Is Appointment Gaming Where the Money Is?

When 36% of American households have a DVR, the age of “appointment television” – being home at an appointed hour to watch a show live – is clearly waning. Yet with recent changes to Roller Coaster Kingdom and the launch of Café World in the last week, Zynga appears to be doubling down on the “Appointment Gaming” mechanism of FarmVille.

Roller Coaster Kingdom – a sim game where you run an amusement park somewhat similar to Rollercoaster Tycoon although without the fun of building the coasters yourself – came out July 31st in beta, went through a great deal of fixes, and then on September 23rd rolled out a change to the basic game mechanic. Instead of guests coming to users’ amusement parks randomly based on park popularity, they had to “book tours,” wait for the buses to arrive, and greet them at the park or, according to the post by the developers, “If you do not meet and greet your guests in a timely fashion, they will become crabby and leave.”

Similarly, with the release of Café World just last week, you have to select dishes to serve to your restaurant patrons, prepare it and wait (anywhere from five minutes to two days) for it to be cooked. If you don’t serve it in a timely fashion, the food spoils (the 5 minute to make bacon cheeseburger lasts about 5 minutes before it goes rotten; the hour-to-make Tikka Masal Kabobs last about an hour and 15 minutes).

This is not hugely different from the game mechanic of FarmVille, where crops spoil if not harvested in time. So while it’s hard to argue with the success of FarmVille, it’s also hard to ignore the response from the users of Roller Coaster Kingdom since the game was modified:

  • “I think the whole booking a tour bus is stupid.. now you want me to plan my life around a game… I gotta be here at certain times just so i can keep playing…”
  • “I get bored waiting for the tours to get to my park because I didnt schedule them correctly. Needs to be a way of getting guests while you are waiting for tours.”
  • “Its no longer fun now that you have to book things. What made it fun was getting more people to come to the best park”

This takes the game from a more casual play, to a much more involved one. On TV, users see what is on and if nothing good is on, they go to their DVRs to find something to watch; Using Facebook is somewhat similar, where users see what their friends are up to, and then might dive into a quick game. For the most part, the social games offer that release, but with these sim games, you are forced to check in within a certain time.

In addition there doesn’t appear to be anything to do in between waiting for things. While you wait for dishes to cook, customers come in and leave in Café World; in Roller Coaster Kingdom the amusement park just sits their empty, with no one riding or walking through the park. Compare this to Zynga’s other big hit, Mafia Wars, where you may have to wait a couple minutes to get more stamina to fight, or for energy to rebuild, but you can pretty much count on being able to do something if you happen to log in every 3 or 4 hours. Even in FarmTown there are often trees to harvest or animals to collect things from while you wait for crops to grow.

If appointment TV is dying, why is Zynga putting marketing muscle behind two games that require this scheduling? Both games got placed in the Zynga toolbar atop FarmVille and Mafia Wars over the weekend, driving huge increases in traffic: Roller Coaster Kingdom jumped from 860K to 1.67 million daily active users in a day while Café World (with a healthy helping of Facebook ads) jumped from 250K daily users to over 2.7 million and into the top ten applications on Facebook in just two days.

I can only guess that when Zynga compared the monetization metrics of a more free-flow Roller Coaster Kingdom experience to those of the more scheduling-based game play of FarmVille, the users who ended up really investing time in scheduling were the ones that Zynga could better monetize. While an engaged user is in most cases easier to monetize, I think it’s equally important to ensure there is some joy there whenever the user can spare 15 minutes to go check on the game – otherwise you may only end up monetizing a small niche of users and hurt your opportunity to reach the masses.

2 thoughts on “Is Appointment Gaming Where the Money Is?”

  1. Regarding you comment behind Zynga comparing monetization metrics of a free-flow RC Kingdom experience to those of the more scheduling-based game play of FarmVille aren’t you losing a percentage of the audience – thus not engaging them. If we use “The Sticky Factor” to make these decisions it would seem that it would make more sense to do a free-flow experience as you would target both audiences and thus increase engagement and monetization? Or am I missing something here.

  2. Actually, if you look at the Sticky Factor for Roller Coaster Kingdom, it was dropping pretty quickly below that 15% mark, meaning even though it may have been getting more users with the “free flow” gameplay, it wasn’t getting engaged users or people coming back every day. Only after creating an “appointment” focus did you actually see the engagement improve. It’s coming back down again, dipping below 20% so will be interesting to see what they do (they have a new release going out today and their taking down the servers for a bit as I type).

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