Social game distribution company Viximo is the latest company to jump into the social-mobile game network race, albeit with a unique twist on the model called Social Zone.
Unlike competing mobile-social gaming networks, Social Zone doesn’t offer developers a unified, cross-game currency. That means Viximo doesn’t earn a share from in-game transactions conducted by platform members, which is how networks like DeNA’s Mobage monetize. It also doesn’t include any kind of branded, central hub where players can access the platform’s features and add friends, like Apple’s Game Center app requires.
What Social Zone actually is, is a modular blend of four mobile-social network and service-based tools that can be used either independently or together.
The first of these tools is a promotion engine based around featured games. It also recommends games to a player based on what their friends are playing.
Next is what Viximo calls “real-time presence”, which allows players to see when their friends are online and what they’re playing, and invite them to other games or send them messages. Developers can also choose to incorporate Social Zone’s messaging system into their games, which allows for cross-platform push notifications as well as e-mail and SMS. However, what might be the platform’s most interesting feature is what Viximo calls the Social Zone Supergraph, a tool that allows players to invite friends to play games by importing contacts directly from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Orkut and their contact list.
“Games succeed based on how well they leverage social features and it starts with the graphs of users,” explains Dale Strang, Viximo’s CEO. “The best way to build that graph is to build it around the contacts people already have as opposed to asking them to set up those connections again on another network. A unified social graph means you can say ‘I’m going to send an invite to Kathleen’ and the system knows who Kathleen is because you’re already a connection. You can do something like that on the web with great ease, but on mobile its inconsistent.”
Viximo is aiming Social Zone at smaller developers working on both Android and iOS. The target are developers that want to incorporate more social features, but aren’t sold on the idea of making the mobile-social network’s brand front and center. All SocialZone’s features are incorporated and launched directly within a game.
“We think that a big point of differentiation between us and some of the incumbent social-mobile network is we do not view ourselves as monolithic,” says Strang. “They’re all trying to create some version of Xbox Live that has walls built around it and network benefits that accrue to them. When you look at these guys, you have to build on top of their network and use their features. When the game launches a piece of your code, the network’s brand pops up. I think having a network wide currency and a network wide storefront is a legacy viewpoint and it’s not what most developers are looking for.”
However, the tradeoff comes in the way Viximo intends to monetize Social Zone — through installs, user acquisition services and platform usage.
“Many developers will use us for free or nearly free,” says Strang. “Because we’re modular, developers don’t have to use every piece. There are established usage models. Its the kind of thing you see companies like Urban Airship do — you hit a threshold of usage for free and you get charged on tiers after that. If someone is using [all of Social Zone’s features] there will be a blend of the relationship with that developer.”
It’s an interesting business model that came out of direct discussions with mobile developers according to Strang. “We’re entering the space now, and in this way as a result of months of conversations with lots of game developers, who told us what they were pleased with and less than pleased with in terms of their options to enable social mechanics in their free-to-play mobile games.”
While Viximo’s Social Zone may be a unique take on the concept of the mobile social network, competition is stiff in the space. Viximo will have to prove the benefits paying for its platform will outweigh working for free for companies like PapayaMobile, DeNA and GREE, which don’t charge upfront but make money back from their unified platform currencies. There is also HeyZap, which is operating for free as it tries to establish a footprint and Facebook, which is now willing to subsidize carrier-enabled developer payments on its mobile platform. Facebook also likely holds the biggest, and most attractive part of Social Zone’s Supergraph.
Viximo’s Social Zone is available now.