Ayeah Games, With New Seed Capital in Hand, Looks to Create “Social Reality” Games

When it comes to social games, there isn’t all that much going on around Boston—at least compared to places like the San Francisco Bay Area, Germany and Eastern Europe, or Buenos Aires.

But that might be about to change.

Ayeah Games, a stealthy Boston startup, is working on what it calls a “social reality” game, which touches many current themes in the tech world, including social networks, personalized news streams, Web annotation, and game mechanics. The company has gotten an undisclosed amount of seed capital from angel investors and micro-VC firms, including John Landry of Lead Dog Ventures and Janpieter Scheerder of Eureeka Ventures. Details about the startup and its financing were first reported last week by Galen Moore of Mass High Tech.

The company is the brainchild of Doug Levin, a longtime tech entrepreneur, startup advisor, and founder of Black Duck Software in Waltham, MA. Back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s he worked at Microsoft in sales, marketing, and other areas. But he is a gamer at heart, and says he is looking to enter the sector aggressively and define a new category of games. Ayeah also counts Steve Kane, the founder of Full Circle Media and GameLogic, as an advisor.

Ayeah (pronounced AH-yeah) is different from most people’s idea of a social game—that is, casual games like FarmVille, Café World, or Bejeweled Blitz, played on Facebook or other social networks. Instead, Ayeah is “marrying the best of the social graph with a really accessible game,” Levin says. The basic idea, as I understand it, is to let players follow the events they’re interested in online, react to and comment on them, and interact with friends and other players—all in a fun format that encourages competition, advancing to new levels within the game, and earning and buying virtual goods (which is probably where most of Ayeah’s revenue will come from, over time).

Here’s how it works—though the details of the game are currently being worked out, so it still sounds pretty abstract. The game will start out as a Facebook app, which people can sign up for now. It will be available in private beta trials early next month, followed by an open beta in October. When you enter the game, you are asked a series of questions about your interests—what kinds of music, movies, or literature you like, for instance. Then the game channels certain events to you—news about happenings in the political or entertainment world, say—and you can earn points by commenting on them or bringing your friends into a discussion.

“The narrative is formed by your interests,” Levin says. “It’s a parallel path to reality.”

It also sounds like it has some overlap with startups such as Pinyadda and Viximo in the Boston area, and Evri (which merged with Twine earlier this year) in San Francisco and Seattle. But Levin says Ayeah is different in that, first and foremost, it is a game—not a Web application, platform, or service. And, especially compared to most social games, he says, it is “highly structured, very accessible, and friendly.”

The game is free to play. Ayeah will make money off the sale of virtual goods in the game and, eventually, off of sponsorships and advertising, if its audience gets big enough. Down the road, it will also target various mobile-device platforms, such as the iPad, iPhone, and Droid phones. Levin says the company will be looking to raise more money starting next month.

Talking with a few techies and game startups around town, the impression I have is that people don’t really get what Ayeah Games is about yet. So how will the company succeed in the very crowded and competitive sector of social games?

“Make it really, really great, and test it, test it, test it,” Levin says. He touts the “huge amount of research” that his team and others have done to understand what kinds of consumer needs are not being met by existing social games—and how to make them more fun and engaging. “We will build a go-to-market and overall marketing model that takes advantage of all the distribution capabilities of Facebook and the social graph,” Levin says. To that end, he’s looking to hire some “brilliant people” for his staff. The company currently has six employees (plus a number of interns from business schools) and expects to grow to about 10 to 15 full-time employees by the end of this year, Levin says.

“We’re building a company that is a business, and we intend to grow. We want multiple titles and different levels of engagement,” Levin says. “We’re going for a big market.”

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