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Gaia’s new MMO is likely to become a major contender April 30, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in gaming, mmorpg, virtual worlds.

In February, Gaia announced that it would be using its current virtual world user base to launch a casual MMOG. Virtual World News has an interesting interview that gives more details about the Gaia MMOG:

Beyond the virtual world background for the casual mmo, Georgeson also highlights the fact that Gaia offers more variety in its gameplay than some other MMOGs. Locations will behave differently according to the number of people present, monsters will spawn in different ways, and a wider variety of scripts, he says, create a sensation of spontaneity.

Also, there’s golf.

“One of the other things I’m particularly proud of is that a lot of MMOs have the same experience where you go or no matter what you’ve done for how many people are in the area,” said Georgeson. “It’s a big treadmill of killing monsters and getting loot. We still have that, but we also have aboveground game like golf that people can play even if there’s a battle raging around them.”

Although the kids/teens based MMOG world is getting increasingly crowded, especially as the media companies like Disney and Nickelodean launch new games, I think Gaia’s new game will likely be a success. As Virtual Worlds News notes:

Gaia Online is described as a virtual world and a forum, which makes it seem more open-ended and unformed that it actually easy. There’s actually already a fairly extensive guild system, roleplaying community, and narrative built into the world, though. It’s just not always readily apparent.

Gaia has held many scripted special events in the past that brush right up to the edge of becoming an MMOG. They already have an avid user base that has created and customized avatars, an in-world economy, and a digital goods business model. They also have an expertise in creating fun gameplay. Adding in levels, skills, quests and powerful virtual items is a small step for them to take.

I’ll be watching their launch in the summer with great interest!

As artists create content for the web, best practices change. April 28, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in Internet.
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1 comment so far

The NY Times magazine this weekend notes that Flickr has developed its own ideas about beauty in photos, very different from the art-school aesthetic.

People don’t upload to the Web words and images they had fashioned apart from the Web; they fashion their stuff specifically for online platforms and audiences.

Consider photography. As art-school photographers continue to shoot on film, embrace chiaroscuro and resist prettiness, a competing style of picture has been steadily refined online: the Flickr photograph. … amid the more than two billion images that currently circulate on the site, the most distinctive offerings, admired by the site’s members and talent scouts alike, are digital images that “pop” with the signature tulip colors of Canon digital cameras.

While pretty and even cute, these images are also often surreal and prurient, evoking the unsettling paintings of de Chirico and Balthus, in which individual parts are beautiful and formally rendered, but something is not quite right over all. Flickr’s creamy fantasy pictures, many of them “erotic” (rather than sexy) portraits that have been forcibly manipulated with digital tricks, stand in contrast to the rawer and grainier 35-millimeter photography that’s still canonized by august institutions like the International Center of Photography.

Blogs too have developed their own unique writing style, different from the writing of newspapers or magazines, and often influenced by the dictates of SEO best practices, headline focused RSS readers and the short attention span of web readers. Writing has become more like advertising copy, with no room for a surprise ending as the reader may never get to it. It becomes all about the attention catching lead.

Online video is another clear example of how the medium has changed best practices. As Comscore’s recent video data shows, short form videos such as those on Youtube and MySpace completely dominate the longer form videos from ABC.com, Viacom, Disney and the other TV networks.

Even music is starting to change – Rolling Stone recently noted that songs are now written to sound good in compressed MP3 format and on small speakers, rather than being optimized for absolute sound quality.

These changes are not for the better or for the worse, but they are further evidence that the web is not just a distribution channel for other forms of media, but a new medium in its own right, with its own best practices, use cases and aesthetics.

We’re excited to invest in Serious Business/Friends For Sale! April 26, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in social games, social gaming, social media, social networks, VC, Venture Capital.
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Today we announced a $4m investment in Serious Business. Their social game, Friends For Sale, has become a top ten app on Facebook since it launched in November. I am very excited about working with Siqi and Alex and the rest of the team.

While there are a lot of games on the social network platforms now, many have game mechanics that have been ported from another medium. I think Siqi and Alex have developed the first game dynamic that is native to social networks. As I’ve mentioned before, social games differ from merely multiplayer games in that social context has an impact on the game play and enjoyment. I believe that the Serious Business team has a deep understanding of how to create these social games, and we’ll see more such games coming from them in the future.

Venturebeat has a good description of the first game:

Here’s how it works. You join Friends For Sale and receive a starter war chest of several thousand dollars of the company’s virtual currency, as well as a valuation of how much you’re worth. Then you see a list of all your Facebook friends who have added the application, along with their selling price, and you can start buying them up. Price is determined like in any market, by bidders — so if you’re competing against others to buy a particular friend, you’ll have to keep raising your bid in order to maintain ownership.

When you sell a friend, you get to keep half the profit. The other half goes to the person getting bought. You can also make money by doing things like inviting more friends to the application. You earn $2,000 for every four hours that you’re logged in, and $1,000 for every friend you invite. And when somebody buys you, your value increases.

What’s the point of owning a friend, besides making virtual money on their eventual sale? Well, you can buy them gifts, or you can use them to “poke” other friends.

So really, this game is a mask for deeper social intentions. Let’s say you’re a high school student and you want to show a classmate that you have a romantic interest them — buy them and give them a gift on Friends For Sale. Or lets say you want to attract the interest of a prominent entrepreneur and angel investor like early Googler Georges Harik. Buy him, if you can afford it: He’s my most expensive Facebook friend, worth more than half a million dollars in the app’s virtual currency (pictured, above; thankfully, he’s already an investor in VentureBeat).

Other coverage is in Techcrunch, and Inside Facebook.

Slides from Games 2.0 presentation at Web 2.0 Expo April 25, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in gaming, social games, social gaming, web 2.0.

Some people have asked for the introductory slides from my talk today at Web 2.0 Expo about Games 2.0. These slides were just for scene setting and the bulk of the time was spent in panel discussion and case studies for the various elements outlined in the presentation. None the less, here it is.



Ben Vandgrift liveblogged the session. Since there is no way to link to just this post on his blog, I am quoting it here without any changes or edits (although note that my name is spelled Jeremy LIEW!)

{w2e fri session 1: games 2.0 (@11:56)}

jeremy lieu @ lightspeed venture partners

we’re talking about the future of game development and game types with web 2.0.


lots of things have changed in the web—mostly the variability of cost. these changes are tricking to the web industry.

aaa games can cost upwards of $30M. marketing driven by print and media advertising. building is about levels, and monetization is through box sales.

changes parallel the web industry.

small agile teams can get in-browser games out quickly.

(really want this slide .. don’t want to record it here.)

web games are multiplayer—not ai driven. no level design. &c.

some numbers:

halo3 $30M, yielded $700M.

powerchallenge < $8m. 1M players.

friends for sale < $1m. 7m players.


$30M marketing dollars, 10M copies sold, 90% through retail.

the rest—facebook.

aaa game sales declines over time.

social games are backward—they grow over time.

one of the critical issues for multiplayer games online is asynchronous play.

online gaming revenue: $3.8B 2006, $5.3B in 2007, more in 2008, and growing.


seqi chen (serious business)

johann christiansen (power challenge)

shervin pishevar (social games network)

mark pincus (zynger)

warbook—developed in two months by two people.

there have been improvements in play since launch, since it’s server hosted. just launched a sequel.

johann started in 2001, started text-based, added graphics over time.

how import are graphics, given their expense?

not important in management games.

launching early with a text-based game: profitable from the first year. management games develop a loyal user base.

variablized content?

mark: launched scramble as a live game, competition in real time. maxed out at 20K daily active users. spent three months reworking the game to be asynchronous. several tries before it reached a tipping point. thought asynchronous was a bad idea initially.

they come back to an asynchronous play because it’s your turn. there is a social obligation. the live game, though, represents 1/3 of daily users.

seqi: not turn based, but is asynchronous. (friends for sale). success about creating a game where social relationships are embedded into the game.

there is some value in unstructured asynchronicity.

johann: the social aspects of games are critical.

shervin: (gaming graph v. social graph). the emotional connection between people who know each other is quite valuable.

(think about a word scramble type game with continuous scoring.)

a very high accept rate on invitation is key to viral growth.

ghost racer: example of something too hard, yielding a high dropoff rate. ideally, a game should be easy, spreadable, with incentives for invitation.

six or seven months to 1M daily actives for popular web games. the important metrics are how things are being used. example: buying drinks for someone at the table at texas holdem. 250,000 drinks bought a day, for this little side feature.

(some discussion about funding of ventures.)

?: how to do something additional to viral.

mark: games are not naturally viral. other mechanisms have to be employed, and repeat usage has to be focused on. the ad rates you can buy traffic from are ridiculously low. networks from zynga are open to any new game developers.

shervin: ad-sharing is critical to cross-promotion. gaming bars, who’s playing what. one-click to go play. an independent channel from facebook. combined reach through SGN is 100M users.

seqi: (re crosspromotion) since they have one app, not so much cross-promotion. forced virality v. virality via game mechanic.

?: what are people willing to pay for?

digital goods, personal branding

?: real-money trading? digital goods?

shervin: a discussion on selling warbook gold. freegifts = largest virtual goods e-tailer.

mark: there is a direct line relationship between engagement and monetization.

?: social gaming and mobile phones?

they’re on the way.

?: $ for 1000 players / day? rate?

difficult answer. 4% monetized. few people getting north of 10%.

?: demographic information?

ffs: 60% female. 50% 20-25. 4th largest norway, big in saudi arabia.

power challenge: 90% male, 18-19 avg age.

texttwirl, etc: 60% women

warbook: 70% male

scramble: female and u.s.

texas holdem: make and foreign.

?:how important are incentives, like hint points?

word scavenger hunt.

Speaking on Games 2.0 at Web 2.0 Expo on Friday April 20, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in gaming, social media, web 2.0.
Tags: , , ,

Apologies for having gone dark on the blog for the last two weeks – I was out on vacation. However, I’m back in the saddle now, in time for the Web 2.0 expo this week. I’ll be around the conference at Moscone West much of the week, and in particular am speaking on “Games 2.0” on Friday at 11am.

I’ll give some of my thoughts on how the games industry is undergoing the same forces of change that led to web 2.0, and discuss this with an illustrious panel of entrepreneurs working in this area: Siqi Chen of Serious Business (Friends for Sale), Mark Pincus of Zynga Games, Shervin Pishevar of Social Games Network and Johan Christensen of Power Challenge.

It should be a great session, both for people in the games industry, and for those in the web industry. There is much to learn from game mechanics that are more broadly applicable to social media sites. I hope to see you there!

Forecasting ad sales for web startups April 3, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in ad networks, advertising, business models, models, start-up, startup, startups.

Andrew Chen has a good post on how to forecast advertising for web startups:

The right way to model out inventory is a number of equations – I’ll pretend that a site has two types of inventory, their “brand” stuff and their “direct response” (aka remnant) inventory:

Brand revenue = # campaigns sold * average campaign size * brand CPM
Direct response revenue = (total impressions – brand impressions) * remnant CPM
Total revenue = Brand + remnant revenue

In an actual forecast, you could get a ton more detail in the brand revenues side, since what you really care about is the # of ad sales people you have, how many campaigns they’re selling per quarter, the size, etc. Again, think of this as an enterprise sell, and treat it as such.

Essentially, he suggests that brand advertising is a function of the size and efficiency of your direct ad sales force (and is demand constrained) while remnant advertising can go to networks and is supply constrained.

As Ed Sim notes about a direct ad sales force:

… many entrepreneurs underestimate the direct capital and management costs necessary to build such a team. In many ways, building a direct ad sales team is similar to building an enterprise sales team. These thoughts may seem quite basic to you but here they are nevertheless. First, don’t ramp up your sales team too quickly until you have a product to sell. That means if you don’t have scale or enough eyeballs you are better off using Google Adsense. If you don’t heed this advice you may quickly burn yourself out of business. Secondly, I know that many startups may not know what kind of ad units to sell but be careful of not having a standard product list or rate sheet when you go out to the market.

This advice can be difficult to follow in a new market where there are no standard product lists, which is why new forms of advertising are hard.

Good games for “bad” girls April 1, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, game mechanics, games, games 2.0, gaming.

CNN , the Times of London and others have been covering Miss Bimbo recently, which Jezebel describes as:

essentially an online competition in which each registered player is given a “Bimbo” all her own to take care of — sort of like those Tamagotchi pets, but, well, not. According to Miss Bimbo rules, the goal of the game is to make your Bimbo the ” the hottest of hot Bimbos,” which involves dating “that famous hottie,” becoming a “socialite and skyrocket[ing] to the top of fame and popularity,” and even resorting “to meds or plastic surgery”, because girls should “Stop at nothing to become the reigning bimbo!” According to CNN, “Breast implants sell at 11,500 bimbo dollars and net the buyer 2,000 bimbo attitudes, making her more popular on the site.”

Unsurprisingly, most commentators are horrified and worry that this online game is providing bad role models for young girls.

This reminds me of the furor that the Coolest Girl in School mobile game produced in Australia for similar reasons. As Gaming Today noted:

Emerging as a rpg for teens, the game sets a stage for girls where “stealing, sexual dalliances, drug use and gossiping pave the path to teenage empowerment”. In the game, the objective is to “lie, bitch and flirt your way to the top of the high school ladder”, and the developer, Champagne for the Ladies, is billing their new game as the young woman’s answer to Grand Theft Auto. In the game, the player is encouraged to “experiment with fashion, drugs, sexuality, cutting class and spreading rumors” in an effort to win.

Champagne for the Ladies states that in the game “teachers exist to be manipulated,” a “looming parent signals potential social death,” new clothes are “procured by stealing from the mall”, and “bribery is an exit strategy for sticky situations”.

Game Set Watch has a good overview of the gameplay.

One of the keys to the viral appeal of these games is the comparison to Grand Theft Auto. The appeal of these “game of new stimulation” (one of the four types of fun) is correlated with the “bad” fun of stomping on a sandcastle, as Bateman notes:

… one of the reasons the recent Grand Theft Auto games are so successful at tapping into this side of ilinx is that they are not wholly realistic… The tone of the games is realistic in a certain sense, and certainly they are drawing upon mimicry, but there is an unreal quality. This is expressed in part by the shrewd choice of a non-photorealistic art style, and also by the presence of ‘game-like’ elements in the game world, such as “power up” tokens. This is real, but it is also a game. That empowers the player to, for instance, go on a murderous killing rampage, and laugh as they do it. I do not believe there is anything morally wrong with this, and the unreal quality of the game facilitates this freedom to misbehave.

The joy of ilinx is reckless abandon… it can be the vertigo of speed, or of wanton destruction; it need not be violent, but it is always irrepressible – the temporary abolishment of conscious thought.

(I hope) people playing these games enjoy the satire and understand that these are fun and no more role models than Homer Simpson.

The vast majority of games that we see are of the first three types of fun: competition, chance and simulation. It will be interesting to see if we see more games of new stimulation which derive their fun from crazy behavior. It will also be interesting to see if these games can hold on to players over time as these new stimulations become less novel with increased gameplay.