USA Network Continues Social Gaming Expansion with New Deals

character arcadeMedia from all walks of life appear to be expanding further into social spaces, and television is no exception. Latest example: The popular USA Network, a division of NBC Universal, has announced partnerships with several game startups in order to boost the social capabilities of its online games portal, Character Arcade. Partnerships include NeoEdge Networks, Bigpoint, and Bunchball.

Each strategic partnership is intended to bring something new to the table for the 36 year old network. Having all ready developed casual games for Apple’s iPhone, this marks the second major move towards a social evolution. In fact, USA is looking to double its games roster by the end of 2009, but more than that, will begin connecting to major social sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as offer virtual goods.

As part of the deals announced today, USA will gain access to NeoEdge’s collection of casual games. They’ll be downloadable for the PC as well as be playable through the USA Character Arcade, and in turn, USA games will see distribution through all of NeoEdge’s distribution channels. Furthemore, NeoEdge games will come complete with built in, dynamically targeted advertisements.

Bigpoint will similarly add games to the repertoire of titles available on Character Arcade by providing massively multiplayer online games. These games from the German company will be free-to-play and monetized through virtual goods transactions, complimenting the NeoEdge addition and further adding greater breadth to the USA games collective.

twitterLastly, there is Bunchball. Unlike the other two partners, however, this pair up isn’t intended to add more games, but rather, enrich USA space by turning Character Arcade into a “real social media environment.” This technology company will be helping further drive user engagement using its SocialLink technology in tandem with Facebook Connect. Through the combination of these two elements, players will be able to challenge one another, view leaderboards, chat, and access rewards and virtual goods, from a new Bunchball rewards and points platform, regardless of where they are playing USA games. However, the social integration is not only for Facebook, but is available for Twitter and other social media sites as well.

“The intersection of social media and games is the hottest part of the industry now,” says Jesse Redniss, Vice President of Digital at USA Network in an interview with VentureBeat. “The projection is that casual games will be a $10 billion to $11 billion business by 2011 and that is something we want to be a part of.”

This marks yet another big name on the list of major media developers to turn their online portals social. However, while we have seen casual portals such as Candystand.com and mainstream developers such as Konami go this route, the social integration for USA marks one of the first major non-game media providers to really catch ISG’s attention.