Last year, AOL purchased a sprawling real estate property in startup mecca Palo Alto. There the New York-based online merchant has been busy squirreling away engineering talent to work on, among other things, mobile products, such as apps for vintage properties MapQuest, Moviefone, and AIM; an iPad magazine; and now, mobile games.
Today AOL is launching Clucks, a social video-based mobile game that combines elements of the classic Taboo and Zynga's Draw Something. It's the first of potentially many games from AOL, says Sol Lipman, the company's VP of Mobile First.
"AOL in general needs to build new brands for the future, and mobile’s the place to do it," Lipman tells Fast Company. "We built Clucks kind of like a platform, because we think social video and turn-based gaming could be a huge opportunity for us."
In Clucks, players take turns recording 12-second videos of themselves describing a secret word, without saying that word and several "forbidden" words that are closely related. (If the secret word were "dog," for example, forbidden words might include "bark" and "man's best friend." If this reminds you of a once-popular TV game show, there's a good reason for that.) Their video gets sent to their opponent, who then records a video of them trying to guess the word correctly. At the end of each turn, Clucks plays both videos side by side so you can see them play out together. And like Draw Something where players both earn coins for each correct guess, Cluckers can earn clucks that earn them extra time or replays. You can earn additional clucks for sharing your videos on Facebook, or with Viddy's 40 million users. The game uses Nuance's Dragon voice-recognition software to detect whether you're saying any of the red-flag words.
Based on game mechanics alone, Clucks plays out like Draw Something sprinkled with the novelty of social video. Draw Something, once the App Store's highest-grossing app, saw a steep drop-off in users around the time its creators OMGPOP! were acquired by Zynga back in March. Lipman knew he would have to design Clucks for staying power, so he lowered the game's video quality for super-fast upload and download times and created a "Barnyard" section where users can leave pre-recorded videos for other users to guess, even if they're not Facebook friends.
Clucks is also experimenting with a sponsorship model for monetizing the game in a way that doesn't interrupt the user experience. AOL tapped Sony Pictures as a launch sponsor, which means instead of seeing standard banner ads within Clucks, you'll instead get a chance to play rounds against some of Sony Pictures' stars, who will pre-record videos for the game. No word yet from AOL on which celebrities will be featured in the game, but Sony Pictures has previously cast big-name stars such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jonah Hill, and Meryl Streep.
Clucks' sponsorship model is similar to Draw Something's experiment with sponsored words, which ended up feeling like forced interaction with brands. What could make all the different is unlike in Draw Something, sponsor interaction in Clucks are the reason to keep coming back, rather than the reason to stop playing.
[Image: Flickr user Hadleygrass is asparagus]