Playdom Co-Founder Investing in “Original IP” Social Gaming Startups

Playdom_Rick_HeadshotRick Thompson is best known in the social gaming world for Playdom: He helped found the large social gaming company, was its first investor, and continues to serve as its chairman. But he’s recently started investing in small, up-and-coming gaming studios.

Before he got into social gaming, Thompson was a cofounder and a top executive at Adify, a “vertical ad network platform,” and before that, at FlyCast Communications, a direct-response advertising company. Both companies saw big exits and put Thompson in a good position to found or invest in more companies.

After we started hearing rumors about this activity, we sat down with him last week to get more details.

First, he doesn’t see Playdom and other big social gaming companies making it impossible for smaller developers to build great games. He believes the social gaming ecosystem will continue to expand, with more creative people making games. Social gaming is a sort of creative outlet that some types of game creators will be helplessly addicted to — people who are internally driven to create the “classic social game.” It’s loosely analogous to writers who try to pen the “great American novel,” musicians who try to create anthems of a generation, or any other ambitious artist.

He’s specifically looking for independent game studios making games that have things like well thought-out, engaging storylines and character development, high-quality art and other production qualities, and generally aspire to create “original intellectual property.”

So what about the ubiquitous copycatting within the industry? Thompson believes games have two to three months to prove themselves before the industry notices and responds with similar themes and mechanics. His investments, which he describes as “seed funding” are intended to help small studios successfully launch and manage a new game. If the game proves to be a hit, presumably more investment or an acquisition would occur; either option could allow the developer to build on their success despite any follow-on cloning.

When asked how his personal investments are connected to Playdom, Thompson made it clear he is “still 110% committed to Playdom” and hinted at the “synergy” between his early-stage investments and “Playdom’s expertise distributing and monetizing social games.”

We’ll go ahead and speculate that might be strategic partnerships with Playdom, at least, if his investments becomes hits. Social gaming companies, after all, regularly partner to do things like promote games on each other’s apps, or even buy each other.

One of his investments, that we know of, is in an unlaunched company called Idle Games. Here’s a little more detail, that we’ve found in a couple job postings for positions it is trying to fill.

Position: Java Senior Software Engineer/DB Architect

The combination of the founder’s prior long ball home runs, technical advances we are making, and an industry that is exploding, make this a very unique opportunity. We’re founded/funded by a person who founded one of the largest social gaming companies. His prior company sold for $700M. We’ve launched a new company to dramatically change the way Facebook/Myspace/iphone games are played, look, and interact socially. We have a very ambitious first game, and we’re looking for a senior level Java Architect/Engineer (Title could go all the way to Vice President, Director, etc – but this is DEFINITELY a hands-on position) to help us build a massively scalable system.

Art Direction, Creative Direction, Design, Web Design

We’re seeking a Sr. Interactive Designer (or hands on Art Director) to lead the visual direction and design of our new, well funded social gaming company. This position reports directly to the Creative Director. You will provide the creative vision, ideation and leadership for the visual design for our first flagship MMORPG game (and our corporate identity if you have some extra time).