Social gaming platform Jooist dies to pave way for sports betting

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Jooist, was a social gaming platform for feature phones that enabled users to discover games and play games on their own or with their friends, earn points and compare scores and achievements with whoever was in their gamer network.

Early in the day, Waliaula Makokha, Jooist’s founder & CEO, a young brilliant man armed with a Computer Science degree from University of London and his friend and co-founder and COO Brian Obara also with a Computer Science degree from William Patterson University of New Jersey and Paul Kamau, co-Founder and CTO, an ex-PayPal engineer with a 1st class Honours in Computer Science from JKUAT, knew the sky was the limit.

The three musketeers built the gaming platform simply by providing a platform to third party mobile game publishers, add social features and open up a stadium-like  to integrate social features into their games through our patent pending platform.

Unlike today’s sports betting sites popularised by daily prizes and weekly or million dollar jackpots for players who would dare bet correctly, the Jooist marketplace had gamers playing and winning non-cash prizes and game publishers would at times insert adverts inside the games making the games less rewarding than sports betting. Makokha told TechMoran that if he was to start allover again, Sports Betting would be his number one choice even if it meant spending lots of money on servers and marketing campaigns because players want real time rewards rather than fame or popularity.

Betting-South-AfricaHowever, Makokha doesn’t regret everything. After building  a platform to offer games via their custom web and mobile portal in partnership with mobile networks to their subscribers, it got some backing from GrowthAfrica accelerator, and these helped it to sign up a number of international partners and won several prizes.

In 2013, Jooist won Seedstars Startup World Nairobi held at the GrowthHub. Jooist beat 17 other startups from Kenya to emerge the regional Seedstars World start-up competition winner. Uhired.me emerged third while Lipisha came second, both startups incubated at GrowthHub.

At that time Jooist had its product clearly developed and already on the market. Some of its achievements  included contracts with device manufacturers to supply social gaming software and content e.g. Samsung Africa, Tecno Telcom. Contracts with mobile agencies to sell targeted mobile ads via our mobile channels e.g. Thumbtribe, South Africa and TwinPine, Nigeria. Contracts with mobile game publishers to provide high quality, Jooist-enabled games to its platform e.g. Contracts with mobile game publishers to provide high quality, Jooist-enabled games to our platform e.g. Herocraft (Russia), FuguMobile (China), Indiagames  (India), SoftGames (Germany) and Booster (The Netherlands) and it has recently signed contracts with two local mobile carriers.

It went on to partner with Miniclip SA, a mobile and online games company launched in 2001 based in Switzerland, to distribute their inventory of web games in Africa. The firm was also working on a partnership with Kongregate Games to distribute their content in Africa as well.

There was a time Jooist was serving over 100,000 downloads per month, who were giving them 1.5M page views per month and 500K unique monthly visitors.

The firm also launched Jooist for Flash platform formatted for desktop web with 300 games from Miniclip in addition to its Jooist for Java formatted for feature phones and Jooist for HTML 5 formatted for smartphone devices. The firm had 1000+ games across all its platforms and was working on Android and Windows Phone platforms.

Later it pivoted from an ad based model to a subscription based model to allow users pay just KES 10/= a day to enjoy over 1,000 games across over 2,000 devices. The firm is also in talks with WeChat and UCWeb Browser to help distribute Jooist games.

The firm later pivoted from a “social gaming network for mobile phones” to a “cross-platform gaming network (for all kinds of devices).”

With just KES 10/=  anyone could access games across all major platforms from Symbian S40 and S60, MTK, Android, Windows Phone and all modern mobile and desktop browser. Jooist had a daily maximum download limit for downloadable games and unlimited access and play for browser based games. Users could chose to pay KES 50 per week or KES 100 per month where they get to save more as they get “free” days in return for upfront payment.

Jooist’s old model was ad-based which proved a tough call to monetize as  advertisers did not perceive any ROI on the ad spend on feature phones and secondly, such users did not have purchasing power even though they had intent. Thirdly, rendering ads on feature phones was tough with 2,000+ feature phone models with varying browser brands. Ads on feature phones also could not yield as much as rich format ads that can be served on smartphones as such they are mainly sold via blind ad networks that don’t really pay well and one has no control over issues like brand safety among others.

“The reason for the phased approach is that our billing is based on shortcodes and we are yet to acquire the same from Airtel in Kenya and the different mobile networks in our target countries,” he told TechMoran.

Players used to pay for the games via Premium Rated SMS but acquiring shortcodes and integration to telco-billing systems was not easy.

The firm changed its focus on Kenya but still could not get it right. Jooist says it was too early in the market and most of the publishers it relied o didn’t get the logic. It could also didn’t raise enough money to sustain itself and it was not making any cash.