On Friday I moderated a panel at the social gaming summit featuring speakers from Zynga, Playdom, Playfish and Crowdstar on the topic of engagement best practices in social games. Socialtimes has a brief writeup of the session:
Social gaming giants tend to focus on hits. An under performing game can be a cause for concern and even shutdown in some cases. Mark Skaggs jolted the crowd by stating that Zynga aims for a 60% same-day repeat engagement of a newly released game but their core focus is on long term retention of around 30%. Zynga manages to attain 1.5 million DAUs on the first day, upwards of 3 million DAUs at times. Zynga’s game Mafia Wars saw signs of stagnation in players repeatedly doing jobs and diversified the experience by adding an array of places players could visit, instilling adventurous emotions in the adventurers.
Sebastien emphasized engagement as a key point of focus for their games along with mass appeal. Sebastien also discussed Playfish’s shutdown of one of their previous games Quiztastic, stating, “one of the ways to create engagement in Quiztastic is through highly relevant content that’s only relevant to a narrow set of friends. However, it turned out to be massive engaging for the active contributors but not others.” Another game Playfish shutdown was Minigolf Party because too much was being demanded of the players. The panelists agreed, concluding that a balance is necessary to engage a mass-audience.
Christa brought in her unique perspective as CFO of Playfish, commending the rapid success of their game Social City. She attributed growth to additions of surprise mechanics – specifically random animations that rewarded users with an aesthetic and delightful experience, encouraging them to return frequently for more.
Since I was moderating I wan’t able to take good notes, but here are some of the other points that were made on the panel:
Appointment Mechanic (also known as farming mechanic) suits the casual gameplay style of social games and brings people back. Good to offer different timeframes of “harvest” to match way people play the game, typically in multiples of two hours. Four hour timeframe good for players logging in at beginning of day, lunch and end of day. Two day timeframe good for players who play primarily at work who need to deal with the weekend
Whether you apply a “hard” penalty to the apppointment mechanic (e.g. crops wither, no reward) or a “soft” penalty (e.g. collection bucket full, no incremental reward above cap) depends on the style of gameplay.
Plot can also help drive engagement and retention. This can be both plot secondary to gameplay (Easter eggs in the game, animations that change over time) or primary to gameplay (e.g. Mafia Wars/Mobsters narrative arc). Players come back to find out what happens next.
Special Events can drive engagement, which sometimes translates into increased retention. These special events can be both in the game (e.g. the Weekend of “superberries” on Farmville, which added 3 million DAUs for a week and an incremental 1.5m DAUs permanently) and outside the gmae (e.g. the Taylor Swift dress in Sorority Life the day after the AMAs).
Real Life relationships, love, flirting and friendship, can drive special actions which support long term engagement. e.g. Pet Society and Restaurant City drive tens of millions of virtual roses, and many real roses, to be exchanged on Valentines Day. Friends For Sale (launched by Lightspeed portfolio company Serious Business, now part of Zynga) is the prototypical example.
Low latency is important. When users have to wait a long time for pages to load, they leave. This can be improved both by optimizing web ops, as well as by modulating the complexity of graphics etc based on browser and OS type.
DAU and DAU/MAU (Stickiness) are highly correlated. The causality arrow flows both ways. It isn’t enough to just build a good game, nor is it enough to get frequent posts to the feed. Both need to be balanced, and feed posts need to be “reasonable” from the point of view of a user. You need to understand and accept the motivation of the post.
Viral channels are now more about engagement/reactivation than about growth.
Key metrics are 1 day, 3 day, 7 day retention, then long term retention. 1 day retention target is 30-60%, less than 30% and you may not have a fixable game.
If you were there and had other important points that I missed, please add them in comments.
This also appears as a guest post on Techcrunch
There has been a lot of speculation about Zynga’s revenue. Last week Business insider said:
Zynga, the social gamesmaker behind Farmville, has a revenue run-rate around $600 million, a source close to the company tells us. Another source confirms that Zynga is doing well over $1 million in revenue a day.
More than 120 million people play Zynga’s online games. Employee headcount has almost quadrupled in the past year, to 775. Revenue for the three-year-old company should surpass $450 million in 2010, according to two people who have been briefed on its financials.
We thought that we would estimate Zynga’s revenue ourselves by looking at publicly available info. Here is what Linus Chung and I did:
- Focused on only top games on Facebook
- For each game, pulled DAU numbers on first of every month since 1/1/09 from Developer Analytics.
- To get the average DAU for each month, took the average of the first of the month and the first of the following month. So for March, the average DAU for the month is the average of DAU on 3/1 and DAU on 4/1.
- Inside Virtual Goods published a monthly ARPU range (low and high end) for each game genre. In general, we used the average of low and high, with some exceptions:
- For virtual gifts, we used the high end: $0.50. This only affects Friends for Sale.
- For poker, we used the low end: $2.00
- For FarmVille, we estimated ARPU at $0.50 due to its scale
- Mapped each game to its game genre, and multiplied average DAU each month with the ARPU.
This estimate is likely to be inaccurate for many reasons, notably (i) the coarse estimates of revenue/DAU (rounding to the nearest 50c), (ii) the low end of range estimates for many of Zynga’s most popular games, and (ii) the fact that we ignore revenue from MySpace, Zynga’s websites, and mobile. None the less, it shows some interesting results:
Again, note that these are all estimates. However, our estimates show that revenue ramped fast over calendar 2009. The H1 ramp was driven by Poker and Mafia Wars, and the H2 ramp driven by Farmville, Cafeworld and Fishville. Our estimates show that revenues have been flatish since the beginning of 2010, with a decline in older games compensated for by the launch of Treasure Isle.
Feel free to see the details and play with the assumptions yourself – the spreadsheet is here. It is a read only Google Doc so that your changes won’t affect others who are later to check it out, but you can download the spreadsheet to change assumptions. Note that there are four tabs to the spreadsheet (at the very bottom of the page). To download, click File–> Download as –> Excel.
Play with the assumptions, and let us know what you think.