Top Social Game Titles Take a Hit: Seasonal Declines or Something Bigger?

Big titles ride a roller coaster in December, seeing 11% decline in daily active usersEvery year around this time, when I was selling casual download games across the Oberon Media distribution platform, we’d see the numbers of games sold begin to decline: disposable income and leisure time tend to dry up as everyone gears up for Christmas.

And so after months of impressive growth, some of the biggest games on Facebook are reflecting what could be a similar seasonal trend on the social platform – virtually every big game has seen a decline in their Daily Active Users (DAU) since their peaks earlier in December:

Game High DAU Date Dec High DAU Dec 21 DAU % Decline
FarmVille 8-Dec 28,168,448 26,240,616 -7%
Café World 4-Dec 10,714,586 9,079,596 -15%
Happy Aquarium 5-Dec 8,169,204 7,070,370 -13%
FishVille 5-Dec 7,459,387 6,644,904 -11%
Mafia Wars 9-Dec 7,021,764 5,574,330 -21%
Zynga Poker 17-Dec 5,013,652 4,773,945 -5%
Pet Society 9-Dec 5,094,052 4,753,688 -7%
Restaurant City 8-Dec 4,680,805 4,113,377 -12%
Farm Town 10-Dec 5,374,337 4,110,261 -24%
YoVille 8-Dec 3,463,083 2,833,933 -18%
Bejeweled Blitz 11-Dec 3,175,528 2,783,245 -12%
Happy Pets 13-Dec 2,977,222 2,768,133 -7%
My Fishbowl 8-Dec 1,956,719 1,911,330 -2%
Roller Coaster 1-Dec 2,323,788 1,474,539 -37%
Lil Farm Life 16-Dec 1,427,667 1,232,698 -14%

Collectively, these games have fallen 12.0% from their monthly highs, dropping from 97.0 million DAU to 85.3 million on December 21. A Facebook platform issue that impacted all applications for 48 hours starting December 9 might also have pushed users to give up the games and focus on their holiday shopping in earnest. In addition, some of these titles have had extenuating circumstances that might have caused the variances. Mafia Wars retooled their infrastructure and put in anti-hacking measurements massively impacting the game’s DAU. In contrast, Pet Society launched a new lottery feature to drive users to return every day and helped improve DAU.

Yet because the decline is pretty consistent across multiple developers and game types, it’s reasonable to attribute these declines to the seasonal trends I’ve experienced in the casual game download space. Still, could it be a bit more ominous signs of a slowing in Facebook’s growth? Or signs that games are maturing and life cycles are declining as more games enter the market?

Are There Other Factors Beyond Seasonal Trends?

There is no question that social games growth has mirrored the massive increase in Facebook subscribers – Facebook has added over 100 million monthly active users (MAU) in the six months that FarmVille has grown to just short of 75 million MAU. Having a continual influx of new users makes it relatively easy to continue growing the game.

The pace of Facebook monthly active users seems pretty consistent (at least for numbers reported through November). But what is really interesting in the graph above is comparing the relative progressions of each of the most recent Zynga releases.

FarmVille is by far the fastest growing and in general has been able to maintain its growth. The successive titles of Café World, FishVille and PetVille all appear to have smaller initial trajectories and then to plateau at a certain level, each one slightly below the former release.

This is reminiscent of the casual download space, where a developer would release a genre-defining title, like Diner Dash, and then churn out successive titles based on that mechanic. Each one had some initial huge boost in interest and sales, but over time the games held user interest (in terms of spending money to buy the title) for shorter periods of time and typically at a lesser number of units.

It is still early in the social games life cycle, the numbers for these games are still in their beginning stages and it’s probably too early to say they are on their decline – Café World only Monday released achievements in the game, which based on examples of Mafia Wars and FarmVille helps boost the DAU count.

If the casual download game space can provide any insight on this trend, changes will come the week after Christmas. Once Christmas is passed and users break out new computers or have holiday money to spend, the sales of PC download games usually rebound – and I’d expect the DAU for top Facebook games to start their upward swing again.

And if the numbers don’t rebound? We may get some interesting insights into the life cycle of a social game.

Eric von Coelln was the vice president of marketing at Oberon Media, a leading multi-platform casual games company, and most recently the vice president of Marketing at PowerSoccer.com. He is now a New York based freelance consultant to games, e-commerce and social media companies — including some of the largest social gaming companies on Facebook. While Mr. von Coelln does write about some companies for which he has done paid consulting from time to time, this post is based on publicly available information and in our view is an unbiased analysis of the industry. You can find his blog here.

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14 Responses to “Top Social Game Titles Take a Hit: Seasonal Declines or Something Bigger?”

  1. Policy Roadmap: Facebook’s New Popup Feed Form Rule Now in Effect says:

    [...] coming weeks- some have already been pulling back on this lately. Already, many social games are off their December traffic highs, but it’s too early to tell if this is due to policy changes or the seasonality of the [...]

  2. Playmage says:

    FYI – The reason for this drop due to the new Facebook Developer Policies. Apps are no longer allowed to prompt invites on return, gate content or reward currency based on friends, or automatically publish feeds.

    This is only going to get much worse over the next month as Facebooke continue to cut out viral channels. They just claimed that they fixed a bug and as a result request allocations for most apps will drop significantly.

    Btw, thanks for running a review for our app “Dream World” last month, but we didn’t get a heads-up and was in the middle of another massing UI change, so the review came out pretty harsh – However, any coverage for a new app is better than none at all =)

  3. Tadhg Kelly says:

    What I’m most interested in is the decline in DAU/MAU percentages that Appdata has been showing on several games like FarmVille since early December. Declines of 3-5% across the board have occurred.

    I think this is all wrapped up in the early stage effects of the big platform changes that Facebook are pushing through with regard to Notifications, Stream Publishing and other methods. I notice that most developers have now scaled back or even removed these sorts of functions from their games as the month has worn on. This suggests to me a partial confirmation of my recent speculation in a Gamasutra blog post about the problems facing developers in the coming months because of their game quality gap:

    http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/TadhgKelly/20091218/3665/Zynga_and_the_End_of_the_Beginning.php

    It’s definitely too early to tell if anything significant is going on. Certainly over the holiday period itself it is reasonable to assume that more people will not be sitting at their computers, and so less play time will happen overall.

    What will be most interesting is watching the figures in the 2nd week of January, after the holiday hooplah and the launch of the next Facebook redesign (assuming that happens before then) to see if the figures rebound or if real decline has set in.

  4. EVCin » Top Tiles Take a Hit: Seasonal Declines or Something Bigger? says:

    [...] As originally posted on Inside Social Games [...]

  5. Eric von Coelln says:

    Agree with you Tadhg that the policy changes are definitely contributing but as you noted, hard to tell how much. With regard to sticky factors, DAU is declining first, but starting to see MAU decline as well. Will be interesting to see if that moderates and we get back to intrinsic sticky factors.

  6. Tadhg Kelly says:

    Well exactly, and this is why I think game quality is really the big problem here (or lack thereof). Much of what’s happened with the huge user numbers on some games this year is all down to their capacity to jog user memories. There is a difference between a game that constantly pokes you to come back and play versus one of natural quality that you return to to play of your own accord.

    If your business model was based on hassling, interrupting and reminding people constantly come back to play your game – without paying any heed as to whether your game was actually worth playing – then you’re in for some seriously tough times. In the end of the day that’s confusing opportunity with opportunism.

  7. Boxer's Ghost says:

    Actually, specifically to Farmville and Mafia Wars, the reason for the sharp decline was a boycott of Zynga. One website boasts 66K+ boycotters for the day of 12/13 for 24 hours. The second reason is the system is grossly problematic at this point. In fact, Zynga claimed they made corrections, but too many customers(paying as well as passive) are unable to play and some have blocked the game from their Facebook account altogether.

    It is not surprising the social gaming community did not hear much of this problem as Zynga made a great number of promises to the Mafiw Wars community and have failed to follow through as promised. My point with sharing this information is that the decrease DAU/MAU is not seasonal, but due to Zynga platforms own doing. Again, please refer to the link above…it is quite enlightening.

    For any of you who wish to review, please refer to this attached link…
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=193651519631

  8. Boxer's Ghost says:

    In reality if you compare the week prior to the 12/13 boycott there was a decrease almost of 860K active users. There may be an even larger decrease in the near future-a portion to seasonality/holiday, of course as Zynga is failing miserably to make promised corrections and another boycott(more orchestrated this time) is in the works.

    This doesn’t approach the topic of revenue as there appear to be a growing number of accounts having fraudulent activity against their bank accounts.

    Regards,
    B

  9. Developers Revamp Viral Tactics to Comply with Facebook Policies says:

    [...] attributed some of the across-the-board declines in daily active user numbers for Facebook games to seasonality, it’s becoming clearer that recent policy changes by Facebook may be contributing to these [...]

  10. Taking Stock of Facebook’s Top Social Game Developers in 2009 says:

    [...] to almost all social games has dropped in the last couple weeks in a double-whammy of users being distracted by the holidays and new policy changes from Facebook impacting how developers can communicate with [...]

  11. IFB: Taking Stock of Facebook’s Top Social Game Developers in 2009 says:

    [...] to almost all social games has dropped in the last couple weeks in a double-whammy of users being distracted by the holidays and new policy changes from Facebook impacting how developers can communicate with [...]

  12. The Top 25 Facebook Games for December, 2009 — A Mixed End to a Big Year says:

    [...] that fell did so by more than 1 million. The reasons for these drops are likely a combination of perennial holiday season decreases together with Facebook’s stricter enforcement policies against some viral growth [...]

  13. Early Winners, Losers from Facebook’s Platform Changes says:

    [...] successive title launched seems to be reaching a plateau that is lower than the previous launch, mirroring something we pointed out for Zynga’s games recently. Happy Island is still only a month old, but it’s looking like the potential of sim games may be [...]

  14. 4postinbox says:

    Whom Gods would destroy, they first make mad

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