CrowdStar Launches Pop Boom on Facebook – A Frisky Hands-On

While CrowdStar may be famous for Facebook games like Happy Pets, Happy Island, and Happy Aquarium, they aren’t content with simply resting on those games, as they have expanded their catalogue yet again, this time with a puzzle game in the same vein as PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz, called Pop Boom.

Pop Boom is a unique take on the match three genre, that gives you 60 seconds to earn as many points as possible by popping bubbles. Gameplay is quite simple. You’ll be able to stare at your game board for as long as you’d like, to formulate a plan, and can then click on any bubble on the screen to begin the countdown from 60 seconds.

The bubble that you click on will be picked up from the game board, and can then be carried around (simply move your mouse around the screen) and dropped anywhere on the board that you’d like. This will swap the bubble you’re holding with the bubble you click on. The goal, then, would be to click on a bubble and then drop it next to two more bubbles of the same color, to create a match of three or more like-colored bubbles, thus making them explode, giving you points.

Pop-Boom-gameplay-1

Combos are created as bubbles move from the bottom of the screen towards the top to fill in the empty spaces created by explosions, and as you perform well, bomb bubbles appear at random that can be destroyed in the same way as a normal bubble, causing an explosion that takes out surrounding orbs. If the explosion happens to expand and hit a surrounding bomb, it too will explode, causing a ripple effect that can greatly increase your score.

Additionally, if you create a cross with your bubbles, or any match that includes bubbles going in both the horizontal and vertical directions, you’ll take out the entire row and column at the same time, regardless of whether or not all bubbles in that column or row matched.

After your 60 seconds are up, you’ll earn a certain amount of in-game coins, based on your score. These coins can be used to purchase two kinds of power-ups, including ones that make more bombs appear at the start of the game, or add five additional seconds to your clock, giving you 65 seconds in a game, rather than 60.

Your top score will be shown on a leaderboard on the right-hand side of the screen, which shows your progress against friends that have also played the app. You can click on any friends’ picture to challenge them to beat your score personally, or you can also publish a challenge item to your wall, offering an open challenge for all friends to play the game with you.

If you’d like to give Pop Boom a chance, head over to the game’s page on Facebook. Or, if you’d like to see the game in action, make sure to check out our Frisky Hands-On video of the game below to see the game’s unique twist on traditional match-three gameplay in action.

25 Brain Games: Essential Back-to-School Supplies

Back to school already? Here are 25 social, casual and mobile games that will get your brain in shape before you know it. They’ll also keep you entertained for hours, and (let’s be honest), distract you from all that pesky homework! Did your favorites make the list?

Facebook games:

Brain Buddies by wooga – Brain Buddies offers its users a playful way to determine their brain weight. The game is focusing on a contest among friends to find the one with the heaviest brain. A large set of mini games as well as entertaining graphics make the game fun to play for a long time.

Who Has the Biggest Brain by Playfish – In ‘Who Has The Biggest Brain?’ you are taken through a series of mini games where you test your abilities in 4 areas of your brain: Calculation, Memory, Logic and Visual. The combined score from each of these categories add up to your overall brain rating. A great opportunity to settle the debate, who really does have the biggest brain? After playing a game of ‘Who Has The Biggest Brain?’ you are awarded a ranking, or ‘Brain Type’. There are 27 different brain types that are used to rank you and your friends.

Two other studious selections to try from Playfish are Word Challenge and Geo Challenge.

poweRBrands by Reckitt Benckiser – “Reckitt Benckiser calls the title ‘the first Facebook game of its kind’, as it’s designed to test players’ marketing and business abilities, teach strategy and decision-making skills, and introduce users to the culture and challenges that face the company’s marketers every day.”

DumbVille by GSN – Designed to see just how many brain cells you have kicking around! Tackle quirky questions and puzzle your way through mindless mini-games to rise through the ranks from Village Idiot to Mayor of Dumbville. It’s your chance show your buddies what’s what, but that’s not all. Every time you succeed AND every time your friends fail, you’ll win Oodles – redeemable rewards that you can use to purchase sweepstakes entries and prizes on GSN.com.

Scrabble by Electronic Arts – A new version of the original board game includes built-in chat and dictionary, multiple word lists, dynamic animations, and multiple speed settings for public games. An easy-to-use interface lets you play with anyone who loves the game!

Online games:

Empire Avenue – Reap the benefits of expanding your online influence while buying and selling virtual shares in your best friend, your favorite blogger or that pizza joint down the road – anyone, for free. Connect with other people who like the same things as you, find interesting bloggers to follow, or unearth a cool new business in your home town! This Internet thing is pretty useful, you know, and Empire Avenue helps you find the people and businesses that are relevant to you.

Risk: The Game of Global Domination on Pogo.com – Based on the classic board game of strategic conquest from Hasbro, Risk comes to life online where the object of the game is simple: Global Domination! Establish your military objectives, take command of your army and begin your campaign to rule the world. Risk is a turn based game with each player starting with their own controllable army in an attempt to capture territories from opposing players and control the entire map.

Word Whomp on Pogo.com – This free Pogo.com favorite challenges you to whomp adorable gophers and spell as many words as you can from a given set of letters before the clock runs out. Gophers will dig up veggies and bonuses as you unscramble words. Reach the carrot to enter the bonus round and score big!

Jeopardy on GSN.com – Test your trivia knowledge, just like the actual game show. Select a question from one of the six game categories by clicking on a dollar value under the category of your choice. When the question appears, you may choose to either “Respond” or “Pass.” If you choose to respond, you will have 15 seconds to answer a multiple-choice question. The game will end when you don’t have enough money to play on.

Wheel of Fortune on GSN.com – You can compete for cash and prizes, just like contestants on the actual game show, with 5 turns to solve the word puzzle. Correctly identify consonants or “buy a vowel.” Each successful guess gives you an additional free spin, but the faster you solve the puzzle, the higher your time bonus! When you choose to solve the puzzle, if your answer is correct, you’ll play in the Bonus Round. If not, you’ll lose a turn.

Tiny Planets – “Targetting kids aged six to 14, this game is based on the Tiny Planets animated TV series, and offers six ‘planets’ for users to visit consisting of simple games, web videos, social networking, a virtual world, goods, and currency, and, of course, learning opportunities. Tiny Planets is rich with entertaining and educational activities that focus on space, conservation, science, creativity, and critical thinking skills.”

Fantage.com, a TriplePoint client – A next-generation destination site for children that offers games and adventures to entertain, delight, and promote positive social interaction in an engaging, exciting, safe environment that both kids and parents love. Fantage also provides an age-appropriate, safe social networking experience within a fun virtual world.

FitBrains.com – Provides scientifically developed brain games targeting the five major brain areas: memory, problem solving, concentration, visual spatial, Language. Focus on one brain area or play all the games to give your brain a complete workout. Brain games are a fun way to exercise your brain and an important pillar in living a healthy life. Try your luck and test your skills in games like Travel Quest, Sum Snap and Uber Brain.

iPhone & iPad games:

The Oregon Trail by Gameloft – Assume the role of a wagon leader in a side-view journey where your strategic decisions must ensure the safety of your party along the treacherous Oregon Trail. Overcome the perilous journey to Oregon in America’s Wild West. Just like the real pioneers, experience the decision-making, problem-solving, and role-playing fun of this historical event. A unique strategy/educational game relating the first pioneers’ journey to Western American.

THINK by TriplePoint client, Ravensburger Digital – 16 exercises spread across four distinct categories, all designed to give your mind a rigorous workout in different areas of thought. THINK is currently available in English, Spanish and German. Could your brain use a boost?

RedFish Puzzle by Fresh Planet – “Fun games for smart people.” Fresh Planet offers several brain games on various platforms, including the RedFish series of learning apps for young children on the iPad. RedFish Piano 4 Kids is another good one to check out.

Words with Friends by Newtoy Inc. – Turn-based crossword gaming in your pocket! Not much else to say, besides this game is Scrabble in your pocket, with your friends, in real time… and it’s as addictive as they come 😉

HexaLex by TriplePoint client Nathan Gray – Takes the classic, easy to learn but hard to master crossword game and adds a new dimension. Hexagonal tiles let you play words in three directions instead of two. Words interact in new and interesting ways. But have no fear, you’ll be up and playing in no time, thanks to the tutorial and detailed, built-in help. If you’ve ever played Scrabble, Lexulous, or Words With Friends you’ll feel right at home!

Word Warp by MobilityWare – Word game fans rejoice! If you’ve enjoyed countless hours playing games like TextTwist, Word Scramble, Jumble, Boggle, or Scrabble, then Word Warp is the game for you! Similar to Text Twist, Word Warp is a challenging anagram type of word game in which you try to form as many words as you can out of the six letters you are given before time runs out. You will receive points for each correct word you come up with, but in order to advance to the next level you must come up with at least one word that uses all six letters.

Word Scramble 2 by Zynga – Scramble is the fast fun game of finding words in a jumbled grid. Quickly slide your finder over letters next to each other to make words! Compete with friends and play live with fellow word game fans.

Nintendo games:

Big Brain Academy (Wii and DS) by Nintendo – Weigh Your Brain! With 15 activities that challenge your brain in single-player Test and Practice modes, Big Brain Academy Wii sees how you measure up in five categories: memory, analysis, number crunching, visual recognition, and quick thinking.

My Word Coach (DS) by Ubisoft – My Word Coach, developed in collaboration with linguists, helps players improve their verbal communication and vocabulary in a fun way. Practice need never get boring with six different exercises to choose between. Players can input missing letters from words, spell out the answers to various definitions, choose which word matches a particular definition, form specific words with Scrabble-like tiles, and more. Three levels of difficulty are available, and the game includes a built-in dictionary of over 17,000 words. Two of the games can be played multiplayer over wireless and the data of three different players can be saved.

Personal Trainer: Math (DS) by Nintendo – Makes learning fun with fast-paced, high-speed arithmetic problems that keep your math basics fresh, from addition to subtraction and multiplication to division. Daily math drills and an attendance record help keep you on track. As your calculation speed improves, earn medals in each exercise to prove your mathematical mastery! 40 different exercises, ranging in difficulty from simple to elaborate calculations, provide tons of ways to build on your knowledge and improve your arithmetic skills until all your math worries evaporate forever!

My Virtual Tutor: Reading Kindergarten to 1st Grade(DS) by Mentor Interactive – By combining the kid-friendly Nintendo DS with a proven reading curriculum developed and tested at the University of Colorado, My Virtual Tutor: Reading makes learning reading skills fun, affordable and portable. Through interactive books, school age and grade relevant phonics instruction and fun quiz modes, your child will learn the comprehension, phonics, fluency and vocabulary necessary to become an expert reader, all while having fun with their Nintendo DS.

Brain Age (DS) by Nintendo – The title is a series of minigames designed to give your brain a workout. The 17 engaging activities are all designed to help work your brain and increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. Whether you’re playing simple songs on a piano keyboard or monitoring the photo finish of a footrace, you’ll love your new mental workout!

Get Some Ink With Tattoo City on Facebook – A Frisky Hands-On

If the idea of running a clothing store, or a pet spa are just two bland for you, how does the idea of running a Tattoo Parlor sound to you? You can do just that in Wonderhill’s Tattoo City on Facebook.

The goal of the game is simple – create the biggest and best tattoo parlor in existence by tattooing your customers and earning money. The game requires more actual interaction on your part than other Facebook games, as you’ll earn money by taking “shifts,” which are active periods when your Tattoo Parlor is open.

You’ll be able to serve the customers who come in by deciphering their wants (very simplistic riddles of sorts), and choosing a tattoo pattern that matches their desires. For a couple of examples, someone might ask for a tattoo that is “red and yellow, on my arm,” and you would then look for a design that contained both yellow and red. Click on the design and you’re shown a particular area of the body, with arrows allowing you to choose different body parts. In this example, you would obviously choose the picture of the arm.

Tattoo-City-2

Once the choice has been made, your avatar goes to work at tattooing the customer, with the job being done in a matter of seconds. You’ll gain coins and experience points for a job well done, and more customers will line up to be served next. If you take too long in making a decision, waiting customers can become impatient and leave the shop.

After each shift, you have a few options for gameplay. You can either start another shift immediately, or you can go about spending your newly earned coins by redecorating the parlor or customizing your avatar. Your parlor can be upgraded with different flooring, different wallpaper options, more tattoo chairs, new windows, doors, and accessory items – mostly everything about the tattoo parlor can be changed to fit your own tastes.

In addition, your avatar can be customized with various skin and hair colors (including the outlandish like pink or purple – this is a tattoo parlor after all), different eyes, mouths, hairstyles and of course clothing itself.

As you earn funds, you can expand your shop to hold more decorations, thereby allowing you to add more decorations, and eventually tattoo chairs, allowing you to serve more customers at once.

The game is currently in the beta stages, and isn’t without a few glitches, but if you’d like to try this unique simulation game out, head over to the game’s page on Facebook. Before you go, check out our video hands-on of the game to see exactly what to expect should you give this game a chance.

No Farmville For Pakistan Players

A Facebook page titled Everybody Draw Mohammed Day infuriated Pakistan officials with its promotion of portrayals of Mohammed, leading them to ban Facebook until May 31st. The page asked users to create and upload images of Mohammed as a protest against Islamic Extremists’ threats against portrayals of the holy man.

The page is blocked until the end of the month but the ban may be extended depending on Pakistani officials’ decisions. This means that Pakistani Facebook game players will be unable to tend to their farms, cities, and restaurants for an indefinite amount of time.

According to MTV Multiplayer, Facebook has no intention of removing the page. The official Facebook statement is this: “We strongly believe that Facebook users have the freedom to express their opinions, and we don’t typically take down content, groups or pages that speak out against countries, religions, political entities or ideas.”

Should Mark Zuckerberg Be More Public With His Views on Privacy?

Over at SocialBeat, writer Kim-Mai Cutter has an interesting piece on how Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg should be more open in his views on privacy, particularly with regards to Facebook.

“Mark Zuckerberg needs to come forward and explain what he truly and genuinely believes about privacy. Why? Because even as the company has created ever-more-detailed privacy controls, Facebook’s moves can appear disingenuous (even if they’re not). Why spend months designing a privacy overhaul and default most of the user base to public? Why do people have to choose between an emptier profile and making their likes and interests public? Where is this instant personalization project going?” Cutter writes.

Cutter goes on to examine some of Zuckerberg’s public statements to try and piece together his views, but comes to the conclusion that while Zuckerberg’s privacy views “reflect thoughtful deliberation”, the problem is that Zuckerberg has not communicated it well enough to the public.

Privacy and Facebook is quickly becoming a pretty hot topic. With the amount of data that certain users share (photos, status updates, etc.), protecting them from advertisers, hackers, and even the company itself has become an issue that many users have concerned themselves with.

To our readers: Do you think Zuckerberg and Facebook care enough about your privacy?

Soapbox: Devouring the Social Game Buffet – Why We Play

Pondering the psychology behind social gaming usually starts with personal experience.

Does this sound familiar? I don’t even want to look at my to-do list some days, much less tackle it. So why is it that I look forward to a virtual to-do list of serving up dinners, harvesting crops and digging for treasures on Facebook each day?

Looking back on some of the things I said (and didn’t say) in “Why do we play social games?” I can’t seem to let it go… My degree is in psychology. I live, work and basically breathe social games, social media and the video game industry. Yet, for the life of me, I can’t explain it.

Most of the Facebook games I play are straight-up simulators of real world activities that I have no interest whatsoever in doing. What is so enticing about the Facebook gaming platform that makes me want to perform mindless point-to-click tasks several times a day, just to maintain my virtual game world full of cafes, farms, islands, pets, gangs and big cities? I assure you there are dozens of other things I could do with all those minutes of my life.

If you think this is a cheap stab at social game developers, think again – in fact, Facebook game developers are obviously privy to knowledge the rest of us aren’t, because for such unexplainable phenomena, social gaming business models and loyalty rates are through the roof. They’re smart, savvy and quick-to-action. Every industry should be so lucky.  I’m just searching for answers behind the psychology of social gaming, and it only makes sense to share.

I’ve conjured up some philosophical theories about social gamers. Some have been tossed around before, some have psychological backing, and some simply come from personal experience. In the end, it’s probably a combination of all of these and more:

Reality check – We play social games because we can do things we’d never do in real life. We can barely scratch the surface of our real life to-do list – seems like there are never enough hours in the day. But in a few short minutes, we can virtually harvest acres worth of crops, redecorate a 9-bedroom home, build an elaborate city park, and cook up 10 new delicious dishes to serve to hungry customers. We are in charge, and we have the ability to complete big tasks and achieve big goals, with little effort invested.

* Gold star syndrome – We earn points and level up for almost every action we take in a social game. Our friends pitch in and help us earn special prizes and rewards to redeem in-game and showcase to our worldwide web of Facebook friends. When does that happen in real life? We don’t typically earn money for doing chores in the real world. There are no levels and no scoreboards to top. Social games feed into childhood ideas of reward and motivation – aka, gold star syndrome.

* Bragging rights – “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it…” When we earn a new high score that breaks personal and network-wide records, we want someone else to acknowledge how hard it was to score that many points in a 1-minute round of match-3. Or once we’ve built the best farm or city on Facebook, we want to share it with our friends and show them how creative, funny or crazy we can be. It’s not nearly as much fun to score 400k+ in Bejeweled Blitz if we can’t brag to our friends about it (and have a shared scoreboard to keep us honest).

* Calgon, take me away – It’s an escape. Social games give us a quick getaway from real life. The formula has been proven millions of times over by companies like Zynga and Playfish: Give us something fun and interesting to look at and strive for, spruced up with some inconspicuously catchy tune that repeats on loop. Constantly give us new items to decorate our virtual spaces in ways we couldn’t afford or physically do in real life. Get our minds off of our worries, and let us rule our own world for a few minutes. That’s all it takes to reel in happily hooked players. Playing social games can even help us refocus and think more creatively.

It seems the only gameplay elements (motivators, if you will) missing from social games are challenge and chance. Are players hungry for more? Let that soak in and then check back tomorrow for my regularly scheduled Sunday Soapbox, where I’ll try to take social gaming to new heights via opinion.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Have I left out something obvious that drives us to play social games (and spend real money in them), or have I gone off the deep-end entirely with the list above? Why do you think we play social games?

Metoer Games Has Launched Ranch Town on Facebook

Meteor Games has launched their newest game on Facebook entitled Ranch Town. For those who are familiar with Country Story and other farming games, you’ll be able to jump in here just fine, which is good, as the game (as of this writing) contains no tutorial. You’re simply thrown into your farm, sans avatar (this is only temporary), and are allowed to “play overlord” on your ranch full of starter alfalfa plants, a tree and a cow.

The comparison to Country Story comes from the first second you play the game, as both share the same vertical presentation, the same feed troughs in front of stationary animals, and the same system of barriers separating your plot of land from the wilderness (although here it’s a series of rocks, whereas in Country Story, it’s trees).

ranch-town

As you harvest crops, they go into storage, rather than being immediately sold. You’ll use plants like the Alfalfa to feed your starter cow, which requires three alfalfa to reach a “full” status. Cows produce milk when fed, with it taking but a matter of seconds for your cow to produce its first amount. If you don’t click on the cow after the first jug has been produced, it will continue to make a second and third jug of milk, all the while eating the alfalfa in its trough, which can be replenished for just a few more clicks.

You can check on your stored items at any time by clicking on the “Storage” icon from the row of buttons that rest at the bottom of the screen. From here, you can sell items individually, or click on the “Sell all” button to sell off everything at once.

What makes the game different is its inclusion of machines, like a Butter Maker, which turns your collected milk into butter. Further machines like the Juice Machine, Windmill and so on, are unlocked as you level up, but still must be purchased and added to your ranch before they can be used.

Speaking with IGN, Meteor Games’ president Donna Powell confirmed that as the game grows, more features will be added, like decorative items to give your ranch that western flair, and entirely new gameplay elements like mining for ores, panning for gold, fishing, and more, all in an effort to make the game stand out from similar farming games.

For now, the game is incredibly minimalistic, with only the most basic of features being available right now. However, if the future plans for this game sound interesting to you, it would be smart to jump into the game now, in an effort to level up in anticipation of the launch of the new features. Head over to the game’s page on Facebook if you’d like to try it out.

Opinion: Where’s My Meta Social Game?

Like many of you, I spend a few minutes each day playing a variety of Facebook games (okay maybe more than a few, but who’s counting?), including a handful of each from Zynga, Playfish and Playdom. But after all my crops are harvested, pets are fed, cities are cleaned and cafe food cooked, I’m left feeling a bit… empty-handed.

After watching an amazing presentation by Jesse Schell from DICE today (which I highly recommend to everyone, despite your industry or interest), I started wondering – where is my meta social game? Why don’t my experience points (XP) from FarmVille and PetVille come together in some larger Zynga game? To that end, what about my Playfish Coins in Bowling Buddies, Restaurant City and Gangster City? Why can’t the points I earn for taking out mafia members translate into a way to buy new cute boots for my pet? Someone please explain!

Curiously, Zynga just started their catch-all Facebook fan page earlier this month. Surely the social gaming giant has considered letting players combine points across all their top titles into some special promotion, at the very least – right?

Games are everywhere – taking over everything from commutes and classrooms to consumer electronics and theme park rides. Maybe the success of the Facebook platform has come as a surprise, but it’s obvious to everyone at this point. Likewise, it (should be) obvious that social gamers are some of the most addicted players on the planet. It’s one thing to get them in your game, and another thing to get them in multiple games, but why not play them all?

Of course, Zynga’s cross promotions between FarmVille, Mafia Wars, PetVille, Cafe World, FishVille, YoVille (and more to come I’m sure) are a good start, but what if I don’t *want* to play Mafia Wars to get a Hot Rod Tractor that plows 9 FarmVille plots at once? Shouldn’t there be another way to reward loyal players without forcing another game on them entirely? Something more gentle… more overarching… more “meta” if you will.

I’d love a place to login after all my social gaming duties are done, and compare myself against other Facebook gamers in a broader sense. Isn’t that what social games are all about in the first place? Maybe I’m ranting, maybe I’m just a dreamer, but a meta game makes perfect sense to me.

What do you think? Would you want to earn coins for playing multiple Facebook titles from Zynga or Playfish, or do you think it’d give some players an unfair advantage? Does social gaming already take up too much time, or do you crave another level to top?

Facebook Now Visited More Than Google

According to data from Hitwise (as reported by Inside Facebook), Facebook now receives 7.07% of all internet visits in the Unites States on a daily basis, taking the crown from Google, which brings in 7.03% of all visits.

While Google’s web dominance has been fairly steady over the last year, Facebook has grown by leaps and bounds, raising from less than 3% of the market share to its current figure.

Here’s a visual comparison for those who are interested:

SM-WMS-Facebook-Google-3-13-10

Playdom Secures Advertising Deal with WildTangent

Advertising drives a lot of the free games we play and both the advertisers and game developers know this. Playdom, who makes such popular Facebook games as Tiki Farm and Social City have struck a deal with advertiser WildTangent. Here’s the best part: Looking at ads will benefit you.

Once the ads go live, the service will use BrandBoost which rewards you for viewing ads. If you choose to view the ad, you have the chance of earning a premium item or a new game to play. I am not usually a fan of advertising in my games but actually having a benefit for it is something I can get behind.