Google Games?

Someone sent me this job listing. 

Product Management Leader, Games

I was the guy who led the team that launched and built Yahoo! Games into the number one online gaming site. It's not my focus these days, but it is what a lot of valley people remember me for. I have some experience integrating gaming into existing online services.

The way this job is outlined seems to reveal a certain strategic direction and plan. I infer from the language that Google wishes to internally create hit games. This is not the strategy I think Google will find successful. The games business is funny. The popularity of games, even hit games, is ephemeral. Most games are not hits.  

The reason Y! Games succeeded is because we combined Y!'s brand recognition and distribution with the brands of established games (blackjack, backgammon, poker, chess, spades and so on). I was able to add community around those games (ladders and tournaments and the like), back in the baby days of social media. Once we had built this audience, we were able to start creating new games. Popular games are a hit or miss business, and we missed as much as we hit. Building a brand for a new game is expensive and difficult. Even if you're wildly successful, the game will have a brief shelf life.

I would recommend Google do something similar, but take it a step further (what I would have done if I had stayed at Yahoo! longer). I'd love to see them acquire one (or several) gaming engines and basically open source them (Yahoo! acquired a one person game company called which provided the basis of our efforts). Create a core set of Google branded games with these tools, but internally only spend resources building a suite of games that come with built-in audiences and brands. Just this will create a significant gaming audience. Do these essentially as reference designs. Make sure your reference designs show off the platform capabilities. Give away a powerful gaming development platform, and then let developers create terrific games. 

I wouldn't take development and brand building risk of new games myself; I would allow third parties to do that. Give away an awesome tool set. Own the enabling technology. Own the distribution channel. Own the platform. Own the transaction services (both in-game and out). Own the monetization channels. Own the metrics. When something starts to get traction, promote the hell out of it. Allow advertisers to skin games easily. Allow the developers to share in monetization using one of Google's most significant strengths -- advertising driven by user data.

Users think of Farmville and Mafia Wars as Facebook games, not Zynga games (greatly to Zynga's dismay). Zynga may have a terrific valuation, but I bet Facebook makes more money from Zynga games than Zynga does. How many of Zynga's broad catalog of games provide anything more than de minimis revenue?

Google should not be aiming to get into the game business.  They should get into the gaming platform business.

GO is my favorite board game. Pure strategy built from nothing. A great game for any founder.