Notes from Inside Social Apps

Gamification last week, Inside Social Apps this week. No wonder we don’t get anything done! As always, Inside Social Apps was a good conference for social games. Though if you didn’t know it’s impossible for any small games company to make it on Facebook, that the next big thing is mobile social on the iPhone, and the next big thing after that is Android, then you probably being too slow to be in our fast-paced industry to begin with.

The science of Facebook games

The coolest thing I saw at the Inside Social Apps show is not a game and is not publicly available yet. EV-Plus, an Israeli company started by a psychologist and engineer, is releasing a game app “buddy” that will attach to your favorite social games and use the magic of algorithms to help you play.

A secret to social game design is that they are very metrics-driven. You need a story and theme to keep your interest, but the actual game design itself is driven by a complex points system that associates a number to buying seeds, growing crops, etc. EV-Plus’ technology is designed to analyze this data and provide advice on your next possible move and share it with your friends on Facebook.

Their first product out, Poker Buddy, does this for social Texas Hold’em games and does not excite me (there are tons of products like this out already in the gambling poker side, which of course is illegal and does not exist).

EV-Plus did give me a sneak peak on the “buddy” program they are developing for farming-style Facebook games and I can clearly see how anyone playing FarmVille or CityVille will want to download the buddy app and use it while they play. It’s a no-brainer (ha ha).

The keys for EV-Plus will be to be able to scale the technology to make it work for a wide variety of social games and to design it in a way that it’s a buddy not just to game players, but also to game companies and Facebook itself, so that these companies encourage its usage instead of try to block it. Based on what I see, I think this could be a great acquisition tool for social game companies, but the proof will when it is released to the public.

First came Gamecoins, then comes RewardVille…

The tragedy of the game or technology business is that whenever you come up with a clever idea, someone bigger is bound to copy it. Sometrics launched Gamecoins over a year ago which allowed gamers to earn coins by taking actions on their site (e.g., posting a tip) which could then be converted to game currencies for hundreds of social and massively multiplayer games (MMO’s). Sometrics then makes money by allowing these same game companies to advertise for their users. If this sounds familiar, you must have read our article about Zynga releasing RewardVille which works a little similar. Zynga’s RewardVille will be successful due to their huge size. Sometrics’ ace in the hole is that they are only company that works with Facebook Credits and that their system works with hundreds of games and currencies.

Wise words from the panels

To be honest, nothing crazy was said at the panels, the industry is obviously maturing from the days when everyone shared their numbers or talked out of their a#%. Peter Relan of CrowdStar admitted he does not play games (what?) and Sean Ryan of Facebook said that Angry Birds, as it is today, would not make a good Facebook game (whoa…though, good point).

Facebook said their entire focus is mobile this year. Social mobile for the iPhone is the biggest thing this year (expect tons of winners, tons of losers) and Android is the next big thing people are working on (no standards, 100’s of devices, good luck with that!). Facebook also hinted of launching their own GroupOn product and claimed to have cut spam by 95% (both exciting tidbits of news).

While the APIs that Facebook, Apple, and Google provide make game development easy for anyone, the fact you have to work with all three companies to make it big makes it challenging for indie game companies to create social games.

So challenging, maybe it’ll be easier going back to develop some download games again? Either that, or you need to consolidate or raise tons of funding.

For a summary of every single thing that was said at the Inside Social Apps Conference, check out the Inside Social Games blog (their conference, so they have the best coverage).

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