Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How to Make a Successful Social Game: Violate Someone Else's Copyright.

Today I'm starting a series of posts on how to create a successful social game. I'm not sure about their frequency, I tend to write when the mood strikes me, but expect them regularly.

Initially, I'm going to look at some trends that have held true for games on Facebook. As I've followed the space, I've extracted some insights, some practical, some cynical. Today's post falls under the cynical (yet true) heading.

Lesson #1: Appropriate Someone Else's Intellectual Property

Facebook users, like most people, respond to brands to which they are already familiar. Therefore, as a developer it makes sense to take advantage of that brand equity by associating it with your game. This is especially true if you've built a game that is a very close copy of a game that has enormous brand awareness.

Take Scrabulous, for example. It's a Scrabble clone. That's fairly obvious by the name. Now imagine if it had been named Word Tiles or Word Grid. No one would know it was a Scrabble clone unless they tried it out. A percentage, let's say 10% would have ignored the invite for a game that they didn't recognize. Yes, that's a made up number, but based on my interviews with average players, I'd suspect it should be higher.

People who otherwise would never play games played Scrabulous because they instantly recognized it as Scrabble by the name.

Here's some other successful brand appropriations:

Pacman 2.0. If you remember, Pacman was initially the most popular game on Facebook, until it was voluntarily taken down after a cease and desist order. In the last couple of weeks, I've watched a poorly done Pacman clone called Pacman 2.0 rapidly acquire traffic. It currently has ~60,000 DAU.

Send Pokemon. A gifting app that lets you send Pokemon characters. ~25,000 DAU

Winnie the Pooh. A gifting app that lets you send Winnie the Pooh characters. ~20,000 DAU

Super Mario. A port of the Nintendo game. ~12,000 DAU

These numbers seems small, but each of these apps are in the top 400, and each has the potential to make 1000s of dollars a month.

What If I Get Sued?

It's a risk. But unless you become really popular, then you don't have much to worry about. Giant companies like Nintendo can't be bothered with small-fry copyright violators. It's not worth the legal fees. If Disney, the most litigious of all copyright holders, hasn't come after the Winnie the Pooh app, then you don't have much to worry about.

Downside, if you're extremely successful like Scrabulous...well, being that successful is a great problem to have.