TechPost: Freewebs Moves Into Social Gaming

Here's staff writer Zach Goldfarb's weekly update on the local technology community:


Freewebs, the free online Web hosting service and widget maker based in Silver Spring, has spun off a new gaming company. It's all part of the scramble to build applications that work within Facebook and other social networks.

The company is called the Social Gaming Network.

SGN wants to replicate the success of Scrabulous many times over. For the uninitiated, Scrabulous is a Scrabble game that Facebook friends play against each other, either in one setting or over a period of time. Arguably the best-known Facebook game, it has more than 700,000 users and is, to put it simply, addictive.

Shervin Pishevar, former Freewebs president and a local Web entrepreneur, runs the Social Gaming Network, which is based in the Freewebs office in Silver Spring as well as an office in Pal Alto, Calif.

The idea for SGN, as it's called, was born after Facebook launched its platform for allowing people to build applications for the social network. (Non-game apps include useful tools, such as a book recommendation service, and less useful ones, such as a zombie utility.)


Freewebs had what it called a "Facebook Jam Day," when it encouraged developers to build apps for the site. A developer, helped by interns, built a game called Warbook, a medieval fantasy game. Soon enough, it had 120,000 daily users and 15 million daily page views.

"We basically said let's build this as a separate company," Pishevar told me. "These numbers are off the charts."

SGN released several games and invited outsiders to build games as well. Current games range from the well-known -- Soduko, Go and Oregon Trail -- to new ideas such as Jetman, Fight Club and Spies.

Oregon Trail, a popular software game for a generation of people who started using computers in the 1980s and 1990s, has gained a new following in Facebook. (It's built by an outside developer, but is featured on SGN.)

Whereas in the past, players installed the Oregon Trail software on their computer, now friends linked to each on Facebook can join a "wagon" as it travels the Oregon Trail and interact with each other over time. They take turns as the game progresses.

They can play the game all at once, or in breaks during the day, a characteristic of social gaming Pishevar calls "asynchronous" and says is one of the keys to the popularity of the games.

"You don't have to be there all the time," he said. "There's no obstacles for people to interact with one another in a turn-based way."

By merging the games with people's social networks, "there's a bit of psychology. There's more of a thrill playing against people you know," Pishevar said. Users can see stats for their friends, see what games their friends are playing in a news feed, and use other social features.

SGN's goal is beyond just developing individual games. It has launched a "Gaming Hub" application on Facebook that is a network within the social network, a home page for all sorts of social games. (There are currently about 40 games.) SGN publishes specifications, then, to help people who want to write games and have them be part of the hub.


The hub enables people on Facebook and people on other social networks to engage with one another, something that has been curtailed before. Just this week the No. 1 network, MySpace, launched its platform.

"It's a platform within a platform specifically for games - we want to leverage a social graph and people's connections to play games with each other in a way they can't do in other format," Pishevar said.

SGN makes money through advertising. Pishevar said it has received various entreaties of interest from venture capitalists. (Freewebs has raised millions in venture capital and has a well-known roster of backers.)

Pishevar said he expects SGN to avoid the kind of intellectual property issues that have come up for games like Scrabulous, which has been the object of ire from Scrabble's distributor. SGN is focusing on developing new games.

"We're in the pong stage of social gaming. This is the Atari stage and we see Facebook and MySpace and Bebo and other social networks as our gaming consoles," Pishevar said. "You should expect all the more investment in really interesting and full featured types of games."

By Zachary Goldfarb  |  March 14, 2008; 10:30 AM ET  | Category:  TechPost
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