Among consumers, AOL is probably best known for its media holdings (it owns sites like TechCrunch, Engadget and HuffingtonPost, as well as AOL.com) and its past life as an ISP, but it has long been trying to position itself as a mobile content player as well — and today sees the latest development in that direction. It’s launching Clucks — a quirkily-named social mobile word-guessing game that (perhaps cynically) hits all the right trends. Developed for iOS (with Android coming soon), Clucks uses mobile video via the Viddy network; it’s based on turn-based gameplay a la Song Pop and Draw Something; it offers social graph integration with Facebook; and voice recognition, using APIs from Nuance, the voice company’s first foray into mobile gaming. But you know what? I think AOL may just be on to something.
I’ve been playing an alpha version of the game a bit for the last day, and I have to admit, it’s quite fun, and even a little addictive.
You are given a word that you need to describe to your opponent — say “roses.” You’re given a timer to limit how much time you have to explain your word. And you’re given a limit of words that you cannot use (eg flowers, love, red). Then, using your iPhone, you record yourself describing the word, with that video then getting checked by Nuance for word violations. Then that video gets sent to your partner to guess it and type it into a space. Then the partner repeats th same process back to you with a new word. You can also play against the “Barnyard” of pre-recorded words if you don’t have an opponent.
Those videos can subsequently get shared to Facebook, and to Viddy, which — like Nuance — is also breaking new ground here with its appearance in a mobile game.
The free app is AOL’s first mobile game, and it comes on the heels of several other mobile content forays.
But this, says AOL’s Mobile First VP Sol Lipman, is just the beginning for AOL in mobile video and social gaming apps: “We have some other ideas in the queue,” he tells me. “We built this as a platform, not a one-off game. The first game off that platform will be Clucks.” That should also safeguard AOL from some of the downside of working in social games — that often these things have a fast rise, and an equally fast drop (something that has stung Zynga since its purchase of Draw Something creators OMGPOP).
But Clucks is also about killing two birds with one stone (pardon the pun): not only does it give AOL an in on mobile gaming, but it also gives it a chance to start developing more in the realm of mobile video. “We think that social video has huge potential in the market and we want to build successful applications around it,” Lipman says. “We build a lot of apps, and a lot of them never see the light of day. But as soon as we played the first round of this one we thought ‘Oh my god.’ This is somthing we were all into. Social video and turn-based games have so much potential, and mobile devices are very disruptive. Together they’re helping people engage in ways they never have before.
And engagement is the name of the game: Clucks is free to play, and the intention is to make it advertising-supported rather than by virtual currency or other paid/freemium models. That links Clucks in more tightly with AOL’s wider business model, and gives the company one more format to sell to advertisers, in addition to its web properites.
The first sponsor for the game, AOL says, will be Sony Entertainment, which will be promoting a film through the game by getting actors from the film to pre-record word tests for the games “Barnyard” section. At the time of launch, AOL had not yet revealed which film or actor would be coming online first.