The Pokki maker's case for social games as desktop apps [Interview]

Pokki for Windows
Social games got their very name from the social networks that they appear on, so why take them out of the equation? If you ask Sweetlabs co-founder and CMO Chester Ng, it's about way more than just aesthetics: It's about instant access, ease of use and the always-on connection that social game designers (and we imagine a number of social game fans) dream of.

That's why Sweetlabs launched Pokki (pronounced "pokey") about seven months ago, a desktop app platform for Windows (with Mac support coming soon) that doesn't look to give the iOS-style app treatment to just social games, but even service apps like Facebook, Gmail and LivingSocial. Two things inspired Sweetlabs in making Pokki: the smooth approach software access that iOS employs and the clunky approach to accessing software on Windows PCs.

Sweetlabs CMO Chester Ng"If you've used Windows recently, and tried to download and install software, it hasn't really changed since the late '90s," Ng (pictured) tells us. "It's like, you download this executable, you then have to find where you downloaded it and you went through this installer, which has 10 steps in the wizard and finally you get your software. It's pretty backwards."

The guy has a point: A major reason why the majority of app developers and social game makers approach Apple's mobile operating system first is the lack of friction that users face when downloading apps and games. Pokki is Sweetlabs' attempt to capture that and provide a service similar to Apple's App Store for Windows, something that has already attracted a few social game makers, namely Kabam, Digital Chocolate and even EA.

And the games that said developers have released on Pokki all seem to approach one demographic in particular: the enigmatic "hardcore" social gamers. Part of the reason behind that must be that, if the games appear as dedicated PC offerings for download, that helps push the stigma that many traditional gamers have toward Facebook games under the rug. But Ng thinks that the appeal of Pokki to both core and casual social gamers alike goes deeper than that.

"We think the advantages are having your app on this waterfront property, right on the desktop. The importance of access is sometimes understated. Having this icon on the desktop, having one click access to it, having it always on is pretty impactful from an engagement standpoint no matter what the content is whether it's daily deals or social gaming," Ng says. "The notifications are pretty powerful, and that [doesn't] just apply to hardcore social games, but we think that when your crops are ready in whatever casual game you're playing ... that's pretty powerful."
Thirst of Night Pokki
Sweetlabs recently pushed out full screen support for game makers that bring their games to or create new games on the platform. So, yeah, aesthetics play a role, too. "Game developers can provide players a fully immersive experience that the desktop guys have been doing for years. As for social game companies, they've been traditionally trapped inside this box on," Ng tells us. "And as game developers, as artists, they just want to show their games in full screen glory. We're finding early on that users spend a lot more time playing in full screen than not."

But Sweetlabs has another motivation for creating its own app distribution platform. The company recently challenged independent game makers to create their own HTML5-based games using the Pokki platform, dangling $50,000 and a trip to the upcoming Game Developers Conference as the carrot on the stick. The indie game community churned out 60 HTML5 games in 60 days, the winner of which will be announced next week. Frankly, Sweetlabs wants to have a hand in finding the next casual game superstar.
Pokki for Windows interface
"It was really neat seeing these game developers jump on board, embrace HTML5 and build some fantastic games. That's one thing we'll be focusing on announcing but also growing, helping these developers get their games out there. [We're] seeing if we can help discover the next Rovio, ZeptoLab or the next star in the making."

Whether Pokki can help expand social games on the whole has yet to be seen, but Sweetlabs certainly seems to be in the right place at the right time. Just Pokki begins to hit its stride, Facebook game makers from Kixeye to Kabam, Zynga and beyond look to reduce their dependence on Facebook.

"If we were game developers, it would be absolutely critical, and we've heard the same from almost all of the game developers we've talked to," Ng admits. "Ultimately, it's critical for them to diversify the channels that they reach their players through."

Have you tried playing games on Sweetlabs' Pokki yet? Do you think that social games have a place as desktop apps rather than in the browser? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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