Here are the companies that presented at the games panel at the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco. My favorite company was Atmosphir.

Grockit — massively multiplayer online learning. Grockit is a multiplayer online environment where players can earn experience points by showing off their knowledge in educational games. Then they earn “grockit” points (named after the concept of “grokking” in the science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land) by playing games with less experienced users and helping them out. The idea is that people learn more by working with their peers, rather than just by taking notes from a teacher. Grockit can help users prepare for tests like the GMAT exam, which people take to get into business school.
Akoha — play it forward. In Akoha, players distribute “mission cards” that give them specific game-type tasks to perform in the real world, like “give someone a book.” When you’ve completed a mission, you can pass the card on to a friend. You can also track a mission card to see how people have completed the missions in the past. The idea is to create and share meaningful experiences in the real world.

Atmosphir — Legos for gaming. Atmosphir is a platform that people can use to create casual games. There’s a growing trend towards incorporating user-generated content into games, let letting users design levels, but Atmosphir’s big selling point is that its tools are really simple — basically blocks that you place in a grid. At the same time, it’s also incredibly open-ended; eventually, users should be able to create any kind of game they want in just a few minutes, especially as Atmosphir rolls out more theme packs. “What happens if you take the zombie apocalypse theme pack and mix it with the 8-bit old-school pixilated theme pack?” the company asks. I’d play that. The platform is currently in beta testing on Macs and PCs, but Atmosphir plans to add support for videogame consoles too.

Playce — bringing casual and immersive gaming together. Playce is a destination website where you can play games with your friends. Unlike most gaming websites, however, the games aren’t just casual, two-dimensional experiences, but immersive 3D games. The company claims it can take the things that make the casual gaming experience appealing (the fact that you can just go to a website, rather than intall software or buy a DVD) but provide much richer games. It’s also developing a virtual world for those games.