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Skillz introduces real-money, skill-based Android gaming to U.S.

San Francisco-based company, Skillz, launched the open beta for its real-money, multiplayer tournament platform today, making it the first service of its kind to allow developers to host both free and cash multiplayer tournaments inside their Android games.

When developers integrate the Skillz SDK into their games, the platform will create an asynchronous multiplayer mode and leaderboard that allows players to compete with each other. It also allows players to spend real money to buy into tournaments. There is an option to play for free, but those who are more competitive can buy into tournaments with real-world money.

According to Skillz founder and CEO, Andrew Paradise, existing monetization strategies aren't effective for most independent mobile game developers. He believes that Skillz is an alternative that will keep players engaged and also help developers make money from their games.

"And the other thing that is really crazy is the top 20 developers right now capture literally 80 percent of revenue."

"Around 68 percent of devices are Android devices versus iPhone, and yet the vast majority of revenue — more than 80 percent — is going to iOS developers," Paradise told Polygon. "And the other thing that is really crazy is the top 20 developers right now capture literally 80 percent of revenue.

"So on Android, there are about 400,000 games right now, so there's a ton of developers who are making very little money."

Paradise said a lot of existing business models don't convert well for many independent games. For example, a management or building game may find success with in-app purchases because the nature of the game encourages players to buy items. But developers of an arcade-style game where there are no items to sell might find it difficult to monetize. Skillz, he says, aims to solve this problem by encouraging players to spend money to participate in tournaments that otherwise wouldn't exist.

Developers Tyler Thomas and Matthew Fossati are the founders of DMW, a game development studio that recently restructured its business to use Skillz after its games failed to monetize using other methods on the mobile market.

"We tried pretty much everything," Thomas said. "First we started with regular banner ads either at the bottom of the game or in the menu, and then we had a micro version where we had two different apps — one was free and the other was premium — and after that we went straight to in-app purchases.

"None of those worked out really well."

Thomas said the monetization strategies they tried simply weren't sustainable. When they had banner ads, not enough people downloaded the apps for it to be profitable. When they tried offering a free version in the hopes that players would buy the premium version, of 1,000 players, maybe seven would purchase the premium version. When they tried in-app purchases, they encountered the problem of none of their games requiring players to own items.

Thomas tells Polygon that when he found out about Skillz, "it just clicked."

"I can't charge players $1 for multiplayer, because it's just not done. Skillz takes care of that for me."

With Skillz integrated into their golf title, Mini Golf Star: Putt Putt Game, the previously single-player game gets a multiplayer mode, where players can compete with each other by playing the same maps in a tournament.

"I would say that what Skillz brings to the table is multiplayer, which is so important," he said. "The problem with multiplayer is if I were to take our golf game, which people love, and add multiplayer, it's a ton of work for me and I don't get anything for it. I can't charge players $1 for multiplayer, because it's just not done. Skillz takes care of that for me."

Skillz is launching with 10 game studios, each releasing one Android title initially. The games available span genres including sports, puzzle, arcade and more. If players choose to take part in the tournaments, they can play for free (free competitions in Skillz's games are available worldwide), or they can enter cash tournaments starting at 25 cents (cash tournaments are available in 36 U.S. states).

The titles below are entering open beta today with Skillz.

  • GnarBike Trials (Gnarly Games)
  • Bubble Explode (Spooky House Studios)
  • Big Sport Fishing 3D Lite (Rocketmind)
  • SushiChop (Rogue Rocket)
  • Mini Golf Star: Putt Putt Game (DMW Design Group)
  • Bubble Shooter (Ilyon Dynamics)
  • Apache Strike: Multiplayer Fun (The Game Boss/Geniteam Solutions)
  • King of Defense (WSW)
  • 3D Cave Runner (Skillz)
  • International Boxing Champions (Coeus Creative)