Tag Archives: PopCap

Quick Hits: PetVille’s Massive Growth, Playfish Still Down Since EA Acquistion

A day after CrowdStar threw down the gauntlet that it was going to be more profitable than Zynga, Zynga pulled out a massive Facebook advertising campaign (see example ad at right) that saw PetVille’s numbers go through the roof, helping it crush rival CrowdStar’s Happy Pets. PetVille climbed from 934,945 daily active users (DAU) to over 3.1 million in a single day, taking over the #14 spot among Facebook applications and quickly surpassing CrowdStar’s Happy Pets (currently #18 with just under 2.6 million DAU). Also not so trivial: After less than a week, PetVille is now only 300,000 behind YoVille — Zynga’s initial sim game– which launched 19 months ago.

Zynga Believes There is Life in Synchronous Games After All?

After my article in InsideSocialGames yesterday suggested that Zynga was focusing its attention on asynchronous games and less time on synchronous games like Scramble and Zynga Poker, today’s FarmVille toolbar actually cross promotes largely synchronous game PathWords (for the first time that I can ever remember) and formerly deposed sim game Roller Coaster Kingdom:

The EA Purchase of Playfish Still Not Showing Growth

We’re a month out since Electronic Arts made a big splash in purchasing Playfish and we noted that traffic was actually down across the top Playfish games shortly after launch. The cross-promotions to EA properties like the Sims3 iPhone application and to the Pogo.com portal have been removed, but traffic through December 7th on the top Playfish games remained 10% or more below their average DAU during the month prior to the acquisition:

Restaurant City Pet Society Country Story
Avg DAU 30 days prior 5,048,849 5,099,902 1,645,520
Dec 7 DAU 4,542,862 4,551,948 1,463,206
% Difference -10.0% -10.7% -11.1%

Interestingly, the Pet Society numbers have been revitalized in the last two days (growing from 4.5 million to it’s pre-acquisition levels with just under 5.1 million DAU), which might be seen as a defensive initiative in reaction to rival Zynga’s massive launch of incredibly similar PetVille. Part of the improvement in DAU may be due to a new daily coin lottery, where users have a chance to win more if they have logged in five straight days, but wondering how long it will take EA to support Playfish with ads to protect itself from inroads by Zynga.

Meanwhile, EA’s Spore Islands never really took off — it never grew over 20,000 DAU, and could never retain users. It’s Sticky Factor is a dismal 5%.

Bejeweled Blitz Flat, Others Target Gem Swapping Masses

While PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz has been solidly at 3 million DAU for over a month now, other gem-swapping games are beginning to find an audience. GameDuell has been targeting Bejeweled players in ads for its Jungle Jewels game (so far only amassing 216,000 DAU and cracking the top 100 with a pretty limited social game experience) while France’s ZSlide has been advertising Treasure Madness (with a slew of gem-swapping mini-games) and gained a little traction (currently in the top 50 with 700,000 DAU). I expect more subtle nuances to the gem-swapping games to continue to percolate in the months ahead, much like they did in the casual games space.

Does Electronic Arts Know How to Leverage Playfish Acquisition?

Now that Electronic Arts has purchased Playfish for up to $400 million to help it hasten the transition from retail package dependency to a more digital focus, what can we expect? Looking at the quotes from COO Sebastian de Halleux in the press and today’s EA earnings call might provide some clues:

“I can say that we’ll be working first to take our own IP and share it across EA’s other platforms.” – de Halleux on PaidContent.org

You can definitely see IP like Pet Society and Restaurant City being extended to the Nintendo DS and possibly for the Wii – they nicely fit the demographics of these more “casual” platforms. These games also have core social components that could take advantage of the connectivity being introduced via these devices. But a first priority? That surprises me.

“The basics is that this is not going to change anything much for users, specifically — only that some of the franchises in the hardcore space will be looked at more seriously [in terms of social gaming]” – de Halleux on games.com.

Where the first quote talks about extending Playfish IP to the EA’s core platforms, this looks at EA leveraging Playfish knowhow to bring their games to the social space. But I’m puzzled by the focus on “Hardcore” titles like Madden, Tiger Woods, Battlefront for a couple reasons:

  • The audience for the “hard core” games is predominately male, while Facebook has become more and more female
  • Social activity in sports games is typically head-to-head and that usually is synchronous play – most of the big social games that reach the masses are at their core asynchronous. Madden has had difficulties in creating a great online head-to-head league-style playoffs in the past because you need to sustain 32 users for a considerable commitment of time (if someone in your league takes off on vacation, the whole playoff process is delayed). This year they finally introduced computer-controlled teams to try to alleviate the issue of people dropping out.
  • Sports/hard core games typically require a dedication of a chunk of time to play, whereas social games on Facebook are relatively short-play, ten to 15 minute games. The challenge on bringing Madden or Tiger Woods to a platform like Facebook is how to capture the essence of a sports match but break it down into a five to ten minutes of gameplay.

While there is no question there is a niche that is under-served, it would seem that the surer bet is to focus on bringing EA’s most successful casual content from the pogo.com brand on to Facebook – the casual player is migrating from the Pogos of the world to Facebook. Poppit, Word Whomp, Jungle Gin already have created socially engaging games where users work together to “rescue” fellow players and seem to be a natural extension for the Facebook platform.

But that wasn’t mentioned at all today during EA’s earning’s call. Instead, for guidance about the titles Playfish might work on, they suggested “looking at top mobile games that we have.” Those top titles? Pretty much the blockbusters:

  • Tetris and Bejeweled (not sure of the rights for Tetris and doubt PopCap is likely to give them rights for Facebook since they are already there with Bejeweld Blitz)
  • The Sims
  • Need for Speed
  • EA Sports titles: Madden, FIFA, Tiger Woods
  • Hasbro titles: Monopoly, Yahtzee and Scrabble

Today’s additional announcements (EA cutting 1,500 jobs for games below 2 million units in sales that wasn’t a Hasbro or Sims title) further refine the scope (they’re going from the mid-60 titles of two years ago to the mid-30 titles next year). Then listen to EA Games Label Presient Frank Gibeau from today’s call: “[Free to play] opens up new access points to experience the game and upsell [to the full game].”

The conclusion I’m drawn to is that the EA brass sees Playfish as a way to help port their quickly narrowing list of existing IP and to use the channel to sell the full-blown games. Publishers like PopCap have already learned you can’t take a download game like the aforementioned Bejeweled and just put it on Facebook – they’ve actually re-worked the IP and introduced Bejeweled Blitz, to create a game that organically works within the Facebook platform. And as I mentioned earlier, focus on sports titles have their own unique challenges.

So while I think EA made a great acquisition in Playfish, my concern is that they don’t totally understand what they’ve bought or where the synergies are. Yes, there is no question you can take existing blockbuster IP and figure out ways to make it social – but I wonder if already-social games from the Pogo.com platform are a better fit for Facebook. Further, if Playfish is focusing on figuring out how to port the blockbusters, will EA also give them the leeway to create new titles outside the quickly narrowing EA scope (or is that pretty much a greenlight for other developers to stake out their claim knowing Playfish won’t have the bandwidth to compete)?

I am certain the strong team at Playfish will help focus EA on how to really leverage Facebook, I just hope the team at EA listens.

More Signs of a Game Industry in Transition

One astute analyst during the call asked the EA team if they thought some of the decline in console retail market was because of time competition with Facebook (e.g. more users spending time on Facebook – and ostensibly playing games – instead of playing console games). John Shappert, COO, responded “I think the economy is impacting footfall at retail; people are still playing and buying, but they are being more selective; Playfish opens up doors to folks that aren’t console players.”

Once I tweeted that response, I immediately got back one from David Scott, Founder of Casual Collective: I was in my local Game store and this guy’s wife said to him “leave it, I’m just going to play that farm game.” (I kid you not).

Benchmarking Your Facebook Application: How Engaging is it?

Many sites, like Inside Social Games, rank the top games on Facebook based on the monthly active users, but daily active users is a much more instructive measurement if you want to understand how engaged users are with a specific Facebook application. For example, using data provided by Developer Analytics, Mind Jolt is the #2 game application when looking at Monthly Active Users (over 16.3 million) but the daily active users is just under 2.1 million, ranking it 10th overall.

By comparing the Monthly Active Users (showing the reach of a game) versus the Daily Active Users (showing the engagement), you can see which games are the stickiest and which ones have a real churn issue. For Mind Jolt in the example above, they have a 12.6% stickiness factor (2.1/16.3) meaning of the 16.3 million people who used the application, only about 13% use the application daily.

The average “Sticky Factor” for the top 25 applications on Facebook is 18%.

The Big Churners

So what applications attract users but can’t seem to retain them? Many of these are the past stars of Facebook, initially popular like Living Social (the Top Five lists) or Movies (quiz mania). A passing fad with little staying power:

Application Monthly Active Daily Active Sticky Factor
Movies 20,446,560 894,197 4.4%
Causes 23,401,221 1,067,921 4.6%
We’re Related 17,007,440 777,749 4.6%
Top Friends 12,383,916 580,073 4.7%
Living Social 23,013,301 1,763,091 7.7%

The Most Sticky

There is no surprise that some of the most useful applications (Facebook for Blackberry and Mobile is just outside the top five) are among the most sticky, but the top games (Farm Town and Farmville) also rank highly, suggesting good game play design is bring users back every day. Here’s the top five:

Application Monthly Active Daily Active Sticky Factor
Facebook for Blackberry 7,746,122 4,284,788 55.3%
Happy Farm 1,682,541 674,263 40.1%
Farm Town 14,902,946 5,159,788 34.6%
Farmville 17,036,997 5,322,426 31.2%
Restaurant City 8,733,452 2,605,067 29.8%

How are the Top Developers Doing?

Of the top multi-game providers Zynga and Playfish are way ahead the rest and have some winners and under-performers:

  • Zynga (16.3 mllion daily active users): Farmville 31.2%, Mafia Wars 25.4%, Vampire Wars 24.9%, YoVille 20.3%, Texas Hold’em 19.4%, Street Racing 16.4%
  • Playfish (8.0 million DAU): Crazy Planet 33.6%, Restaurant City 29.8%, Pet Society 26.1%, Word Challenge 8.6%, Biggest Brain 7.4%, Geo Challenge 7.2%,

Other key developers:

  • PopCap (1.3 million DAU) is the “grand-daddy” in the casual games space and their initial foray into Facebook with Bejeweled Blitz (a slightly above-average 21.6% stickiness rate) is just outside the Top Ten applications. Zuma is up next for them.
  • Metrogames (1.2 million DAU) has tried to bring arcade games in with middling success, in large part due to poor stickiness: Biotrnic 12.2%,, Waka-Waka 9.6%, Typing Maniac 5.9%
  • Playdom (0.9 million DAU), which is looking to repeat its success on MySpace to the Facebook platform is generally launching games with lower than average stickiness: Sorority Life 14.1%, Mobsters 11.7%, Poker Palace 11.2%

By using this simple factor, you can now benchmark your application versus others and work to optimize your retention. When it comes to social games, it may just come down to how fun the game is.