Costume Party

Update: Since publishing this post, PandoDaily has learned that Adam Ludwin, formerly an investor with RRE Ventures, serves on Kik’s board of directors. We were not aware of this fact at the time of this story’s publication, and we regret not disclosing it accordingly. We apologize for the error.

It took new game “Costume Party” just 22 hours to reach 1 million players when it launched on October 8. And so far the casual game has been launched on only one platform, the one for which it was built: Kik.

That install rate puts “Costume Party” – a game that asks you to draw costumes on photos of your friends – in the same category as Instagram, which saw 1 million downloads on its first day on Android (by which point it already had 30 million users on iOS), the entire Mac App Store, and the original “Angry Birds” Android launch (which came months after its iOS launch). It took “Draw Something” 10 days to pass 1 million players.

The giant first day for “Costume Party” is even reminiscent of the early days of Facebook’s platform, when it helped third-party music app iLike earn 10 million new users in the space of just two weeks. However, the new game’s growth rate has since slowed considerably. Four weeks after its launch, it now has 3.8 million users.

We’ve also heard Zynga has seen similar numbers for one of its games on Kik’s platform – perhaps “1 Word,” which it quietly launched at the end of July – but the company is being hush-hush about the details.

What’s just as remarkable, however, is that this all happened on a mobile messaging app that claims 90 million users. Kik now looks well placed to join Asian messaging apps Line, KakaoTalk, and WeChat as a major player in mobile gaming. In the first half of 2013, South Korea’s KakaoTalk brought in more than $311 million just from gaming revenue. Japan’s Line saw more than 150 million downloads from its gaming platform in its first three months. One of the first games on WeChat’s new gaming platform amassed $16 million in its first month.

One key difference between Kik and its Asian counterparts, however, is that its platform is built in HTML5 for the open Web. While Line, KakaoTalk, and WeChat each act as a kind of ad network – helping to distribute games that integrate with their APIs – Kik is a true platform upon which developers can build, distribute, and monetize apps. Apps and games are built into “cards” that can then be shared in chat conversations. That openness is what attracted the makers of “Costume Party” to the platform.

And therein lies another interesting story.

“Costume Party” is the work of the team behind photo-sharing app Albumatic, which got a lot of press coverage after it launched in February  and then a second round when it pivoted in August. Now, Albumatic has been shelved as the founders, Devon Gundry and Adam Ludwin, shift their attention to a new company, Koala. “Costume Party” is Koala’s first release.

Los Angeles-based Koala’s strategy is to build a company based on “low-friction cross-promotion” through which they can easily move users from game to game within its network. The mobile Web platform is crucial to that strategy, because cross promotion in native apps entails showing ads that ask users to leave the experience in order to go download a separate app. Cross promotion in a mobile Web experience such as the one provided by Kik is as simple as moving a player from URL to URL, or card to card, within a mobile browser.

Koala’s Gundry says when he and Ludwin saw that Kik was opening its platform, they spied an opportunity to engage users in a way that you couldn’t engage them in another platform. “It was really interesting to us to think about how the messaging app is different from the traditional social network,” Gundry says.

In a messaging app, the founders realized, they could build a game predicated on quick, one-to-one interactions that were very personal and intimate.

“We’re trying to re-think what a game is in the context of a messenger,” says Gundry.

Because of those unique dynamics, he adds, you can’t just take a game that works on other platforms and expect it to work in a messenger.

Koala also thinks Kik is changing the game for the mobile Web. While the mobile Web experience in Chrome or Safari still lags behind native mobile apps when it comes to fluidity in usability, Kik has “super-charged the mobile Web in a really interesting way,” says Ludwin.

Kik founder Ted Livingston describes his messaging app as “the Web, built mobile first.” The secret is in the design, he says. Kik demands that all mobile Web apps built for Kik have to be one page, so that they can all be loaded in one hit. The app is also uses a cacheing strategy that means an app can be loaded even if the device has no Internet connection. When it comes online, the latest update of the app can be loaded in the background.

“Mobile Web on Kik is not your grandfather’s mobile web,” Ludwin says, comparing it favorably to the unexciting experience offered by Safari. “It’s a much different animal.”

On this occasion, we’ll let Ludwin off not only with the mixed metaphor, but also the anachronism. The only mobile Web to which my granddad had access emanated from spinnerets. Clearly, the ridiculous growth of “Costume Party” has warped his sense of time.