RealNetworks unit launches new social-games platform
As part of its restructuring, RealNetworks is sharpening the focus of its game operation and giving it a name: GameHouse.
Seattle Times staff columnist
In a preview of what it may look like as a stand-alone company, RealNetworks' games division on Tuesday is launching a new social-games platform called GameHouse Fusion.
The platform is designed to make it simple for game studios and media companies to build social games that run on multiple platforms, including social networks, mobile phones, PCs and TV set-top boxes.
"This is the future of the company, this platform," said Matt Hulett, chief revenue officer of the games group.
Real is simultaneously launching a new Facebook game portal with 1,000 games, showcasing the capabilities of its platform.
Both are being unveiled at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.
GameHouse will also be the name of the business when it's spun out of Real later this year, as part of a restructuring announced in January. It was formerly the name of a Seattle studio that Real bought for $36 million in 2004, as it pushed into the games business.
With Real's overall business losing momentum in recent years, the company considered a public offering of the games business before opting to spin it off, similar to the way it divested its Rhapsody music-subscription business last month.
When the deals are done Real will be left with media platforms, including RealPlayer and technology services sold largely to other companies.
Hulett is one of a number of veterans of Seattle tech companies recruited over the past year to firm up the games business, build the new platform and prepare for its spinoff. Others include engineers hired from MySpace's Seattle office.
They built GameHouse Fusion secretively, to give the business a fresh start and overcome the challenges of being a small company within a big company, said Hulett, who previously worked at Web startups Mpire and WidgetBucks and at Expedia.
"It reminds me of when I was at Expedia," he said. "It's hard to have people think about things differently, so change management is interesting. We actually didn't tell anyone about this product and platform up until four weeks ago."
Hulett downplayed the spinoff plans, saying it was logical for Real to build a game-development platform that tied together its game syndication business, studios, tools and other capabilities.
A model for the business is HBO, which has studios, a channel for distributing content and a licensing division, he said.
"We're still going to have a studio, we're still going to have a distribution arm — we're going to have those different businesses — but Fusion's the piece that ties it all together," he said. "If you don't have Fusion, then you might as well be Berkshire Hathaway and all these disparate businesses."
The Fusion platform is designed to help developers add social elements such as rankings and invitations to their games, and to distribute them to PC gaming portals and social networks.
Real already has syndication deals that distribute games to partners such as Comcast, TimeWarner, AOL and GameStop.
Real plans to launch features for distributing games to the iPhone, Android and other phone platforms later this year. Also in the works are tools for publishing to Internet-connected TVs and other platforms, such as game consoles.
Fusion includes options for adding advertising and microtransactions. Real plans to make money from the platform by sharing revenue with developers.
Launch partners include Comcast, MySpace, Qualcomm, Mattel and Seattle-based PopCap Games.
Real's games business has 350 employees and annual sales of about $120 million.
Hulett wouldn't estimate how much the platform will increase sales, but said, "we think Fusion adds a lot of scale effects to what we're doing."
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