Hi5 unveiled a beta version and more details of its social games platform, SocioPath at the GDC Conference in Austin yesterday.

SocioPath may possibly be the worst name in the history of game platforms ever derived. I get it. It’s “social” and it’s a “path” to drive new players to your games. But when I hear the term, I think of Stalin or Charles Manson. Like getting half butt naked and wrestling a sumo wrestler at a games conference, it’s hard to take Hi5’s initiative seriously, as Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat notes.

Having said that, once you get over the name and dive into the details, you have to take Hi5’s social gaming plans seriously.

Launching in beta and being tested by a strong roster of game developers, SocioPath is designed to be everything Facebook is not. The key features as detailed in an article on VentureBeat are:

  • An automated contact manager feature which asks the user to spread the game through their contacts on instant messenger, email, Facebook, Twitter, and any other social network Hi5 builds into. And, this all happens from within the game.
  • A registration process that allows you to sign up anonymously (no real names as per Facebook) and that allows you to try out the game before registering. You register only after you play to save your progress.
  • The ability to import and export virtual items into a game.

Basically, what Hi5 has done is observed what Facebook has taken away in terms of virally for social games, and built a social platform that packs into Hi5. Hi5 has an advantage over Facebook in this regard. With 500 million users, of which some like being reminded about FarmVille, and some absolutely hate it, Facebook needs to be careful about how viral messages are distributed and shared. Not so with Hi5. Hi5 is betting that all its users will come to play games, so there is no reason to limit the viral and sharing news and invites.

Many game developers are worried about their dependence on Facebook and the fact that Facebook is cutting the cord on all the features that Hi5 is now adding to SocioPath. It’s no wonder that Hi5 lists numerous top social game developers as its beta partners, including Playdom, Bigpoint, Digital Chocolate, The Casual Collective, Portalarium, Heyzap, Sneaky Games, Hitpoint Studios, Slingo, and The Broth.

This is still not a sure-fire hit strategy for Hi5. Hi5’s 50 million users is still dwarfed by Facebook’s 500 million and growing users. Hi5 needs to get their platform (which is still in beta) up and running fast, before Google enters the space.

It should also be noted that the one company not listed yet as a partner is Zynga. Zynga is the 800-pound gorilla but they are in a comfortable enough position that they can sit this one out for now and wait and see how Hi5 does.

Zynga is also working on it’s own service, Zynga Live. Like Hi5, they are not limited by any restrictions Facebook places on itself. My guess is that any feature you see in SocioPath will also be a feature of Zynga Live, once it comes out.

So how successful will Hi5’s SocioPath be? When you get over the name gimmick, the platform and plans are very well thought out and fit into what social game companies want. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the coming months. In the coming months, what Hi5 needs is an exclusive game to become a hit on SocioPath. They can either make it happen for one of their partners, or a game themselves as a case study (much easier done than it sounds).

If Hi5 is successful, they could offer a compelling new channel for game companies to drive new users and break Facebook’s domination in social game distribution. It could also make Hi5 a very attractive acquisition for a company like Yahoo or AOL.

But first, they really do need to change the name.