King.com, an online skill-gaming site, launched an official game version of American Idol this morning. The game is a result of a deal between King.com and Fremantle Media, who produce American Idol. Toby Rowland, co-founder of King.com, says the company spent “a quarter of a million dollars” creating the game and has been working on it for about 6 months.
That’s a lot of money for a PC-only online casual game, but there’s actually a lot of money in the online skill gaming market. The games themselves are free, but in a lot of ‘skill gaming’ you can back yourself with cash and play tournaments for a chance to win cash at the end. It’s legal in most countries, but is restricted in 14 states in the U.S, and in those states King doesn’t offer the money tournaments (they do offer them in California).
I’ve been playing the game throughout the morning, and it’s actually pretty fun. Your avatar auditions in front of the 3 scary judges and the skill of your singing is based on pressing arrows in time to the music — a lot like Dance Dance Revolution but for your fingers. My first song was Lady Marmalade — no dice, the Simon-looking judge said I couldn’t move onto the next round. I did a little better on later tries.
The 3-year-old King.com is based out of Los Angeles, has around 60 employees and raised around $45 million in funding from Apax and some angels. They have built about 60 games, and say they had more than 80 million games played in January 2007. Unlike the male-dominated video game market, the user demo for King’s site is 72% female — a lot of stay-at-home mom types. Or perhaps procrastinating bloggers.