If Zynga, the leading social gaming company and maker of games such as FarmVille created the increasingly lucrative social gaming market; newcomer We R Interactive is hoping to lead it into the next phase with the launch of its first game, I am Playr, in the spring.
“Zynga is an extraordinary business,” says We R Interactive co-founder Tom Thirlwell.“It created the marketplace in which we are about to operate. But its games are the cave drawings of social gaming. We feel the next battle front is all based on content and the quality of the engagement.”
This is the thinking that has formed the foundation I Am Playr, the first football game to be created from the player’s point of view, which went into beta in mid-January. We R Interactive is part of Bigballs Films, the company behind online dramas such as Kate Modern, meaning I Am Playr features high quality video content that has been developed by writers.
Users can live the life of a football player for fictional team River Park FC, from getting signed and actually playing, through to the glamorous life of parties and WAGs. How the story plays out, though is down to the decisions the user makes – go out boozing too much and miss training, and your character will pay for it.
Thirlwell adds: “In the past, emotions and characterisation have been missing in social games, and this is where we know we have succeeded. When you are taking decisions, it won’t always be an obvious pathway.”
We R Interactive are launching the game with enough content for 10 weeks and, if successful, new content will be added every two weeks. As with existing social games, I Am Playr is appointment gaming as it is played in real time, meaning users will play for around 20 minutes at a time. Thirlwell estimates it should take up to about three months to complete.
“The brilliance of social media is that you can launch a game and it doesn’t have to be fully complete, which makes it quite cost effective,” he says. Thirlwell will not be drawn on how much I Am Playr has cost to develop, saying only: “It cost a lot more than existing social games but not as much as a major games console.”
Users can be signed and play for free but, for a richer experience, micro-payments will be required to buy extras, such as new boots to improve a player’s performance. It is estimated a dedicated user will spend about £5 - £6 per month, although exact details of the payment structure has yet to be confirmed.
The virtual economy will only begin in week five or six of the game and users will be able to pay using Facebook Credits, PayPal or direct with their bank cards. However, users will earn money as the proceeds so it is not essential to pay to play; that said paying will buy a player real advantages.
The in-game economy is also where We R Interactive’s sponsorship programme fits in. It has scored a major coup by signing Nike as the I Am Playr’s principal sponsor for launch, and Ginsters, the Cornwall-based food brand, to be the shirt sponsor of the River Park FC. The latter plans to promote the deal through an on-pack promotion, that will offer a discount code to join the game and collect in-game rewards.
“We have to protect the user experience,” says Thirlwell of its sponsorship programme. “We can’t just cram it into the game otherwise the brand money will outweigh the user revenue.”
That said, he admits it is a “tremendous achievement” to get an untested gaming experience to market with sponsors, particularly such well known brands. “I don’t think any other social game will come to market with brand money on this level.”
Over the long term We R Interactive hope ‘I Am…’ could become a label, offering a portfolio of games (I Am Rockstar?) and a range of opportunities for brands in which their products and services can be seamlessly integrated into the story and add value to the end-user.
“We wanted to create the next generation of social games, something genuinely fresh that would move the industry on,” explains Thirlwell. “We are combining the TV, film and advertising industries and we believe we have found a compelling business model.
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