San Mateo-Based Social Gaming Site Shuts Down

Winster.com's noncompetitive, cooperative games were popular among women and older players.

San Mateo-based online social gaming startup Winster.com, that encouraged players to cooperate and win games rather than compete with each other, closed up shop last month, likely due a financial crunch.

The company started insolvency proceedings in June, under the Assignment for Benefit of the Creditors procedure, a state alternative to bankruptcy.

The eight-year-old company, largely backed by venture capitalists, had become popular among older women, many of them socially isolated or incapacitated and looking for friends to hang out with, without the competitive nature of online gaming.

Some of the site's more popular games were simple ones like “Slot Social” and “Poker Pals,” which featured easy rules and many prizes to be won. 

A letter posted in April on the website from "Winnie Winster" – co-founder Michelle Kaplan's Winster avatar and the website's host – said, “We simply can't continue to operate the website in its current form. The resources and effort required to run the servers, distribute prizes, and support our staff are just too much to bear.”

In a conversation with Patch late last year, co-founder and CEO Jerry Kaplan had said he was running a tight ship and had hoped to be able to successfully monetize a unique idea in online gaming. San Francisco-based IDG Ventures, one of Winster.com's backers, had hoped the company would be able to attract a new kind of audience.

Winster.com did not comment on the closure. Both Kaplan and IDG Ventures turned down repeated requests for interviews.

The web address now takes us to a keepsake book of players' stories and memories.

Winster.com's closure has left ardent fans like 67-year-old Liz Haskell disheartened. The Los Angeles-based food enthusiast stopped driving two years ago due to an eye condition. Haskell said Winster games helped her make friends across the country.

“It filled an incredible hole in lots of people's lives,” said Haskell, who said she and other players wrote to the company after the closure announcement about ways to keep it afloat, but did not hear back.

“My life is full. But what I miss is the camaraderie, the sharing," she said. "We had fun and we laughed.”

Haskell said she found no other gaming site that offered the kind of hang-out and "everybody wins" approach that Winster.com did.

“[Winnie Winster] had a brilliant idea.”

Some fans have also set up a Facebook page dedicated to Winster.com.


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