USA Network Furthers Its Game Play

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USA Network will look to take its casual online gaming business to the next level by offering more titles and extending into the social media arena through several new partnerships with game publishers and developers.

The network Wednesday announced deals with technology and game distribution companies NeoEdge, Bigpoint and Bunchball that will take users of its Character Arcade casual gaming portal beyond traditional game play and into more interactive and social networking operations, according to Alexandra Shapiro, senior vice president of brand marketing and digital for USA Network.

Through its partnership with technology company Bunchball, visitors to Character Arcade -- which brands popular online games like mahjong with characters from USA Network series like Monk -- can now accrue points during game play, as well as chat with friends and share games, according to Shapiro.

Further, the network has aligned itself with the Facebook Connect technology which allows players to register through the popular social media site and challenge their Facebook friends to play various games.

"This gives people more incentive to play because they're more invested in the site, and the immersion into the social media space we think will mark a shift in terms of how people use the site and interact with their friends," she said.

The network will double its current 50 casual game offerings by the end of 2009 through its partnership with game distributor NeoEdge. Along with adding games to its site, USA will also be able to distribute its network branded games through NeoEdge's own gaming distribution channels.

"Youl'll now be able to see Character Arcade games on other gaming platforms like those on Yahoo and MSN," Shapiro said.

German-based technology company Bigpoint will provide USA with a series of MMO (massively multiplayer online) gaming titles, which will provide revenue generating opportunities through micro-transaction offerings. "We think the combination of advertising with revenue from micro-transactions will help us scale our gaming business from a financial perspective," she said.

Shapiro said a beta test of the new Character Arcade offerings in August netted the portal an average of 32 million page views, a 13% increase over July's performance. "On average people are spending about 14 minutes on the site and we're projecting that we'll hit 35 million page views in September," she said.