Monday, June 30, 2008

More Engaging: Facebook or Myspace?

More Engaging: Facebook or Myspace?

One would think with the more robust app ecosystem on Facebook that Facebook would have the more engaging site. But the numbers say no. However, I thought the numbers might be skewed in the favor of Myspace since it has more total U.S. users than Facebook, so I calculated the average time spent on each site, and Myspace still easily bested Facebook.

Average Time Spent per user May 2008 (in minutes)
Myspace: 281.80
Facebook: 165.59

For comparison, here are some other socnets:

MyYearbook: 155.31
Blackplanet: 114.34
Bebo: 100.59
Friendster: 74.1
Hi5: 72.4
Livejournal: 48.86 12.35

None of the socnets come close to casual gaming site,, whose users average 819.77 minutes on site per month. Tomorrow, I'll break down the major games sites from the Top 200 with commentary.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Link Fiesta: Articles Worth Reading

I read a crazy amount of good articles yesterday, some old some new, and I'm feeling too lazy to add commentary, so read them and enjoy.

Addictive Mechanisms in MMOs.

Designing Crafting System in MMOs. (courtesy of Jeremy Liew)

Facebook as a Disruptive Platform for Gaming

Socialmedia pays out 8 million to App Devs.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pokey Paws its Way into the Social Gaming Chart



Continued growth. Total daily active users for the top ten games grew by 4% in the last two weeks.

Friends For Sale got its mojo back. It added 78,000+ users in two weeks, pretty good for a game that's been around for 6+ months, and had been struggling recently to hold on to its userbase(recently down 240,000 users from its peak of 800,000). Meanwhile, Owned! lost 50,000+ users, so the gap between the two similar gaps is closing. Siqi, whatever you did is working!

Playfish is still the company to beat. They showed massive growth over the last two weeks, gaining 170,000 users across their three apps.

But the big news is the appearance of Pokey! on the charts. To be fair, Pokey! could have been included in the last Social Gaming Chart, but I didn't feel it was a game. Ah, the vagaries of what constitutes a game. Since I put out that chart, I've spoken to a few people (mostly at the Social Gaming Summit) who felt it was a game. I played "Pokey!" again, and noted their leaderboard where people compete to get bones. *sigh* Maybe a leaderboard is all you need to be a game.

Anyway, the discussion of what makes a game a game is a rathole that I'm trying to avoid crawling in. In the meantime, I'm going to follow the lead of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who says:

"I know it when I see it."
He was talking about obscene pornography...which if you a game developer, I'm sure it's something you're already familiar with.

I meant the Supreme Court ruling, of course.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Using the Virtual Goods Model on Social Networks

Sean Ryan, CEO at Meez, wrote an excellent blog post forwarded to me by my good friend Sidney Price of Social Emotions.

In the post, Sean suggests that Facebook take the Cyworld approach and monetize via virtual goods.

Here's the core reason, and one that I've spoken about before (so naturally I agree):

The best reason for them to pay is that in an SNS, which is really about people interacting with each other, the #1 goal is STATUS - how can I be different, better, have more authority, etc, and most importantly, how can I impress those around me with that status? It's so basic, and is sometimes overlooked.
It is overlooked and it is super-important. You have to know why people buy virtual goods if you plan to sell them. At Interplay, I was talking to someone who provided me with an interesting theory about why Koreans and the Chinese are massive consumer of virtual goods. He suggested that because teens in those countries are required to wear uniforms in school, thus not allowing to express themselves through clothes as teens do in the US, that their outlet for self-expression becomes virtual goods and decorating their homepage.

Obviously, the need to decorate is alive and well in U.S. teens as evinced by a five minute survey of Myspace pages. Check out how many status brands like Gucci and Playboy that you can spot. (yes, Playboy is status brand - especially with young female teens - I'll let you figure out why.)

By Sean's estimates, social networks can earn the following through a virtual goods model.
In an SNS, a well structured virtual item program should be able to generate, on average, $5-7 monthly from 5%+ of the monthly unique users, and I've seen both numbers go higher in certain cases. That compares to $3-5/year in advertising from a unique user.
I assume they are based on looking at Cyworld, QQ, and Sean's own experience at Meez, though he does not discuss how he arrived at the numbers, so feel free to be incredulous.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thoughts Inspired by the Social Gaming Summit

Things to Think about:

A whole generation of kids have been playing in virtual worlds are now entering the age (13) when they move into social networks. (Kyra Reppen - Neopets (core audience: 9-14).

My question: how does puberty (i.e. sexual awareness) change social play, particularly the values cherished and expressed by the userbase, and how does it affect social game design?

Kids up to the age of 13 want avatars as their pictures. Teenagers all want real profile pictures. Soccer Moms are mixed. (Dave Williams - Shockwave/Addicting Games)

I guess that answers my question why there isn't a successful avatar-based app on Facebook (though Yoville is seeing some nice growth). And it also suggests that building a fantasy based virtual world on the back of Facebook might not be the best idea. Perhaps, a virtual world where you pilot a 3D rendering of your profile picture would be better? The technology is out there (courtesy of an offshoot of Shervin Pishevar's old company,!)

In Korea, MapleStory (a 2D MMO) is primarily played by elementary school kids, in the U.S., it's primarily played by teenagers. (Min Kim - Nexon).

So the demographic of players of a game is independent of game design? Is there an arbitrage opportunity here, taking game worlds built for kids and marketing them to different demographics, under different rubrics?

K2 networks (publisher of free-to-play MMOs) sees their usage spike on weekends, meanwhile most social games on Facebook have less usage on weekends.

Does this suggest more immersive games on Facebook will drive users to play on weekends instead of during the week? Or does it suggest that Facebook's audience primarily plays during the week and doesn't have the time for the more immersive experiences that SGN's CEO, Shervin Pishevar, suggested that the social games should move toward.

Answer: people are going to play during the week. Josh Williams of Alamofire said that he knows of at least one person being fired for playing Packrat at work, one year from now we'll be reading a trend piece in the NYtimes about how social games are destroying America's productivity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mochimedia and RateItAll both Raise Money

What do these companies have in common? They are both run by friends of mine. And they, like me, were both based in San Francisco's Mission District until pretty recently.

Congrats, Jameson! Congrats, Lawrence!

Readers of this blog are probably familiar with Mochi, as they are the dominant player in the Flash Game advertising space.

RateItAll is a network of distributed rating widgets that pull data back to a central destination site. Lawrence has been preaching the wisdom of the hub and spoke model. Perhaps someone should apply it to games.

Anyone notice I've been blogging A LOT lately? Don't worry I'll retunr to my once weekly schedule soon, I promise.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Another Reason to Love the Virtual Goods Business Model: Virtual Worlds Make Cash from Charging for Virtual Items that Promote Movies

I recently found an Adweek article (courtesy of Kzero) about how various movie studios are using virtual worlds in their promotional strategies. Some of it is pretty interesting:

Movie Clips as emoticons

In April, Viacom's Paramount Digital Entertainment signed a partnership agreement with Makena Technologies, making thousands of movie clips from the Paramount movie library available on, an online virtual world. Visitors who purchase the clips can use them to communicate with others by having their avatar "speak" lines from movies while the actual clip plays in a small window. Links allow users to purchase DVDs of the featured movies.
According to the article, is charging about a dollar for one of these video emoticons.

Movie Props as Virtual Goods
Two months ago, to promote the theatrical release of Paramount's The Spiderwick Chronicles, the site sold props from the film, such as an animated raven for 25 Habbo coins ($5) and a chest that opens for 5 Habbo coins ($1).
So basically, players pay to promote movies to their friends, and the virtual world gets a cut. Need I say more?

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Coverage of Lobby of the Social Gaming Summit

Fortunately, quite a few people covered the sessions, because I spent most of my time in the lobby chatting with other attendees. So I'm going to give you my observations about the conference beyond the sessions. (I've also wrote up some nuggets from the panels that I'll be posting throughout the week so they don't drown in the mass of words of a long post).

Let's talk about those attendees. I noticed a lot of representatives from venture capital floating around, but before you get too excited, it was mostly junior associates sent by their partners to learn about the space. Social Gaming is on everybody's radar, but I suspect a lot of VCs are ready to jump in until they see a platform or infrastructure play. In fact, I know that's true since that what they told me. :)

Most social gaming companies that receive any attention (including from me) are content creators. In the VC world, content risk is a bad thing. Rightfully so, since content creators require hits to succeed. And making hits is really, really hard. I read somewhere recently that in the last few years, around 90 MMOs were produced but failed to launch. Other MMOs that did launch after years of development and millions of dollars spent failed to gain an audience and were shut down. That boils down to ~5 successes (in the US market) out of ~100 attempts. I'd probably be leery about investing in something that had a five percent success rate but required several million dollars and 3+ years to produce. But I digress (so frequently I must have ADD or Alzheimer's).

I spoke a lot of people from outside the gaming world who are looking at social games as the next big opportunity. As well as people from behemoth companies who just wanted to get away from the office for the day - I don't think they were kidding. I recognized a few people for the traditional games industry in the audience, but the crowd was still web-heavy.

Hopefully, somebody is putting together a social gaming track at the next GDC to reach out more to the traditional games industry. If somebody doing so, let me know, I'd like to help out.

In conversations, one of the biggest topics (and one I happen to be thinking a lot about it recently) is the gameification of the web. The basic idea is taking game mechanics and applying to other web properties to increase engagement. I'll be talking more about gameification soon.

Other topics: Twitter as a game. Fear of the traditional games industry entering the space with big budgets and better production values. Payment systems. Mobile as the ultimate gaming platform.

Overall, my impression is that VCs and traditional game developers are still cautious about social games, but more and more web guys are jumping in fast. All hail Ruby on Rails! ;)

Note: Warbook, Friends for Sale, and Packrat are all built on Ruby on Rails.

Friday, June 13, 2008

@ Social Gaming Summit tomorrow: Come say Hi

Like my brothers in blogging (Jeremy Liew, Justin Smith, and Andrew Chen), I, too, will be at the Social Gaming Summit. I like to give acerbic long-winded rants about the social gaming space to anyone who'll listen (but you probably knew that already). So come ask me a question.

However, except three questions in return.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kristian Segerstrale, CEO of Playfish talks about the Iphone as a gaming platform

Kristian and I have been exchanging emails and I've been bugging him to write about the differences between developing mobile games and developing social games.

He decided to talk about doing both at the same time for the Iphone. Check out his post over on the Playfish blog.

He believes mobile is the future of mass-market games and I agree. The really interesting stuff is going to start happening when people discover how to combine mobile with social games.

They are a few companies working on that, and Playfish is in an excellent position to crack that nut. Other contenders: Mytopia (saw their demo recently, and I was very impressed. They've accomplished what we were trying to do at Tenuki, so naturally I think they'll be huge), and Cellufun (they don't have a presence on the socnets yet, but they have some multiplayer titles with game mechanics similar to the first wave of social games on Facebook).

Monday, June 9, 2008

Playfish Dominates the Social Gaming Top Ten

Today, I'm introducing The Social Gaming Chart, a biweekly compilation of the top ten games on the social networks. For now, I'm only covering games on Facebook. Once we see significant traction and easily available metrics for the other socnets, I'll start including them.

The Social Gaming Chart
Note: data was compiled on Thursday, June 5, 2008.

My Take

The social games space is growing.
Since I compiled the first social gaming chart just over three months ago, the amount of daily active users of the top ten Facebook games has increased from 2,740,002 to 4,628,872. That's an increase of 69% in three months.

The social games space is changing rapidly. Only three games that were in the top ten three months ago remain: Scrabulous, Texas Holdem Poker, and Speed Racing. All three have fallen in rank, but only Scrabulous lost users. Texas Holdem Poker and Speed Racing gained users. Meanwhile, new companies and game types have replaced and surpassed the old crowd.

The company to watch.
Playfish is proving that a company can consistently crank out hit social games. So far, they've released three games (Who's Got the Biggest Brain, Word Challenge, and Bowling Buddies) and each game has reached the top ten. Without cross-promotion!

They've discovered a winning formula: integrate a friends-oriented leaderboard into well-designed single-player flash game based on a proven casual game concept. However, as I suggested in a previous post, I think that games based on this formula will have a shorter shelf-life than games that have direct interaction with your friends(such as Scrabulous and Texas Holdem). Simple single-player games tend to get boring quick. Having said that, people play solitaire for their entire lives, so who knows. But then again, you don't play solitaire with friends.

Regardless, I think Playfish will continue to be successful, pumping out a string of hit games based on this formula. No other company is consistently creating polished, high-quality, flash games for the Facebook audience. I'm interested to see when they'll start releasing multiplayer games, which have more difficult technical requirements. But I doubt they're in any rush.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Does Cross-Promoting a Game Work?

Did you know the makers of Scrabulous also had a Chess app?

Yep. It's called Chess Pro and has about 14,000 daily actives users as of today. Now 14,000 DAU isn't bad at all unless you compare it to Scrabulous' 500k+ daily active users.

Here's the thing. Scrabulous ran a link on Scrabulous for about 2-4 weeks (possibly more), saying something like "Try Chess Pro, the new game from the makers of Scrabulous!". It was fairly prominently placed under the Scrabulous playing area. Nothing egregious, Rajat and Jayant are very conservative with their promotional activity, always opting for the understated, classy aesthetic.

Now, how many installs do you think an app cross-promoted from a top ten app would acquire?
You'd probably say "a helluva lot". But of course, you're wrong. As of today, Chess Pro has ~111,000 installs. For perspective, Chess Pro doesn't even rank in the top 1000 for number of installs.

Only 20% of the daily audience of Scrabulous even bothered to install Chess Pro, and arguably less since Chess Pro grew some on its own.

So in this case, I'd suggest that the cross-promotion didn't work.

So how do you effectively cross-promote a game?

By genre. Make sure that players of one game will actually want to play the other game. For instance, there's a significant overlap of users between Scrabulous and Scramble because they are both word games. Yes, it's shocking. People who like to play one word game also like to play another word game. However, they are not necessarily going to want to play Chess. Or Speed Racing.

By demographic. Courtesy of the casual game industry, we know that women like card, puzzle, word, and quiz games. And men like action and strategy games. Obviously there are exceptions, but as a general rule, these stereotypes hold. Use them to your advantage.

And even still, there's no guarantees that the new game will succeed. As Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga, pointed out at Interplay, (and I paraphrase), no matter how much traffic you sent a game, it won't succeed unless it's good. By good, I think he means viral, since there are a lot of good games with paltry traffic.

The core problem in the social games industry is that making a viral game that's also engaging is really hard. No one is doing it consistently (except Playfish, and even their current model of affixing a light social component to one-player flash games will stale eventually.)

The fact is, if you can't consistently make viral games that are also engaging, then it doesn't matter if you cross-promote from Scrabulous, you're not going to grow your network.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Interplay Conference for Free! (on video) has video of all the conference panels(even the one I moderated on managing a virtual economy). Check it out and see what you missed.

Having said that, the real value of a conference is meeting the people in your industry. You can't that on video.