Category Archives: Apps

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.



Messaging Service WhatsApp To Extend Subscription Model To iOS This Year, But Don’t Hold Your Breath For A Desktop App

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WhatsApp, the popular mobile messaging app that eschews advertising in favor of a paid model, is getting ready to bring its iOS app in line with the apps it makes for other platforms by turning it into an annual subscription service. Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s CEO, says that the company is planning this year to shift its iOS app to one where new users would pay annually to keep using, taking it away from a one-off download fee and bringing it in line with how it is distributed on the Android, BlackBerry, Nokia and Windows Phone platforms.

The comments were made to Dutch journalist Alexander Klopping, and reproduced in part in two Dutch blogs, Tweakers and Techtastic. Klopping also provided us with recording of the interview, in English.

The new subscription model would apply to new users, Koum said, and would likely follow the same pricing structure as its other apps, which are free for the first year and then cost $1/year, compared to the single, for-life $0.99 purchase that users make on iOS today. “We’re relaxed on dates, but definitely this year. It’s on the road map,” Koum said.

Koum did not spell out too much of the logic behind why WhatsApp is changing its model — “We want to keep things simple,” he explained.

On the competitive landscape, WhatsApp is currently one of the most popular messaging apps around, with 17 billion messages transmitted daily (7 billion inbound and 10 billion outbound), with over 100 million users on Android alone. But it is also facing challenges from the likes of messaging apps like Line, which in January passed 100 million users across multiple platforms. Line is free to download and it makes its revenues through in-app purchases for stickers and virtual currency for games and other content, alongside other services like messaging and free voice calls, part of a strategy of presenting itself as a social entertainment platform. Making WhatsApp free for the first year doesn’t match that feature set, but it at least better matches what Line (and others) offer to App Store browsers looking for messaging apps. And of course free downloads are what drive many of the most popular apps today.

Some other noteworthy details from Koum’s short interview:

– He says that WhatsApp is not likely to be making a desktop version of its service any time soon. “We get that question asked a lot,” Koum said of desktop apps. “We feel strongly that the world is moving to mobile and [so] we want to be mobile-only. Your phone is with you all the time, and desktop is to many becoming a secondary experience. [So] our answer is no, not anytime soon.”

– Similarly, adding live streaming video to WhatsApp is “definitely not this year,” said Koum. (Also on the list of feature speculation is gaming. A report over the weekend claimed that WhatsApp was making a move into gaming on its platform, per a deal with gaming company WeMade, although later the original source for that report was pulled citing wrong information.)

– No comment on acquisition rumors but a wider statement on exit strategies in general. “We don’t discuss exit strategies internally,” Koum said. “A lot of companies in Silicon Valley talk about exit strategies. The way we look at it, is it’s like entering a marriage and talking about divorce. We just don’t have one. We don’t have one because we don’t plan or want to think about it. We want to focus on good products.”

– On cannibalizing carrier revenues. “We actually have really good relationships with a lot of carriers. We’re doing some revolutionary stuff. The world is switching to data [and we have] some good partnerships, for example with Three in Hong Kong.” That partnership gives Three subscribers access to WhatsApp when they travel internationally for the equivalent of about $6/day. “We understand that a lot of people are switching to our product instead of SMS but we look at it as evolution.”