Social gaming is getting a little more risqué at Big Ego Games, a San Francisco-based developer that is trying to monetize the desire of lots of lonely gamers to interact with pretty girls.
The tag lines at the Consumer Electronics Show are Play Games With Hotties and Free Booty.
The first is for Playwithme.com, which isn't as racy as it sounds; the options are basically to play any number of simple games such as tic-tac-toe or cards. The big selling point is that a player (who is paying for the privilege) gets to play with a woman who signs up and sets a per-minute rate.
If that sounds like some of the porn sites on the market offering the chance to see women strip on web cams, Ryan Hunt, Big Ego Games' community manager, readily admits that it is. But he says the company tries to keep it PG.
We followed what happened to Chatroulette, he says. We don't want that. Chatroulette was a service that allowed people to link their webcams with random people on the Internet. While it was never designed as a platform for exhibitionists, that's what it became and very soon it was in the dustbin of Internet history.
But Big Ego Games wants something better than that. Ryan Keely, a model who works for the company, says it is a better option for models that want to do webcam work but don't want to doff their clothes. It also offers a way for gamers - who are often a solitary lot - to interact with other people who are at least adults. My boyfriend plays a lot of Call of Duty, she said. And listening to a bunch of 12-year-old Korean kids talk trash is not fun.
Which brings up the Free Booty tag, which was for the game Yarr! (at www.yarrgame.com). It's a social game that works through the FaceBook API, and is similar to Mafia Wars. In this case the premise is piracy. It's that, Hunt says, that is Big Ego's real focus. Playing with pretty women may be a way to get users in, but it's Yarr! that the company hopes will keep them.
The company is part of a growing trend of attempts to monetize social networking. Facebook, which has given indications that it may go public soon, has managed to become a billion-dollar company by selling advertising and offering access to its user base. While the company doesn't sell users' personal data, it does allow advertisers to track users' preferences and habits. Social games such as playwithme.com and Yarr! monetize users more directly.
The company is funded by the developers, Hunt says, who came from other companies in the industry. Thus far it hasn't needed to go to venture capitalists.