Playdom Acquires Metaplace (and Raph Koster)

Another day, another acquisition for Playdom. The company has made its seventh buy in less than a year with Metaplace, a San Diego-based company that makes Facebook games.

Metaplace brings with it something that most of Playdom’s acquisitions haven’t, though: a famed developer. Koster is known for being lead designer or creative on a number of games, including the original Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies.

On Facebook, Metaplace was a moderately successful company, with over 1.5 million monthly active users at its high point in two games, My Vineyard and Island Life. At this moment it has about 1.2 million MAU:

But the story of Metaplace itself is a bit longer than just Facebook. The company was started back in 2007 to create a virtual world platform that players could easily build on. In 2008, when virtual worlds like Second Life still looked like the future, it raised $6.7 million in funding from top-shelf investors.

By the end of 2009, Metaplace’s platform had been launched and then closed, and the company switched to building social games. The move wasn’t too surprising; since social games first took off, Koster has been a rare traditional-gaming advocate of the form. Here’s what he said in a long blog post from earlier this year:

Social games are going to push boundaries in design areas that are currently neglected. A renaissance in simulation and strategy games is likely, and I don’t think it is an accident that so many prominent AAA strategy game developers are in social games now.

If what you have craved is greater user agency and impact on a persistent world, a greater sense of community and economic interdependence — those are features that are intrinsic to this new market. As an example, I would point out that there was a core MMO game that many of the readers of this blog loved that had a farming game where you had to check in every few days to collect your stuff and decide what to try to harvest next. And it’s wasn’t Farmville. It was Star Wars Galaxies. In many ways, the features that were seen as oddest or least “gamer-like” in the worldy MMOs are going to be among core features in the social games: housebuilding, shopkeeping, farming, dancing, dress-up, even hairdressing. Right now, these are one-to-a-game. But one possible direction of development is that they not be.

As for Metaplace’s original technology, it hasn’t entirely disappeared. The platform will “form a key part of our unified back-end technology platform for Playdom’s games going forward,” according to Playdom CTO David Sobeski in the company’s acquisition release.

Playdom’s earlier acquisitions this year include Hive7, Acclaim and Three Melons; it also brought in a $33 million funding in mid-June, bringing its total war chest to $76 million.