americanidol.bmpA raft of new online games are emerging, allowing you to play straight from your browser.

The quality generally remains weak — because of limits on interactivity posed by your broadband connection.

King.com, a European company with $43 million in financial backing from Apax and individuals, has just released one of the more expensively developed games so far: American Idol. It cost more than $250,000 to make (not much compared to full-fledged download games like WoW; remember, we’re talking pure Web-based games)

King has an exclusive commercial relationship with Fremantle Media, the producers of American Idol.

We reviewed the game early last week, and we weren’t that impressed — though this may say something about 1) our expectation that the quality of the latest online games would be better, or 2) own taste of games, or 3) our own dreadful performance at playing the game, or 4) finally, gender; 75 percent of King.com’s users are women. King.com targeted the game at women aged 25 and up, and we note some women find the game quite fun. Significantly, older women have become a target for similar games. It helps if there is some interactivity built in. King.com lets you play against others. It also gives you a profile page, where you can share gifits.

With King.com’s American Idol, you get to select an avatar, and then you click on your arrow keys to match the keys coming across your screen (sort of like Dance Dance Revolution). If you don’t do well, your avatar starts singing badly and the audience starts booing (happened to us). If you do well, the avatar starts to look better, and sing better. The prize is two tickets to the American Idol finale and a share of a $30,000 jackpot. King.com licensed real songs, such as “I heard it through the grapevine.” The basic version is free.

King.com was funded in 2004, back when online companies were having a hard time. It has since grown to 50-plus employees, from eight three years ago, says Toby Rowland, the co-founder of King.com.

Meanwhile, Winster, started by Jerry Kaplan, former chief executive of Egghead, is offering games oriented toward older woman, giving them ways to play very simple games, and socialize at the same time — but letting them work toward winning prizes, such as movie ticket, for example, after they earn enough game points. (We tried out Winster’s games a couple of weeks ago, and again, nothing about the experience to write home about).

We should mention ClubPenguin.com, a flash-based game, with millions of kids aged 6-11 hopelessly addicted. This game is a huge success, bootstrapped by its founders (see screenshot below). We tried it out, and loved it! (Thanks Susan Wu, for the tip).

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Here are some other games:

www.wildtangent.com
www.bigfishgames.com
www.pogo.com