I got an email the other day from someone working for doof.com asking if I could write something about their new casual gaming network. Just a couple of days latter the Casual Game Manifesto popped up on Gamasutra - let's see how the two go together. On an elementary level, doof.com delivers most of the stuff you'd expect these days from a casual gaming network. It offers players a persistent identity through screen names that can be viewed by others; it offers communication tools such as instant messaging, private messages and chat rooms; and it offers persistent material goods such as customisable "doofSpaces", placements on scoreboards and "medals" aka achievements.
There might be room for improvement in terms of giving players a persistent identity as there are no customisable avatars on offer and the management of the social structures could be refined by adding teams or gaming circles. Surely nothing too severe but this hints at one of the major flaws of doof: The games don't justify circles being formed around them.
This might also explain why, as far as I know, no demos are offered outside of the actual network; to get an expression one has to register with the site – to be confronted with flash games that are almost as basic as those annoying interactive ringtone ads ("Beat Santa in a drinking game to get a free ringtone"). Play "Jumpin Ride" and you'll see what I mean. Casual gaming does not necessarily have to equate with an (almost condescending) "basicness" as enough examples have demonstrated.
Accordingly the way the community features interact with the games are not overtly sophisticated. Sure, you can play them against each other but that's pretty much it in terms of integrating the game mechanisms with the community. On a basic level there's no possibility to integrate your avatar in the games (due to acute lack of avatars) nor on a structural level is the community organised around game-like mechanisms (which would turn it into some sort MMO, which, to be fair, doof does not aim for). Consequently persistent material goods in form of virtual items can't be merged with the games either.
Actually doof's persistent material goods mostly consist of one being able to play against another player. One starts with a limited number of credits, these are spent on two player tournaments (obviously the more entertaining option). If one wins the credits multiply, if one loses they diminish. Once they're gone they have to be bought with real world currency. Other than that your hard earned credits can also be spent on several gifts – the only virtual items available – that on one hand demonstrate how much time and energy a player has sunk into the game but one the other hand seem a bit detached from the rest (as, for example, they are not visible to other players during the game and can't be merged with the mechanics. But then again I never really got this whole gift thing on Facebook either).
Moreover the question arises how doof would be able to gain additional value through international operating deals. At least the German market can be written off as "doof" literally translates into "dumb" or "foolish" in my Vaterland.
To quote from the Gamasutra piece:
Treat portals as a customer acquisition tool. If you are using portals as a pure revenue source, you are thinking overly short term. When you start thinking of portals as a customer acquisition tool instead of your primary revenue generation channel, other opportunities emerge.
The future powerhouses of the casual games industry are companies that have the best attributes of both existing developers and portals, tied together by a rich meta-game experience The value driving these models is primarily based on socially rich communities, meaningful brands and highly reusable content. Disposable content, in the form of game mechanics that you play for a short period of time and then toss aside, make less sense from a financial perspective.
That's something the operators of doof.com might want to think about.