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April, 2012

At GSN Digital, the Focus is on Facebook Games


When you think about teams creating Facebook games in Boston, the first place that comes to mind is the Harvard Square office of Zynga, the publicly traded game studio.

But out along Route 128, another group is hard at work on Facebook games: the Waltham office of GSN Digital, the game development arm of TV’s Game Show Network. The 105-person office divides its time between developing Web-based games for GSN.com, mobile games, and Facebook games. Lately, there has been a growing emphasis on the latter, said Peter Blacklow, who runs the operation.


GSN Digital has just launched 50 Cent’s Blackjack on Facebook, a collaboration with the rap star. It has a 25-person social games studio in San Francisco and last year hired two social games entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C., who had been working on a Bain Capital Ventures-backed start-up called Join the Company. (Blacklow said he simply hired the founders, though Bain’s website describes it as an acquisition.)

GSN Digital exists in Waltham because GSN acquired a local company that developed Web-based games, Worldwinner, which allowed users to play games of skill and, if they were good enough, win cash.

Blacklow said GSN.com is the number three games portal online, after Yahoo and Pogo. On Facebook, the GSN Games app is among the top 20 apps, and it includes games like Wheel of Fortune, Bingo Blitz, and Deal or No Deal.

“Last year, we launched 30 games into the Facebook app,’’ said Christian Meyer, a senior vice president at GSN Digital. “This year, we’ll do that many or more.’’

Attracting users through Facebook “is a little like paying rent at the mall,’’ said Meyer, alluding to the rising cost of acquiring players. “The mall attracts lots of people, and as long as you can afford the rent, it’s great.’’ GSN generates revenue from players through advertising and the sale of virtual goods.

When I asked Meyer whether GSN Digital was thinking about developing entirely new game concepts - think Draw Something or Angry Birds - he said that wasn’t the group’s focus. “We’re more about iterating, licensing properties, and mixing and matching things people already know than creating new games or new game mechanics,’’ he said.

Blacklow is also a founding partner at Boston Seed, an early-stage investment firm in Newton. It has invested in one local game start-up, Brass Monkey.

GrabCAD collects more funding

GrabCAD founder Hardi Meybaum said his start-up has added a few hundred thousand dollars to the $4 million funding round it announced in January. The new money comes from individual investors like Doron Reuveni, chief executive of uTest, Matt Mickiewicz, cofounder of 99Designs, and Ahti Heinla, formerly the chief technical architect at Skype.

On Wednesday, the president of Estonia, Toomas Henrik-Ilves, will be in town to help GrabCAD inaugurate its new offices at the American Twine Building in East Cambridge. The company got started in Tallinn, Estonia. Locally, GrabCAD had been at the Kendall Square office of Matrix Partners.

The company has built a site that brings together mechanical engineers who design products and components of products, in part by offering a free library of 3-D computer-assisted design models they can use in their work. Engineers can also set up profiles on the site and showcase their work.

Companies that want to crowdsource the design of a new product or part can run challenges on GrabCAD, and potentially get dozens or hundreds of engineers thinking about their particular problem. The companies award prize money for the best design, and may later continue working with an engineer to move the product forward. GrabCAD charges an administrative fee for each challenge.

Meybaum said the Cambridge office has four employees, and the Tallinn office has 12. He expects the company to add four jobs in Cambridge over the next few months. Meybaum splits his time between the two sites.

GrabCAD was part of the 2011 TechStars Boston class, after winning the Seedcamp London program earlier that year.


Soure: The Boston Globe
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