Author Archives: Kim-Mai Cutler

Founders Fund-Backed Jawfish Games Goes For Real, Synchronous Multi-Player on iOS (Really!)

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Although playing against someone else in real-time has a kick that nothing else can quite mimic, turn-based multiplayer games have thrived on iOS and Android.

That’s partly because slower data connections prevented studios from having enough confidence that they could provide a fast, twitchy user experience. At the same time, it was questionable whether there would be enough of a critical mass of players to match them in real-time.

But one Founders Fund-backed company called Jawfish Games says it has a multiplayer platform that can pit up to 16 players against each other in a single tournament at the same time. They’ve partnered with Seattle’s Big Fish Games, a privately held casual gaming company that made more than $180 million in 2011, to distribute a game called Match-­?Up!

The title is really a collection of several well-worn classics like a word unscrambling game, a puzzle game that has players match items of three colors in a row and Mahjong. Players advance through a bracket that matches 16 players, then eight, then four, and then — you catch the drift. In keeping with short attention spans on mobile devices, each round is 30 seconds, so a full tournament is only a few minutes long.

At first, the title will be more of a proof of concept. Then the two companies will build it out with more games going forward. Since Big Fish has a library of more than 300 mobile games, there are plenty of titles they could work into Match–Up!

Jawfish took an $885,000 seed round in January of last year and then added a $2.8 million bridge note with participation from Founders Fund. (Yes, I was surprised that Founders Fund — as in Peter Thiel’s fund that wants flying cars, not tweets — backed a gaming company.)

But they did it because of Jawfish’ CEO’s track record. The startup’s CEO, Phil Gordon, has a colorful history. He was the first employee at Netsys, a company that Cisco later acquired for $95 million in the first dot-com era. Then he went onto a championship professional poker career that included stints as a broadcaster on Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown and The World Series of Poker and five books on the game.

“We believe we’re the best in the world at supporting mobile gaming in real-time,” he said. He’s facing down a number of other companies eyeing this area. Zynga expanded its capacity for supporting synchronous multiplayer mode in its arcade games, while other startups like Israel’s Nextpeer partner with third-party developers to offer multiplayer support. Nextpeer often matches up players with a “replay” of their opponent’s gameplay, however.

Jawfish’s platform shows you your opponent’s screen and performance in real-time in a small “Spycam” in the corner of the game.

“It’s such an obvious idea, but it’s an extremely difficult technical challenge,” he said.

Gordon says he’s only partnering with Big Fish Games and isn’t looking to expand his platform to work with other big gaming companies.

Match Up! is naturally free-to-play. If a user wins a tournament, they’ll start accumulating virtual chips that they use later on. They’ll have special tournaments that more experience players can wager more in. “As you build up your chips, you can imagine where this is going,” he said, hinting that players might be able to top-up on extra chips through in-app purchases.



Facebook Brings Down The Hammer Again: Cuts Off MessageMe’s Access To Its Social Graph

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MessageMe, an app that launched last week and raced up the charts to the #2 spot in social networking in the U.S., is confronting Facebook’s touchiness around access to its social graph.

The app’s integration with Facebook stopped functioning earlier today (see left), the result of the company’s decision to cut MessageMe off from its “Find Friends” functionality, according to sources familiar with decision. MessageMe CEO Arjun Sethi declined to comment in this story and Facebook didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The move resembles Facebook’s decision last month to shut off Voxer’s access to the graph, even though Voxer connected to Facebook for well over a year. Voxer is another communications app that supports calling and voice chat. Facebook cut the app off around the same time that it launched competing functionality with free voice calling to other users.

In that decision, Facebook cited Section 10 of its platform policy (which is the same one it’s using in MessageMe’s case):

Reciprocity and Replicating core functionality: (a) Reciprocity: Facebook Platform enables developers to build personalized, social experiences via the Graph API and related APIs. If you use any Facebook APIs to build personalized or social experiences, you must also enable people to easily share their experiences back with people on Facebook. (b) Replicating core functionality: You may not use Facebook Platform to promote, or to export user data to, a product or service that replicates a core Facebook product or service without our permission.

MessageMe apparently replicates too much of Facebook Messenger’s functionality for the company to be comfortable with it. Facebook has long been touchy about providing access to the biggest of its strategic competitors like Google and Twitter. Back in 2010, Twitter’s then-CEO Ev Williams griped about the company’s unwillingness to let Twitter users look up their Facebook friends on the service or to send Facebook updates to Twitter. In the same year, Google and Facebook had a back-and-forth over Facebook’s access to Gmail’s contact importer because the social network wouldn’t send data the other way.

But it’s only in the last year that the company has really stepped up enforcement against other startups. After cutting off Voxer last month, Facebook clarified its policy, saying that apps needed to share content back to Facebook and couldn’t replicate too much of Facebook’s core functionality. It cited the same policy in cutting off Twitter’s Vine hours after launch and Russian search engine Yandex’s app Wonder, because it replicated too much of graph search.

In MessageMe’s case, asking the company to share data back is kind of silly considering that people wouldn’t want to reveal who they message with or what they privately say.

But the effect might not be too bad on the company. Vine has thrived over the last two months and still holds the #1 social networking spot in the U.S. on the iOS app store. Voxer’s active usage appears to have stayed level in the month after Facebook cut them off.

Plus, MessageMe actually doesn’t rely on Facebook for most of its growth. It instead uses the address book, which is the same method that other big messaging apps like WhatsApp and Line have used.