in Canada and Latin America but not in the U.S.

The reason: The Video Privacy Protection Act, a 1988 law that forbids the disclosure of people's video rental information. Companies that violate the law are liable up to $2,500 for each infraction.

The VPPA was passed in response to the disclosure of Bork's history of video rentals during his failed nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. Blockbuster ran afoul of the law in 2008, when a Texas woman sued — claiming that the video rental service had violated the privacy protections when it shared her rental history with Facebook through the social network's Beacon ad program. 

Netflix's Facebook application, which would make recommendations to users based on the preferences of their friends, could violate the VPPA, leading to the company's decision not to launch in the U.S.

"Under the VPPA, it is ambiguous when and how a user can give permission for his or her video viewing data to be shared," Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings and chief financial officer David Wells wrote in the letter to investors.

They said they support a bill pending in the House of Representatives that would clafify when and how a user can give such permission.

In June, Hastings joined Facebook's board of directors.


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Google+ to introduce social game platform

Google, whose recently launched social network Google+ has amassed 20 million users in three weeks, is planning to launch a platform for social games that would compete with the offerings on Facebook.

The search company has approached a number of developers to put their games on Google+, according to people knowledgable with Google's plans and who did not want to be identified because of confidentiality agreements. The plans, reported on Friday by AllThingsD, could come as early as August, they said.

A Google spokesperson declined to confirm, saying only that the company plans "to add a lot of features and functionality to Google+ over time."

Google+ is Google's most credible effort yet to counter the growing reach of Facebook, which is competing with the Internet search giant for eyeballs and advertising dollars. Google appears to be countering with its own efforts to grab a slice of the fast-growing market for social games, which has become an important revenue stream for Facebook.

The market for social games in the U.S., which reached $1 billion last year, is projected to grow five-fold to $5 billion by 2015, said Pietro Macchiarella, a game analyst with market research firm Parks Associates. Much of the revenue comes from games played on Facebook, the largest social network in the world with more than 750 million active users.

Facebook requires applications on its platform to pay 30% of the revenue collected from selling virtual items on the network. One way Google could compete is by offering to take a smaller portion of game publishers' revenue.

Google's success in recruiting publishers, however, will hinge on its ability to continue its momentum in adding users to Google+, Macchiarella said.

About 250 million people play social games, but only about 2% to 3% of those spend money on virtual items or power-ups for those games. That means social games require a large pool of players in order to cull a handful who will pay.

"Most publishers will be happy to extend their offerings to Google+," Macchiarelli said, "but the significance of their business on this social network will be intrinsically connected to the success of Google in migrating people from Facebook."


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