Tag Archives: Pricing

Mafia Wars Tests Paying for Thai Expansion: Dawn of a New Social Game Model?

When the Daily Active User (DAU) numbers are broken from Facebook for a week, it’s hard to figure out trends, but the 3rd expansion set for Zynga’s Mafia Wars (and heavy advertising to promote it – and possibly stem growth from Playfish’s slick new mafia-themed entry Gangster Wars) has helped the game reach it’s highest DAU numbers (6.6 million) since December 12th (when the perfect storm of a very messy release, user backlash, and the removal of pre-game gifting caused numbers to plummet).

The promotion of the Thai expansion is interesting because it harkens to that of a video game release by trying to create hype and a desire to get invited to play the expansion. Users were prompted to unlock different items by hunting for jobs with specific logos. Then users were prompted to send gifts of Thai Baht (the currency used in the location) to friends. And then there has been the limited roll out to select users. The ads prompted you to go and see if the “passport” was unlocked for you to go to Thailand. And if it wasn’t you were hit with this:


Three interesting options:

  1. You could try to get it for free (and I’m sure the odds on that are low or designed to reward a certain type of prolific player who is likely to help market it),
  2. You could socially spam all of your friends (someday it would be nice to target to just your Mafia Wars friends) with a wall post (which provides valuable viral marketing for Mafia Wars ) in hopes that your Mafia Wars friends had an extra passport (a sort of by-invitation-only mechanism like gmail and Google Wave that makes it feel like an exclusive club), or
  3. You could buy the expansion pack for 30 Reward Points (the equivalent of $6 of the paid currency in the game).

This last option is the most intriguing, as it suggests a new wrinkle in the freemium business model of social games – something to be expected where these “games as a service” begin to emulate MMORPGs more and more. The buying of expansion packs is fairly common in MMORPGs when new worlds or realms are opened up with a ton of content. The hardcore players buy it when it first comes out and then the expansion pack is added to the core game over time. The same model makes a lot of sense for Mafia Wars, as the expansion packs to date have been targeted at hard core users (you can’t get to Cuba until you’ve hit level 35 and if you weren’t already playing, an expansion pack to Thailand is not going to make you rush to sign up and play).

The price ($6) does seem a little steep at first glance. It is shrewdly priced above the lowest Reward Points bundle (25 Reward Points for $4.99) in an effort to get users to “increase their purchase size” to the 50 Reward Points for $9.99 bundle. One could also argue that users may already have a large stockpile of Reward Points as they were given away to retain users over the holidays.

One could also speculate that the sale of virtual goods may have been declining for many reasons: 1) an overall saturation of the Facebook audience for a mature game, leading to a reduction in new users who are the lifeblood of virtual item sales, 2) hard core users (who tend to be your more prolific buyers) at the maximum 501 mafia seeing less value in buying new items once they have their entire mafia outfitted and 3) a tremendous give-away of loot items (both on limited-time discounts and as part of the “gift safe house” promotion) since Thanksgiving. When a game matures and your hard core users don’t have anything to buy (or do), you need to find something else to meet that demand. Expansion packs are a logical fit and it’ll be interesting to see Zynga’s experiment unfold.

The questions going forward:

  • Is any other RPG-style Facebook game even able to attempt this model? After Mafia Wars (24 million MAU, 6.6 million DAU), the next largest RPG-style game on Facebook is Playdom’s Sorority Life with only (6.1 million MAU, 988,000 DAU) and no real history of expansion packs to date.
  • Can any game genre outside of RPGs do this? Once could argue the additional fish tanks in Sim Fish games are a bit similar, but those are usually at a smaller price and don’t provide real content, which make them almost seem like virtual items.
  • Does the expansion pack model allow developers to add levels without all the repetitive jobs and energy that Tadhg Kelly recently criticized as unethical design?
  • For this model moving forward, how much free content should there be? Could this open up a hybrid model where a subset of users would be willing to buy an expansion pack that just took you through a story while non-payers would have to slog through new levels with repetitive jobs?

Interested in your thoughts as to whether this is a model that can succeed (in at least skimming off user’s willingness to pay among core users) and whether any other developers will try to follow suit.

Amazon and the Great MP3 Price Test

I’ve been quite the fan of Amazon’s MP3 Storeto the point I have been conditioned to check their daily deal as part of my morning routine in hopes of snagging a new release (like U2 or Lily Allen) priced around $3.99 and goodies from the vault (like older catalogue Tom Petty or Beastie Boys) for as low as $1.99.

So I was surprised when Amazon’s MP3 store replaced its Five for $5 Fridays (another regular promotion they have been running in addition to their daily deal) with Fifty MP3 Albums for $5for the Month of May. I’ve done a lot of deep discounting of digital items in the past, both of PC download games and virtual goods, and every time I had a prolonged sale (more than a week long) I found that a) promotions tended to get stale and b) the performance waned. In fact the most aggressive timing, like one-day sales, seemed to drive more frenzied buying and perform well. Lo and behold, for me the hardcore user, I faced the 2nd Friday in May expecting my Friday specials and instead got rehashed promos about the same albums I’d already reviewed/bought.

What I think is really going on here is what (David Harrell alluded to back in February) – we’re watching a huge Amazon’s price test, trying to prove the point suggested by an unnamed Amazon official : “As soon as we wise up and realize that online albums are worth about $5, the music industry will be fixed.” And what better way than to put a varied list of recently released albums, greatest hits packages, and more esoteric releases into a huge sale at the $5 price point?

So nearly two weeks into the sale, what, if anything can we tell about how its working? For starters, looking at the current Top 50 Download MP3 Artists you can glean some insights:

  • All but one of the top 14 selling artists on Amazon has an album on sale as part of the $5 promotion or was deeply discounted as a Daily Deal during May
  • Just over one-third of Amazon’s Top 50 currently have an album priced at $5 or less (two Pink Floyd albums are under $5 but not part of the 50 for $5 promotion)
  • Billboard’s Top 200 for the same period barely makes a showing in the Amazon Top 50 Artists: The first Billboard listed artist is Lady Gaga at #15 on the Amazon Top Artists list; #1 Bob Dylan on Billboard checks in at #17 on Amazon while Billboard’s #3 Rascal Flatts shows up at #47. In fact only 16 artists appear on both the Top 50 on Amazon and Billboard
  • While some of the best selling $5 promo albums are for greatest hits packages, like Marvin Gaye, Aerosmith, the Grateful Dead and Etta James, three-quarters of the $5 albums are for newer acts that are not on or barely reach the Billboard Top 100: Neko Case (#5 on Amazon, #95 on Billboard), The Decemberists (#16 on Amazon, #77 on Billboard), Francesca Battiselli (#33 on Amazon, #91 on Billboard) and Anberlin, Metric and Michael Franti who don’t make the Billboard Top 100 at all.

Granted there are caveats in looking at Amazon’s list versus Billboard (Amazon is a subcomponent of the Billboard list and their MP3 store is less mainstream than iTunes ; iTunes reflects some diversity from the Billboard list as well, but does have acts like Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus all comfortably in the top 20). But the $5 promotion appears to be breathing more life into up-and-coming artists as visitors are more prone to giving something a chance at the lower price.

So while it looks like the reduced pricing is driving sales of some artists, does Amazon have enough data to convince record labels that the $5 price generates enough velocity to “fix” the industry? I know it’s worked for me – I’ve bought more music and whole albums and sampled more new artists in the last year than I have over the past several years. Guess we’ll get more clues in the Great Amazon Price Test come June…

May 12th Top 20 Artists Snapshot

Amazon’s Top 50 list is constantly changing, so here is a snapshot of the top 20 artists for the late afternoon on May 12th with details about whether the artist has an album in the current 50 for $5 promotion or was featured as a “Deal of the Day” in the last month:

Top 50 Download MP3 Artists Billboard Top 100ArtistFifty for $5 PromoDeal of the Day
1Steve Earle5/11
2Merle Haggard5/10
3 M. Giacchino (Star Trek)
4Marvin Gaye$5
593Neko Case$5
6Isaac Hayes5/9
8Grateful Dead$5
9Death Cab for Cutie$5
10Etta James$5
1157Chrisette Michele5/4
12Kanye West$5
13Matthew West5/7
14Ben Harper and…5/5
155Lady Gaga
1677The Decemberists
171Bob Dylan
189Taylor Swift
19TV on the Radio$5
2018Depeche Mode4/21