Forget That Fake Money
“Any horse that has the name ‘Awesome’ in it? I bet on it!” Walter Hessert told us earlier this week from inside one of those noise cancel-ish sofa pods in the south wing of General Assembly. Also present in said pod: his brother Thomas Hessert. Along with a third brother (Bill) and their CTO Eric Gay (no relation), the Hesserts are the cofounders behind Derby Jackpot, an addictive online game that almost made Betabeat late for our meeting.
Showing up for an appointment seemed more professional than waiting to see if we’d parlayed the $2 offered to beta users into something more, so we sucked it up and hopped on the N. But it was a heady example of why companies like Zynga are counting on real money gaming to offer real revenue in the otherwise hits-dependent social gaming industry that relies on ad revenue or virtual sheep.
In response to questions about layoffs, Zynga emailed Betabeat an internal memo that CEO Marc Pincus sent out to staffers this afternoon. In the note, Mr. Pincus confirmed that the company cut approximately five percent of its full-time workforce today, including the shuttering of its Boston studio and mass layoffs at its Austin location.
Mr. Pincus also said that Zynga is proposing closures of its Japan and U.K. offices. In addition, the company will be sunsetting 13 of its games and reducing investment in TheVille, a Facebook game that’s facing a lawsuit from EA for looking a whole lot like a Sims game.
In the memo, Mr. Pincus wrote that he believes the cost-cutting measures will “improve our profitability and allow us to reinvest in great games and our Zynga network on web and mobile.”
The memo comes after a day of intense rumors about the flailing social gaming company filled the tech universe. Despite the fact that the news emerged during the attention-sapping Apple keynote, TechCrunch reported that the timing of the news had more to do with Zynga’s impending earnings call, scheduled for tomorrow, than with the Apple presentation.
With all this spare cash we have lying around, we were getting concerned that there weren’t enough outlets on the Internet for us to waste it. Luckily, Facebook has our back, and it’s an even better way to spend money than on shitty Zynga goods.
According to the Financial Times, Facebook has launched its first game where users can bet real money (with the hopes of winning real money, of course). Because gambling laws in the U.K. are closely regulated and allow for that sort of thing, the game will only be available to U.K. users, which is a damn shame for those who love Atlantic City but don’t feel like venturing out of their dark basements.
Play Your Video Games
If you’re a mega-fan of The Hunger Games or Mission Impossible, there’s a fair chance you’re also a a fan of Funtactix, a New York-headquartered gaming company that builds social games based on some of Hollywood’s biggest movie franchises. The company works directly with studios–and yes, Suzanne Collins–to develop graphics and gameplay techniques that allow it to stay as true to the films as possible.
Funtactix builds social games both within and without the Facebook environment, and according, to CEO Sam Glassenberg, it’s the only studio with a track record in the space.
Out and About
Whoever planned the launch party for TheBlu, a new social-game-cum-consciousness-raising-art-experiment, did not skimp on showmanship. On the second floor of the NASDAQ MarketSite, flat-screen televisions offered glimpses of the undersea habitats awaiting those who download the game (currently available only on Mac and PC). Down below, a t-shirt-clad squad of pamphleteers fanned across Times Square, while fish swam lazily across the screens looming above them.
Boot up TheBlu, and you’ll find yourself hovering under the sea, just above a coral reef. The game focuses on exploration, rather than accomplishing predetermined tasks. You purchase your own fish and release them into the open ocean; other users fish float through your patch of reef. Click a fish that swims by, and a little pop-up menu will provide more information about the species, as well as the user that owns that individual fish. And that, in a nutshell, is the entire experience.
As one might expect from such a description, while heavily sprinkled with ultra-professional workwear and even one rather spectacular sequined minidress, the small-but-boisterous gathering was dominated by ocean lovers. But these weren’t mere beach enthusiasts. Moving among the crowd were Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, and Andy Jones, who took home one of Avatar‘s visual effects Oscars. At one point, Betabeat turned around to find Neil Young mere inches away.