July 26, 2011

Patents: The Future of Social Gaming


Imagine this: you REALLY want to complete that deluxe, black and red manor as the finishing touch on your FarmVille estate. But, sadly, you don’t have enough FarmVille cash. Thankfully, though, there is a friendly bank that can loan you the funds on one condition: pay the money back with interest, or you’ll be paid a visit from a loan shark, straight out of another Zynga game, Mafia Wars.

Sound farfetched? Not to Andrew Van Luchene, founder of Leviathan Entertainment, which has the largest portfolio of issued social gaming patents in the country. He feels that social gaming is poised to overtake the wireless industry as a new technological battleground.

Van Luchene founded Leviathan in 2003 after a stint working at Walker Digital, a think tank that focused on filing patents for many different industries. After having worked with games like World of Warcraft and Second Life, Van Luchene soon realized that social gaming was the wave of the future.

“Zynga said ‘people need to do something with each other, how about play games?’And that turned out to be what people wanted to do,” said Van Luchene. “The people that were playing those games weren’t gamers, they had never played games before. So social sort of came first and games came second.”

Social gaming companies rode the tide of these new gamers, resulting in several of the fastest growing technology corporations of recent years, such as Facebook and Zynga. Now that Google has thrown its hat more definitively into the arena, Van Luchene expects the competition to get heated.

He feels that the most important way that companies can gain ground in the increasingly heated social gaming space is to add in new features and concepts in order to fight off boredom and fatigue. “You’re taking someone who would sit in front of the slot machines, and now they are paying social games,” he said. “So now you have this social gaming layer and you are starting to layer in all the complexity that was in games before, like World of Warcraft, and you’re teaching the non-gamer playing base how to play more sophisticated games.”

In order to do this, companies need to innovate and protect their ideas, Van Luchene says. This will allow companies ways to diversify their revenue streams.

“Virtual currency now has a real world value, which means that all the financial structures that exist in the real world could exist in the game if they are implemented correctly,” he explained. “That could actually be a lot of fun, too. You give a loan to someone and they don’t pay it back, you can send a virtual loan shark after them.”

Google’s entry into social gaming, including its purchase of part of Zynga, will only push the envelope of innovation, Van Luchene believes. Citing Google’s strong team of engineers, he feels that real pressure will be put on social game creators to do more than just copy what has come before.

In the end, the filing of social gaming patents will be key. As companies seek to innovate and deliver the best possible games which are capable of producing the most revenue, a company like Leviathan can work with social game developers to patent the most innovative and entertaining gaming elements possible.

And then, someday, maybe your FarmVille crops can be sold to your friends Café World Diner, where your Mafia members can eat before a daring day time robbery on the Federal Reserve of Zynga.

Come to think of it, I would be totally down for playing in that world…

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Rich Steeves is a TechZone360 copy editor. He taught writing for nine years. He has also worked as an editorial assistant at Penny Publications. He has written short stories, newspaper columns, blogs and recently published his first novel. He attended The George Washington University where he received his bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell



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