FarmVille 2 growth encouraging, but it’s not out of the woods yet

Zynga touted FarmVille 2’s growth as one of the single most encouraging visions of growth on Facebook for the past quarter, but it’s not clear that the sequel has the staying power of previous Zynga blockbusters.

On the bright side, FarmVille 2 is growing like a weed with over 61 million monthly active users and 9.1 million daily active users gained in the past 30 days. It’s currently the largest app on Facebook by MAU and the third-largest by DAU after Instagram and Microsoft Live. On its Q3 earnings call today, Mark Pincus revealed that the game managed to convert 500,000 of its players into paying customers, and — for one glorious day — the game saw nearly $1 million in FarmVille 2 purchases (before subtracting Facebook’s 30 percent cut).

On the dark side, strong performance in the first 30 days can’t forecast longterm success. With a massive cross promotion network like Zynga’s, it’s easy to direct a flood of players to a new game — and many of them might actually stick around for an entire month. But a bad game can’t hold onto its users, and if there’s no new game to go to after the 30-day grace period expires, most players will leave a game permanently and without ever spending a cent. Even with all the changes to the Facebook platform in the last two years, most developers will still tell you that the numbers that really matter to them are the retention rates posted after the first 30 days are done — because those are usually where the loyal users with the highest lifetime value show up.

Recall that almost a year ago, Zynga had another hit with CastleVille — a game that shot up the traffic charts so fast in its first 10 days that Zynga was rushing to shout it from the rooftops in press releases. Despite its popularity, that game’s growth phases lasted just over a month before winding back down the charts to its current position at No. 13 on our top Facebook games by DAU. This was the same pattern we saw with Facebook flop Mafia Wars 2, which isn’t even on our charts anymore as the game appears to be one of Zynga’s 13 sunsetted games. And again, we see it with The Ville — which met our predictions by shooting up the charts for just 30 days before dropping like a rock because the game wasn’t retaining users.

Zynga at least is aware that it’s dangerous to put all their eggs in a month-old game’s basket. On the call, CEO Mark Pincus and CFO Dave Wehner even stated that Zynga hadn’t kept up the pace in releasing new games to shore up the crucial drop-off after their games’ 30-day growth period. They also stated an intent to focus resources on games with more engagement potential, like the midcore title coming from A Bit Lucky sometime in 2013.

“I think we had a major breakthrough with FarmVille 2,” Pincus said at one point in the Q&A. But later, when an investor brought up the almost-$1 million day, he cautioned, “While that was an exciting milestone for the game to hit so early after launch, that’s not the average daily number that we’re seeing. It’s just showing that we’re growing that game to great numbers pretty early in its lifecycle.”

Here’s hoping the cycle lasts a lot longer than 30 days.

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