Fiveonenine Games plays political card to break into social games market

Durham-based Fiveonenine Games is betting that a series of games inspired by the upcoming U.S. presidential election will give it a leg up as it tries to break into the mobile and social gaming market.

According to the company’s CEO, Playdom’s former general manager of international publishing Lloyd Melnick, the company feels that games based on real-life issues will be more compelling to players in the long run than games based in a fantasy world.

“Our first three games will be based on U.S. politics and the U.S. election in general. We think our retention will be higher if [our games are] dealing with issues players really care about, rather than just tending their artichokes. I’ve got nothing against that, I care for my artichokes too, but we think [real situations are] going to create more of a bond with the customer, especially long term,” he says.

The company’s first game, Political Rampage is an action-oriented match-three game and was submitted to Apple’s App Store earlier this week. The company’s next two political themed games, another for mobile and one for Facebook will be out shortly, and due to the subject matter of its initial lineup, Fiveonenine isn’t planning for the titles to become enduring classics.

“We’re not projecting the life cycle of these games to be as robust as a Gardens of Time or a CastleVille. We think it’s going to drop off tremendously after November,” he says. “There are always going to be the kind of core political-junkie market, but in terms of our internal projections, we’re expecting it will be other games that we have planned for Q3 and Q4 that will driving our company.”

Although the subject matter of Political Rampage is drawn from real life, the game will employ what Melnick calls “tried and true” social game mechanics. He also stresses the company isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel or create games that aren’t fun, just games that pull from real life.

“At the end of the day, our games have to be more fun than Disney’s or Zynga’s, so they’re not going to be pedagogical and they’re not going to be edutainment,” he says. “When you’re watching HGTV you’re not watching with a notebook so you can learn how to remodel, you’re watching because you’re entertained and there’s a real-world element you can relate to.”

Melnick’s reference to cable network like HGTV isn’t surprising, given his new company’s background. Fiveonenine is actually a joint venture between two media companies: E.W. Scripps (which created HGTV and Food Network before it spun off its cable business into a separate company) and the Capital Broadcasting Corporation, a media conglomerate based in Durham, N.C. While neither company has any gaming background, the companies formed Fiveonenine to find new ways to engage their audiences.

One of the biggest trends that Inside Social Games noticed when we reviewed the social games crop of 2011 was the popularity of social games based on TV shows, some of which, like Pawn Stars: The Game and Storage Wars: The Game, have gone on to inspire decided audiences on Facebook. When we asked Melnick if Fiveonenine was planning create social games based on related Scripps cable properties, he revealed the company will be highly focused on IP, and was aiming to have 25 to 50 percent of its portfolio come from licensed properties, but his mandate isn’t necessarily to create games solely for his parent companies.

“I have an open mandate to find whatever IP fits our strategy,” he explains.