How to Win the Future of Social Mobile Gaming: The Z2Live Story

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games, and building community features like leader boards, gifting applications, and personalized avatars. “In theory, this could change the trajectory of game community growth—making sure the game itself is designed with the community in mind from the start,” Bluhm says. “We’re doing things with developers in a very tight manner, so they understand how they can take advantage of the community features we’ve built in.”

Some examples: If a player earns something in one game (virtual goods, say), he or she should be able to use it in another game. Or chatting with other players could be used as a mechanism in the game itself, to create more user engagement. The goal is to “create a real community, with more interaction,” Bluhm says. And the metrics to see if Z2Live’s approach works will include things like whether players spend more time in the community, chat more often, and invite more friends to join.

I wondered whether mobile gaming companies or social networks in Asia or Europe already had a platform like this, since those regions tend to adopt mobile technologies faster than the U.S. Bluhm says he hasn’t seen it yet. In terms of social gaming, companies like Zynga in San Francisco have done a good job of turning Web traffic into revenue. But many developers say game mechanics could be greatly improved on Facebook, for example, with some clear advantages for those seeking to make more money—things like more audience engagement, and more interaction among players online. “There’s a lot missing,” Bluhm says.

Z2Live provides its software platform and services to game publishers and developers. Its gaming canvas includes everything from simple casual games to complex multiplayer games—from Solitaire, Tetris, Bejeweled (from Seattle’s PopCap Games), Pictionary, Scrabble, and other word games, to Call of Duty and Rock Band on the iPhone.

The Apple iTunes store currently has more than 150,000 apps in total, and the average app makes less than $5,000, often much less. “There’s a lot of false promise that has been taken out of the Apple ecosystem, but there’s still some in it,” Bluhm says. “Any startup like us trying to build a business has to make decisions—is this a long-tail problem, or do we go work with the top 20 publishers, or both? I’m not even going to say our business plan will be fully informed after we launch these great titles. All we’ll be able to say is, ‘See, it works and users love it, like it, are not sure, or don’t. We have to be pretty nimble for the next 12 months. I think [the market] is going to change violently, and I think it’s going to happen faster than we think.”

I pressed Bluhm some more on why he thinks Z2Live is such a big deal. “The biggest market opportunity this world has ever seen is being on a handset that everybody carries with them,” he says. “There are more of those than any other single device, and it’s the one thing you’ll turn around and … Next Page »

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