Report: Omgpop shut downs as part of Zynga’s restructuring

Omgpop logoAs part yesterday’s staff purging at Zynga, which saw 520 employees lose their jobs, in other words 18 percent of its staff, Zynga shut down Draw Something developer Omgpop’s office, according to a report from The Verge.

Along with the layoffs, Zynga shut down its Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York offices. But, Zynga New York does include Omgpop, and now former Omgpop employees are making it public on Twitter that they are out of jobs. (more…)

Zynga releases Running With Friends

running with friendsSocial games developer and publisher Zynga today announced the release of its seventh game under the “With Friends” brand, an endless runner titled Running With Friends. The game should be available to download for free from the Apple App Store starting tonight and tomorrow morning.

Set in a cartoon-style re-imagining of Pamplona, Spain, the game puts players into the town’s famous Running of the Bulls Festival. Gameplay is very similar to Temple Run, Vector, Subway Surfers, and other games in the endless runner genre. It’s particular similar to the latter in that the device is oriented vertically, with the camera behind the character, allowing the player to swipe and tap in order to dodge obstacles across three lanes.

While it may be similar to other endless runners, Running With Friends is also adding several new features to the formula to keep it fresh. The social element of games has always been Zynga’s primary concern and Running With Friends is no different, allowing users to do as the title suggests and play with their friends asynchronously. The level for each round of the game is randomly generated, but players who compete with friends will compete over the same randomly generated level. The player who gets the highest score by running farther and collecting more stars, wins.

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Zynga reveals mobile MOBA game Solstice Arena

solsticearena

Zynga today revealed its newest core game title, Solstice Arena, a multiplayer online battle arena game for mobile devices from the A Bit Lucky team.

A Bit Lucky is the developer behind games like Lucky Train and Lucky Space, which were shut down on Facebook in September 2012 while the studio continued to work on Solstice Arena. When Zynga acquired the studio, also in September 2012, A Bit Lucky’s employees became a part of Zynga San Francisco and continued to work on Solstice Arena, though little was known about the game at the time.

Today we finally learned that Solstice Arena is a MOBA game, a genre that originated with the popular mod Defense of the Ancients (DotA) for Blizzard’s PC and Mac strategy game Warcraft 3.

(more…)

Skillz brings real-money gaming to the U.S.

skillz-logoReal-money gaming is now reality in the U.S. with Skillz, a first-of-its-kind multiplayer tournament platform, which gives players the chance to compete for real money and virtual currency in mobile games of skill. The platform launched today in beta for Android.

“We’re bringing real-money gaming to the U.S. right now, and we’re the first people to do that,” Andrew Paradise, co-founder and CEO of Skillz, tells Inside Mobile Apps.

Skillz enables games of skill to be played in cash tournaments in 36 states — such as California, New York, Texas and more — as well as virtual currency tournaments in any game worldwide. All a mobile developer has to do to enable cash and free multiplayer tournaments is integrate Skillz’s SDK, which can be implemented in as short as an hour to three work days.

Skillz legal states games of skill

Skillz has come out of stealth with 10 developers with 10 games on board, including Gnarly Games with GnarBike Trials, Spooky House Studios with Bubble Explode, Rocketmind with Big Sport Fishing 3D Lite and more. The first batch of titles run the gamut genre-wise, with genres like endless runners, bubble shooters, mini golf and more.

The obvious question to ask is how did Skillz make real-money gaming legal in the U.S.? The easiest answer is that real-money gaming via a skills competition has been legal for years in most states. First, it’s important to define the difference between a skill versus a chance game. On one end of the spectrum is a skill game like chess and on the other end is a chance game like roulette. The legal definition of a skilled game is if a skilled player predominantly beats an unskilled player about 75 percent of the time. Examples of games of skill where a cash competition is legal include chess tournaments, running marathons, golf tournaments, fishing tournaments, esports tournaments for games like StarCraft 2 and Call of Duty, even the arcade game Golden Tee, and more.

“One of the things we created is a way to statistically verify the level of skill versus chance in a game, and so one of the things we do is plug in these virtual currency tournaments into a given game and then we’ll run virtual currency tournaments and gather data,” Paradise says. “Basically, we can look at how often skilled players beat unskilled players and then determine if a game is skill versus chance.” (more…)

Zynga launches Draw Something 2

DS2Logo_02

Yesterday, during Zynga’s Q1 2013 earning call, CEO Mark Pincus announced the launch of Draw Something 2. The game is available to download for free exclusively on the Apple App Store. An Android version is coming soon.

The first Draw Something was a simple draw-and-guess game where players compete against each other to create pictures based on stimulus words. The game won the award for Best Social Network Game at last night’s Game Developer’s Choice Online Awards ceremony. It was the first time Zynga managed to take home a GDC Online Award, even though its games have been nominated for the past two years.

Draw Something 2 introduces a live feed where players can share, ‘like’ or comment on drawings, and follow friends, artists and celebrities. It also adds a collection of new drawing tools like new patterns, textures and colors.

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CEO Mark Pincus elaborates on Zynga’s transition from web to mobile, announces today’s launch of Draw Something 2

Zynga-LogoIn Zynga’s Q1 2013 earnings call, CEO Mark Pincus’ opening statement  focused on Zynga’s transition from web to mobile. “Our next opportunities are clearly on mobile,” he says.

Pincus laid out three key concepts for Zynga now and moving forward. He says Zynga is focused on building games, a network and working on profitability.

On the games front, Zynga’s most recently released mobile game, midcore card battler War of the Fallen, is monetizing 15 times higher compared to Zynga’s “With Friends” franchise, Pincus says.

“We’re following a playbook proven on the web to lead on mobile with a disciplined approach. We’re encouraged by early execution,” Pincus says.

Pincus also announced Draw Something 2, the sequel to Omgpop’s hit Pictionary-like drawing game Draw Something, is launching today. The sequel was first revealed in a Tweet by radio and TV personality Ryan Seacrest back in March.

As for Zynga’s network, which consists of 253 million monthly active users (MAU) across all platforms, Pincus says that the company has 65 million MAU on mobile. To demonstrate the power of Zynga’s mobile network, Pincus says word game What’s the Phrase, the company’s only mobile release in Q1, reached the No. 1 spot on the top free iOS apps charts, two days after the company turned on cross-promotion for the game within its network.

“The best way that we can be competitive in the market and positively move customer acquisition is by investing in our network and by better leveraging our large audience,” says Pincus, in the Q&A portion of today’s earnings call.

Since Zynga already has a strong user base on the web, Pincus says Zynga will continue launching cross-platform games that connect web and mobile users, a strategy that has worked for other companies such as King.

Aside from Zynga’s release of What’s the Phrase in the U.S., the company did launch two real-money gaming titles — Zynga Plus Poker (review) and Zynga Plus Casino (review) — in the U.K. in April. Both games are powered by real-money games operator bwin.party.

Later this quarter, Zynga plans to launch a casual title for mobile called Running With Friends, an endless runner game, which has already soft-launched in Canada, and action role-playing game Battlestone, which we reported on at the end of 2012.

Mobile apps news roundup: NARR8 gains monetization feature, Playnomics adds behavioral targeted push messaging service and more

narr8NARR8 gains monetization and auto play features – Motion comics app NARR8 for iPad (review) added a virtual currency called NARRs tokens, which can be used to unlock new episodes from the variety of different content series that are available. Users can acquire NARRs by just using the app as well as by purchasing the currency with real money. NARR8 also added a auto play feature for its motion comic series, which lets users continuously stream content with a one tap. In the future, NARR8 plans to turn its app into a platform, allowing third-party publishers the ability to publish and sell their content through NARR8.

tapjoyTapjoy partners with Popcornflix, launches freemium movie streaming app PopcornflixGold – Mobile advertising and publishing platform Tapjoy partnered with movie streaming service Popcornflix to launch a new mobile app for Android, named PopcornflixGold, that lets users watch movies for free on their mobile devices by engaging with ads. Similarly to a monetization model seen in mobile games, the app allows users to match movies by earning a virtual currency called FlixPoints, which can be earned by interacting with ads from the Tapjoy Marketplace.

Playnomics logo roundupPlaynomics adds behavioral targeted push messaging feature to its PlayRM platform – Predictive analytics company Playnomics added a new behavioral targeted push messaging feature for mobile games to its PlayRM platform. This new feature may increase user engagement for developers by sending targeted, real-time messages to individual players based on in-game behaviors.

gameloftGameloft launches Dungeon Hunter 4 for Android – French mobile game developer Gameloft launched dungeon crawler Dungeon Hunter 4 for Android this week. Click here for our review of the iOS version of the game.

Proletariat logo roundupFormer Zynga Boston employee raises $2.25M for new game studio Proletariat – Seth Sivak, a former lead designer from the defunct Zynga Boston office, raised $2.25 million for his new game studio Proletariat. The raised amount in equity funding appeared in an SEC filing. Proletariat’s first release came back in March, with word game Letter Rush for iOS.

appolicious-logo-roundupAppolicious launches educational app discovery service appoLearning – App discovery service Appolicious launched appoLearning earlier this week, which is a new service geared toward helping parents, teachers and others find the best educational apps for children.

Elite Beat Agents developer iNis’ new mobile game to be published by Zynga

edento green

Zynga’s latest publishing partner is Elite Beat Agents developer iNis, which is getting ready to launch its new mobile title Eden to Green on Zynga’s network.

The game’s story takes place on a world inhabited by sentient plants who find their planet under siege by a group of alien machines. After devastating the planet, the machines begin to get beaten back by a group of plants focused on restoring nature around the world.

iNis is best known in the U.S. for its rhythm game for the Nintendo DS handheld device, Elite Beat Agents, which released in 2006. The developer has worked on other music games since, and even made a couple of forays to smartphones in partnership with Square Enix, with Demon’s Score and Symphonica. But with Zynga’s powerful cross-promotion tools behind it, Eden to Green is likely to make iNis more visible than it’s been in years.

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Former Zynga Austin employee creates mobile studio Team Chaos

team chaos

Former Zynga Austin vice president and general manager Andrew Busey is partnering up with mobile developer Chaotic Moon Studios to create Team Chaos, a new mobile gaming startup. The first game from the freshly minted studio is Elements: Broken Lands, a free-to-play collectible card game (CCG) for iOS.

“The rise of CCGs on mobile has been incredible,” Busey tells GameIndustry.biz. “One of our objectives in crafting Elements has been evolving the ease of use and raising the quality level of this genre on mobile. Our past experience building these types of games combined with the amazing advancement in mobile technology has allowed us to build a visually stunning game that is both accessible and deeply strategic.

“I had not planned to do another start-up, but conversations with Chaotic Moon and the pace of mobile gaming advancement got me super excited. This is about passion. We are truly making games that we want to play. And we believe our passion and enthusiasm will result in games that other gamers are going to love playing, too.”

Busey is no stranger to the CCG genre. He was the founder and CEO of social gaming developer Challenge Games, which had previously developed fantasy-themed CCG Duels for Facebook and another game of the same type, Warstorm for Facebook. Zynga acquired Austin-based Challenge Games back in January 2010 for an undisclosed sum of money. Busey and the studio’s 35 employees were the genesis of Zynga’s Austin studio. In October 2012, the Austin studio, which was the studio behind The Ville, saw staff cuts upward of more than 100 employees. Months later, Zynga closed its downtown Austin office, but the remaining employees were relocated to Zynga’s Dallas and North Austin offices.

Chaotic Moon Studios is known for developing apps for clients like Fox, Disney and Marvel. For example, the studio helped Marvel develop its most recent mobile release Marvel Unlimited, a comic subscription service.

Elements: Broken Lands, which features an in-game marketplace for players to buy and sell cards, launched yesterday for iOS, but there’s no mention for release on other platforms yet.

OMGPOP head Dan Porter departs from Zynga, Sean Kelly steps in

omgpop250

Zynga today announced the departure of Zynga’s New York office general manager Dan Porter, the former CEO and founder of OMGPOP.

Just over a year ago, Zynga acquired New York-based gaming studio OMGPOP for $180 million (with another $30 million earnout), the studio behind hit Pictionary-like mobile title Draw Something.

“Developing and launching games is a team effort, and we’re proud of the great work the Zynga New York team has done with Draw Something 2,,” said Zynga COO David Ko, in a statement. “Our follow up to the original hit is even more social and engaging, and we’re excited to get it into the hands of our players globally. We thank Dan Porter for his efforts in making the Draw Something franchise a success and wish him well in his future endeavors. We’re proud to see talent like Sean Kelly take a bigger leadership role as the Head of our New York studio and lead the team to the global launch of Draw Something 2.”

Sean Kelly, who’s been with the company since 2009, is stepping in for Porter as the head of Zynga’s New York studio. Kelly’s official title is the vice president of mobile and general manager of Zynga New York, reporting to Zynga’s senior vice president of mobile Travis Boatman. Kelly led the launch of CityVille in 2009, which grabbed 100 million players worldwide in less than 30 days, as well as the launch of Running with Friends FarmVille, Dream Zoo, Dream PetHouse, CityVille Hometown and Zynga Poker.

Zynga recently revealed Draw Something 2, the sequel to Draw Something, in a tweet from TV and radio personality Ryan Seacrest. The game has soft-launched in Sweden, but no official worldwide release date has been announced yet.

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