Sandbox

After nearly two years of ducking questions around its long term business plan, heavily funded social, mobile gaming company Scopely is making a major announcement this morning. The company has launched LevelUp, an invite only developer program available to independent gaming studios that wish to co-develop multiplayer projects alongside Scopely’s team, and leverage its platform for game distribution, marketing, and monetization.

The Los Angeles based startup has been extremely successful to date launching and nourishing its own titles. Along the way, the company founded by former Applied Semantics co-founder Eytan Elbaz, former MySpace development platform lead developer Ankur Bulsara, and longtime social gaming entrepreneur Walter Driver, has built its own multiplayer technology and proven adept at building gaming communities.

Scopely has published three Top-5 titles on the iOS App Store in the last year under its “Buddies” franchise. Scopely’s most recent hit title, Bubble Galaxy With Buddies, was the first title release through LevelUp, as a means of the “dogfooding,” or testing its own product. The game shot to the No. 1 free game on the iOS App store within its first five hours and was downloaded more than one million times in its first week. According to the company, the game has already seen the equivalent of 15 years of gameplay time since launching in late October.

Now outside developers have the opportunity to drink the magic Scopely elixir. Co-developed titles will not only benefit from the Zynga and Rovio-style in-network cross promotion to millions of existing players, but will also get access to all of Scopely’s Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS)-based multiplayer technology and server-side infrastructure. Each title in the LevelUp platform will have its own revenue sharing model, negotiated at the outset based on the anticipated resources to be dedicated.

According to Driver, Scopely will be extremely exclusive with invites to participate in LevelUp. Those accepted will have to demonstrate the ability to make a world class game, but may have previously fallen short in the arenas of distribution and monetization. In this type of scenario, scopely is well positioned to help. The company looks to get involved in a project as early as possible, ideally from conception, and see it through to launch in partnership with its third-party developer partners.

Other companies, including Zynga and Chelingo, offer distribution services to outside developers. But in the majority of cases, these are simply one-size-fits-all arrangements based on a fixed number of impressions. In other words, they’re advertising sales. Also, under this model, the best developers get the same deal as the worst.

In the case of Zynga specifically, the company offers little in the way of targeting, in one egregious case having even promoted a $6.99 sci-fi fantasy game in the free-to-play demographically different Words with Friends and Draw Something games. Also, by having segregated its user into unpaid players that it can serve ads to, and paid players that it cannot, Zynga has removed the most valuable segment of its audience from its cross-promotional ecosystem.

Scopely is hoping that its more hands-on and dynamic model will both be more appealing and be more effective than what’s already available in the market today. One question the company is still figuring out is its capacity for third-party projects. Driver says that his team can “work on several project in parallel,” but declined to put a specific number on it until mid-next year when LevelUp has been more widely stress tested.

Since raising $8.5 million in September, Scopely has grown its team to 38 people and has extended its streak of record user growth to 12 consecutive quarters. According to Driver, the company was attractive to investors despite a cooling games industry because it’s addressing the broad concerns that investors have with the sector. Additionally, the ability to build a network of content creators, rather than having to create all of its content internally, makes Scopely a more distributed bet.

There’s no question that Scopely can develop and distribute its own titles to mass success. What’s yet to be determined is if the company walk the tightrope of managing external partners to the same effect. Like the secrecy before it, Scopely’s ambition and the pedigre of its founders and investors make the company a compelling story. They would certainly seem to be skating to where the puck is headed in the gaming sector. Now it’s just a matter of if they can corral it when they get there.