You probably have a favorite game you like to play on Facebook — which may or may not involve killing virtual mafia kingpins, or tending to your virtual crops on a farm — but what happens when you leave your computer or your browser and start using your mobile device? A startup called Uken Games is trying to solve that problem by creating games that synchronize your player profile and other game-related data across platforms, so that when you shift from PC to phone, you can pick up right where you left off. And with deals like DeNA picking up Ngmoco for $400 million, it’s clear that mobile gaming is heating up.
I sat down with founder and CEO Chris Ye recently for a short interview about the company, video of which is embedded below. He and partner Mark Lampert started Uken in February of 2009, after seeing the rise of social games on Facebook and elsewhere, such as Mafia Wars and Mob Wars. In March, the company launched its first game, called Superheroes Alliance — which can be played on Facebook as well as the iPhone and the Android platform — and it has since launched several other games, including Villains and Forces of War, all of which can be played on multiple platforms.
Uken got some seed funding from Toronto-based Extreme Venture Partners, and raised a second round of $250,000 earlier this year. The company has just four full-time employees and several co-op students, but its games are among the top most-downloaded free games in the iTunes store, says Ye, with 400,000 installs on the iPhone, about 30,000 on Android devices and 300,000 monthly active users on Facebook. Uken’s revenue model is based on selling virtual goods such as weapons and other special items that can be used in its games, an approach similar to that employed by massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, and Ye says the company is close to breaking even.
Making its games cross-platform is accomplished by using HTML5 and Ajax. “We’ve been able to solve a lot of the problems associated with synchronous play across platforms, and we think that’s a pretty important step,” Ye said. Because it uses those technologies for its games, the company was also able to port one of its titles to the iPad in less than a day, and expects to release the iPad version within the next month.
While social-gaming giant Zynga — which just hired David Ko of Yahoo to run its mobile unit — is obviously a competitor, Ye says, “it can only put out so many games,” and the upside of Zynga’s presence in the market is that people have become used to playing social games and paying for virtual goods.
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