When the gods dance...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Facebook describes how to design the best social games

 19 Jul 2011 03:48 PM PDT

What’s the key to making a successful Facebook game?

Just ask Gareth Davis, a platform manager at Facebook, who has seen thousands of social games come and go.

If game companies pay attention to the advice, they just might have a chance to challenge the social game industry’s leader, Zynga.

Davis, speaking at the Casual Connect game conference in Seattle, said that there are 200 million monthly active users on Facebook and that the average length per game session is 55 minutes. Facebook is trying to move those players over to mobile platforms such as Android or the iPhone. Zynga has more than 266 million monthly active users on Facebook, but it’s in Facebook’s interest to diversify that and encourage more game companies to make social games.

“My belief is that you can do good social design by taking the collective learnings of people on the platform,” Davis said.

Here are Davis’ tips on how to create the best social games.

1. Start with social from the ground up. Don’t adapt games from older ways of building games. That means it must be easy for gamers to share what they can achieve in the game with their friends. Those players have to be engaged long enough so they can interact with their friends and help the game spread.

2. Optimize for social discovery and distribution. Discovery is a huge problem, but Facebook itself has a lot of different ways to spread news about games, from the news feed to email messages.

3. Focus on engagement. If they don’t come back, it doesn’t matter.

4. Make sure you take advantage of retail-level merchandising of virtual goods. Virtual goods are the primary means of making money in free-to-play social games. Users play for free but pay real money for virtual goods. Merchandising means you should offer discounts or sales to users on a regular basis. And you should target certain virtual goods toward “whales,” or social gamers who will pay lots of money to climb to the top of the leaderboards in a game.

5. Use analytics for business intelligence. Good analytics allows for insight into the way customers think and lets you figure out what to sell to them.

6. Use interactive development with A/B testing. A/B testing is where you test two different ideas and se which one will be more popular with users. It’s a scientific approach to game development and is a critical part of the feedback cycle in social games.

7. Deploy globally on multiple platforms. Game developers should strive to reach a worldwide audience and support multiple ways to reach an audience. Developers can, for instance, create HTML5 games that are cross-platform titles, but they can also create native apps, or those that take advantage of a particular platform. By pursuing gamers in all markets, social game developers can hit the biggest audience.

Facebook’s biggest untapped opportunities for game developers

 19 Jul 2011 03:16 PM PDT

Zynga may look like the all-powerful, dominant game publisher on Facebook. But Facebook wants you to know it’s not too late to get in on the action: There’s room for more game companies on the social network.

Sean Ryan, the director of game partnerships at Facebook, said that there are roughly 200 million monthly active users playing games on Facebook, out of its total of 750 million monthly active users. About 50 percent of the gamers return daily to the site. Zynga dominates the field with 266 million monthly active users, according to AppData. But there are 375 games with more than 100,000 monthly active users, Ryan said, and there are Facebook developers in 190 countries.

“It’s not a market where 10 apps get all of the users,” Ryan said in a speech at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle on Tuesday. “The market is growing like crazy and you can participate in it.”

Ryan said that it makes sense that more types of games will succeed on Facebook in addition to Zynga’s city-building and farm-building games. He noted that cable TV now profitably supports more than 650 different TV channels.

The huge emphasis on Zynga’s games has obscured the fact that there are only two “hidden object” games on Facebook. Those include web games like Mystery Manor and Disney’s Gardens of Time, where players have to click on a screen in order to uncover a hidden treasure. There are scores of such hidden object games on casual game web sites.

“I think that the market could support more than 50 or 100 games in this genre alone,” Ryan said.

Another emerging category is casino games. There are other “mid-core” games emerging with lightweight combat options that appeal to both hardcore and casual fans. These include Zynga’s Empires & Allies, Kixeye’s Battle Pirates, and Digital Chocolate’s Army Attack. Kabam has also pioneered the hardcore game category with strategy titles like Glory of Rome or Dragons of Atlantis.

Other big holes in the line-up include hunting games. There are few or no fishing games, Christian games, urban games, role-playing games, fighting games, romance games and there are only two first-person shooting games. The romance category itself is a $1.5 billion entertainment market, and there’s potential for related games.

Ryan encouraged companies to move into these genres, rather than take on the industry giant. Ryan said Facebook has a team working on game platform features now and it will improve game features over time.

“If you are not building social games, then you are not building games for the majority of the market,” he said. “You are building games for a shrinking market.”

He noted that social game companies such as PopCap Games, Playfish and Playdcom have seen exits that generated $1.7 billion in purchase prices in the past year or so. He said that the market is concentrating into social networks such as Android, Facebook, Apple, DeNA, Gree, and perhaps Chinese companies such as Tencent. Ryan argued that Facebook’s market has advantages because of its massive scale, discoverability of social content, monetization, and continuous improvements.

“It’s easy to forget that this market is less than four years old,” Ryan said. “It’s too late to clone a game that is a clone of another game, but there is plenty of opportunity.”

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