Attack of the Casual Game Sites, Part II

cryptcafe_flo.jpgHere’s the elevator pitch I’ve heard most often this year: “It’s casual gaming meets social network meets X.” The number of startups and new launches that are being framed that way — with “X” being virtual items, or user-created content, among many other features — has been overwhelming, so much so that my fellow gaming editor, Jane Pinckard, and I decided to start compiling them in ongoing, round-up posts. Last month, Jane tackled iWon, Kickplay, Moola, and Wipido. Here are three more:

• The Pitch: The blockbuster casual game of heroic waitressing adds a social network (pictured) and a quasi mini-MMO in which players can run restaurants and buy virtual items.

• The Money: From PlayFirst, the casual game publisher backed by venture funding from Mayfield Fund, Trinity Ventures and Rustic Canyon Partners.

• The Take: Over the years, Flo’s adventures have been downloaded over 200 million times, yet 45 percent of the buyers of the most recent spinoff, Diner Dash: Hometown Hero, were new customers of the franchise (a PR rep tells me). This one looks like a sure hit.

• The Pitch: The popular avatar-powered chat network is now adding a game platform for developers, so online users can invite friends to engage in bouts of quick gaming. (Sort of live chat meets Facebook-style apps.)

• The Money: Launched in September 2005, gained backing from Sequoia Capital in December of that year and Draper Fisher Jurvetson this January.

• The Take: Currently boasting 6.5 million unique monthly users with an average use time of 2.5 hours, this is fertile ground for advertising revenue. Unsurprisingly, Meebo PR reps tell me they’ve already attracted 200-plus developers to create casual game titles.

• The Pitch: Habbo Hotel meets Sim City: a Flash-driven casual MMO in which players build cities and socialize. (Set to be released in the first quarter of 2008.)

• The Money: Developed by Linking People Ltd., a small company founded in 2006 in Hong Kong by three veteran German web developers.

• The Take: Visually appealing with an inventive concept, this has a good chance of attracting the same creative teen gamers that made Gaia Online such a hit, as well as older gamers with less time for the hardcore strategy games they used to love. Here’s an interesting Gamasutra interview with the developers. It will be launched first in China and Germany, regions heavy with virtual world players.

We’ll keep an eye on all of them in the coming months. Chances are that a few will reach escape velocity — though just as surely, most will go defunct or be consolidated with a bigger player.