If you were into PC gaming in the early 2000s, you know what Black & White is. Peter Molyneux’s 2001 classic published by EA gave every gamer the role they wanted: God. A new startup is aiming to bring that style of game into the social space. And more broadly, they aim to be the “Pixar of casual games”.
Idle Games is launching today at TechCrunch Disrupt. Their first title is Idle Worship, a Black & White-esque game for Facebook. You play the role of a god, controlling villagers on an island to do certain tasks for you. While that may sound ominous, you can choose to be either good or bad in your actions. And overall, the game is light-hearted and fun. We’ve been playing with a beta version of the game for a few weeks; it’s solid.
This first title by Idle Games, a startup founded by Rick Thompson (a co-founder of Playdom) and Jeffrey Hyman, aims to disrupt the casual gaming market by being an “anti-Zynga” of sorts. They believe social gaming is more about entertainment, interaction, and quality — not just button-mashing or mindless clicking. In many ways, they’re also going after the MMO market too. While the games will start on Facebook, you can imagine that they could quickly spread to other platforms as well.
Like other casual games and MMOs, the emphasis for the business will be on virtual goods. But again, the Idle Games team is determined to create goods of the utmost quality so that users feel compelled to buy them and happy when they do. In this regard, Idle Games’ mission sounds a bit similar to that of Tiny Speck, makers of the soon-to-be-released game MMO Glitch.
The Idle Games team also has a number of pending patents surrounding their particular style of social gameplay, they note. One key is their use of synchronous gameplay (as opposed to other games which typically are asynchronous). You can play alongside other “Gods” in the game, visit their islands, etc. Inside Social Games did a new preview of the game back in April.
“The game must be your wingman and break the ice for you,” Hyman said on stage today, explaining why Idle Worship creates better gaming connections than other endeavors out there.
All told, Idle Worship took the team of about 50 around two years to build. Again, the focus is on quality. They’ve raised roughly $9 million in funding so far.
Expert Judges Q&A Session:
Josh Felser, Freestyle Capital; April Underwood, Twitter; Jim Lanzone, CBS Interactive; Michael Marquez, CODE Advisors
JL: Why this game? There are a ton out there.
A: We think it’s like the entertainment industry. It is a hits-driven business, we’re putting the emphasis on quality. It’s a bit like capturing lightning in a bottle, but we’re leveraging the social graph in unique ways. We think this is the first true social game on Facbeook.
MM: Is this launched?
A: In a few countries so far.
MM: What about use engagement?
A: The initial metrics are blowing away the norms. Over 50 percent are returning after week one.
JF: Can you compare this to Zynga?
A: Absolutely. I don’t know if you read last Friday’s WSJ, but it says on the front page, Zynga is an analytics company masking as a game company. We’re an entertainment and games company. Zynga is a black and white television. Everyone wants it until the color television comes out. That’s us. We care about the entertainment experience.
AU: Your game looks engaging I want to play it. Tell me about the patents.
A: We’ve invest two solid years of engineering to do the tech here. We have five patents filed for this stuff. Rendering engine, etc.