Trip Hawkins takes the wrappers off his new big idea for social gaming.
Digital Chocolate boss Trip Hawkins has unveiled the company's new virtual items platform for social games, NanoStars.
Likely to be used for a series of iPhone and Facebook games, it revolves around 100+ characters that players buy in virtual 'packs', which can then be used across a range of games.
“The core concept is thinking of virtual items as living, breathing life forms,” Hawkins told ME before unveiling the initiative at a US conference today.
“They're not objects like swords that you're going to use for three weeks in one game that you're going to get tired of. They're characters, with whom you'll develop an emotional relationship.”
It's a concept that's worth explaining: the characters are a mix of popular culture references (Octomom, FAQ, IDidNotInhale) and historical names (Robin Hood). Each character will have a different use in each NanoStars game launched by Digital Chocolate.
The first, NanoVerse Castles, will be a card game. Using Robin Hood as an example, when that character is 'played', he exchanges one of the player's low cards for a high card from their opponent. But in a football game, he might unlock a fast goalkeeper, while in a virtual world type game he might turn into a certain piece of furniture.
“We're rolling this out in Q4, and we'll have more details later on specific games and platform launch dates,” says Hawkins. “But this can go across all platforms, and at some point we can even open it up to third-party applications and even characters.”
How will people pay for the virtual characters? “We intend to use any and all payment and revenue methods depending on the platform,” he says. “In the long-term this would include carrier billing, carrier subscriptions, app store billing, offer-completion networks and conventional advertising.”
It's Digital Chocolate's latest Big Idea for social gaming, building on the publisher's earlier experiments in connected gaming (DChoc Cafe and Party Island), while also using patents that Hawkins says he's been hanging onto for years waiting for the right time.
“I've been thinking about this for a really long time,” he says. “I kept looking for the right window of opportunity to build a gaming platform to leverage these ideas, and even got started a couple of times, but the circumstances weren't right. But the time is now right to do something with it.”
Although Digital Chocolate is not announcing details of which platforms NanoStars will debut on, ME assumes that iPhone and Facebook will loom large, given the publisher's success on those platforms in recent times.
Stand by for a full interview with Hawkins tomorrow, where he expains the NanoStars concept in more detail, and also talks about Digital Chocolate's learnings from iPhone and the App Store.