Social Gaming Roundup: Xbox Pets, Retailed Freemium Games, Billing Parents, and More

Avatar PetsXbox 360 Avatars Get Pets – As Microsoft continues its quest to enhance Xbox Live’s social capabilities, it has added some snuggly new pets to the Xbox Live Avatar Marketplace. Launched just Thursday, users will be able to spend 240 Microsoft Points on a myriad of pets including three dogs (large dog, pug, and dog in a bag), three cats (cat, siamese, and long haired), birds, snakes, fish, guinea pigs, monkeys, and last but not least, a pony.

Zynga Teams Up with The Hidden Agenda Project – Social games developer Zynga has teamed up with The Hidden Agenda Project to take the lead and aid in the “first broad game development contest designed to improve education for those who face challenges learning in traditional school environments.” The winner will be a single college or graduate school team and will receive a $25,000 prize. As it seems, this non-profit contest will be annual.

On!DVDGMG Entertainment Launches ON!DVD Online Powerpak – Though it’s a mouthful, prepaid card publisher GMG Entertainment is launching the ON!DVD Online Powerpak, allowing users to purchase collections of freemium online games at brick and mortar locations (namely DVD stores). The product will cost $2.99, and while that defeats part of the purpose of a “free” game, the idea is to mitigate the rather long download times required to play in the first place.

The general idea is to coax these new users into buying GMG prepaid cards for Powerpak games. Thus far, partners include Cronous, Cross Fire, Dragon Sky, Dragonica Online, Perfect World International, Metin 2, War Rock, and World Golf Tour. The product was slated for a national “sneak preview” this past week at Target department stores, but will launch in full in early 2010.

BillMyParents Partners with Offerpal to… Bill Parents – BillMyParents is a kid friendly transaction service that allows them to shop online. When it is time to make a purchase, a confirmation email or SMS text message is sent to whichever parent has opted for participation, complete with notes from their children, in order to finish the transaction. Having had success with companies such as Amazon, RockYou, Outspark, and Habbo, the partnership with Offerpal Media is intended to now bring the concept into the teen and tween fold. While the details have not been hashed out yet, Offerpal will be adding BillMyParents as one of its direct payment options (along with Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, etc.), allowing users to pay for virtual currencies via traditional methods or through ad offers.

Outer EmpiresOuter Empires Expands to Outer Reaches – Metaphorically speaking, of course, but the Facebook, web, and iPhone space-based massively multiplayer online game known as Outer Empires is expanding. What made the title stand out was that users could play this EVE-like MMO from any of the three aforementioned platforms. However, according to Pocket Gamer, the game will be also expanding to the Android and, later, the XBLA platforms as well.

Zong Benifits from Black Friday – It looks like mobile payments company Zong saw a good deal of sales on Black Friday. According to what the company tells us, it saw a 27% increase in total spending on virtual goods that day (more than the so-called “Cyber Monday”). The categories of interest are virtual gifts, social gaming virtual goods, and MMO virtual goods which saw a 15%, 29%, and 24% increase respectively.

FriendsterFriendster Gets Big Changes – As one of the oldest social networks, Friendster has seen a lot over the years, but this Friday played host to some major changes to the site. In addition to basic redesign, many new sections have been added including a “Friendster Wallet” for storing the virtual currency “Friendster Coins,” the “Friendster Gift Shop” for virtual gifting. and, of course, a games section. Furthermore, according to Reuters, the social network will be sold to an Asian buyer by the end of December for at least $100 million. Among the short-listed bidders is Chinese internet business Tencent.