Tag Archives: Playdom

Two Reasons CityVille Broke 100 Million MAUs

cityville_logoCityVille has become the first game on Facebook to surpass 100 million Monthly Active Users – meaning one in every six Facebook users has played the game to date. Its massive growth and ability to dwarf its rivals in the city genre I believe are driven by two things: 1) an innovative way to leverage it FarmVille integration and 2) an ability to have a first mover advantage in the genre, albeit in a non-traditional way.

Leveraging FarmVille

CityVille, like all Zynga games, are able to make huge leaps in users by standing on the shoulders of their massively huge success of FarmVille. Prior to CityVille, FarmVille held the top mark when it peaked at 83.76 million MAU back on March 17, 2010. FarmVille’s peak might be slightly more impressive in terms of user penetration because it was at a time when Facebook only had slightly more than 400 million users on the platform. What CityVille has NOT done to date is reach the heights of the Daily Active User benchmarks of FarmVille – FarmVille peaked at 32.48 million DAU on February 11, 2010.

Zynga has leveraged this large number of users to drive installs for other games, most notably through cross-promo bars at the top of the game, in-game cross-promotion and spending on Facebook ads. But with the revamping of their email system (see http://accounts.zynga.com) back in September of 2010, users who provide an email address permission (a now nearly standard permission request by all developers during installation) are also allowing themselves to receive emails about all other games. Thus when CityVille launched and users were prompted to invite their FarmVille friends (because nearly everyone playing games has some FarmVille friends), if a user accepted, Zynga then sent an invite request via email to all of those users.


While email is not necessarily cheap, it is likely a great deal more effective in driving viral installs than install requests and a lot cheaper than buying ads (which Zynga did as well across Facebook as well as other cross promo bars). It also helps explain how CityVille reached 20 million MAU in just nine days, compared to an average of 20-21 days for games like Café World, Treaure Isle and PetVille.

A First-Mover Advantage

CityVille by no means was the first city genre game on Facebook. Nor was it the first game by one of the top developers on Facebook (Zynga, Playfish/EA, Playdom or CrowdStar) that enjoy the resources (both in advertising dollars and cross-promotional network) to drive users to a game. Let’s take a quick look at the timeline to get a little perspective:


1989SimCity, created by Will Wright, is the first title released by Maxis and is the great grandfather for the city-building genre that finally arrives on Facebook two decades later.

November 27, 2009: My Town by Broken Bulb Studios launches – for me this is the first of these type of games but open to your comments on who else first broke ground and drove significant users. It peaked at 3.74 million MAU in late March of 2010.

January 29, 2010: My City Life jumps into the fray and grows rapidly maxing at 4.18 million MAU in mid March, beating out My Town for a short time, but with lower retention and not being able to match My Town’s DAU numbers. The game was given up in mid-June and has been used to promote other games of late.

March 6, 2010: Playdom seizes the moment with Social City, spending like gang-busters on advertising to become the first super huge hit in the genre. Social City went on to become their first game to exceed 1 million DAU and was truly their first hit on Facebook after having several misses porting over their MySpace hits to the platform. Arguably, Social City made Playdom and set up their purchase by Disney just four months later. In the graphs you can see that Social City’s rapid rise (peaking at 12.69 million MAU at the end of April, effectively had taken the wind out of both My Town and My City Life.


March 18, 2010: Zynga takes note of Playdom’s rapid ascent and begins research to define it’s own entry into the genre. These early surveys show Zynga was clearly targeting Social City users in generating a baseline understanding of competitive products. Nine months later CityVille would arrive.

May and June 2010: Success begets more followers as other large developers dive in: Playfish/EA enters with My Empire (thematically going for more of a ancient civilization theme) and CrowdStar releases Hello City. Both combine to take down Social City a notch, but neither exceeds 6 million MAU (these top-tier developers can’t attain half the MAU that Social City had attained at its peak).

Digital Chocolate also launches Millionaire City during this period – the game becomes Digital Chocolate’s biggest hit peaking at 13.11 MAU in December. In fact, Millionaire City became the city genre’s biggest hit, passing Social City’s high water mark on November 29, 2010 – a title it was to hold for only for 12 days after being crushed by CityVille. Digital Chocolate tried to re-skin Millionaire City, creating Hollywood City and Vegas City, but neither crossed 4 million MAU; Playdom did a similar thing by simply re-skinning Social City with ESPNU College Town (a missed opportunity to tweak it further for sports enthusiasts) – that game too failed to top 4 million MAU.

August 21, 2010: Playdom returns with another entry, City of Wonder, though the game is slightly focused more like Civilization than SimCity. The title grows quickly and peaks at 10.77 million MAU on September 24th. But the DAU number is less strong suggesting retention needs more work and it appears that the advertising to promote the game falls off shortly thereafter, resulting in MAU declines.

December 5, 2010: CityVille launches and reaches 20 million MAU in just nine days.

Obviously, CityVille was not the first mover in the city genre on Facebook. There are at least ten large-scale city games that were successful on Facebook prior to CityVille’s arrival. But where CityVille WAS a first mover was in localizing their game for different languages – basically the first city genre game to present itself in Spanish, French, German and Italian.


Jens Begemann, CEO of Wooga, has been touting that the size of the European market rivals the opportunity in the US (when looking at online players in Germany, Spain, France and Italy as well as other English-speaking languages). His combination of localization of not only text but support and virtual goods is focused on these same languages (with the addition of Turkish).


By focusing on these additional languages (which likely added to the long development time), I believe Zynga was able to take CityVille to these incredibly lofty heights, helping it penetrate into markets no city genre game had ever reached in the past. In the future, we’ll be talking about first mover advantage less in terms of first to market, but in terms of first to market by each language.

Zynga Has City-Building Theme, Playdom’s Social City in its Sights

social-city-logoAs Playdom’s new Social City continues to grow at a fast rate — it jumped into the top 20 applications by daily active users (DAU) by surpassing the 2.5 million mark – it doesn’t take Zynga long to ensure that it’s throwing a similar city-themed game into their portfolio. It’s very likely Zynga has been working on a Sim City-style game of its own for a while and they’ll be tracking down and out-marketing and out-spending their competitors much like they did with CrowdStar (it took 58 days to surpass Happy Aquarium when they launched FishVille) and Playfish (it took eight days to surpass Restaurant City after launching Café World, 36 days to surpass Pet Society after launching PetVille).

zynga-survey-adThe first sign something is afoot is a bevy of ads launched on Facebook today by Zynga (featuring characters from FarmVille, Mafia Wars and Café World) looking for users to help “tell us what you think…makes a great social game?” This launches a user into a pre-screening survey, looking to recruit users to do a 30-minute interview over the phone (and in front of their PC using screen-sharing technology).


The survey then asks the user to choose which of 26 games they currently play regularly, with nary a CrowdStar title and only one title launched this year: Social City.


Users are then directly asked about Social City, specifically how often they play and what level they have reached so far.


Finally users are asked about an operating system and time slot that would work best for the 30 minute interview.


Clearly Zynga is getting more details about the interests and behaviors of Social City players and it’s likely that they are doing so to enhance or advance their own unreleased city-building title. Now we just have to figure out what they’ll name it (probably not HappyVille, Gogii Game’s recently launched PC download title).

The Post-Notification Era on Facebook’s Platform: Viral Marketing Isn’t Dead Yet

As originally posted March 15, 2010 on InsideSocialGames.com

There was a lot of hand-wringing by developers prior to Facebook phasing out application-based Notifications on March 1st, especially among smaller developers who relied heavily on notifications to remind users to come back to their game or application. Making matters worse, the new features designed to replace notifications had their own issues:

  • Proxy email messaging wasn’t fixed until over a week after Notifications disappeared (see the bug) and some developers were caught off-guard that proxy emails have a restrictions on acceptable HTML and FBML tags
  • The Games Dashboard and Counters were extremely ineffective in driving traffic (one developer shared that of 150,000 referenced visits, 1202 were from the dashboard)

Illustrating the immediate impact of the changes, one developer posted this graphic of their application’s engagement metrics, highlighting the relative impact of notifications versus the games dashboard in driving engagement:


Clearly, no one argues that end of notifications was going to have a huge impact on traffic, and several developers were phasing out their reliance on notifications way before the March 1st. Francis Pelland, developer of several relatively small Avastar applications summed up the debates on the developer boards: “I phased out notifications in my apps about 3 weeks ago and my DAU is significantly higher than before through creative thinking and alternative viral features. People should sit and think rather than complain. This sort of thing happens every time when Facebook makes a change and consider it to be the end of the world, make threats to quit, and say it will be the end of Facebook.”

So how are the largest developers faring in the post-Notifications world? Clearly it’s not the doomsday scenario that some feared as developers are mostly relying on email or fan page posts to replace application-to-user notifications, while user-to-user notifications are being facilitated through creative use of Wall Posts.



In the two weeks since notifications, Zynga’s titles are a mixed bag with PetVille and FishVille down 4-6%, Mafia Wars flat and YoVille, FarmVille and Café World up 3-7%. Zynga’s use of email is fairly sporadic and limited to a few titles:

  • FarmVille and Café World have yet to send an email (based on my observations and discussions with other users). With such a large user base, the cost of email may be prohibitive compared to the effectiveness of fan page posts.
  • YoVille has slowly increased its frequency from once a month at the end of 2009 to 3-4 per month and has primarily focused on new item releases.
  • Since December, Mafia Wars has sent seven emails, primarily focused on new game features (holiday gift safe house in December, Bangkok expansion release in late January and the revamp of their store in February). Three of those emails have entitled the recipients to the Mafia Wars hard currency, reward points.
  • Finally, PetVille sent it’s first email to users as part of the process to accept emails and unlock a pet for your PetVille pet.

Instead of relying heavily on email, Zynga has focused on innovating user-to-user communication via Wall Posts, re-focusing users from sending gifts to asking for gifts and collaborative tasks that require users to plead with friends to send items so they can complete the task.

The only games that haven’t had either consistent emails (YoVille) or the collaborative task mechanism (Mafia Wars, FarmVille, Café World), are the only two games that are down over the last two weeks (FishVille and PetVille).

See the breakdown of tactics used by Playfish, Playdom and CrowdStar (complete with grapical trending) in the full post on InsideSocialGames.com