:: By Shaun Chatman ::
The online gaming industry is booming, with 72 percent of American players logging on to get their fix in 2013. That figure has increased by 5 percent in just twelve months. There's a glut of websites designed to meet the growing demand, but they're not all created equally. Read on to discover eight of the year's best gaming websites.
Image Via Google Play
Contre Jour blends the lines between art and gaming with its eerie dark imagery, stirring musical score, and intuitive, interactive gameplay. The result of an unusual collaboration between software giant Microsoft and little-known game publishers Chillingo, Contre Jour takes inspiration from Antoine de Saint-Expury's children's classic The Little Prince.
Players are immersed into 60 dazzling levels in this breakout hit, which was named Best in Show at South by Southwest. It began as a mobile gaming smash, but a recent Web adaptation has helped firm its place in modern gaming folklore. Some might say it's a design flaw that a third of the levels require Internet Explorer 10 and a Windows 8 machine. However with Microsoft heavily invested in this venture, the strategic decision makes good business sense.
Parents can breathe easy when their children log on to Animal Jam. This joint venture of National Geographic and Smart Bomb allows kids to explore a virtual world full of fun, educational games as an animal avatar. The cute characters have sucked young computer users in, but it's the features they don't see that really impress adults.
Live moderators ensure young users can chat to one another in a safe environment. The easy-to-use interface also features a parent dashboard, where parents can manage their child's access and communication settings.
That blend of entertainment, education, and safety has proven a winner. Ten million members spend an average of 65 minutes every time they play Animal Jam. That's a significant proportion of the three hours children spend interacting with media each day.
With an estimated 253 million visitors every month, Zynga leads the way in social gaming websites. Its roster of games includes wildly popular titles like FarmVille, Draw Something, and Words with Friends. Its clever integrated design allows Zynga fans to compete with their friends around the world using social networks or mobile technology.
While Facebook has been key to Zynga's success, the site is shifting its attention to the mobile gaming sector. The move makes sense, as 64 percent of consumers use gaming apps each day, compared to 56 percent logging on to social networking apps.
Image Via Flickr by MeLY3o
While Zynga's still the dominant player in the world of social gaming, King's breathing down its virtual neck. Zynga shed 21 percent of its daily active users in the last twelve months. This allowed King to close the gap on its competitor. Zynga might still have 54 million members active each day, but King's 50 million daily active players ensure it's not far behind.
King's success is driven by the colorful puzzle game Candy Crush, the number one grossing game in America on iOS. This success is mimicked around the world. In Hong Kong, 1.3 million people each day play Candy Crush. That's one fifth of all residents.
Like Zynga, King also integrates with Facebook and mobile technology, but its website offers extra value for gamers. While its most successful games reach popular platforms, the site houses an impressive portfolio of around 150 games.
Image Via Flickr by Jordan Atkins
Miniclip might not enjoy the traffic of Zynga or King, but this gaming platform still punches well above its weight. Creators Robert Small and Tihan Presbie launched the site in 2001 with a budget of £40,000. It's now worth an estimated $178 million US, or almost £116 million.
Miniclip's design is simple but user-friendly, with key titles organized by category. Members can also easily download the site's most popular free games from its top 10 list. The site offers a mix of exclusive titles alongside more widely known games including the children's favorite Club Penguin and the fantasy epic RuneScape.
Membership is optional, but registered players can receive awards and achievements and find their name on the site's leaderboard.
Buoyed by its Bejeweled franchise, the Seattle-based PopCap delivers what online players want. Puzzle and strategy games are the most popular with this kind of gamer, with 42 percent of online players and 47 percent of mobile users enjoying them regularly. It focuses on games of this genre, with just 10 titles in its repertoire. It's a case of quality over quantity here, with each one designed to be simple yet addictive.
The site is ad-heavy, but that's a smart design feature as it encourages players to invest in the premium versions. With a new copy of Bejeweled sold every 4.3 seconds, it seems the strategy's working.
It doesn't have the profile of many of the other sites on our list, but this driving game's superb graphics have helped it make the cut. It was developed as part of the New Zealand Transport Agency's Safer Journeys' campaign, but don't let those government roots put you off. The slick visuals and smooth game play make it feel more like a high-end console game than something you play in your web browser. The feature which allows fans to challenge friends via Facebook cleverly makes the most of Flash Driving Game's online delivery.
Sarien.net allows anyone whose old Apple IIc has long since given up the ghost to enjoy a nostalgic gaming fix. While the site has its roots in the past, it's also embraced new technology with an iPad-ready version.
No matter whether you prefer solving mind-bending puzzles or simply shooting bad guys, these well-designed gaming websites offer hours of playing pleasure.
About the Author
Shaun Chatman is a well-published author on many authority sites. He lives in Dunedin, FL, and spends his free time playing with his kids or advising friends on tech, gadgets, t-mobile coverage, finance and travel.
What happens when a celebrity such as Alec Baldwin gets kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to stop playing the Scrabble-like game Words With Friends — even after flight attendants have asked passengers to turn off all electronic equipment?
A flood of people rush to play the game on Facebook, and Zynga, the company that makes the popular word game, releases an image of a Words With Friends board that reads "Let Alec Play."
A spokeswoman for AppData, a company that measures app use on Facebook, said Words With Friends has increased its daily active user count by 100,000 since Tuesday morning, from 5.4 million players to 5.5 million players.
As for how Zynga is responding to the deluge of publicity, a spokeswoman for the company said it had no comment. However, if you go to Zynga's Facebook page, you'll find that company officials are clearly delighted.
This is Zynga's latest update:
"Word of the day: ALEC (adj.) Typically associated with "smart" as its prefix to refer to wise guy, or smarty. Worth at least 8 points! this one goes to the smart ALECs out there — playing our game at the risk of getting in trouble!"
Everyone is laughing it seems, except American Airlines.
The airline company, which tried, and failed to get in touch with Baldwin via Twitter on Tuesday, released the following statement on its Facebook page:
"Since an extremely vocal customer has publicly identified himself as being removed from an American Airlines flight on Tuesday, Dec. 6, we have elected to provide the actual facts of the matter as well as the FAA regulations which American, and all airlines, must enforce."
The statement goes on to explain that "the passenger" declined to turn off his cellphone when asked to do so by a flight attendant at the appropriate time, and ultimately stood up — with the seat belt light still on for departure — and took his phone into the plane's lavatory. He then proceeded to slam the lavatory door so hard that the cockpit crew was able to hear it — even though the door to the flight deck was closed and locked.
According to the airline, "the passenger was extremely rude to the crew, calling them inappropriate names and using offensive language."
American Airlines concludes that its employees had no choice but to remove him from the flight.
Of course, the world at large might never have realized that Baldwin's tantrum was inspired by having his Words With Friends game interrupted if he hadn't named the game in a Twitter post he wrote about the incident.
"Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving. #nowonderamericaairisbankrupt.”,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
Baldwin's Twitter account has since been deactivated.
It was also a publicity bonanza for Zynga that Baldwin's spokesman, Matthew Hilitzik, released a statement explaining that his client "loves 'Words with Friends' so much that he was willing to leave a plane for it."
Zynga seized on the incident, launching a viral campaign, "Let Alec Play," which made the rounds across social networks minutes following Baldwin's tweets.
The move raised eyebrows in Hollywood, where even grizzled seen-it-all entertainment publicists were impressed.
"That was the most brilliant PR move I've seen this year," said John Vlautin, who runs SpinLab in Los Angeles.
– Deborah Netburn
Left photo: A Zynga statement on the Alec Baldwin matter: a Words With Friends board spelling out "Let Alec Play." Credit: Zynga
Right photo: Alec Baldwin in "The Aviator." Credit: Andrew Cooper / Miramax Films