Social gaming startup Jawfish Games recently revealed the launch of the first real-time multiplayer gaming platform for iOS, Android and the web. Along with the unveiling of its platform, Jawfish launch its first two titles — real-time multiplayer poker game Jawfish Poker (review) and real-time multiplayer word game Jawfish Words.
“The idea for Jawfish is to take casual games of skill that people already know and love, and reinvent them for multiplayer real-time tournaments,” says Phil Gordon, founder and CEO of Jawfish Games.
A former professional poker player who participated in events like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and World Poker Tour (WPT) as well as hosted poker TV shows, Gordon took all that poker knowledge to make a mobile-optimized poker game where you never have to wait. Above poker, Gordon is an entrepreneur at heart and has two kids, so he wanted to get out of the poker circuit a decade playing professionally.
“Poker was fun for 10 years, but the game got pretty tough,” he says. “A lot of the kids thats grew up watching WSOP and WPT on TV turned 21 and started coming to play the tournament circuit, and they just got incredibly good very quickly. My edge, more or less, dried up on the tournament circuit. It became painfully obvious that it was going to be a tough way to make an easy living.”
Headed by Gordon, Jawfish Games is composed of engineers responsible for the Full Tilt Poker site, so the team has loads of real-time multiplayer development under their belt.
“Basically, our idea was to do multiplayer for mobile and do it right.”
Real-time, synchronous multiplayer in mobile games is a rare sight. Most games in the market can’t handle synchronous multiplayer at scale, so most games are asynchronous where users play with other users in a turn-based fashion. Poker and word game competitors such as Poker by Zynga and Ruzzle aren’t real-time like Jawfish Poker and Jawfish Words.
“None of those other games give you that instantaneous real-time feedback on how you’re doing against your opponents,” Gordon says. “Once you introduce that real-time feedback, it lends itself to a tremendous amount of tension and engagement.”
Under the hood, Jawfish’s real-time multiplayer platform is built in Amazon Cloud on centralized servers (not peer-to-peer), with the ability to handle hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users at once. Gordon says its Jawfish platform is lightweight, light on bandwidth usage and resilient to boot. Gordon adds that its platform is built its platform for the possibility of real-money gaming, when it’s legal on a federal level. All the security measures such as two-step verification to access a wallet, an account system, and an end-to-end SSL encryption, ensures Jawfish’s platform will be ready for real-money gaming at any time.
In Jawfish Pokers for iOS (more platform support soon), instead of waiting for users to make a turn in an asynchronous manner, users are paired up against one player at a time, make an action, and move to the next user in seconds. In word game Jawfish Words for iOS, Android, and Facebook, which is reminiscent to Zynga’s Scramble with Friends, users are competing against a field of 500 or 1,000 people at the same time. In Big Fish’s Match-Up! (review), the first real-time tournament game in the world, users can play mahjong and word games with eight to 16 simultaneously. Gordon adds that Match-Up! has more than 200,000 downloads to date.
An obvious question a developer would ask Jawfish is if its real-time multiplayer platform is available to them and other third-party developers. Gordon says, for now, it’s platform will only be used for internal use. But he’s not ruling out the possibility to open its platform up to outsiders (Big FIsh as the one exception).
Although Gordon says Jawfish Games is set up to go live with real-money gaming at any point, the company has no intentions to enter markets where RMG is already legal, including the U.K. and Europe. The likes of Zynga, Digital Chocolate, Glu Mobile, Big Fish Games, and more, have already launched real-money games in those territories.
“In the U.K., there is no shortage of sites that offer real-money play,” Gordon says. “Anyone who wants to play for real-money is already playing for real-money, which is why all the attention that Zynga gets for going into real-money in the U.K. seems insane to me. First of all, they don’t own their own platform. Secondly, they have no differentiated technology. They’re basically reskinning bwin.party software with FarmVille. The U.K. is a limited, saturated market where you don’t have differentiated technology and you’re basically relying on the FarmVille brand to drive people to your slot machine. Good luck to you.
“When I look at the U.K. and European landscape, it scares the crap out of me to try to forge into real-money over there. It’s a zoo and it’s not somewhere you want to operate unless you have tremendous resources behind you and you’re willing to dig deep because those markets have had real-money gaming forever.”
With social titles such as Supercell’s Clash of Clans, King’s Candy Crush Saga, and GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons, raking in tons of money without a real-money gaming component, Gordon believes it doesn’t make sense to get into real-money gaming at the present time. Jawfish Games wants to position its games for mass scale, with its social-casual games, like Supercell, King and GungHo.
When asked about real-money gaming via skill-based games, including the recently launched Skillz platform, Gordon says there’s still a lot more money in free-to-play social games. He adds that skill-based cash competitions is already legal in 36 states and has been around for years, with leaders in the space like the site WorldWinner from Game Show Network (GSN).
Jawfish Games has raised more than $3.6 million to date, with $885,000 coming from Gordon in its seed round 16 months ago and another $2.8 million bridge from Founders Fund and other angel investors.
Gordon has high hopes for Jawfish Games, adding that the company has more real-time multiplayer games in development and will continue to iterate on its existing titles.
“We plan on dominating in social gaming by offering differentiated games that no one else can build,” he concludes.