AOL / Dabe Alan

Clucks brings video to social gaming, complete with voice detection and celebrity guests

Clucks brings video to social gaming, complete with voice detection and celebrity guests

There is a group of AOL employees in Palo Alto with the goal of creating new brands and opportunities for AOL. The crew is called Mobile First, and is made up of a “group of crazy start-up” people who come up with ideas and then try to implement them. Members of the group had previously worked on a project using short video as a status update; almost like a Twitter with moving pictures. So they thought, what the hell? Why not use social video in a game. The result is a game called Clucks, and despite all the warning signs in the text above, it’s actually fun.

Clucks

“We’re not huge game creators, a couple of us have worked on some games, but it’s a new thing for us. We wanted to build an awesome game, so we decided the first thing we should do was build a prototype,” Sol Lipman, the VP of Mobile First at AOL, told the Penny Arcade Report. It’s a common thing for people to lose interest in ideas after they build a prototype, but in this case everyone became addicted to the early version of the game. They knew they were onto something good, and the game was put into full production. I was sent an early build on my iPhone, and there’s an Android version coming in the near future, and I also fell in love with the concept. It’s basically a video version of Taboo: you open the app and you are given a word along with a list of things you can’t say when describing that word. You then have to create a 12-second video describing that thing, upload the video, and the person on the other end has to watch your video and guess the word. The fun part is that the person watching the clue is also being recorded, and then both videos are melded together to create a fun keepsake you can upload to social media and share. Or you can just keep it personal and laugh at it. There are some interesting things going on here; the game uses Nuance’s voice recognition technology, so you’ll be chided for cheating if you use one of the forbidden words. There are still ways around that, as you could hold up a printed copy of the word or simply spell it out. Lipman said he understood cheating is still going to happen. “Look, if you want to play the game that way, you can go for it. It’s a lot more fun not to cheat,” he said. “And like other turn based games, there’s an app that would tell you what the optimal word for your letters in Words with Friends would be. But the magic of the game is trying your best, and trying not to cheat, and having fun with it.”The one problem with sharing content with video is that you never know when you’re going to see something inappropriate. “We actually have a penis detector,” Lipman said with a straight face when I asked about policing content. There was a moment of silence before he started laughing and said that you’ll be limited to playing against Facebook friends. “If you want to do that, you’re doing it with your friend on Facebook. We also have this thing called the Barnyard, where you can share your really good prompts where it goes into a crowd-sourced group of videos that we approve to make sure no one does anything inappropriate.” If you want to play, and don’t want to link up with your Facebook friends, you can still use prompts from the Barnyard or upload your own videos. Since that content is moderated, you can play with some measure of safety.

Ads that create content

The game itself will be free to play, and you earn coins that are called, appropriately “clucks,” by creating clues that people solve successfully or solving clues yourself. It costs clucks to create clues, or to re-record your video more than twice. Earning clucks without paying will be simple though, and Lipman claimed they wanted to create a game with a working economy you won’t have to pay into if you want to continue playing. “It’s always going to be free. We’re looking to create revenue through these sponsorships, we don’t want the player to be forced to pay for anything,” he explained. “You can buy clucks through these in-app purchases, but that’s super optional.” The game will make money through advertising, but the advertising is actually a way to create content in a clever twist that will actually benefit players. “What we didn’t want to do was have a bunch of ads that didn’t add to the experience, so we came up with the idea of integrating these partnerships, and allow them to make clues,” Lipman said. Right now they have deals with upcoming Sony Pictures movies, and actors from upcoming movies can record their own clues. You can then download those clues and play along with stars from upcoming movies, and then share that video to social media. It's a way of promoting upcoming properties by adding content to the game. The team made many smart design decisions. Since speed and responsiveness is important, they lowered the quality of the video so you can download and upload clues very quickly, while still keeping more than enough fidelity to tell what’s going on. The monetization strategy actually makes sense for everyone involved, but it’s dependent on Clucks getting enough players to make the advertising make sense for people who want to promote their movies, television shows, or other properties. The game borrows liberally from both Words with Friends and Draw Something, but the addition of video and the ease of use could make it a hit. We’ll see if these ideas pan out in the long run. The game should be released today, and is free to play.