Rocket Ninja moves away from games, focuses on 3D ‘lightweight dating’

Developer Rocket Ninja’s next project isn’t a game, it’s a “social entertainment” program based around 3D avatars interacting with one another.

The project is Be3D, currently in beta on Facebook. The app is a social group within Facebook’s larger network, populated by personalized 3D avatars. The key component in Be3D is “lightweight dating,” which CEO Oded Pelled describes as a combination of social interaction and virtual flirtation. While Be3D isn’t a game, it will feature some game components in the future.

Rocket Ninja first came to our attention with its 3D action game Wrestler: Unstoppable. The title managed to reach traffic peaks of almost 500,000 MAU and approximately 43,000 DAU in September 2011. By January 2012 the numbers had tumbled dramatically and now sit at 40,000 MAU and 8,000 DAU, respectively. The game didn’t exactly kick off a “3D arms race” on Facebook like Rocket Ninja hoped, and the developer decided to change directions.

The present build ofBe3D allows users to engage in pre-scripted actions, such as dancing or high five-ing with members of their 3D networks and gift virtual goods to one another. Pelled explains that users will be able to find and add new friends to their network via search parameters like gender, age and location — as one might with an online dating service. Pelled explains Be3D will monetize through a combination of video ads, hard currency,  virtual goods — like clothing and the aforementioned facial customization — and product placement. Pelled also says there are plans for an affiliate referral program in the works, but the system isn’t in place yet.

Users can also send each other “3D cards,” where they can create short movies of their characters interacting with real friends’ avatars or politicians and celebrities. Precisely which famous individuals will be appear in Be3D haven’t been revealed, but Rocket Ninja has signed a deal with a Hollywood agency to use certain likenesses. These cards can be sent to other users privately or shared publicly. The more Likes a public 3D Card receives on a person’s Timeline, the more in-app currency will be earned to buy new clothes and accessories; this is similar to the viral sharing system present in Wrestler: Unstoppable.

Although not yet implemented, there are also plans to include games that will star avatars — the first of which is a fighting game that should be demonstrable in the near future — and a chat system that will let users talk to one another. Also in the works is a paid option to let users upload headshots and customize their avatar’s face. We were given an example of this with our own face — based on Lead Writer Mike Thompson’s photo — which can be seen below.

“We learned a lot of lessons with Wrestler,” says Pelled. “We learned that 3D makes a big impact: average session times increase by over 50 percent and people are much more attached to their character.We also learned the challenge of working with a very specific niche audience is that they’re very demanding. Wrestler: Unstoppable was for too small a niche that wasn’t international enough … the niche itself wasn’t big enough to continue investing in this game.”

Rocket Ninja raised $7.5 million in funding last November, roughly the same time when the developer decided to shift directions. Between two offices in San Francisco and Israel, Rocket Ninja has 40 employees and is looking to hire on seven or eight more staff members, primarily for engineering positions.