Webs.com, formerly Freeweb.com, yesterday announced the launch of a publishing network for gaming applications on social platforms like Facebook. Called the Social Gaming Network, it will tie together games under one banner and circulate players across the applications. The name of the enterprise is a little confusing: it’s a network of “social games,” yes, that roll out over a social network. Gah.
The accessibility of Facebook for developers has left us flooded with Vampires and Zombies and Walls and Pokes — at this point, a little content corralling comes as a relief. But while games like Scrabulous, based on the enduring board game Scrabble, remain very popular, many of the other games tend to provide shallow experiences that quickly get tiresome after the novelty wears off. How do developers get around that?
Perhaps by continuing to build new games. And that’s where leveraging the connectedness of the games on SGN could come in handy, because you can add a new game into the rotation when an older one wears thin. Warbook — which now boasts 1 million installations — has almost 150,000 daily active users, according to CEO and co-founder Haroon Mokhatarzada. When those users start getting bored, SGN could introduce other games in the portfolio and advertise them to current Warbook users: Street Race, for example, which quickly became the most active application on Facebook the day of its release. What will be the next flavor of the month? As long as SGN remains smart about what games it develops or acquires, it’s possible they can continue to build and grow an audience.
Another unique value of the network touted by its founders is that players can interact with other players outside of their friends’ lists. The game becomes a way to meet other people and to potentially make new friends. And while the applications are currently restricted to Facebook, Mokhatarzada says the company plans to roll them out across other social networking platforms. “For the first time, people will be able to communicate with people outside their network,” Mokhatarzada said. “The game is agnostic.”
But to what end? Would communications with other users increase the stickiness of these games or enhance the features of social networks overall? Isn’t the point of joining a gated garden that you don’t have to interact with random users with whom you have nothing in common? Why would I want to attack a random stranger’s Warbook kingdom? One of the advantages to having a friends list is that it can buffer you from the unpleasant anonymity of the Internet and provide a layer of meaning to your actions in what is, in essence, a very simple game.
Having raised $11 million in Series A funding last year, Webs.com remains upbeat about capturing revenue solely from advertising — including targeted advertising, sponsorship opportunities and product placement. But Mokhatarzada admits to some uncertainty with the model. “There are real opportunities now,” he told me on a phone call. “No one knows exactly how it will shake out.” Advertising in casual or social games is still an unknown, and there is a lot of competition for ad dollars. SGN will have to prove that a network is more than the sum of its parts.