Media & Entertainment

Playing The News: To Push Social Gaming Forward, Two New Startups Look To The Real World


When most people think of social gaming, they likely think of Zynga and its flagship titles, like FarmVille and CityVille — or even Words With Friends. Yet, as Facebook social gaming matures (right along with mobile technology and platforms), we are starting to see studios begin to push the boundaries more, looking for new ways to engage and educate gamers, maybe even reinventing the wheel while they’re at it. One example is the New York City-based startup Playmatics, part of the Swiss-based Shadow Government Ltd., which collectively raised $1 million last year to build a new game franchise called Shadow Government.

For those unfamiliar, beginning with mobile and later moving to Facebook, Shadow Government looks to bring real-world data and modeling to the social game sphere. To do that, the startup has partnered with the Millennium Institute to leverage its economic and sustainability data, and government-modeling software to allow players to build and run their own virtual countries. The Millennium Institute is perhaps best known for its Threshold 21 (T21) software, a dynamic simulation tool that allows policy makers and development organizations to run comparative analyses of different policy scenarios, identify the policies and strategies that lead to their desired developmental goals.

Using this reality-based simulation model, the goal for Shadow Government is not only to create a gaming experience that is entertaining but also one that is decidedly educational. For example, the Millennium Institute wants the franchise’s games to become a part of the curriculum for K-12 education. In that sense, Shadow Government sounds like a suped-up, hyper-modern Sim City, that might even be tweaked into something that could be used to educate high school students in a civics class.

What’s so unique about the model is that it is among the first to make a big push to “incorporate real world news and data,” often in realtime, says Playmatics CEO Margaret Wallace. The games could alter the game content depending on what’s happening in the world at any given time, integrating current events and creating different scenarios in the game based on the news. And this of course is all deepened by the participation of friends via integration with users’ social graphs. Studios like Trion can do this with their deep-end MMORPG games, like Rift, changing scenarios, characters, worlds in realtime, but this isn’t typically something that social, casual games entertain. (You can check out more on the game’s actual narrative here.)

But Playmatics is not the only studio playing around with reality-based social gaming: Today, North Carolina-based fiveonenine Games officially launched into the space, with plans to build its own franchise of social games for mobile and Facebook that are inspired not only by reality, but by current events, specifically politics.

While fiveonenine doesn’t have government modeling software, it is backed by two old media giants: The E.W. Scripps Company and Capitol Broadcasting. When you think social games, you think modern, you think of the present. E.W. Scripps was founded in 1878, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence with many of its major newspapers having gone out of business, but it’s still ticking, and has teamed up with another old media empire to bring its educational and journalistic content to social games.

It also helps that the startup’s roster includes veterans of Disney, Washington Post, Playdom, RealNetworks, and RIM. The startup is still in its early stages, but basically it’s looking to build an alternative way for younger generations to get news and learn about politics, campaigns, and government. As more and more young people get their data and news from social networks, The Daily Show, and less from traditional media sources, fiveonenine is looking to move that to social gaming — a venue that’s actually relevant to them.

The startup’s first title, Political Rampage, will be released on iOS and Android later this month, and will feature figures like President Obama and Sarah Palin facing off in a tongue-in-cheek “match-three format,” the company said in a recent statement. Other upcoming titles include Campaign Story for iOS, Nook Tablet, Kindle Fire, and Real Politics (Facebook, iOS) — both are due out by mid-April.

There’s still so much opportunity in the social mobile gaming space, and plenty of room for startups and studios to have an impact in defining what the landscape will look like going forward. Playmatics and fiveonenine are just two of the players looking to either blur the lines between reality and gaming, or better leverage reality-based data and information to inform and educate. Both have merit, and it will be interesting to see which approaches hold up. But trends now seem to be indicating that the demand is growing for deep, immersive, and original social gaming content. Educate users without letting them know what you’re up to, in gameplay, UI, or otherwise, and you’re onto something. Just ask Carmen Sandiego!!

For more on Playmatics, check them out here and Fiveonenine here. Side note: Both companies need better websites.

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo