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App Store Insiders: Clive Downie, CEO of DeNA West (formerly ngmoco)

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 9th, 2013

Launching over 110 apps as ngmoco and then DeNA, this company has seen it all. Originally hyped as the "Nintendo of the iPhone" and grabbing the lion's share of the iFund, ngmoco made some groundbreaking games. The games released by ngmoco did not lack quality, but they did lack sales. So in 2010, ngmoco made a big push into free to play. While it was rocky at first, the decision really started to pay off in 2012 with the release of Rage of Bahamut.

We talk with Clive Downie, CEO of DeNA West, about the transition from paid to free to play, and some of his thoughts and experiences of the last five years with the App Store.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed the way DeNA/ngmoco:) does business?

Clive Downie, CEO of DeNA West: The App Store hasn't changed the way we do business. ngmoco was conceived to take advantage of the new App Store ecosystem. We were leaders in its early days, creating some of the original premium games such as Rolando and Skee Ball that paved the foundation of gaming on the iPhone. 

148Apps: If you have one single success within DeNA/ngmoco:) you'd like to highlight from the past five years on the App Store, what would it be?

Clive Downie: Pivoting the company to freemium to take advantage of Apple offering IAP in free apps. We were there on day one with Eliminate and Touch Pets Dogs. Then we followed up quickly with We Rule and Godfinger and received excellent promotional support from Apple.

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence ngmoco five years ago, what would you say?

Clive Downie: I wouldn't say anything new. We were shrewd to get out of paid, seeing the lowest average price plummet for apps and piracy negate the value we put into creating paid apps. In a market economy where the lowest price is zero that is always going to happen.

I'm proud that we pivoted the company the way we did to focus on the engagement multiples that going free allowed.

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of DeNA/ngmoco:) companies, that has surprised you most?

Clive Downie: I'm surprised that it's not smarter at personalizing what I as a consumer might want. Genius looks like it's removed from iOS7, and while there will be some new location capabilities, it seems like there’s an opportunity to enhance the functionality around interests.

148Apps: Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?

Clive Downie: On a watch...

Personalized to me (Amazon on steroids) 

Many thanks to Clive Downie for his time.

App Store Insiders: Colin Smith, Co-Founder of Freeverse on Market Changes

Posted by Jeff Scott on July 9th, 2013

In the 18 year life of Freeverse, it developed nearly 100 Mac and iOS apps. Purchased by ngmoco:) in 2010, the Freeverse founders recently left the company to pursue other opportunities. We talk with co-founder Colin Smith about Freeverse and the App Store.

148Apps: How has the App Store changed your life?

Colin Smith, Original Co-Founder of Freeverse: Freeverse had been a boot-strapped Mac game developer and publisher, pretty well-known among Mac folk, but largely ignored in the larger games industry.

We had a booth at MacWorld where the iPhone was announced and a front-row seat when the world changed. Certainly ours did. 

With our long history with Apple and familiarity with its culture, aesthetic and tool-sets, we were perfectly positioned to have titles ready when the App Store was announced. MotoChaser was a launch title at $9.99 on Day 1 of the App Store.

We had multiple #1 hits over the next couple of years, including Flick Fishing, and Skee-Ball. And suddenly the larger games industry was starting to wake up to the potential of the iPhone and the companies producing the best titles for it.

We were acquired by ngmoco in 2010, and shortly thereafter, they were acquired by DeNA.

So the App Store took us from a backwater developer and put us at the very leading edge of the industry as it has been utterly transformed. The touch disruption, the mobile disruption, the Free-To-Play disruption. We lived all of that.

I personally got to see the inner workings of an aggressive venture-backed start-up in ngmoco, and a multi-billion dollar publicly traded Japanese corporation in DeNA. I learned so much that I could never have learned any other way.

Freeverse as an entity ultimately didn't survive all those upheavals and acquisitions, but I think and hope that some of our own culture lives on in the guys who worked for us, and their connections with each other. We were a special place, with truly special people.

148Apps: If you have one single success within Freeverse you'd like to
highlight from the past five years on the App Store, what would it be?

Colin Smith: I think the work we did with Strange Flavour on Flick Fishing. The game is still remarkably fun, and still sells well. Those guys really nailed the fun that touch and the accelerometer could bring a title when used smartly rather than gratuitously. I still love spotting someone on the subway casting their line. :)

148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence the path of Freeverse five years ago, what would you say?

Colin Smith:Yes, we saw our games go from $10 to $1 within a matter of weeks. And ngmoco saw Free-to-Play was coming very early and convinced us as well, which was a major factor in our decision to sell when we did. It was so counter-intuitive at the time that "free" was more lucrative than "paid."

There's a lot we might have done differently, but really, I think I'd just want to make better, smarter, and cooler apps if I could go back 5 years. I've learned so much about design, the market, how people play on mobile, a thousand little things. I think we all have.

148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of Freeverse, that has
surprised you most?

Colin Smith: The Line, WeChat, WhatsApp stuff is really fascinating to watch. I'm curious where that's headed. 

148Apps:Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?

Colin Smith: The beauty of the App Store is that its such a great platform for disruption. Back in the day we had to print CDs and boxes and warehouse them and ship them to Apple Stores to get them on the shelf, and then maybe sell a few copies for $40 a piece.

Now you can give an app away, or sell it for $.99 and (if you're lucky or good), get millions of users all across the globe almost instantly. It has just accelerated the pace of innovation tremendously. So I'm excited to see what comes next, and wouldn't even try to predict!

Thanks very much to Colin for his time.

[ Photo credit: Jon Jordan ]

Topple 2 Now Live On The App Store - Classic iOS Gaming Returns!

Posted by Rob LeFebvre on May 6th, 2013
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

In case you missed it earlier, Topple 2 is coming back to the app store, this time via Mobage. The ngmoco:) classic block stacking game is a classic in the iOS App Store, hearkening back to a time when ngmoco:) was the critical darling of the nascent game scene on the newly created Apple mobile platform.

It's a low $0.99 now, so head on over to the App Store and get yourself this piece of iOS gaming history.

Topple 2, the ngmoco:) Classic is Coming Back!

Posted by Jeff Scott on May 6th, 2013

We recently ran into Barry Dorf, Senior Director of Third Party for DeNA, previously ngmoco:). Dorf mentioned that we just might be surprised what we saw in the App Store this week. And surprised we are indeed. The ngmoco:) classic iOS game Topple 2 is getting re-released!

You may or may not remember ngmoco:), so a little history first. ngmoco:) was the first game development studio set up purely for iOS game development. Heavily funded by the iFund, and founded by industry veteran Neil Young, ngmoco:) was a studio created before its time. Unfortunately, its games were critical successes, but relative sales failures. This was when the market was considerably smaller and focused only on paid games. ngmoco:) tried to make the switch to free to play games with Rolando 2--the first game to take advantage of in-app purchases on iOS. But that was not enough to make the ngmoco:) model a success. In came DeNA from Japan, looking for a US foothold. ngmoco:) was the perfect fit and was absorbed into the company. Initially ngmoco:)/DeNA US released a few games that did well, but not amazing. These were great games, now pulled from the App Store like GodFinger, We Rule, etc. Those have all been archived. Recently the majority of the games released by DeNA in the US have been English versions of games popular in Japan. Rage of Bahamut is an example of an extremely successful import. In my opinion, these are less interesting games, but obviously money makers.

Topple 2 is the now-classic block stacking game first released by ngmoco:) way back in what could be considered the golden age of iOS gaming. All of the early games from ngmoco:) were interesting, designed well, unique, and all sported a very touch-centric control scheme. But these early games are, if nothing else, a huge part of the short history of gaming on iOS. So it's great to think for a moment that those classics may be updated and re-released for modern iOS devices and playable by the now 400+ million iOS gamers. An iPad version of Star Defense or Rolando would also be amazing.

We spoke with Barry Dorf about the updated classics.

148Apps: So, Topple 2 is coming back?! That's fantastic. What lead to it being revived from the archive?

Barry Dorf: At DeNA we always strive to delight consumers. We saw an opportunity to bring back Topple 2 from the archives and provide fans a fun gameplay experience while also introducing new players to the game.

148Apps: ngmoco:) has some fantastic games in the portfolio. Some of the first big iOS games from 2009-10. I would even argue that the ngmoco:) games were ahead of their time and that could be why they didn't make amazing amounts of money. We'd love to see more of them come back, updated for the new screen sizes and for the iPad. Any chance we'll see Star Defense, Rolando, Dropship or any of the other classics too?

Barry: How come you didn't mention MazeFinger and Dr. Awesome? :)

But seriously...

DeNA's portfolio of games is pretty amazing. We're going to wait and see how Topple 2 does before we consider reviving more titles. We encourage everyone to download Topple 2 and give us a reason to revisit bringing back other games.

So there you have it, the classics may live on. Hopefully we will all enjoy this updated game from the early days of iOS gaming. Let us know--do you think it was a game before its time, or does it seem dated now? What other ngmoco:) classics would you like to see come back?

Take a look at this video of the original Topple 2 trailer. We'll let you know when Topple 2 hits the App Store; it could be as early as today.

DeNA / ngmoco Unveil Ben Cousins' First Game, The Drowning

Posted by Jeff Scott on December 6th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: BETTER THAN IT LOOKS :: Read Review »

While a few of the recent games from DeNA's US wing, formerly known as ngmoco have made a crap-ton of money, they have done little to interest core gamers. Just one example, Rage of Bahamut has kept a near constant top five residency in the top grossing list since release. That's meant millions in income, easily, for DeNA.. But for core gamers, it's been a bit... boring.

Well that's about to change. Ben Cousins has reveled the first game from the new DeNA Swedish studio, now known as Scattered Entertainment. The Drowning is a free to play first person shooter, rethought for the touch screen, and looking damn sexy.

The story is that mysterious underworld creatures have forced their way to the surface through a massive, global, catastrophic event. Unexplained oil spills have caused any creature that touches the oil to turn into a lifeless zombie bird-influenced creature.

As you work your what through this world, assumedly to safety, you craft weapons, trade supplies, and fight off countless of these bird-like creatures.

While the graphics look great, the story is interesting, and the anticipation for this game is huge, the really interesting part of this new game are the innovative controls that DeNA has come up with. While this is all possible to change before release, here's what we know so far.

One of the main interface design goals is to be able to play with just two fingers. Using one finger or two, with gestures, you can aim, move, shoot, change weapons, and everything else you need to do in an FPS.

The main control element is the two finger aim/fire. The weapon will fire at the middle point between your two fingers. Stretching you two fingers will zoom, as we would expect. A single finger touch will mark a point in the world and your player will move there. It's innovative, you have to give it that. Virtual sticks just don't work that great, and this looks, at least in the demo, to be viable. It will take hours of gameplay to verify that, and I'm looking forward to it.

The Drowning is still a ways off. We can expect it in early 2013. Hopefully we'll get more info in the coming weeks. It's certainly one to watch.


New App: War of Heroes

Posted by Rob LeFebvre on October 18th, 2012
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Team up with your favorite Marvel heroes in this digital card game on DeNA/ngmoco's Mobage social games platform--the same folks who produced Rage of Bahamut. I got to see the game at PAX this year, and it looks to play similarly, but with Marvel Heroes and an original Marvel storyline.

The game consists of more than 200 types of cards featuring heroes and villains from the Marvel universe; players recruit classic Marvel characters into their decks, such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Punisher, Captain America, Black Widow, The Hulk, Thor, Dr. Strange and many others. By evolving and fusing characters’ powers and abilities, players build stronger teams capable of challenging the most dangerous foes. New Marvel characters and events tied to the Marvel Universe will be added to the game on a regular basis, ensuring a continuously evolving gameplay experience.

Create Your Own Avengers Team in Marvel: War of Heroes

Posted by Rob Rich on August 7th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: BETTER THAN IT LOOKS :: Read Review »

Just about everyone in the world dreams about having super powers. Flight, strength, x-ray vision, that kind of stuff. While DeNA (think Mobage) and Marvel Entertainment’s upcoming Marvel: War of Heroes may not bestow impossible abilities to its players, it does put them in charge of a slew of iconic heroes.

Assuming the role of a S.H.I.E.L.D agent players will collect cards featuring various Marvel heroes and craft their own super team. Powers and abilities can be fused and upgraded as well, making an already powerful legend even more so. If you’re thinking it sounds similar to the more than a little popular Rage of Bahamut, that’s because it is. And because it’s being crafted by the same developers. Although the story – which is a thing that actually exists in this freemium card game. I know, right? – is all original and comes directly from Marvel itself. As does the art, actually, which is ridiculously awesome.

Marvel: War of Heroes is due to hit the App Store this fall. Anyone with even the slightest interest will be able to check it out for free, but those of us who are already curious can head over to the official website to pre-register. Why? Because it earns a free rare card, among other things. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from playing similar Mobage titles it’s that rare cards, no matter how useful they might be to my strategy, can pay off big. Also it might actually be really cool.

Rolando and Rolando 2 Unexpectedly Get Retina Display Updates

Posted by Carter Dotson on April 5th, 2011

Rolando signifies a different time in the App Store. Back when the first 2 Rolando games came out, the App Store was still a tremendously young and unproven gaming platform, and the first Rolando game was a testament to how the platform could truly stand out for gaming, combining tilt controls and touch screen controls for a unique experience. The sequel, released 7 months later, brought more Rolandos, new gameplay elements, a new level progression mechanic, and just more of the same great elements that made the first Rolando so wonderful. But ever since then, things have changed. Publisher ngmoco:) has moved away from the traditional app distribution model and into freemium apps. The apps haven't been updated since the fall of 2009, so you would be forgiven for thinking that they were lost to history, interesting games that would be mentioned by longtime hardcore iOS gamers only.

Then, all of a sudden, developer Handcircus Games shocked the iOS world by releasing updates for both Rolando and Rolando 2. The key feature of these updates is support for the Retina Display of the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G. These games looked gorgeous back in the day on the old 480x320 screens of the old iPhones and iPod touches, but now the game really gets to shine on the higher-resolution Retina Display devices. The apps now require iOS 4 to play, but they do not appear to support multitasking or fast-app switching. 2 other minor fixes have been introduced in the updates as well: Plus+ registration is now optional and a save corruption bug has been fixed in both Rolando games.

These games were great back in the days when Retina Displays were just wild ideas, when AT&T was the only carrier we could ever hope to get an iPhone on, and well before technology like the Unreal Engine could even be fathomed running on an iOS device - heck, this was even back when the OS was still called the iPhone OS. These games still shine to this day, especially as they're still like little else on the App Store, and they're now on sale for $0.99. Especially as they now have been modernized for the latest iPhones and iPod touches, there's little reason to not check these games out now, not just as history lessons for iOS gaming, but as great games that look and play as great as ever.

ngmoco's Touch Pets Cats Lets you Care for Furry Felines

Posted by Bonnie Eisenman on November 29th, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The appeal of virtual pet games is obvious: you get all the cute and cuddly, but without any of the mess or financial obligations. I still remember playing the old Petz games on my computer when I was little. A few months ago ngmoco brought the basic premise of the Petz games to the iPhone with Touch Pets Dogs; now, however, cat lovers can finally join in the fun.

Touch Pets Cats, like Touch Pets Dogs, is a free app that lets you adopt the pet of your dreams. It then tasks you with caring for and playing with your newfound companion. In addition to caring for your kitten's basic needs, you can play with your cat using a variety of toys, have playdates with other cats, and spend time hunting for money to spruce up your house. Unlike Touch Pets Dogs, however, there are no careers; one can only assume that cats are too proud to stoop to such levels.

Touch Pets Cats continues ngmoco's "freemium" strategy—the app itself is free, but those willing to shell out real money for "catnip" don't have to spend as long doing repetitive tasks. As a consequence of it being free, you also can't play constantly. Hmm - ngmoco, we're on to you.

If virtual cats tickle your fancy, Touch Pets Cats is now available in the App Store for "free." But please, if you're handing this to your four-year-old, set the Parental Controls to disallow in-app purchases. The last thing you need is to realize that you've just been charged $50 for some digital "catnip."

We Rule Quests Out Now

Posted by Chris Hall on October 27th, 2010
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

"We" know that your attention has been diverted by We Farm, We City, and the new iPad release of Farmville, but We Rule has a new add-on out, and it looks to breathe a bit more life into the original "We" game.

We Rule Quests takes you on little side quests through your friends' kingdoms to gain exclusive treasure for your kingdom. From the looks of things, the quests are all devious little ways to get you to order things from your friends. Here is the example that ngmoco:) gives on its website.

When you go into a friend's kingdom, you may see a little quest icon hovering above their castle. By clicking on the icon, you get a quest list that you can choose from. On the website, they choose the "Here Piggy, Piggy!" quest. The game then gives three different locations that the pig might be in, the barn, the stables, and the butcher shop (oh no!). Your job from there is to find friends with open orders in these three locations to get your pig back, as well as a special prize for completing the mission. If you don't have a single friend with a specific building (i.e. the stables), it looks like it may be time to add some new friends from ngmoco:)'s crazy list of We Rule players.

Downloading the new add-on is a snap. All you have to do is download the new We Rule Quests app and then sign in with your normal ngmoco:) login. Since the games are all web based, your city will appear as if you'd been playing We Rule Quests from the start. No data will be lost - your kingdom will be fine.

Fans of We Rule and games like it can download the app for free in the App Store. Enjoy!

ngmoco (or is that DeNA?) makes you a finger-sketch master

Posted by Kyle Flanigan on October 25th, 2010

WeDoodle is ngmoco's latest application to be launched on the iTunes App Store, a game based on multiplayer sketching and guessing that's sure to improve your all-necessary doodling skills.

WeDoodle is free and available for both iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, providing users with a miniature digital canvas to draw on. The application features various "creative crafts" like stencils, brushes, canvas backgrounds and more so that the drawings aren't so much doodles as they are sketches, making it easier for those who have the task of having to guess exactly what is being drawn. With support for seven languages built in, as well as a multiple game mode that "allows doodlers to challenge the world in live in online play," the game is sure to shake some heads and provide hours of doodling practice. Who says the iPhone isn't productive?

On a related note, this is ngmoco's first release since its now-confirmed acquisition by DeNA, the Japanese gaming company, who are branching out into a world that is already over 250,000 applications strong.

Much is riding on the future health of ngmoco's releases. Although DeNA put forward $300 million in cash and securities, an additional $100 million is available assuming specific milestones are met by the company throughout next year. With a free application, the right marketing and advertisements are crucial. One thing's for sure - if ngmoco's platform of free applications and advertisements is successful, we could well be seeing a glimpse of what the future has to hold. Until then, you'll just have to doodle about it.

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Ngmoco Purchased by DeNA for $400 Million

Posted by Blake Grundman on October 12th, 2010

We have known for a long time that the iPhone was far beyond just just a viable gaming platform, it was the future.  One of the biggest examples of that to date has gone down this morning, with Ngmoco announcing their purchase by Japanese gaming company DeNA for a staggering 400 million dollars.

Ngmoco, best known for their early successes like the critically acclaimed Rolando, has recently embraced the social gaming space, releasing games such as their "We" series including We Rule, We City and We Farm.  While these were viewed as a departure from some of their back catalog, they were more appealing to an organization like DeNA, which has made their fortune developing social games focused on a Japanese market.

Though DeNA does very little business in the west, the New York Times reports that the company managed to rake in $640 million in 2009 alone and are (without this recent acquisition considered in the equation) on pace to earn a projected $1.5 billion in 2014.  Their big hit, Mobage Town, is a traditional social networking structure that earns most of its income from clothing and accessory purchases for in-game avatars.  Plus, as a point of comparison, it is also reported that compared to Facebook's 500 million user accounts, DeNA paltry 20.5 million accounts record an amazing 25-to-1 return on income per user.

It is being reported by Mobile-ent.biz that plans are in place for DeNA to integrate Mobage Town into Ngmoco's Plus+ community, to further expand the reach of their empire into the mobile space.  This now pits the companies head to head with US-based Zynga and their numerous Facebook and recently expanded portable social gaming presence.

Once again speaking with the New York Times, CEO of DeNA, Tomoko Namba was quoted as saying:

"We’re only active in the Japanese market, and we haven’t figured out how to cover the Western market. We want to enable developers to go cross-device, and to go cross-border. And we need this to happen quickly, in about the next one or two years."

If expansions into western markets is the aim of this acquisition, this may be a great chance to finally see that be successful to its full potential.  Plus, when you consider that Ngmoco's Plus+ platform recently expanded to the Android as well, DeNA is now primed to be accessible on virtually every modern handset available in North America.  Now the question remains what will be left of Ngmoco after this take-over is complete?  We just hope that they will be able to keep making the games that we have grown to know and love.

Most importantly, this monumental purchase validates the assertion that there is quite a bit of money to be made in the iOS development world.  We are no longer the minor leagues of game development, because with money like that being thrown around, soon everyone is going to want a piece of the action.

We City Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Chris Hall on September 27th, 2010
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: NOTHING NEW
We City takes the same formula that the other "We" games prescribe to, and puts on a city building overlay. You'll either love it or hate it.
Read The Full Review »

We City Completes The "We" Trilogy

Posted by Chris Hall on September 24th, 2010

ngmoco:), the company that has dominated the freemium category on the iPhone thus far, has today added We City to its collection of "We" games. For those that weren't aware, the original two games, "We Rule" and "We Farm" have been hugely successful, but were primarily relegated to things like farming and raising livestock. After the explosion of Farmville on Facebook, the masses haven't had any complaints about virtual farming as a source of entertainment, but I have always had bigger aspirations.

Like the clueless people in the Windows commercial saying that they "created Windows 7", I have created We City. I was tired of planting crops and taking my pig to the county fair. I didn't care how many people bought things from my farm because in the end, I was still stuck on the farm. I wouldn't exactly label myself an urban socialite, but I don't live on a farm, nor do I ever aspire to. I live in the city, and gosh darnit, I want to build an urban utopia.

Like the other "We" games before it though, the formula is exactly the same. Click on a building to start whatever it does, click on it again to finish its objective or use the instant item "zap" to make things happen fast. If you become impatient and wish you had a real game to play, you can always buy more "zap" and pretend you are playing Sim City.

The launch of We City lends me to another thought altogether, though. When will we have had enough of the Farmville type game? Are there enough people playing these games to populate all of their game worlds or will they just jump from one game to a newer one as they come out? I can just foresee a "We" game burnout coming, as they are now coming out at an almost inconceivable pace.

As for the game itself, it is definitely more enjoyable than the other "We" games before it, but the whole process is grating on me. I just want to sit down and play a game without having to wait an hour for an item to build. Call me crazy, but what I really want here is an MMO Sim City.

Does Anyone Really Care About Apple's GameCenter?

Posted by Chris Hall on August 20th, 2010

Being an app reviewer, I think that I play more games than the average person. I personally don't have much of a genre preference, although I do enjoy games that let me upgrade my character(s) or towers, and I have no sort of fan-affiliation with any specific game companies. Deep down in my heart, I also really don't understand what the big deal is with these "social game centers."

A friend made a comment to me about an article that I wrote about OpenFeint going multiplatform, and it rung a bell in my head. He said, "Why are people making such a big fuss about GameCenter?" and then looked at me like I should have some sort of profound answer. The answer was a garbled message about the unification of gaming and blah blah blah (I'm letting out my inner Steve Ballmer). Truth be told, I really don't care about GameCenter that much at all. In fact, I think the whole social gaming platform is pretty ridiculous because developers really aren't grasping what social gaming is all about.

The only company, in my opinion, that has really gotten it right is Com2Us with Homerun Battle 3D. If you read my articles and reviews, I talk about this game like it's the next coming of Wonderbread, and it really is that good (and nutritious). I'm not the only one who thinks so either. According to Mobile Entertainment, "players have notched up more than 60 million online match-ups, totalling 480 million minutes spent battering baseballs out of the game's virtual stadium," all without the help of a giant social gaming platform backing. With that game, I genuinely care about the competition and get disappointed when my bitter rivals aren't online. The joy of the system though is that you don't have to go into another bland page to get some simple high score information, it's all integrated into the game.

On a customer level, I really don't think that there is any advantage to using a service like OpenFeint. I don't mean to knock the service, because it does provide an easy to use area to display global high scores, but it doesn't, in my opinion, add anything to the game experience. I've never invited anyone to a game or used the included IM service, and I really don't think that the overall score I have makes me want to play OpenFeint games any more. To me, there's just a bunch of fluff surrounding a game that doesn't really nurture any sort of competitive spirit. It's just a nice place for my high score to be displayed.

The only real advantage that I see, for an average gamer, to a unified GameCenter is that my user name will be the same on all the high score lists, and this really only matters if I get into the top 25 of a specific game. I'm not going to go search through a bunch of lists to find my friends in the top 5,000, I just want to see how high of a score I need to get to enter the top 25.

The key to social gaming success doesn't lie in unifying the platform or stamping your logo on a bunch of games, it's partnering with developers to make the online experience unique. Nothing about GameCenter will stop me from playing ngmoco games that are on the Plus+ Network because my game purchases are all about the games.

If GameCenter really aspires to be anything near what X-Box Live is, it needs to be so much more that it seems to be shaping up into. I need to able to use my phone as an X-Box headset to talk trash to the people I'm playing against. I need to, within the games, see which of my friends are playing ANY game network wide, not just that specific game. Not only that, but I need to be able to send someone a challenge to another for one game, and while they are playing another game, get my challenge request in some kind of instant notification. I'm not going to check my e-mail for game invites, I want to be able to do it all on the fly. I need all the games need to be connected, all the time.

Until then, "social gaming" on the iPhone just seems like blah, blah, blah, blah (my inner Ballmer has me sweating with rage).