Feature

Why online gaming portal Cellufun prefers carrier deals to App Store

Why online gaming portal Cellufun prefers carrier deals to App Store
Neil Edwards is excited. The CEO says big things are happening at mobile social gaming portal Cellufun. The phrase 'exponential Q4 growth' has been used.

"We're going to be announcing new partnerships with major mobile operators in North America, Asia and Europe soon," he explains, providing context although the details can't yet be revealed.

Edwards, who was previously the founding CEO of mobile internet registry company dotMobi, joined Cellufun in March 2009 and has overseen a realigning of its business.

That was then

The New York-based company, which operates under the tagline 'The World's Mobile Playground', is shifting from its previous mix of online and download games into a free-to-play social gaming and community portal. The focus is on mobile, with additionalweb and Facebook channels.

Cellufun plans to release one new internally-developed game per month, and these are designed to encourage social interaction and stickiness. The option for users to download games has been dropped.

"Downloads are a pain in the arse," states Edwards, baldly.

He has strong views on app stores too. Cellufun successfully offers access to its portal via the less congested BlackBerry App World, where it's one of the top game applications, but has found traction on Apple's App Store more problematic.

"We've released one standalone game, Orion's Belt," Edwards says. "The Lite version did okay but in terms of the $1.99 paid version, when you only have one game, the process of discovery is very hard. You read about plenty of App Store success stories, but never about the thousands of failures."

Rules of attraction

Discovery is a word Edwards comes back to again and again.

"If you strip away the games, fundamentally, Cellufun is a mobile apps company which has a strong social element. The question is 'How do people discover us?'" he asks.

That's why the push for carrier partnerships has arisen.

"If you look at any of the social and social gaming networks, the dirty secret is they're all spending their investors' dollars in advertising campaigns to try and attract the same people," he argues.

Indeed, Cellufun itself was spending six digit sums per month on such marketing before Edwards, who was appointed by major investor Longworth Venture Partners, came on board.

"We don't spend any money on customer acquisition now," he says. "Carriers can supply higher quality customers for free."

Keep it sticky

Of course, once Cellufun has been discovered, the task is to convert unique users (currently over six million) into registered users (over two million).

The company does this by building stickiness and social interaction directly into games and their surrounding infrastructure.

Recent release Beach Party included a Hot or Not-style avatar ranking mini-game, as well as a sand castle building contest, in which you have to recruit friends to build the largest castles.

Alternatively, you can choose to be a jock and kick down people's sand castles. They, in turn, can hire security guards to stop you.

Such interactions are backed up with a real-time chat system, and the introduction of two currencies; Cellupoints, which are rewards for play, and FunCoins, which you buy with real money in order to purchase virtual goods and speed through the drudgery of gameplay.

Introduced in July 2009, it's still too early to tell how important such micro-transactions will be in terms of a revenue stream for Cellufun, but, as Edwards points out, it's the implementation not the model itself that's the tricky part.

And already, he has examples of people who are spending hundreds of dollars a month on virtual items.

Throw in the influx of users expected when those new carrier deals go live in the autumn, and you can see why Cellufun is looking like it will be one to watch in the remaining months of 2009.

You can connect to Cellufun's mobile portal at wap.cellufun.com or online at cellufun.com.

editor-at-large

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at PG.biz which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.

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