At Quick Hit, Players Can Now Draft NFL Legends for Virtual Currency

Just in time for fans facing the prospect of pigskin withdrawal after this weekend’s Saints vs. Colts Superbowl matchup, Foxborough, MA-based Quick Hit has added an intriguing, and potentially lucrative, new feature to its online football strategy game. For the first time, it’s giving players the chance to add past NFL greats of their choice to their own teams.

According to Quick Hit CEO Jeffrey Anderson, players can now put pros like Barry Sanders, Christian Okoye, or Ed “Too Tall” Jones into their lineups, using “coaching points” that they can either earn over time simply by playing the game, or purchase instantly for cash. It’s the first time since Quick Hit launched its online game last October that the company has ventured into the realm of virtual goods purchases, an increasingly important revenue source for many online gaming and social networking companies.

Up to now, Anderson explains, the teams that Quick Hit players develop and field in each game—whether in single-player games, or against another player—have consisted mostly of fictional characters called “Joes,” together with a couple of real football personalities called, naturally enough, “Pros.” Now players can buy more Pros over time, choosing from a starting roster of 130 football legends.

Jay Novacek“Adding players of the type of legends that we’ve got makes your team instantly recognizable,” says Anderson. “A lot of these people are Hall of Fame, Pro-Bowl players who have had famous careers in the NFL. We believe we’re the first product in the world to offer the ability to use virtual currency to acquire players.”

The “legend” players come in three ability classes known as elite, premium, and classic, and are priced accordingly. To keep games even, Anderson says, Quick Hit’s programmers have created rules that will prevent less-seasoned players from trouncing competitors simply by purchasing lots of coaching points and stacking their virtual teams with elite athletes. The details are complex—but in essence, players can only buy legends whose abilities roughly match their own experience level in the game. “We talk about it as a salary cap,” Anderson says. “If I’m a level 10, I can’t have a guy who’s a level 100 on my team.”

Anderson says the new roster of legends-for-sale is just the first step toward the rollout of a larger player management system that would allow users to carefully mold their teams over time. “One of the things people have been really interested in is being able to manage their roster more intimately,” he says. “If you have a team that’s all about power and smash-mouth running, for example, you might want a Christian Okoye as opposed to a Barry Sanders as your power back.”

From a company-building perspective, what’s interesting about Quick Hit’s new legends roster is that it rounds out the startup’s business model, adding virtual goods purchases to advertising as a source of revenue. There’s no question that Internet users are willing to spend small chunks of cash to enhance their online experiences: U.S. users of social networking and social gaming sites spent a reported $1 billion on virtual goods in 2009. The only unknown for Quick Hit is whether coaching-point purchases could eventually rival the company’s advertising income, which it earns by showing video ads before and during each game, as well as displaying traditional Web-style ads while users are calling plays.

“Here we’ve got the ability to play for free and monetize it through commercials and ads, but we also have a transaction model that supports digital item sales,” says Anderson. “We’re probably one of a select group of companies which actually leverages both business models at the same time.”

Quick Hit was founded in 2008 and has raised $13 million in venture funding from Menlo Park, CA-based New Enterprise Associates and Vienna, VA-based Valhalla Partners. Anderson says the growth in Quick Hit’s user base since the October launch has been “staggering.” At launch, the player community consisted of about 2,000 people who had beta-tested the service. By the end of December, Anderson says, 1.1 million people had tried the game at least once.

Warren Moon“We’re doing approximately 8 million minutes of gaming a month,” he says. That’s impressive for a three-month-old game—but there’s a lot of room for Quick Hit to grow. The company behind the Facebook brain-teaser app “Brain Buddies,” one of top 20 games on the massive social networking site, claims play time of 300 million minutes a month.

The target customer for the new virtual-goods system, Anderson says, is the player who has “more money than time,” while a player in the reverse situation can always beef up his team the old-fashioned way, by putting in the hours required to earn free coaching points.

“Do we feel like [virtual goods] will turn into a big revenue stream?” Anderson asks himself, before I have to. “Our hope is just to make the best possible product. The revenue really flows out of that.”

Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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