Tag Archives: Social Games

Developers Revamp Viral Marketing Tactics to Comply with Changes to Facebook Policies

As originally posted on InsideSocialGames.com

While we recently attributed some of the across-the-board declines in daily active user numbers for Facebook games to seasonality, it’s becoming clearer that recent policy changes by Facebook may be contributing to these declines as well, forcing developers to completely revamp their viral activities. Here are three viral practices that have been reined in and examples of how developers are attempting to cope with the changes.

Pre-Game Gifting Interstitial Screens are Gone

The policy:”You must not prompt users to send invitations, requests, generate notifications, or use other Facebook communication channels immediately after a user allows access or returns to your application.”

How developers are coping: This was viral-marketing 101 for nearly every Facebook game: every time you went to the application, you first had to go through a “gifting” screen before you could actually play the game. Only Playfish refrained from this practice in the past. Now that it’s been taken out of the arsenal, developers like Zynga and CrowdStar are trying different ways of getting users to get back in the gifting habit. Most games have opted to add an icon on top of the game play area, specifically prompting users to send gifts, like in CrowdStar’s Happy Aquarium and Zynga’s Roller Coaster Kingdom:

Zynga’s PetVille has incorporated the gift icon into the basic navigation on the screen, with little balloons that highlight an action they want users to take:

Zynga’s Mafia Wars is more aggressively integrating prompts and banners into the page:

And still, some games still have the gift interstitial, but they are generally smaller games, like Hive7’s Youtopia, which Facebook might not have gotten to yet:

Pop-Ups to Prompt Users to Share Achievements…Revamped

The policy: “You must not display a Feed form unless a user has explicitly indicated an intention to share that content, by clicking a button or checking a box that clearly explains their content will be shared.”

How developers are coping: Instead of the standard Facebook news feed form windows popping up, each game is experimenting with different in-game prompts that users need to activate to show their intent to publish to their wall. PetVille prompts users by having a new icon show up in the bottom right, with a balloon prompting users to share:

Playfish’s Pet Society has a somewhat confusing choice between a sharing icon and a green check mark icon (used to close the in-game pop-up and NOT share), whereas Farm Town by SlashKey prompts with a simple binary choice of either sharing (green check icon) or not (red X icon):

CrowdStar’s Happy Pets uses the check-box approach – although the prompt is by default pre-checked to share so the user must un-check it before clicking on the green check mark icon:

Gating Content Based on Number of Friends…Not Enforced?

The policy: “You must not provide users with rewards or gate content from users based on their number of friends who use your application.”

How developers are coping: This common developer practice often prompted users to request perfect strangers to “Add Me” so that they could unlock levels or items in the game without having to pay for them, thus running amok of Facebook’s intent to keep your social graph strictly to your direct friends (we recently offered up an alternative). In response to the policy being enforced, Treasure Madness by zSlide no longer requires you to have a number of friends to dig under certain heavy rocks. Instead, they now make users pay for “contractors” at 150 in-game gold pieces per contractor. So a rock that would have required 10 friends to lift, now requires 1500 gold pieces:

Yet it’s still a question as to how intense Facebook plans to enforce this policy. For example, Zynga’s Roller Coaster Kingdom still appears to be gating items based on the number of friends, gating the options for booking guests, upgrading park attractions and for expanding the amusement park area:

We fully expect these policy changes to have an impact on growth and retention rates as developers adjust their viral marketing tactics to comply. But with the seasonal impact of people getting away from their computers to celebrate the holidays, plus developers quickly reacting and optimizing new tactics, it may take several weeks to fully understand just how severe the impact of these changes will be on growth and retention rates.

Top Social Games Take a Hit: Seasonal Declines or Something Bigger?

zynga-roller-coaster-declineAs originally posted on Inside Social Games

Every year around this time, when I was selling casual download games across the Oberon Media distribution platform, we’d see the numbers of games sold begin to decline: disposable income and leisure time tend to dry up as everyone gears up for Christmas.

And so after months of impressive growth, some of the biggest games on Facebook are reflecting what could be a similar seasonal trend on the social platform – virtually every big game has seen a decline in their Daily Active Users (DAU) since their peaks in December:

Game High DAU Date Dec High DAU Dec 21 DAU % Decline
FarmVille 8-Dec 28,168,448 26,240,616 -7%
Café World 4-Dec 10,714,586 9,079,596 -15%
Happy Aquarium 5-Dec 8,169,204 7,070,370 -13%
FishVille 5-Dec 7,459,387 6,644,904 -11%
Mafia Wars 9-Dec 7,021,764 5,574,330 -21%
Zynga Poker 17-Dec 5,013,652 4,773,945 -5%
Pet Society 9-Dec 5,094,052 4,753,688 -7%
Restaurant City 8-Dec 4,680,805 4,113,377 -12%
Farm Town 10-Dec 5,374,337 4,110,261 -24%
YoVille 8-Dec 3,463,083 2,833,933 -18%
Bejeweled Blitz 11-Dec 3,175,528 2,783,245 -12%
Happy Pets 13-Dec 2,977,222 2,768,133 -7%
My Fishbowl 8-Dec 1,956,719 1,911,330 -2%
Roller Coaster 1-Dec 2,323,788 1,474,539 -37%
Lil Farm Life 16-Dec 1,427,667 1,232,698 -14%

Collectively, these games have fallen 12.0% from their monthly highs, dropping from 97.0 million DAU to 5.3 million on December 21. A Facebook platform issue that impacted all applications for 48 hours starting December 9 might also have pushed users to give up the games and focus on their holiday shopping in earnest. In addition, some of these titles have had extenuating circumstances that might have caused the variances. Mafia Wars retooled their infrastructure and put in anti-hacking measurements massively impacting the game’s DAU. In contrast, Pet Society launched a new lottery feature to drive users to return every day and helped improve DAU.

Yet because the decline is pretty consistent across multiple developers and game types, it’s reasonable to attribute these declines to the seasonal trends I’ve experienced in the casual game download space. Still, could it be a bit more ominous signs of a slowing in Facebook’s growth? Or signs that games are maturing and life cycles are declining as more games enter the market?

Are There Other Factors Beyond Seasonal Trends?

There is no question that social games growth has mirrored the massive increase in Facebook subscribers – Facebook has added over 100 million monthly active users (MAU) in the six months that FarmVille has grown to just short of 75 million MAU. Having a continual influx of new users makes it relatively easy to continue growing the game.

zynga-new-title-launches-20091221

The pace of Facebook monthly active users seems pretty consistent (at least for numbers reported through November). But what is really interesting in the graph above is comparing the relative progressions of each of the most recent Zynga releases.

FarmVille is by far the fastest growing and in general has been able to maintain its growth. The successive titles of Café World, FishVille and PetVille all appear to have smaller initial trajectories and then to plateau at a certain level, each one slightly below the former release.

This is reminiscent of the casual download space, where a developer would release a genre-defining title, like Diner Dash, and then churn out successive titles based on that mechanic. Each one had some initial huge boost in interest and sales, but over time the games held user interest (in terms of spending money to buy the title) for shorter periods of time and typically at a lesser number of units.

It is still early in the social games life cycle and the numbers for these games are still in their early stages and it’s probably too early to say they are on their decline – Café World only Monday released achievements in the game, which based on examples of Mafia Wars and FarmVille helped boost the sticky factors in each game.

If the casual download game space can provide any insight on this trend, it will come the week after Christmas. Once Christmas is passed and users break out new computers or have holiday money to spend, the sales of PC download games usually rebound – and I’d expect the DAU for top games to start their upward swing again.

And if the numbers don’t rebound? We may get some interesting insights into the life cycle of a social game.

Five Reasons Facebook Games Are Not a Fad

As originally published at Games.com and later highlighted by Silicon Alley Insider.

No one questions whether sharing news or photos with friends and family is a fad, and when people get together to socialize, they often play games – from bridge to charades to Trivial Pursuit. As one of the largest social gathering spots on the web, Facebook is no different and here are five reasons why I don’t think Facebook games are a fad:

  1. Facebook Games are Recommended by Your Friends

    • Your social network is unquestionably the most trusted resource for making decisions – recommendations and word of mouth from trusted friends and family has always been the most influential factor in purchase decisions. In the past, we used to go to Google to search for something. Today, we ask our friends on Facebook and get the recommendations we need to make a decision.
    • Game portals have gone further and further in this direction, initially recommending games to play, then integrating user reviews. But it’s hard to beat a recommendation from someone’s personal network of friends and family, and this is where Facebook excels.
  2. Facebook Games Provide Hours of Play for Free
    • My favorite story is a friend who was at a local game store and overheard a family looking at different console games. The wife said, “No, put that down, I’m just going to play that farm game.” The fact that a game like FarmVille is now seen as an alternative to paying $35-$60 for a console game should strike fear into Electronic Arts (hence their purchase of Playfish).
    • The download game portals realize that demand for a $20 download game is drying up – just this year alone the price has come down from $19.99 to $9.99 when Amazon launched, to as low as $6.99 with some of the other portals. Likewise, how does a subscription model of $5 a month compete with free?
    • There will always be exceptions for really stellar content – I’m going to shell out $20 for great games like Pop Cap’s Plants vs. Zombies – but the days of paying for a knockoff or slight variation of a top game are disappearing.
  3. Facebook Games Don’t Require a Download
    • Why go through the hassle of downloading at all? Facebook games provide a robust game play all within the browser, eliminating one of the major impediments of getting a user to convert – the download process.
    • Flash games don’t require a download, but ultimately they aren’t nearly as engaging. Facebook games are living, breathing entities that are constantly being updated, expanded and made more interesting like a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. Think of Facebook games as the dawn of an MMO without the eight hour download required of your typical MMO.
    • There are still some problems with games being able to run smoothly within the Facebook platform, as I noted in my blog earlier this week. But these are the early days of a new technology and infrastructure will definitely improve. When I was in the download business a little over four years ago, the rule of thumb was that a game that was over 11 MB would never sell because the download would take too long. Two years ago games were reaching the 100 MB level, so bandwidth definitely improved to support more robust download games. The same will happen with Facebook games.
  4. Facebook’s Potential of Reaching Over 350 million Users will Continue to Draw Developers
    • When developing for a single platform gives you the opportunity to reach 350 million people, even capturing 1% of that audience can provide dividends for a developer. It is still relatively easy to enter the market (although there is an increasing need to develop a robust infrastructure and analytics to scale and optimize) which should guarantee further innovation and great games…
  5. Facebook Games Haven’t Even Shown Their Full Potential Yet
    • …and with a bevy of developers being drawn to the space, there should be a great deal more innovation in games. You are already seeing more sophistication in the sim games – the sheer number of feature and item releases for FarmVille each week is staggering. But we haven’t even begun to really leverage the social network (beyond posting social spam to your friends’ walls) and create truly collaborative game play. That is where the next generation of games will cement Facebook games as a truly unique gaming experience.