Monday, March 17, 2008

Here's an excerpt from "TechPost," staff writer Zachary A. Goldfarb's weekly update on the local technology community:

All Games, All the Time

Freewebs, the Silver Spring Web-hosting service and widget maker, has spun off a new gaming company called the Social Gaming Network. It's all part of the scramble to build applications that work within Facebook and other social networks.

The Social Gaming Network hopes to replicate the success of Scrabulous, which is a Scrabble game that Facebook friends play against one another. Arguably the best-known Facebook game, it has more than 700,000 users and is, to put it simply, addictive.

Shervin Pishevar, former Freewebs president and a local Web entrepreneur, heads the Social Gaming Network, which operates from Freewebs offices in Silver Spring and Palo Alto, Calif.

The idea for SGN, as it's called, came when Facebook launched a platform allowing people to build applications for the site. (Non-game apps include useful tools, such as a book recommendation service, and less useful ones, such as a zombie utility.)

Freewebs soon after held what it called a "Facebook Jam Day," when it encouraged developers to build apps for the social network. A developer, helped by interns, built a game called WarBook, a medieval fantasy game.

"We basically said 'Let's build this as a separate company,' " Pishevar told me.

SGN released several games and invited outsiders to build games as well. Current games range from the well-known -- Sudoko, Go and Oregon Trail -- to new ideas such as Jetman, Fight Club and Spies.

By merging games with people's social networks, "there's a bit of psychology. There's more of a thrill playing against people you know," Pishevar said. Users can see stats for their friends, see what games their friends are playing in a news feed and use other social features.

SGN makes money through advertising. Pishevar said it has received various entreaties of interest from venture capitalists. (Freewebs has raised millions in venture capital and has a well-known roster of backers.)

Pishevar said he expects SGN to avoid the kind of intellectual property issues that have come up for games like Scrabulous, which has been the object of ire from Scrabble's distributor. SGN is focusing on developing new games.

"We're in the Pong stage of social gaming. This is the Atari stage and we see Facebook and MySpace and Bebo and other social networks as our gaming consoles," Pishevar said. "You should expect all the more investment in really interesting and full-featured types of games."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company