Monday, August 18, 2008

Will Facebook Users Pay to Play? CasualCafe Thinks So.

You might be surprised to find out that my favorite game on Facebook is Spyde Solitaire. When I was a depressed college student, sucking down coke (the cola) and listening to old Smiths songs, I spent hours playing Spider Solitaire. Yes, I was emo, so kill me.

CasualCafe's Spyde Solitaire takes the Puzzle Quest model of applying a quest structure to a simple casual game (Match 3) and brings it to Spider Solitaire. It's has extremely good production values and well-thought out game design. It's very compelling.

So compelling that some people are willing to pay for the experience. In fact, they have to be, CasualCafe requires users to buy credits to play. Currently, they charge 1 credit for 10 minutes of play.

Here's their pricing tier:

So about a penny per minute at the $25 option, which according to founder Michael Scholz is much more popular than he expected (though he won't say how popular).

Scholz says he believes that once the dust settles, about 1-2% of players will pay for the experience. As all you old hands out there know, 1-2% is the conversion rate in the downloadable casual space. There's a lot of evidence that the same demographic (women 35+) are some of the most addicted game players of Facebook (I believe that at Interplay, Josh Williams of Alamofire indicated that Packrat's most rabid players are in this demographic). It's also one of the fastest growing demographic segments of Facebook.

Geographic breakdown also surprised Scholz. "I am also surprised by our uptake in Australia and UK, we're lucky we happened to have a paypal payment path that could support those players, because we weren't anticipating early adoption over there."

Right now, CasualCafe only has about 10,000 monthly users. I'm surprised it's that high. Asking Facebook users to pay for something is a hard sell when every other game is free. But of course, as many free to play developers have said to me, it's only a very small slice of players that make a game profitable like 1-2%, in fact. The rest of us are cheap bastards. :)

Hopefully, Michael will release more data once he has it. CasualCafe's experience will be very instructive for the rest of us.

CasualCafe is self-funded for now. Michael was Director of Technology at SkillJam, a skill-based casual games portal, before it was acquired for $200 million. Guess he had some stock.