Slide is continuing its push into virtual goods with a new, cartoony virtual community app called SuperPocus. It’s less of a social game and more of a virtual world, and it combines elements of virtual pet-caring games like Playfish’s Pet Society with a magic-school-and-quest theme loosely patterned after the Harry Potter series.
The app is the biggest move that we’ve seen from Slide in some time. The company gained tens of millions of users through widgets on social networks, and simple apps on Facebook — and for a long time was focused on advertising. But it began experimenting with virtual goods last year, experimenting with things like sponsored “pokes” in its SuperPoke Facebook app. Then, it rolled out virtual pet-caring game SuperPoke Pets on MySpace in 2008, followed by the Facebook version. Today, the MySpace app has 6.31 million total users, while the Facebook one has 2.28 million monthly active users.
Slide + Pet Society + Harry Potter = SuperPocus
The new app is designed to eventually become a sort of virtual economy, complete with scarce virtual items that users will need to pay money to access.
But first, you create a cute-looking mythical virtual creature called a “BooBat,” and in a cartoon-y 3D interface you take it to learn spells at the “Academy of Magic.” You start off with a couple spells, but to do anything interesting — like fighting evil creatures called “glums” — you need to study up. The app only launched last week, and it looks like Slide is planning a range of additional features built around the concept of going on Potter-like “quests.”
The initial quests are basic. The first one you do is simply learning a spell: You only need to click into a virtual classroom in the academy, then click on the teacher BooBat to get it. The next quest is going to “study hall,” which is basically a timing mechanism that requires you to come back hours later to collect “spell gems.” You’ll need these gems to unlock more powerful spells.
You can also do things like pick out clothing for your BooBat and decorate a personal room for the creature with furniture. It also requires you to have enough health and “mana” to be able to cast spells, which you do by eating food and drinking potions. But you’ll need to buy these items in virtual stores on the site.
However, if you try to buy more items than you have coins for, you just won’t be able to complete the purchase. There’s currently no virtual payments system that allows you to buy coins. This is especially notable because Slide has been working on its own in-house payment system for months — its executives were PayPal cofounders, so it has serious expertise in payments. We’re interested to see how virtual goods purchases work once the app is more developed.
Other parts of the app also aren’t complete. Certain features that are already visible in it, like some rooms in the Academy, are “coming soon.”
The app is starting to grow, though, having reached 20,000 users in the few days since it launched. Slide is starting to promote the game to users on another app it owns, Top Friends, so we expect growth to continue.
And, eventually, we expect quests to eventually become key parts of what brings users back. Perhaps we’ll see a Sorcerer’s Stone-style adventure where you need to work with other BooBats (your Facebook friends) to capture some sort of object from an evil Glum lord? We’re making that up, but the point is that SuperPocus appears designed to be a new sort of franchise that it can easily keep expanding in order to keep users active.
This is Slide’s second virtual community-style app to launch recently. It introduced a Rock Band-style music game called Rock Riot back in August. That app has recently seen an uptick in growth, and now has around 529,000 monthly active users. Aside from that launch, though Slide has spent much of the past year fine-tuning its apps, and working on bigger projects like payments.
We asked the company how the new app fits in with its larger plans. Here’s what Keith Rabois, the company’s Vice President of Strategy & Business Development, tells us:
Our vision is to build communities that fuel the creation and distribution of virtual goods. Central to this vision is building fun, addicting experiences where long-term engagement is driven by user-to-user interaction and community-created content. With gameplay as a key ingredient, we foster vibrant markets that will allow our members to earn real money by creating and trading digital goods.
So maybe the quests won’t get too much more complicated, or game-focused. Slide doesn’t want to be a social gaming company in the sense that companies like Zynga and Playdom are, but rather to be more like the free-form virtual worlds seen on other sites, like Second Life and IMVU. “Decorating, meeting other users, trading for rare items and eventually a complete marketplace are what we are devoted to,” Rabois says. The goal, he says, is to create a sort of “virtual economy.”
We expect SuperPocus to be under heavy construction for awhile yet as it was soft-launched so the company can fine-tune the app. Long-term, though, the concept — combined with Slide’s millions of users, and development expertise — could make for a hit.
To dig deeper into the virtual goods market, check out our new report: Inside Virtual Goods: The US Virtual Goods Market 2009 – 2010.
[Hat tip to Siqi Chen for the first sub-head in this article.]