Innovations: Save an alien

Roy Man and Raz Friedman decided to turn a flash-in-the-pan Facebook application into profit.

By MEREDITH PRICE LEVITT
August 20, 2009 15:15
Innovations: Save an alien

save an alien game 88 248. (photo credit: )

The video opens with a glowing yellow ball, doomsday music and the words "the day the meteor struck." Two helpless looking animated figures with huge eyes look up in fear as the bright globe draws closer and closer to their planet. A television broadcast with the words "the final hour" written at the bottom of the screen announces the impending doom. Small, colorful figures with hopeless expressions seem to accept their imminent fate. Suddenly, the meteor rips into the planet and a giant white explosion fills the screen. A few moments of black silence pass and then the triumphant music returns and the adorable figures reappear. Floating safely in space, each one is unique and encapsulated by its own transparent space bubble. Except for a few unlucky aliens who got frozen, 10 million have survived. Now they need a home. For Roy Man, the CTO and cofounder of saveanalien.com, this video answers the question about where the idea came from. "I didn't think of this idea, they found me and asked for help," he explains without even the hint of a smile. He does, however, admit to drawing them. An artist cum developer cum businessman, Man has been creating video games since the seventh grade. "I grew up with a parallel love for computers and art," he says. After finishing a degree in computer science at the IDC in Herzliya (where he is now an instructor in computer games), he worked for several years in the gaming industry. In 2007, he met his future partner, Raz Friedman, CEO and cofounder of saveanalien.com. That year, the pair decided they must do something to save these helpless creatures from death - and start a social game that would spread virally across the Internet. In the beginning, it was one of a zillion Facebook applications not intended to last for long. But after 250,000 users saved an alien, the pair realized they could take advantage of a new shift in the gaming industry that reaches users who like interacting on-line through social networks. "There is a huge trend in the gaming industry that is creating a new business model," Man explains. "Instead of paying in advance, you play for free and only pay once you start having fun. Using virtual currency, people can buy virtual goods." BECAUSE WEB 2.0 social sites like Facebook are attracting a much broader audience than ever before to the Internet, new and broader age groups are starting to use social games. This, Man thinks, is part of the reason why the market is expanding so quickly. Four months ago, Save an Alien relaunched its new Web site. No longer integrated with Facebook, people who had already saved aliens were given the opportunity to reclaim them, but so far only a small percentage have returned. "We have tens of thousands of users with more joining every day," says Man. "Our goal is to reach the point where each user spends an average of $1 per month on the site." They can do this through PayPal, SMS or by accepting an advertisement on their cellphone that translates into "liens" (cash on the Web site). For now, there are still quite a few bugs to work out and the application can be slow at times, but saveanalien hopes to get partnerships with social Web sites in the works soon. "Social gaming is becoming a giant in this industry," Man explains. "Companies are growing from nothing to $50 million a year and we want to be part of that. Israel has all the resources and talent it needs to be a big player in this new space." On a more esoteric level, you may be wondering what in the world you do with your alien once you've made the agonizing decision to adopt. Well, aside from playing some pretty cool social games with people from all over the globe and inviting your friends, you can take care of your alien by feeding, clothing and petting it, finding friends for it and even take a photo with it (including integrating the image with text bubbles and changing facial expressions). You can also create a story for your new friend and upload it to your alien's profile. IF YOU have extra energy or want to earn points and awards by helping others, you can even feed other people's hungry aliens. "The best humanitarian award went out to a guy who fed 7,080 hungry aliens so far," says Man. That's a lot of hungry aliens. In the demonstration, Man shows me a picture of his well-fed and much loved alien, Mushi Mushi. With oddly shaped eyes, wild blond hair that fans out to both sides of his head and a lopsided smile, Mushi Mushi bears little resemblance to the dark-haired, handsome 31-year-old Man. But the point is that there is an alien for everyone. "We worked hard on the art to get it right. It took us three tries but they work nicely now. And we've got every style, including Barbie, hard-core punk and even S&M. It's an emotional experience." The alien I adopted, Zubkuzza, is carrying a bouquet of red roses and looks like a cross between a flaming Fred Flintstone and a confused Martha Stewart. At least she's got character. Right now she's pretty hungry as buying her food costs actual money unless you have time to earn points the long route, which I have neither the skill nor the ambition to attempt. I have no idea what she keeps saying to me, but Zubkuzza seems content to be on Earth. The first order of business should be to give her a name that Earthlings can pronounce. Who knew that saving an alien from imminent death could be so entertaining? If you think she's cute, you can pet her. She is particularly fond of backrubs. www.saveanalien.com


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