Playing Outside The App: Cellufun Gets Tylted

Giving up on its tongue-twister of a moniker (just try saying ‘Cellufun three times fast without dropping the Ls altogether) the seven-year old mobile game site Cellufun is now rebranded as Tylted. The new name comes from a recommendation by someone in the company’s own social network. A contest challenged fans of Cellufun to vote on a new name, and 30,000 participated.

Tylted is an HTML5-based mobile social gaming site, but the brand goes back to 2005. With the rebranding, Tylted will also expand its offering of virtual goods and offer more social options. The company also plans to broaden its reach into the casual gaming space.

Tylted was one of those low-tech mobile Web sites like MocoSpace that grew enormous scale just on the fact that people with mobile phones wanted a diversion. It didn’t have to be fancy. I recall playing some of these games when covering Cellufun back in the day, and the experiences were rudimentary at best. Every move in a virtual farm or casual card game required a screen redraw. But it was social, and that made up for a lot. Now the site has 9.2 million registered users, says CEO Lon Otremba. While the early years of Cellufun saw it mainly as a feature phone destination, “smartphones have been an avalanche,” he says. “Two years ago, the majority were feature phones, and now that is a very small minority on feature phones.” The demographics in income have trended up as well.

Otremba says the site is seeing between 10 million and 15 million monthly uniques and generating half a billion page views a month. For the most part. mobile ad networks monetize the considerable inventory, but with the new branding Otremba is pumping up the sales force and hoping to move to more direct sales. “Our scale is more than sufficient,” he says. “While the networks do a fine job of helping people who don’t have the ability to differentiate their value proposition, we want to take advantage of the fact that now we have sufficient scale so that brands can do special things with us.”

In select campaigns in the past, Tylted has integrated brands like Butterball turkey into their games. In that Thanksgiving campaign. they sold 325,000 virtual turkeys within one of their virtual world games. These are the kinds of integrations Otremba has in mind for brands -- everything from customized games to product placement and virtual goods integrations. “The only limit is the imagination,” he says.

Otremba says the mobile Web platform has been very good for this style of mobile content, because it overcomes some inherent weaknesses of the app world. The Tylted catalog of games is now up to 33, with many already rewritten into more versatile HTML5. Gamers can move across titles more fluidly and with the same virtual currency on the Web that they can have in apps, where game-specific apps rule. This also allows for greater new game discovery within the Tylted ecosystem. “We don’t have to fight a discovery battle every time we launch a game,” he says. “We have a platform already built and traffic that is already there.”

Since the games are migrating to HTML5, the Tylted experience could be put into a shell app, of course. But Otremba says the Web and social networking have proven to be extremely effective customer acquisition tools. The majority of new users are coming from players inviting others in.

Tylted is coming up with new and interesting ways to weave together social networking and game play. In a new casual title called CuBug, a falling blocks game included bugs that can hatch into mobile wallpapers suitable for sharing with others. Curiously, a Pocket Beanie Babies game is the big hit right now, although seasonally themed titles rise and fall in use, as do the “vampire”-themed titles whenever a Twilight film gets released.

It is interesting to watch some of the longstanding mobile brands like Cellufun/Tylted, MocoSpace, and ItsMy evolve from their prehistoric days as lower-profile content providers that users seemed to have discovered by the millions -- even if the trade press did not. Some of them generated loyal and large communities on the mobile Web as the focus shifted to app stores. Now that the mobile Web has become the place to be, some of the platform’s incumbents are already here with scale and experience. 

Tags: gaming, mobile
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