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The importance of a robust gaming platform for social gaming

Posted in Gaming by Manas Ganguly on October 31, 2010

In an earlier post I had spoken about Social gaming beyond Facebook and the fact that Gaming sites can no longer afford to rely solely on advertising revenue—they must master the intricacies of directly monetizing their users via virtual currency, virtual goods, and social games. In this post, i write about Platforms, one of the key elements to seamless delivery of Social Gaming to the users.

There are three main pillars that anchor a successful strategy: The platform, the content, and the distribution.

The Platform

The first step in a successful social gaming strategy is creating an application platform from which social games and virtual goods can be distributed to a site’s users. A great platform must enable social games to be well integrated into a site’s structure, have access to essential social information about a site’s users, and monetize a site’s users with the least possible friction.It is essential for a site to have a private-label, site-wide virtual currency that is used as the coin of the realm. As Facebook is now discovering with Facebook Credits, a site-wide virtual currency has many benefits: It reduces friction by giving players a standardized form of payment across games, creates a barrier to exit for users that have stored value in the system, and gives sites an efficient and fair way to participate in revenue from third-party apps and games. By using this approach, sites can earn a revenue share of up to 30% for providing virtual currency and distribution to their developers. Virtual goods derive their value both from the utility they provide and the social value associated with owning or giving them. Although virtual goods got their start on social networks in the form of virtual gifts, selling virtual goods within social games has become the dominant business model on social networks. This is because social games can support virtual goods that combine gameplay benefit with social value.

A great example of this is Farmville’s most expensive item: the Unwither Ring. This $45 virtual good is priced far higher than the $1 and $2 virtual gifts sold on many social networks due both to its rarity and the powerful benefit it provides the owner — the ring forever prevents the owner’s crops from withering due to neglect. Even Facebook, which was a pioneer in virtual gifting, has decided to shut down Facebook Gifts in favor of positioning Facebook Credits (which was originally developed for Facebook Gifts) as a currency for social games.

A site’s platform need not be open to all developers, however, as is Facebook’s platform. In fact, for mid-tier social networks, an open platform can spread attention too thin and lead to an unwieldy experience for users. It is far better to have a portfolio of content that has been tailored to a site’s particular demographics and can be heavily promoted as a set of core site features. A great example of this is Fubar, a social network marketed as the “first online bar.” The site features a collection of flirtatious social games which are woven into every aspect of the on-site experience, including the login page, profile pages, communication channels and site structure. These apps succeed in attracting and retaining users because of how well they align with the site’s social context and how smoothly they integrate into the overall user experience.

Q3, 2010: Global Mobile Phone Market Shares

Posted in Industry updates by Manas Ganguly on October 30, 2010

Global mobile phone shipments rose 14.6 million to 340.5 million units according to IDC. Strategy Analytics pegged them lower, at 327 million units, noting that the rate of growth slowed from the first half as component (Touchscreens, application processors and cameras) shortages trimmed sales. Many component manufacturers reduced production output during the recession of 2009 and they are struggling, or even unwilling, to restore the capacity in the upturn of 2010.

Nokia is struggling to hold on to the top slot and is relentless loosing volumes and shares to local OEMs in Asia and is getting battered by the likes of Samsung, HTC, Apple and Android-enabled systems in the smartphone segment.

Apple gatecrashed into the top 5 taking out Sony Ericsson from the list. Whats also interesting is that the “Others” segment is also gaining momentum and there’s a lot of Android powering that.

My Take: Nokia will still loose share and we will see a few more names in the list (HTC anyone?)

Social Gaming beyond Facebook!

Posted in Gaming by Manas Ganguly on October 29, 2010

In 2009, an estimated $2.2 billion in virtual goods were sold to consumers globally, and that number is expected to rocket to over $6 billion by 2013.Social games not only represent a lucrative new revenue channel for social media sites but they also signal a fundamental change in the structure of the social media industry. Social networks can no longer afford to rely solely on advertising revenue—they must master the intricacies of directly monetizing their users via virtual currency, virtual goods, and social games.

Social gaming got its start in mid-2007 with the launch of the Facebook Platform. Facebook has grown from 27 million unique monthly visitors to over 500 million unique monthly visitors, and over 70% of those visitors engage with applications every month. Last year, social games, one of the most popular forms of social application, generated over $500 million in revenue — the majority of which came from social games on Facebook.

Although Facebook holds the dominant position in the social networking industry, the site makes up less than 30% of worldwide unique visitors to social networks. There are nearly 40 social networks with over 10 million monthly uniques and nearly 150 with over 1 million monthly uniques. The companies that make up the “other 70%” of social networking traffic are just beginning to realize the engagement and monetization benefits of social games. Some sites have made social gaming a central part of their strategy and are seeing significant growth despite the fact that more and more users are still being drawn to Facebook.

When it comes to social games, smaller social networks, paradoxically, often have the benefit of size. Users of multiple social networks tend to split their time between Facebook and another social network. To these users, Facebook is an indispensable communication tool, but the other social network is essentially the local pub.Social games are the perfect addition to these communities. They provide a lightweight, social form of entertainment that enriches the interaction of a site’s users. As a result, social games on smaller social networks often meet or exceed the ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) observed on Facebook. And, unlike advertising, which detracts from the social experience of a site, a successful social games strategy will simultaneously increase a site’s stickiness and significantly increase revenue.

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An icon fades away: Walkman

Posted in Industry updates by Manas Ganguly on October 28, 2010

A Walkman was the ultimate device to have back in 1990s. I remember my first experience with a Walkman: That effect has not been matched by a lot of other experiences. I carried 3 of them during my teens and college years. Here’s a tribute to the iconic Walkman which is now history.

Almost precisely on the ninth birthday of the iPod, Sony Corp. announced that it will cease production of the Walkman, the iconic portable cassette player once seen clipped onto belts or waistbands of joggers around the world. The timing may be sheer coincidence, but its significance is unmistakable. The iPod may not have laughtered the Walkman on its own, but just as the Walkman did in a previous era, the iPod has become almost a generic term to refer to the portable music players of its time.

On the surface, the demise of the Walkman seems really to be about the demise of its medium of music delivery: the cassette. In 2009, only 9% of all the music sold was carried on cassettes, and most major companies have stopped producing pre-recorded tapes. But the Walkman was about more than just the cassette; we don’t remember, for instance, the brand of an LP player the way we do the Walkman.

Perhaps it was because the Walkman pulled off the ultimate human dream for music: to free it from the constraints of space and time, to be accessed wherever and whenever the urge strikes. That is singularly the Walkman’s legacy; the iPod, for all its innovation, has merely carried that legacy forward.

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5 reasons for the Blackberry Slide

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on October 27, 2010

About 18 months, Blackberry had an unassailable lead in the US smartphones. An year later, Blackberry was being challenged and within a month or two, serious competition was snapping at Blackberry’s heals. This post examines a few factors behind the fall of Blackberry!

A recent report by Strategy Analytics, puts Apple ahead of Blackberry in terms of devices shipped globally over Q3,2010.Global smartphone shipments surged 78 percent to reach 77 million units in Q3 2010. Apple was the star performer, as it overtook Blackberry and closed the gap on Nokia. The report mentions that Blackberry is still handicapped from the lack of touch devices in its high end consequently its global smartphone marketshare has edged down from 20 percent to 16 percent during the past 12 months.

The 5 reasons that led to the slide at Blackberry are as follows:

1. Blackberry made its mark by being a device of choice for enterprises. However, if latest reports are to be believed iPhone and iPad (In particular) are finding traction at the enterprise segments. Interesting Apple never made these devices with enterprise usage in its perspective. Verizon and AT&T are beginning to sell the iPad in their channels and this could upset the balance for RIM in the enterprise segment.

2. The problem for Blackberry has been that after riding the wave of the same OS for longer than usual, they seem to be running out of favour. Carriers, Consumers, Developers and Enterprises have better options available for them from the Apple and Android stables. Blackberry has essentially gone the Nokia way. For long it rode one prized horse without adding anything substantial. Competition out-innovated them.There are plans of refreshing the Blackberry with the Blackberry tablet: Playbook. The Playbook will have a new look-new feel OS designed by QNX which would run the Flash and Adobe. However, without active developer support and a launch date of Early 2011, RIM has seriously lost on developer mind share already.(More about that later)

To make matters a little more complicated for RIM, as against two (Apple & Android) earlier, now they have three for company (Apple, Android & Microsoft).

3. The latest RIM torch bearer, Blackberry Torch has been an effort to bridge the gap between an enterprise device and a high end multimedia smart-phone. However, Goldman Sachs has declared the launch as underwhelming and RIM had to move fast in dropping the price of Torch in order to stay competitive. (RIM lowered prices from $199 bundle with AT&T to $99).

4. Touchscreen continues to be RIM’s Achilles Heal. After two unsuccessful trials with the feather-touch Storm and Storm 2, RIM still has a long way to go in touchscreen devices.

5. If Smart-phones in the future are about applications and the eco-system is about wooing developers,RIM focus has been inadequate in this space largely. The Blackberry Apps store just hit its 10,000 apps online and a Electronista report confirms that the gaming developers community is giving Blackberry a miss. The corresponding number is 100K apps for Android and 250K for Apple. Nlot adequate for the leader in US smartphones, right? Blackberry is trying all out to try and gain developer support

Symbian Foundation: Facing Closure

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems by Manas Ganguly on October 26, 2010

In an earlier post about a month back, i had written about how the Symbian Foundation was beginning to slide. Call it prescience or call it understatement, the Symbian is crumbling and the rate of developments suggest that it is going down twice as hard and fast.

A recent report carried by the “A Register” paints a very bleak picture of the Symbian. It cites a few major defections by Sony Ericsson and Samsung to be the root cause of insufficient funding for operations. The UK-based Symbian is understood to have received around $7.8m (£5m) from each of its three biggest manufacturer sponsors – Samsung, Sony Erricson, and Nokia – with Fujitsu and others making up the rest. Symbian’s total budget is believed to be in the range of $28m (£18m). Other members include AT&T, NTTDoCoMo, Vodafone, Adobe Systems, Orange, and Visa. However, Samsung this month said it was puling support for Symbian, and would offer no more applications, software support, or handsets. Sony Erricsson has said it doesn’t plan any Symbian products at the moment – although it remains a Foundation member.That has left Nokia the only major company willing to still fund Symbian.

While there is no official statement on which way Symbian is headed, the official release states “The future business strategy for the Symbian Foundation is still under review by the board. As no decisions have been made, we will not be offering further comment,” That is quite ominous by itself.

The other strong set back to Symbian has been the defection of CEO Lee Williams and his replacement by the CFO Tim Holbrow. According to rumours Holbrow has been appointed to wind down operations and that Foundation employees are being offered redundancy packages.

A few days back, I had featured a post on the rise of Android to No 2 spot on the OS charts. However, the way Symbian seems to be disintegrating, Android could well be up at No 1 by 2011 mid.

The web’s new walls

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on October 25, 2010

Adapted from an economist article by the same name.

Internet is now evolving into plural internets. As divergent forces tug at the internet,it is in danger of losing its universality and splintering into separate digital domains.

The internet is as much a trade pact as an invention. A network of networks, it has grown at an astonishing rate over the past 15 years because the bigger it got, the more it made sense for other networks to connect to it. Its open standards made interconnections cheap and easy, dissolving boundaries between existing academic, corporate and consumer networks. Just as free trade agreements increases size of the market and boosts gains from trade, so did the internet lead to greater gains from the exchange of data, and allowed innovation to flourish. But now the internet is so large and so widely used that countries and companies and network operators want to wall bits of it off, or make parts of it work in different ways to promote their commercial interests.

WWW is for Walled wide web.

There are three sets of walls being built. The first one is national. China’s “great wirewall” already imposes tight controls on internet links with the rest of the world, monitoring traffic and making many sites or services unavailable. Governments are tightening controls on what people can see and do on the internet.

Second, companies are exerting greater control by building “walled gardens”. Facebook has its own closed internal email system. Google has built a suite of integrated weg based services. Users of Apple mobile devices have tightly defined Apple services which do not talk to devices and services beyond Apple ambit. Apple is the gatekeeper to users right and priviledges on mobiles and internet.

Thirdly, there are concerns that telecom operators looking for new sources of revenue are striking deals with content providers that favour specific websites to show up in a violation of net neutrality. This could be a serious dampener to innovation on the open internet.

Thus the incentives that used to favour greater interconnection now point the other way. While the WWW is not certainly dead as many critics comment too far, the net is looking some or lot of its openness and universality.

The walled approach is not always bad as proven by Apple, whose harvests from its walled garden have enabled it to provide services and devices that delight its customers, who may be happy to trade a little openness for greater security or ease of use; if not, they can go elsewhere. However, restrictions imposed by governments are more troubling, and harder to deal with.Governments inclined to censor might be swayed by arguments that focus on the economic benefits of openness. For Instance, China could be reminded how much more its scientists could achieve if they had unfettered access to information.

Operators on the other hand who fragment the internet by erecting new road-blocks or toll booths stand to lose customers to rival firms. The live case here is Android which has gained in dominance over Apple basis its “openness” and “innovation”.

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Search goes Social: Perspectives (Part II)

Posted in Internet and Search, Social context, media and advertising by Manas Ganguly on October 24, 2010

The debate- Internet-Searchable or Social seems to now precipitate towards the later.However, the changing landscape of internet has a few perspectives for all the stakeholders in the system. These discontinuities are but natural steps in evolution of internet around the user. In an earlier post, we had examined the effects of social search on Search, Internet Firms and Customers in general. This post is about the impact of Social search on Search Engine Optimization as a strategy and theory

Inclusion of social inputs in search could have many disruptive effects on search as whole. The social face of search is a strategic inflection point, which would involve internet companies re-defining customer experiences and consumer privacy
How does this impact SEO?

Over its 15 years of existence, SEO has grown from being a small wildcat operation run by webmasters and content services to being one of the most dynamic, fast-growing sectors of the tech market. The reason for this rapid growth is because — not in spite –- of the constantly evolving nature of search engines. While the recent developments will change elements of how SEO business works, the fundamentals will remain the same. As much as innovation shapes the day-to-day processes of optimization, the core foundations of the industry remain unchanged. The goal was — and still is — putting clients at the top of results pages, whether this is through organic search, paid search or social media. For SEO, this change highlights the need to integrate social networking if they haven’t already.

The Bing-Facebook agreement is indicative of the many changes that have taken SEO from a small-time game to a major, innovative industry. SEO is not about simply reacting to the changing search-engine landscape. Instead, it is about growing alongside search engines. It is about evolving with them to ensure that searchers get the results they need.

For years now, successful SEO firms have not been focusing their efforts strictly on organic search results. They’ve been steadily evolving along with changes in search engines: new Google algorithms, the emergence of Bing, the development of Google Local, instant searches, paid search, and searchable Twitter feeds.The basic elements remain the same, but sophistication and complexity have resulted in a better product.SEO now need to evolve into Digital Media Agencies (DMAs).

DMAs are about handling the many online representation needs of their clients. While top search engine placement remains the major goal, it is just one aspect of what they seek to do. A DMA also seeks to manage a client’s online reputation, create and maintain their social presence, and handle the many other aspects of a client’s online brand.

Their evolution of SEOs into full-fledged Digital Media Agencies is imperative. And as the social and search industries continue to change, so too will DMAs need to innovate.

Apple versus the Collective Enterprise a.k.a The Open Source

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on October 23, 2010

In the early 1980s, the Macintosh faced an onslaught of competition from an army of PC makers whose products ran Microsoft software. The fight did not end well for Apple. In a few years, Microsoft all but sidelined Apple, and the company almost went out of business. Can Apple, which insists on tight control of its devices, win in an intensely competitive market against rivals that are openly licensing their software to scores of companies? It faces that challenge not only in phones, but also in the market for tablet computers, where the iPad is about to take on a similar set of rivals.

For Apple which has lived the part of the bitter PC history, the stakes are huge, as the mobile computing market could prove to be larger than the PC market ever was. Having a tightly controlled ecosystem, which is what Apple has, is a large short-term advantage and a large long-term disadvantage. The competition this time is more formidable: Android, Windows Mobile, Blackberry and (even) Nokia. For now, the smart phone market is growing so rapidly that the rise of Android has not necessarily been at the expense of the iPhone. That will change as the market matures.

Apple’s stock has soared nearly 50 percent this year, and touched all-time high of $314.74. But the rise of Android has been both sudden and unexpected, and its ascent highlights some of the advantages of an open approach. There is much more rapid innovation taking place in an open environment. For every new version of the iPhone, Android has 20 odd smartphones ready to challenge Apple’s leadership mantle. That leaves little room for error at Apple. The company must continue to create hit products, as a single misstep could give Android and other rivals an opportunity to make inroads and steal market share.

Also, as the number of people with Android phones grows, Android will grow more attractive for app developers. For now, Apple’s App Store, with more than 250,000 applications, enjoys a large advantage over the Android Market, which has about 80,000. And those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Apps made for the iPhone tend to be of better quality, are more frequently downloaded and on average are more profitable for developers. But that edge may not last, especially as many developers fret about Apple’s tight control over the App Store.

While the naysayers stack up, the view isn’t as dooming as it seems for Apple. For starters, Apple is the richest company in the technology industry. With $45.8 billion in cash, it can afford to invest heavily in research and development. Apple’s large early lead in devices and developers puts it in a much stronger position than it ever had in the PC market. And because it is one of the largest purchasers of Flash memory, which is one of the most expensive components of a smart phone, it has enormous economies of scale,

What’s more, the iPhone isn’t really fighting alone. The two other devices that run Apple’s iOS mobile software, the iPad and the iPod Touch, further strengthen the iPhone, because consumers like being able to access the content and applications they bought on iTunes and the App Store on multiple devices. Apple has sold more than 120 million iOS devices.

And while Apple’s personal computers were by and large technically superior to Microsoft-based PCs, they were also far more expensive. In the smart phone market, carriers, who play a vital role in distribution, have been willing to subsidize the iPhone so that its cost to consumers is roughly the same as that of comparable Android phones.

Bottomline: Apple may lose its overall leadership, but maintain a share of the market that could easily be in the 25 percent to 30 percent range at a very profitable level. Even that is enough to sustain a very large and very profitable business.

Nokia N8: A thumbs down

Posted in Mobile Devices and Company Updates by Manas Ganguly on October 22, 2010

About 2 months back, I had a chance to “hold” the N8 for a “test drive”. I was using the Moto Milestone/Droid then and I intended to put the two through paces. I never got to do much on the N8. My first touch experience on the N8 was a little disappointing (to put that mildly). The Milestone was a joy in terms of its experience and user interface (Call it the Android experience). I thought it best not to rate the N8 and let the jury come out with their votes. Little wonder then, that the jury also finds the N8 to be inadequate.

The N8 was the most anticipated Nokia launch which was to restore customer faith on Nokia smartphones. The N8 clearly does not do justice to its expectations. What Nokia doesnot understand and must learn is to live outside of its wonderland. A Smartphone is a combination of Hardware, OS and Applications. All of these three in equal measure contribute to make a great or a good smartphone.

Nokia is intent to taking the war only basis hardware. So it does well to pack up a 12MP camera with Xenon Flash that shoots at 720p, HDMI port that links up with the LCD, a direct hard drive access and other specs. It also does fair in terms of integrating Flashlite, Multitasking and Capacitive touch. “Fair” because the Flashlite experience is “lite” at best, Capacitive screen is a little low on responsiveness and the 16.7 Million colours do not measure up-to AMOLED screens doing rounds of smartphone specs currently.

Now for the pain-The UI. The Nokia N8 runs the new improved Symbian 3 OS.When was the last time Symbian was heard to be a smartphone OS? That would be in 2007 when Nokia launched N95. Since then Symbian has walked baby steps whereas the Android and iOS have taken the F1 cars to improvement.

What I had experienced in my brief fling with the N8 was a sluggishness, inconsistent response of the UI and the Navigation and Lack of Polish in user experience, Cumbersome software experience, lack of Intuitiveness and sophistication in the UI. So the 12MP takes a brilliant pic, which however cannot be directly loaded to Picassa or Facebook. Instead you have to go to the menu screen, figure out the Social networking icon and select the service, choose the pic and upload it. There… that is lack of intuitiveness and smartness! Point rests!

Smartphones are supposed to be the gateway to internet. Not so much with the N8 where the web experience is sub-optimal. As compared against the iPhone or the Androids, it is just about a few leagues behind! For a better browsing experience, one can choose to download the Opera and that has a greater polish than the N8 browser.

The third is about the Apps experience: The Ovi store. What could be better said than just the fact that Ovi store is not pre-loaded into the phone. A user needs to install that on the phone!!!!! Cant imagine an Android phone without the Marketplace?? The Ovi Apps store is not the best in business as we all know. The Music library is definitely great, but software library is a little below grade.

So there you have it: The Nokia N8 redeems itself of its past sins in some measure (Remember the N97 with a Resistive screen?). However it clearly doesnot do enough to get at par with the game boys of today (iPhone and Android). Bottomline: The Nokia N8 may be the best Camera phone yet, but it is an also ran in the domain of smartphones.

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