Watercooler Changes Its Name to Kabam, Focuses in on Deeper Social Games

What’s in a name, anyway? For a gamer expecting a particular kind of experience, perhaps a lot. That’s why Watercooler, long known as a publisher of applications for sport fans, is changing its name to Kabam today.

Kabam’s foray into game development began last November, with Kingdoms of Camelot, a relatively complex strategy game on Facebook. It seemed like an unusual bet during the heyday of farming and fishing games, with a geeky fantasy theme and lots of traditional gaming concepts like taxing a population and invading other player’s kingdoms.

Nine months later, Kingdoms is still an unusual title for Facebook — but it has also grown steadily to just over four million monthly active users. That’s proof enough for Kabam that there’s a market for Facebook games that aren’t light or simple experiences.

“We think there’s space in our market to challenge the existing games out there,” says Chris Carvalho, the chief operating officer at Kabam. “When we look out, we really see two trends on Facebook. One is the segment of users that’s really engaged and want more on Facebook, and there are also core gamers who are migrating in. We’re capturing both.”

Kabam is a better name because it’s “impactful”, says Carvalho, but the really meaningful change is to Kabam’s business model, which will be focused almost entirely on games from now on.

The distinction that they must be engaging games sounds a bit tricky at first. It’s clear what might be called non-engaging; a farming game that is little more than a proxy for users to send invitations and share gifts would be a good example. However, most popular Facebook games have now progressed beyond that point, if not always by much.

Carvalho points to some of the features that have made Kingdoms of Camelot successful. “For us, the engagement comes from all the features we’ve put in the the game, like the quest system, the global chat, the high level of competition, and the back-end nature of how we’ve set up the game to level the playing field.”

More features, of course, also add up to more time actually spent in the game, with the average player spending over 30 minutes per session and some staying for an hour or more. “What really distinguishes Camelot is the amount of things to do, and the way it’s set up, like a traditional MMO [massively multiplayer online game]. You can set up alliances, there’s a lot of strategy … we have the same kind of feature set as a traditional MMO.”

Not all players will find that MMO style attractive, of course, but Carvalho thinks players searching for a deeper experience are underserved. “I feel that we can be competitive with the top five industry players. We won’t ever have the reach that they have — we’re not focusing on the mass market titles … But right now we feel there’s a big opportunity with deeper games, and we don’t feel anyone else is filling that.”

In the future, Kabam won’t limit its oeuvre to fantasy games; this year, in fact, it also released the soccer game Epic Goal. That game’s live-action sports theme has only picked up 350,762 MAU so far, but Carvalho says the company will keep working on the game; Kingdoms, also, took a long time to grow.

For its forthcoming titles, Kabam is looking at branded opportunities. Epic Goal itself was launched with Fox Soccer, but the company won’t necessarily stay in sports. Carvalho, who spent a decade doing business development at Star Wars creator Lucasfilm, thinks brands will take on a greater role. “We think they’ll be very important in general for the social gaming industry, and for us,” he says.

We’ve written about other companies betting on deeper gameplay. Earlier this month we noted that strategy games are breaking out on Facebook (led by Kingdoms of Camelot), and we also recently covered Dawn of Dragons, a professionally-written RPG.