Yoo-Mee Launches Social Gaming Platform

Hooked Media, a venture-backed startup based in San Francisco, launched a platform today that it hopes will take social and casual games like Farmville and Bejeweled and give them a life beyond Facebook or a single web site, allowing players to connect with each other through any social network, site or mobile device. The platform, called Yoo-Mee, allows game developers to create a “social wrapper” around their game that can be embedded in any website. Prita Uppal, founder of Hooked Media, says this will give game publishers the ability to cut deals with web site owners, and will generate more revenue for both content sites and game developers by increasing the number of advertising opportunities.

“Developers can integrate their existing games into Yoo-Mee, web publishers can embed a full game experience onto their sites, and everyone benefits from additional revenue,” Uppal said in a statement. More than 200 million people play casual web games such as Farmville, Mafia Wars and Bejeweled on Facebook, MySpace and a variety of gaming websites. According to recent estimates, casual-gaming leader Zynga could be worth as much as $3-billion, based on the popularity of the company’s games and investment by venture backers such as Digital Sky Entertainment.

Uppal says the Yoo-Mee platform can also take single-user casual games and turn them into social games, by allowing users to set up “challenges” or even full-fledged tournaments with their friends. The service has full Facebook Connect integration, so that a user can send a challenge to his or her Facebook friends and all players are then able to see each other’s score. “We are creating a more emotionally invested experience for casual gamers,” she said. Hooked Media already has deals in place with several game publishers, including Mumbo Jumbo Games, and is talking to others about using Yoo-Mee.

Uppal said in an interview that the company’s target user is a 43-year-old woman, a persona that Hooked Media staff refer to as “Millie.” This jibes with recent research by PopCap into social and casual games, which found that the average social gamer is 43 years old and female. Just like this typical user, Uppal says she has always liked to play time-wasting games (her favorite is Brickbreaker on the BlackBerry) “because it’s a distraction, an opportunity to utilize a different part of my mind” than the one she uses while at work. Yoo-Mee’s existing games include puzzles, word games and repetitive Bejeweled-style games such as Bubble Town and Gems Twist.

The Hooked Media founder says she became fascinated with the casual gaming industry while doing her MBA at Harvard, and even created a DVD trivia-contest game based on knowledge of India’s “Bollywood” film industry. A year and a half ago, the Minnesota native moved to San Francisco to start what became Hooked Media (formerly known as Gamook), and the company later got $4.5-million in financing from US Venture Partners and Altos Ventures to launch Yoo-Me.

The social-gaming industry is known for a rapid pace of development and deployment of new games and features — something Zynga’s chief designer described in a recent interview with VentureBeat — and Uppal says that Hooked Media is trying to take the same approach to the Yoo-Mee platform. “We’re constantly pushing out new games, new types of tournaments, new forms of wagering,” she said in an interview. “We’re going to be launching a number of new features soon, including new types of tournaments or guilds that will only be available for a certain amount of time.”

The revenue model behind the Yoo-Mee platform is based on three sources, Uppal says: from users entering into game tournaments (some are free and others cost money); from various in-game and other virtual offers including gifts and currency; and from standard advertising within the Yoo-Mee platform, such as banners, pre-roll ads before the game, etc. “Yoo-Mee’s introduction of a truly social and interactive gaming experience will translate into greater engagement between players and marketers,” Rick Lewis of US Venture Partners said in a statement prepared in advance of the launch.

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