Whoever predicted that social gaming was the next niche of the Web to get totally saturated was very, very right.
On Monday, a new casual-gaming social network called Mytopia entered its public-beta phase. Taking a conscious cue from massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), Mytopia players create custom avatars and win points in games that they can trade in for virtual goods and real-world prizes, like iTunes and Amazon gift certificates.
Membership is free, but for a $5-per-month premium membership, players have access to an ad-supported version of the site and "grand prize" tournaments. The site already has 300,000 registered users, 150,000 of whom have paid memberships.
Since Mytopia is centered on "classic games," the offering--Sudoku, chess, backgammon, hearts, spades, dominoes, bingo, and poker--is a bit of a yawn, though the company has said new games will be added on a monthly basis. On the flip side, the familiarity of those games may be a draw to players who don't want to learn a whole new set of rules. Indeed, Mytopia is targeting a thoroughly non-"gamer" demographic.
The kicker with Mytopia is that it promises social-network interoperability. In addition to running applications on Facebook, MySpace.com, and Bebo's developer platform (with Orkut and Hi5 on the way), Mytopia also offers widgets on the Windows Vista Toolbar, Apple Dashboard, Yahoo, and Google's iGoogle. Players on any platform, in addition to those on Mytopia's home page, can play against one another.
It sounds promising, but there are already a ton of casual-gaming start-ups out there, not to mention standalone games that have proven to be even bigger hits.
Mytopia's interoperability strategy could push it away from the pack, but let's face it: a whole lot of the people who want to be playing poker and Sudoku online already have a place to play it. This is one start-up that's going to have to rely on getting the word out to new adopters.