New York Gamers Get Social, Online and Off

Virtual Rocks: The perfect pet?

It’s all about Facebook.

That was the general consensus of the noisy and mildly-lubricated crowd that had gathered last night in the upstairs balcony of Stitch, an after-work bar in the Garment District.

It was the afterparty for the Social Gaming Summit, a conference that lured developers and entrepreneurs from as far as Montreal, Japan, San Francisco and Baltimore, to talk monetization, virality and distribution. And Facebook.

Social games only work if you have people to play with, explained one attendee from the New York-based game development company Funtank, and Facebook is where the people are.

Facebook is also the birthplace of the great social gaming success story: Farmville, the game in which players build virtual farms and interact with their friends’ farms in real-time, with incentives to buy virtual goods for real money along the way.

More than 50 million people play Farmville and the average user spends an hour a day with the game. Farmville has become synonymous with wasting time. The satirical anti-game Cow Clicker boils Farmville down to its essence: click the cow, get a point.

New York has seen its share of hot gaming companies, but not all have stayed. The French distribution company Nexway acquired Boonty, Ngmoco claimed Brooklyn’s Freeverse, and Farmville-maker Zynga claimed Boston-based Conduit Labs, which had an office in New York. Prices weren’t disclosed for those acquisitions, but Boonty had raised a total of $10 million.

To illustrate how hot social gaming is, Zynga’s value is now up to $5.5 billion, according to Bloomberg.


At one end of the bar, Sunil Madhu was evangelizing Hopskoch. The New York entrepreneur, petite and hypomanic, was detailing for his audience how Hopskoch lets players create, play and invite their friends into games facilitated by Twitter and Facebook.

The emphasis is on childhood games like “I Spy” and “Hide and Seek,” Madhu said, but Hopskoch can work for any kind of social game — like a scavenger hunt that ends in a certain bar where you have to buy a specific drink. That could be sponsored by Heineken, he said.

Madhu seemed to be only halfway through his piece when two newcomers joined the conversation, and he had to relaunch from the beginning.

Others at the party had distilled their pitches down to one line: “You’re like the manager of a celebrity, and you have to take care of them,” or “It’s like fantasy sports, for dating.”

Most of these games are based on Facebook. But there was talk of alternatives: Myspace, Twitter, mobile apps, standalone sites. New York-based Funtank has its own gaming portal, But at Candystand, just like on Myspace, users can and probably will sign in with their Facebook accounts.

The key, really, is not where your game is, but that is makes people happy, and keeps them coming back for more. Baltimore entrepreneur Yuzan Kang, for example, is working on a new game: My Pet Rock.

In My Pet Rock, players collect and care for animated rocks, customize them with outfits, and do activities with them.

You can set your rock up on a date with a friend’s rock, for example, which may result in a baby rock.

The game has wide appeal, said Kang’s business partner Ben Walsh, who founded the company. “It skews female,” he said. “But the guys really get into the battling.”

Kang screwed up his face during Walsh’s explanation. “It sounds ridiculous when you talk about it,” he said. He agreed to let The Observer be a beta tester.


ajeffries [at] | @ADRjeffries

New York Gamers Get Social, Online and Off