Top 5 casino-themed Facebook games by popularity, with analysis

While not the largest genre on Facebook, casino games are in the spotlight at the start of 2012 as more companies enter the genre with standalone slots or card games or complete casino simulations. Here are the top five games in the category by traffic as recorded by our AppData service.

Though Facebook doesn’t currently allow real money gambling on its games platform, many social game developers seem eager to cash in either when Facebook changes its policy, or via other social game platforms that don’t ban the practice. Earlier this month, market leader Zynga confirmed it is actively searching for means to add real money gambling into its offerings, while casino gaming company International Game Technology acquired Double Down Interactive, Facebook game developer of DoubleDown Casino for $500 million. Last month, U.S. casino giant Caesars Entertainment Corporation fully acquired Slotomania game developer Playtika, and earlier this month launched a new Facebook game, Caesars Casino. January also saw the closed beta launch of Zynga Bingo, which will likely become a major competitor to Bingo Blitz.

Taken together, our top five casino-themed games account for a total of over 45 million MAU and 10 million DAU.

Texas HoldEm Poker (Zynga): 6.6 million DAU, 31.3 million MAU

Zynga’s Facebook adaption of the popular poker game is also among the longest running games on the platform, having launched in 2008. Along with Zynga’s Words With Friends, it is also among the top Facebook games to enable cross-platform play between the social network, iOS and Android smartphones. After reaching a peak of MAU usage of about 39 million in the summer of 2010, the game lost several million MAU. However, since December 2011 (when it had 28.5 million MAU), the game has seen strong upward growth to its current level.

Over the last three months, its daily active users as a percent of MAU (or DAU/MAU) has fluctuated between 22.5 and 20.5 percent, which reflects relatively strong engagement compared to other social game genres. Helping drive this continued growth and activity is the Poker by Zynga app for iOS, which uses Facebook Connect to help enable play between iOS and Facebook. Launched in 2009, the app still holds a top rank on AppData’s iOS charts, currently number three in the Top Grossing Apps list.

Gameplay: After loading the game, the player is taken into a lobby area densely packed with options and player information. The game’s initial display lists the total number of online players, and an option to choose among the many servers where the game is hosted, listed according to geographic region, which is likely a move by Zynga to reduce latency in live multiplayer games.

Players can find an open poker seat from among the listed tables, or get auto-joined to an open table with a single click. The actual poker game is a faithful recreation of Texas hold ‘em for up to seven players. When it’s a given player’s turn to execute their move, a time meter ticks down over the person’s profile. If not made in time, the player’s turn is forfeited. One unique feature of Texas HoldEm Poker is a “hand strength meter,” which gauges the relative strength of a player’s current hand. (If this feature is enabled, the house takes a cut of any winnings.)

Other gameplay modes include one-on-one matches with a Facebook friend and team-based challenges with several friends. There is also a mini-game slot machine which players can play to win chips — given the relatively slim odds of payout, it seems to function mainly as a sink to deplete player chip holdings and nudge them toward monetization.

Viral growth and engagement: To encourage viral user growth, Texas HoldEm players earn more playing chips by successfully inviting friends to play. They can also broadcast their game activity by auto-posting wins and achievements to their Facebook wall. The game has a leveling system incorporated into a competitive leaderboard with the players’ friends.

Socialization seems to be an important feature for increasing engagement and retention in Texas HoldEm. Multiplayer matches not only come with a live, player-to-player chat feature; players can also buy each other virtual drink items and miscellaneous virtual gifts with chips or gold. Further, players can add each other as game buddies (as opposed to Facebook friends), enabling players to develop a mini-social network of people they enjoy playing with. In the game lobby, the game’s socialization aspect is emphasized by an in-game feed depicting friends’ recent game milestones, with an option to send them gifts or congratulation messages.

Monetization: Zynga monetizes Texas HoldEm by selling Chips and Casino Gold for Facebook Credits, with an option to buy via mobile phone. Chips are used for basic gameplay, and Casino Gold to purchase premium items and buy into weekly tournaments. A monetization option window pops up when the player attempts to make a bet or join a table that is more costly than a player’s current holdings.

Slotomania – Slot Machines (Playtika): 1.700,000 million DAU, 5.6 million MAU

Launched in December 2010, Playtika’s Facebook slot machine game enjoyed steady growth through 2011. The game saw a strong spike in July shortly after the company was partially acquired by Harrah’s, a casino brand in the Caesars Entertainment Corporation. In the last three months, the game has seen relatively stable usage of between 5.25 and 5.6 million MAU, and a very strong engagement rate of between 26 and 33 percent DAU/MAU. As previously mentioned, Caesars Entertainment bought out the rest of the company in December 2011.

Gameplay: New users are given a 200 coin welcome bonus, and are then presented a menu of eight different themed slot games to choose from (farm items, pirates, etc) though only the first game is available to play at launch. Basic gameplay is modeled on traditional slot machines, with players paying a number of coins for each spin and payouts awarded based on symbol matches generated randomly from spins. Players can choose how many items they want to match, with larger sets of matches earning a better payout (while costing more coins, with riskier odds). Successfully completing some matches will launch a separate mini-game with the chance of winning play bonuses. For example, spinning to match three or more tractors in a farm-themed slot machine launches a “Beat the Mole” mini-game in which players must choose vegetables from rows of crops while avoiding a mole underneath the garden. Spins that generate other matching items unlock a series of free spins, which in turn sometimes generate even more free spins, creating a long succession of free spins in which the player is largely a passive viewer.

Viral growth and engagement: To foster retention, returning Slotmania players are offered a special bonus every four hours. The game includes a leveling system, with coin bonuses given at level up, which also unlocks new slot game boards. To encourage viral growth, player can post slot game wins to their wall, and are intermittently given the option to send ten free spins to friends. Facebook friends playing Slotomania also compete on a leaderboard.

Monetization: The primary source of revenue for Slotomania is virtual currency which is purchased in batches with Facebook Credits.

Bingo Blitz (Buffalo Studios): 970,000 DAU, 2.9 million MAU

A fast-paced Facebook adaptation of the classic casual casino game, Bingo Blitz launched late in 2010 and had slow but steady growth through most of 2011. It gained faster traction in August of that year before reaching its current, stable player base of between 2.5 and 3 million MAU. In the last three months, DAU/MAU rates have been very strong, fluctuating between 30 and 35 percent.

Gameplay: New players are first invited to play a 30 second tutorial, then given the option of choosing among several open games based on payout rate and player level. These are displayed in the game menu as “cities,” and also list the number of online players currently in session. Once entering a city, players can buy one to four cards with Credits (one of the game’s two currencies), then must wait for the current game to finish before joining the next match. Bingo card numbers are rapidly called out in audio and displayed in an animated row at the top of the screen. When a player earns a bingo on any of their cards, it’s their responsibility to click the “Bingo” button beneath the appropriate card. All winnings are collected at the end of each match.

Bingo Blitz includes a number of features to increase engagement and encourage retention: Clicking a timed power-up button places free squares or bonus items on squares; if they monitor the charge-up timer carefully, players can use this option many times during a match. Bonus squares pay out power-ups and game credits (displayed as treasure chests with game bonuses), and are won regardless of whether a player earns a bingo. Adding a level of suspense and skill to gameplay, it is possible for a player to select incorrect squares on their cards and call out a bad, invalid bingo — if so, the designated card is rendered ineligible for the remainder of the match. In addition, only a select number of winning Bingo cards can be claimed during each match; this is depicted as a countdown display at the top left of the screen, creating further excitement.

Bingo Blitz has a number of features which add a social element to gameplay. Each player has a user profile listing their national origin, game level and other game stats. These profile icons are displayed at the bottom of the match screen. Further, players can live chat with each other during matches.

Viral growth and engagement: New players are offered a game bonus for repeated play in the first two days after installation and there is also a daily credits reward for returning players. Bingo Blitz has a player leveling system, and some cities are locked until a certain level and other game goals are reached. The game also includes achievement badges for gameplay, such as collecting selected game items, and for reaching gameplay milestones. To encourage viral growth, winning bingo matches and other successes can be shared on a player’s Facebook wall. Players can also win extra Credits by inviting friends to install the app.

Monetization: Bingo Blitz has two currencies, Coins and Credits, which can be converted between each other. Coins can be spent to complete game collections (which in turn earn Credits), customizations for player cards, game power-ups, and “keys” which unlock bonus prizes. Extra Credits can be bought with Facebook Credits. Bingo Blitz also monetizes through a slot machine mini-game, in which players can spin to win Credits; these spins are bought with directly with Facebook Credits.

DoubleDown Casino – Free Slots, Blackjack & Poker (DoubleDown Interactive, LLC.): 1.3 million DAU, 4.7 million MAU

Launched in early 2010, DoubleDown Casino began steady growth in the fall of that year, then gained momentum through most of 2011. In the last three months, growth stabilized at around 4.5 million MAU, with an engagement rate in a range of 30 percent DAU/MAU, a level consistent with high monetization rates.

Gameplay: At game launch, the player is presented with several variety of casino-style games: video poker, blackjack, slots, tournaments and roulette. Most are single-player, but blackjack is live, with up to six competing against the AI dealer. To leverage the live multiplayer gameplay, blackjack includes a player-to-player chat feature, and a timer which requires each player to make bets, request hits, etc. within a few seconds, or risk forfeiting their turn. Blackjack play includes high roller options with large buy-in levels which restrict play to high level or highly monetized players. Roulette games, also in real time, come with similar multiplayer functions.

Viral growth: Viral user growth and engagement in DoubleDown Casino is encouraged with a number of features. A player can earn more play chips for sending game invites to friends or by adding friends and can win chip bonuses by returning everyday to do a “daily spin.” Players can also compete with each other on the game’s leaderboards and direct their gameplay to earn achievement badges for various game successes. Earning these badges also win the player chip bonuses. Players also have the option to share individual game victories with friends on wall posts.

Monetization: New players are given a free number of set playing chips to start with, and can buy more through Facebook Credit purchases. Along with appearing when a player attempts to make a bet which exceeds their current chip holdings, the purchase option payment window is displayed immediately at launch of game. This monetization method is more in line with real world casinos, which typically demand an up-front chip buy-in before play.

JackpotJoy Slot Machines (iwi): 380,000 DAU, 1.8 million MAU

Launched in mid-2011, the slot machine game saw strong growth for most of that year, then stabilized to around its current traffic level in October. In the last three months, its DAU/MAU rate has fluctuated between 20 and 27 percent — a good level of engagement, though somewhat less than category leader Slotomania (see above).

Gameplay: Similar to Slotomania, new users of Jackpot Joy are given 200 coins as a welcome bonus and sent to a lobby of eight slot games with different themes, only one of which is available to play at first. Gameplay is modeled on real life slot machines, with players able to bet a range of coins for each spin and payouts awarded based on matching selected patterns of symbols. Successfully spinning some matches launches a mini-game with the chance of winning game bonuses. Players can win awards for special symbol matches, and win achievements for game milestones. Jackpot Joy comes with a multiplayer tournament mode with high buy-in and large prize rewards.

Viral growth and engagement: Players can share 250 free coins with ten friends, share coins with friends already playing and ask friends for coins by posting the request on their Facebook wall. JackpotJoy has leaderboard, leveling and achievement systems. To encourage retention, coin bonuses are given out every four hours. Further, early on in gameplay, players are encouraged to play the game in full screen mode — selecting this option reveals a robust and active player-to-player chat system, and the option to play mini-games.

Monetization: Game coins are bought through Facebook Credits for cash payments between $5 and $200.

Note: Since it is localized only in Turkish, gambling game Mynet Çanak Okey was not included in this report. It currently sees 520,000 DAU and 2.4 million MAU.

Inside Tetris Battle, Facebook’s top multiplayer arcade game

Tetris Battle started out in 2010 as a quiet attempt to bring a classic video game brand to Facebook. Now, just over a year later, the game is on track to compete with the very biggest Facebook games from giants like Zynga and EA.

Already ranked among the top ten most popular games on Facebook as recorded by our AppData traffic tracking service, Tetris Battle currently enjoys about 3.1 million daily active users with 2 million of them arriving in the game within the last two months alone. Honolulu-based developer Tetris Online Inc. has set the sky as the limit for the game’s growth in 2012, hoping to grow the total player base of Tetris Battle to between 5 and 10 million DAU this year. If successful, this would place Tetris Battles in serious competition for the top spot of most popular Facebook game overall.

In this report, Tetris Online VP of Marketing Casey Pelkey and VP of Game Design & Executive Producer Eui-Joon “Ace” Youm share the design and deployment decisions that make the game an ongoing success, their monetization strategies, other Tetris Online games and future plans for Tetris Battle expansion Tetris Arena.

Tetris Battle gameplay: Variations of multiplayer

Tetris Battle’s basic gameplay is similar to the original arcade version, except played in several varieties of multiplayer with enhanced competitive aspects. In “Sprint” mode, players race to be the first to create 40 lines the fastest; in “Battle” modes, when a player forms one or more lines on their board, obstacles and hazards are sent onto the playing field of her competitors.

Gameplay makes use of both synchronous and asynchronous multiplayer competition. The developer prefers not to publicize the specific deployment method used in Tetris Battle, except to say that its goal is to make gameplay feel the same in both synchronous and asynchronous matches. Players are pit against competitors of a similar level and when competing in real time, they will see their competitors’ actual gameplay depicted onscreen. When playing the game with Facebook friends, matches are entirely synchronous and feature a live user-to-user chat feature. The company intentionally throttles live play connections to maintain good performance, but Pelkey says it still represents “a significant percentage of total games played each day.”

Tetris Online incorporates a number of mechanics to encourage continued engagement, including a leveling system which is used to match players with similar playing abilities, and to unlock new game modes. As with many social games, Tetris Battle also has an energy meter which is drained during play, but replenished over time or via monetization. A “Daily Bonus Spin” encourages regular play by offering players special items for playing the game over consecutive days.

Growth and usage: 80 percent word-of-mouth installs

Unlike many Facebook games, Tetris Battle does not employ a mandatory friend-adding mechanic in which a player cannot progress further unless they send game installation invites to their friends. Instead, says Youm, “We focus on the core gameplay… our core belief is if [players] enjoy the game and stay there, they will invite their friends.”

This partly explains the game’s relatively slow growth rates in its first 6-8 months. Initially launched in July 2010, it first had slow growth and low engagement rates, fluctuating between 7 and 15 percent of DAU as a percent of MAU (or DAU/MAU). Technical issues were also a culprit.

The game’s slow growth was also due in part to a lower install rate: Only 55 percent of players would go from launching the app to completing their first game. The reason for this, the developer believes, is that many Facebook gamers were unaccustomed to Tetris’ keyboard-driven gameplay, since nearly all games on the social network platform are mouse-driven. To address this challenge, Youm and his team put the game’s keyboard instructions in the first loading screen and focused players on only using the game’s main key controls for the initial game. As a result, Tetris Battle’s install-to-play rate increased to 80 percent.

The results of this design and layout change became quite evident in April 2011. According to AppData, the DAU/MAU rate then leaped from 20 to about 27 percent, and then began trending toward 35 percent. (Engagement rates of 20 percent DAU/MAU or higher are extremely good for a Facebook game.) Youm also believes that by April 2011, Tetris Battle had reached sufficient critical mass (then about 500,000 DAU) that word of mouth began to drive strong adoption rates, with current players actively inviting their friends to play. According to Youm, installations based on word of mouth are “at least 80 percent… and the funny thing is, it’s increasing.”

Some of Tetris Battle’s growth is also attributable to a viral mechanism involving tetrimino blocks, which can be combined and redeemed for additional energy. A player who invites Facebook users gets more chances to win tetriminos. Players who are Facebook friends with each other can give each other their tetriminos, which creates incentive for friend invites. Tetris Battle also sees significant growth via updates on friends’ Facebook walls, where news on winning games and other Tetris Battle successes can be posted. (As a skill-based game, Youm speculates that players feel more encouraged to share Tetris Battle victories with friends, than non-skill game updates.) Further, the developer reports that players who come to Tetris Battle via friend requests are more likely to put a full effort into the initial on-ramping experience, and are therefore more likely to convert.

In more recent months, Tetris Battle has seen noticeable growth through Facebook’s launch of the canvas app ticker, which amplified the game’s viral word of mouth. The developer hopes that Facebook makes it possible for users to immediately join friends in a multiplayer session, just by clicking on the relevant app ticker update. Doing this, they believe, would increase general growth of multiplayer games on Facebook.

According to the developer, the game now enjoys a peak concurrency of nearly 200,000 players, and routinely averages about 100,000 players throughout the day. Twenty percent of the total playerbase is classified as core players, defined as those who play over an hour a day. As noted, the game has an energy system, which kicks in after 30 minutes; at that point, a player must wait for an hour to refill their energy (i.e. playing time), or purchase extra energy. Core players are therefore playing at least twice a day and/or monetizing.

Monetization and demographics

The developer reports that Tetris Battle earns close to the puzzle game average of 1 to 2 cents in average revenue per daily active user, or ARPDAU. (Tetris Online declines to state specific ARPDAU for their game.) That monetization rate is typical for the game’s US audience, they say, with other English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, the UK) also earning good monetization. At this range and at a conservative estimate, revenue for Tetris Battle probably exceeds $1 million per month.

Tetris Battle’s monetization options center around energy, decorations, and functional items, such as “armor,” which protects a player’s rank on the game’s leaderboard from decreasing whenever a player loses a match. Overall, functional goods that improve a player’s gameplay, such as speeding up the movement of their game pieces, monetize best. For the game’s 20 percent core users, a “fast speed drop” of incoming blocks is the most popular monetized item. Special discount sales of goods also increase monetization rates, as does localization of the game. Tetris Battle was also recently localized in Chinese, which resulted in a revenue increase among Chinese-speaking players.

Demographically, Tetris Battle players are roughly split 50/50 by gender, and retention tends to skew younger; in this case, meaning players in the 20-40 range. Core gamers (those playing for over an hour a day) are more male. In terms of players by country, the game reportedly grows in tandem with Facebook’s expansion into the international market. (Players from Denmark, for unknown reasons, comprise a disproportionately large percentage of the user base.)

Leveraging and protecting the Tetris brand on Facebook

According to Pelkey, the Tetris brand name has been an important draw for first-time players; however, retention depends not on the brand, but gameplay and user experience. He applies this lesson in general advice to Facebook game developers involved with other well-known brands and franchises: “You have to deliver a great game, period,” he says. And that includes adding features to the game that leverage all of the platform’s social components: “In Facebook, you better deliver [a game] that has something extra, and not only engages the player, but engages their friends as well.” So far, Tetris Battle is among the rare examples of games from the arcade era to succeed on Facebook.

Given that, and the continued growth of Tetris Battle, some might wonder if it will face copy-cat competitors which frequently beset successful Facebook games. In this case, Tetris’ holding company, Blue Planet Software, has a history of successfully protecting the Tetris brand from imitators in the legal arena. While games in themselves cannot be copyrighted, elements of a game can be trademarked; in this case, the Tetris logo, Tetris theme song, and tetrimino playing pieces enjoy that legal protection. As an example of Blue Planet’s protection strategy, a Facebook game called Blockstar, which had a striking resemblance to Tetris, was legally acquired and co-opted by the company in 2007. This move contrasts the fate of Scrabulous, a Facebook imitator of Scrabble that was shut down by the board game’s rights holder.

Instead of doing that, says Pelkey, “To help reduce the amount of time our legal team spent on shutting this particular game mode down, we were fortunate to befriend the individual who programmed [Blockstar]”. The company went on to “embrace it as an official game mode, making it a part of the Tetris history.” It’s still available within Tetris Friends, with 350,000 MAU. (Before joining Tetris Online, Youm himself was developing a knock-off of the original Tetris for an Asian developer.)

Future plans: Tetris Arena, localization and beyond Tetris Battle

In the second quarter of 2012, Facebook should see the launch of Tetris Arena, a gameplay mode in Tetris Battle that’s now in closed beta. Aimed at the core gamer market, Tetris Arena focuses on multiplayer, synchronous play, in which players compete live using the same playing pieces.

Given that focus, it will also come with a global ranking system — the first Tetris title to have one. For this reason, Tetris Online believes that the Arena mode will draw core players hungry to prove that they’re among the very best at the game overall. Also reflecting the developer’s goal to present Tetris as a competitive sport, Arena will also come with a spectator mode. The company has been testing it on gamers by publishing the Arena game mode’s unlock code on Twitter. Since starting this activity, the Tetris Battle Twitter account has gained 260,000 followers within two months. The Arena game mode is entirely live play, but since it’s still in closed beta, it represents a smaller percentage of the daily games played; the company expects this to grow as the game is opened to more players.

Monetization for Tetris Arena will vary from the main Tetris Battle game, with more functional consumable items. Since the game exists within the main app, the company plans to focus early launch on in-game cross-promotion.

As noted, Tetris Online recently launched a Chinese-localized version of Tetris Battle, garnering improved monetization in Chinese-speaking countries. In 2012, the company also plans to release localizations of the game in Spanish, French, Italian and German, with one new language deployed each month. All these versions will exist within the same Tetris Battle app ID, which will therefore enjoy any growth these additions are likely to attract. The developer notes that the game tends to gain growth momentum when it’s made available in a given country, and word of mouth kicks in; localization should further drive this growth.

Tetris Online also plans to launch a second product in 2012, a head-to-head multiplayer game, which will not be Tetris branded. Another game, Tetris Stars, which combines mouse-driven gameplay with a more casual variation of Tetris, is currently in open beta; the developer is still developing its Q1 2012 plans for that title.

Facebook games in 2012: Words With Friends vs. Tetris Online

At the start of 2012, several top Facebook games shared some common traits with Tetris Battle. Among these are Words With Friends (with 7.9 million DAU, 16 million MAU), Bubble Witch Saga (4 million DAU, 11 million MAU), and Bejeweled Blitz (3.1 million DAU, 9.2 million MAU). All currently enjoy strong growth, especially as compared to other games now topping the popularity charts, such as CityVille and The Sims Social, which have comparatively flat growth. Given these trends, it’s likely that puzzle/arcade games will emerge as 2012’s leaders on the Facebook platform.

For the part of Tetris Online, they consider Tetris Battle’s most direct competitor in the coming year to be Zynga’s Words With Friends. From Youm’s perspective, Words has the advantage of mobile connectivity and cross-platform play. By contrast, competitive Tetris games are difficult to deploy on phones, especially smartphones with touch screens. Additionally, EA holds the rights to mobile versions of Tetris and would need to be brought on as a partner for any mobile deployment of Tetris Online games. However, Youm argues that Tetris Battle has a more global reach than Words With Friends, with the Scrabble-like game probably limited in appeal to regions where English or Romance languages predominate.

These strategic assumptions will be tested as Tetris Online rolls out localized versions of Tetris Battle in 2012, aiming to cater more directly to European and Spanish-speaking countries. In any case, the company sees this year as an opportunity to transform the Facebook platform’s competitive space. Youm argues that multiplayer competitive games are more sustainable for developers, because unlike most other genres, there’s no clear end point where all the game’s content has been enjoyed. Just as Tetris the brand continues to thrive nearly three decades after launch, he believes multiplayer games on Facebook can thrive as long as people are interested in playing them against each other.

“The success of puzzle games gives people something to think about,” as Pelkey puts it. ”At the end of 2012, maybe there’s a different face of gaming in Facebook.”

Full Disclosure: In 2010, the author briefly consulted for Avatar Reality, an unrelated 3D virtual
world developer founded by Henk Rogers, president of Blue Planet Software.

2011’s Social Game-Related Mergers & Acquisitions: Inside Social Games and AppData’s Performance Review

In 2011, Inside Social Games tracked nearly 20 mergers and acquisitions involving Facebook game developers and publishers, with total disclosed purchase prices in excess of $1.7 billion dollars. Here are the biggest M&A stories of the year.

Often the results of these purchases and mergers were observable on AppData, our data tracking service. For instance, some developers enjoyed the cross-promotional and advertising power of their new parent company, while others saw their games sunsetted, as the development teams transitioned to other games within the company’s portfolio. To better contextualize the data, we’ve provided our list in chronological order. Additionally, Zynga has been given its own category, as it made at least eight game-related purchases throughout 2011.

RockYou acquires Playdemic - January

Publisher RockYou purchased UK-based Playdemic, creators of the farming-restaurant sim Gourmet Ranch, for an undisclosed sum right at the beginning of the year. Roughly 10 months later, RockYou sold Playdemic back to the studio’s founders as part of a dramatic restructuring.

In the months leading up to the January 2011 purchase, Gourmet Ranch was attracting MAU in the mid six figure range, and strong engagement rates of between 15 and 25%. In the months after the RockYou’s purchase, MAU grew rapidly, reaching a peak of about 6 million in June before beginning a gradual decline for the rest of the year. In the four weeks before RockYou sold Playdemic back to its founders, Gourmet Ranch saw a jump in growth that took DAU/MAU from 10% to about 26%. This growth continues even now, currently seeing around 30% DAU/MAU from 490,000 MAU. For RockYou’s part, the company has seen growth of about 3.15 million MAU since the November cutbacks, and now has 6.9 million MAU. The company also saw a drop of DAU/MAU during that period, falling from 18% then to 13% as of this week.

Visa acquires PlaySpan for $190 Million – February

Credit card giant Visa purchased game monetization service provider PlaySpan for $190 million in cash toward the beginning of the year. The acquisition is significant in the social games industry as it marked Visa’s entry into the virtual goods market — where PlaySpan facilitated transactions within Facebook and other web game platforms. Though we have no data-driven way to track the influence Visa had on PlaySpan post-acquisition, we do observe that the PlaySpan Marketplace page saw a very sharp spike at the time of the Visa announcement, jumping briefly from 6700 MAU to 23,000, before returning to normal usage levels of between 4000 and 6500 MAU. PlaySpan told us in August that a partnership with Facebook allowed the company’s continued existence on the platform following the mandatory integration of Facebook Credits as the sole currency.

PopCap Games acquires ZipZapPlay – April

Before its own acquisition by EA (see below), casual game publisher PopCap acquired developer ZipZapPlay, developer of the pet game Happy Habitat and the restaurant sim Baking Life, for an undisclosed sum.

As part of the acquisition, Happy Habitat was taken offline. Baking Life, which had about 2.5 million MAU and about 20% DAU/MAU at the time of the acquisition, was placed in “evaluation mode” while PopCap considered whether or not the aging game was worth saving. Though the game continued its slow but steady loss of users that began months before the acquisition, MAU stabilized around October, and DAU/MAU now runs between 22 and 24%.

Harrah’s (Caesars Entertainment Corporation) acquires Playtika $80 Million+ – May & December

Slotomania developer Playtika was first partially acquired by Caesars Entertainment Corporation through its Harrah’s casino brand in May — and then completely bought out in December. The total price of the acquisition is reportedly between $80 and $90 million.

According to our data tracking service AppData, Playtika’s Facebook games — Slotomania, Farkle Pro, and a Chinese-language version of Slotomania — had a total of 2.3 million MAU in the month leading up to May. During that month, the developer gained nearly one million MAU and has enjoyed steady user growth ever since. Currently, Playtika’s overall library has 5.9 million MAU and a DAU/MAU rate of about 25%.

RockYou acquires 3 Blokes – June

RockYou purchased the Australian-based developer for an undisclosed sum, with the stated intention of putting the studio in charge of its strategy and combat titles on Facebook. At the time of the acquisition, 3 Blokes’ four Facebook games had 200,000 total MAU, led by its space-based RPG Galactic Trader (published by 6waves Lolapps) with about 175,000 MAU.

After the developer joined RockYou, its own library of games steadily lost users, and now stands at just 9,520 MAU. Its first game for RockYou, Galactic Allies, launched in September and gained 200,000 MAU before shrinking to its current level of 80,000 MAU and a low engagement rate of under 5% DAU/MAU.

EA acquires PopCap Games for $1.3 Billion – July

EA acquired PopCap Games for $650 million in cash, $100 million in stock, and multi-year earn-outs that would bring the total purchase price to $1.3 billion. The purchase expanded EA’s large library of Facebook games from its social game arm Playfish, such as The Sims Social, and its brand titles such as Scrabble with PopCap’s Facebook hits Bejeweled Blitz and Zuma Blitz.

Since the acquisition, Bejeweled Blitz has very gradually declined from 10.5 million MAU to 8.9 million MAU today, while DAU/MAU has remained very strong throughout, fluctuating between 26% and 34% as of this month. Meanwhile, Zuma Blitz dropped from 6 million MAU in June to 2.3 million MAU now; at the same time, DAU/MAU has increased in that period, rising from 15% to over 25% today. In July, PopCap attempted to launch brand new IP on the platform with Pig Up!, but the title appears to have been abandoned by the developer.

Publisher 6waves merges with developer Lolapps – July

Ravenwood Fair developer Lolapps merged with Ravenwood Fair publisher 6waves in July to form 6waves Lolapps. The newly minted company raised $35 million from Insight Venture Partners and Nexon just one month later and went on to establish a $10 million fund for social and mobile game developers in September. The developer officially entered the mobile market this month by publishing two games from developer Escalation Studios on iOS.

Ravenskye City, a continuation of Lolapps’ Ravenwood Fair launched in October, now enjoys MAU of 4.9 million and very stong DAU/MAU rates over 20%. Since the July acquisition and August funding announcement, the company has seen relatively steady user activity, fluctuating between 12 million and 20 million (both as a developer and publisher), boosted by the October publications of Zombie Island from Vizor Interactive and Airport City from Game Insight. 6waves Lolapps currently enjoys 14.8 million MAU as a developer, and 12 million MAU as a publisher.

ngmoco acquires Lionside – September

Leading mobile game developer and publisher ngmoco (itself bought last year by Japanese mobile giant DeNA) acquired sports game developer Lionside for an undisclosed sum in September. At that time, Lionside had a total of about 375,000 MAU, primarily from its game NBA Legend: Official NBA Game but since, has seen a steady decline to a current level of 70,000 MAU and low engagement below 10%.

6waves Lolapps acquires Smartron5 – October

Four months after its own merger (see above), social game publisher-developer 6waves Lolapps bought Beijing-based social game developer Smartron5 for an undisclosed sum. At the time of the purchase, Smartrong5 was only making games for the China-based social network Tencent, and as of this writing, has no apps on Facebook. As for 6waves Lolapps, the purchase had no discernible impact on its user activity as tracked by AppData. As a publisher, the company now has 11.8 million MAU and 1.8 million DAU.

DeNA acquires Atakama Lab – October

DeNA acquired Chile-based social game studio Atakama Labs, creators of the retro RPG Little Cave Hero, for an undisclosed sum. While this move and ngmoco’s Lionside acquisition suggest DeNA’s commitment to Facebook development, we haven’t seen much movement in the games themselves. Little Cave Hero went into steady decline just before the acquisition and appears to have been sunsetted just after the acquisition.

EA acquires KlickNation for $35 Million – December

EA bought the Superhero City developer for about $35 million, according to Inside Social Game sources, and folded into the social game arm of its BioWare studio. Given the developer’s history and EA’s previous Facebook efforts with BioWare game Dragon Age 2, we expect to see KlickNation producing titles that draw from BioWare’s IP library. KlickNation’s existing roster of Facebook games currently have a total of nearly 400,000 MAU and moderately strong engagement at 15% DAU/MAU.

Zynga acquisitions in 2011

Leading up to its IPO in December, Zynga made a number of game-related purchases through 2011, at least eight of which were publicly announced or confirmed.

In January, Zynga bought Area/Code, developer of CSI: Crime City, for an undisclosed sum. At the time of the purchase, the game had about 2 milllion MAU, with growth trending downward, now standing at about 1 million MAU with relatively high engagement rates between 15 and 19%.

In April, Zynga made a talent acquisition from UK mobile game developer Wonderland Software, using the new hires to create Zynga Mobile UK. Zynga also acquired talent from poker industry service provider MarketZero that month.

In May, Zynga acquired DNA Games, developer of Casino City and other titles. The developer sunsetted all three of its Facebook titles shortly after, despite consistent performance from Casino City.

In August, Zynga is believed to have bought Astro Ape Studios to strengthen its mobile development efforts.

In November, Zynga’s IPO filings revealed the company had spent $20 million acquiring four companies in Q3 2011. Among them was development studio Five Mobile, bought in July and renamed Zynga Toronto. Among the other three are believed to be Astro Ape Studios (see above), with the remaining two unidentified.

2011’s Most Popular Facebook Games by Genre: Arcade, Casino, Hidden Object, Strategy

2011 saw a growing diversity in social games with new genre and gameplay types emerging on Facebook, such as hidden object games, racing games, and strategy combat titles with real time multiplayer modes. Based on data collected from AppData, our data tracking service, here are the most popular genres for successful Facebook games this year.

Note: For the purposes of this report, “successful” is defined by games with over 100,000 monthly active users and current retention rates (daily active users as a percent of monthly active users) of 20% or higher. Because many Facebook games (especially those from top publishers) enjoy artificially high usage rates in their first three months, this list only includes games that were launched and reviewed by Inside Social Games between January and September 2011.

1) Arcade — 14.2 million MAU
Three games with the fast casual action of the arcade genre gained strong traffic in 2011: Wooga’s Diamond Dash (11,600,000 MAU), PlayQ’s HotShot (1.4 Million MAU), and GameHouse’s Collapse! Blast (1.2 million MAU). Notably, all three have similar gameplay of matching (or destroying) three like objects for points.

2) Word — 13.8 million MAU
Since launching in July, Words With Friends, Zynga’s Scrabble-like board game, has enjoyed consistently strong growth and engagement rates. It’s the only 2011 game in this genre to reach extremely large user numbers.

Words With Friends’ success is probably due both to its heavy resemblance to Scrabble and its cross-platform feature, which allows Facebook users to play with others both on desktop and mobile. Because Scrabble-type games typically focus on asynchronous play with simple graphics, they’re well-suited to the Facebook platform. Indeed, Electronic Arts’ official Scrabble game for Facebook attracts heavy engagement (if less users, with just 1 million MAU), as does Lexulous, an independently-produced Facebook game once called “Scrabulous” before Scrabble rights owners demanded a name change.

3) Casino — 13.24 million MAU
Led by Playtika’s Slotomania (5.5 million MAU), DoubleDown Interactive’s DoubleDown Casino (4.5 million MAU), and Buffalo Studios’ Bingo Blitz (2.8 million MAU), the gambling-themed casino genre games of 2011 attracted high traffic and heavy engagement. Notably, each of these games currently has very high DAU/MAU rates of over 30%. While the top spot in this genre remains Zynga’s Texas HoldEm Poker, Slotomania and DoubleDown now hold the second and third positions, supplanting other slot machine and card games with a gambling aspect.

4) Hidden Object — 10 million MAU
Disney Playdom’s time travel-themed Gardens of Time (8.3 million MAU) leads this genre, in which players must find valuable game objects cleverly hidden within a graphically dense image. Also gaining heavy traffic is Mystery Manor (1.7 million MAU), developed by Game Insight and published by 6waves Lolapps. Both were launched during March/April, reached a peak of users in September (17 million MAU and 3.75 million MAU, respectively), and have shed users since then, while still maintaining strong DAU/MAU rates. Gardens of Time and Mystery Manor both arrived on iPad this month, but it appears as thoughonly Gardens of Time features Facebook Connect — which could lead to an increase in traffic for the parent game as mobile logins are counted toward its MAU and DAU. Despite the early success of these two games, it’s notable that these were the only 2011 entries in the genre tracked by Inside Social Games throughout this year.

5) City-Building — 4.3 million MAU
A genre in which players get to customize, develop, and manage the economy, infrastructure, and social aspects of their own unique city, 2011 saw the successful launch of Wooga’s Magic Land (2.7 million MAU) followed by Disney Playdom’s Gnome Town 1.6 million MAU). It’s interesting that both games merge city building with a fantasy theme, as do two games launched after September — Zynga’s CastleVille and 6waves Lolapps’ Ravenskye City. This represents a new trend in city-building games, as compared to market leader Zynga’s CityVille (launched in 2010), which has a realistic, modern day city theme.

6) Role-Playing Games — 2.5 million MAU
In a role-playing game (RPG), players customize and enhance their own unique game character, and use it to progress through a series of game challenges and objectives, in a variety of environments and themes. Led by Digital Chocolate’s undead-themed Zombie Lane, the RPG genre added a number of new entries in 2011. The Vampire Diaries: Get Sucked In — based on the TV show of the same name — has 300,000 MAU, while the dungeon crawler-type Hello Adventure has about 100,000 MAU. This year saw the launch of over three dozen RPG games, most of which have lower traffic or engagement rates than these three. For instance, Zygna’s Mafia Wars 2 still has 6.1 million MAU, but less than 10% DAU/MAU, and EA Playfish’s The Sims Social, has 27.2 million MAU but less than 20% DAU/MAU (and trending downward), as does Coco Girl, a fashion-themed RPG (3 million MAU) launched in October. Zynga’s CastleVille, which launched late in 2011, has both strong city building elements (see above) and RPG features.

7) Strategy & Combat — 1.86 million MAU
Three entries in the military and battle-themed genre of strategy & combat maintain high engagement rates: Kixeye’s Battle Pirates (720,000 MAU) and War Commander (530,000 MAU), with Kabam’s Edgeworld between both with 610,000 MAU. Zynga’s Empires & Allies still maintains a large base of players (15.6 million MAU), as does Social Point’s Social Empires (4.9 million MAU), but have seen engagement rates fall below 20% DAU/MAU in December. Their overall size should also be considered as an indicator of the genre’s popularity, however, and we anticipate seeing more entries in strategy & combat throughout the end of the year and into 2012.

8) Game Show — 1.06 million MAU
Led by Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader (650,000 MAU) and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (410,000 MAU), game show-themed trivia games have over a million players on Facebook. Both are licensed from popular TV game show franchises. New entries in 2011 like Jeopardy! have gained smaller, but very engaged audiences. Three other 2011 game show games — Deal or No Deal, $100,000 Pyramid, and 1 vs 100 — have not done as well, however, which leads us to question just how easily a game show’s TV audience is translated to Facebook.

Going into 2012, we expect to see more entries in the casino, arcade, and strategy-combat categories as new developers experiment with the genres. Hidden object games may also see some growth in the new year as Zynga attempts to replicate the success of Garndes of Time with its own entry, Hidden Chronicles. In contrast, the city-building and RPG genres seem to be saturated, though it’s possible that a hybrid of the two genres — say, Zynga’s CastleVille — may still have room to grow.

Inside Social Games’ Top Ten 2011 Facebook Games by Popularity

As 2011 winds down, we’ve compiled this year’s Facebook games reviewed by Inside Social Games and measured their performance on AppData, our data tracking service.

Below are 2011’s top ten winners, defined for the purposes of this report as 1) Facebook games that officially launched between the start of the year and September 2011, which 2) have the highest current number of monthly active users with 3) current retention rates (DAU as a percent of MAU) of 20% or higher. This list only includes games reviewed by Inside Social Games during that period. Note that these factors distinguish our list from the top 2011 games rankings published by Facebook, which were compiled using a mix of active user counts and user reviews.

10 — Collapse! Blast: 240,000 DAU, 1.2 million MAU
GameHouse’s match-3 puzzle game launched in late July, reached a peak of about 1.25 million MAU before the end of August, and has maintained close to that level of users ever since.

9 — HotShot: 350,000 DAU, 1.4 million MAU

PlayQ’s pachinko-style arcade game that strongly resembles EA PopCap’s download title, Peggle, launched in early May and has enjoyed steady growth and strong engagement throughout its run, with a DAU/MAU rate well above 20%.

8 — GnomeTown: 340,000 DAU, 1.5 million MAU
Disney Playdom launched its fantasy-themed city sim game in July, reached a peak of over 500,000 DAU in September, and has remained close to that level for the remainder of 2011. The game got a significant boost a month or so after launch when the developer added Disney branding to the game’s interface and display ads.

7 — Slotomania – Slot Machines: 1.600 million DAU, 5.5 million MAU
Playtika’s slot machine gambling game actually launched in the final weeks of 2010, but only began showing strong growth toward the middle of 2011. It has maintained strong DAU/MAU rates through the year, even approaching the 30% range for several months.

6 — Zombie Lane: 400,000 DAU, 2.1 million MAU
Digital Chocolate’s zombie-themed RPG launched in March, enjoyed sharp growth from April to June, peaking at about 1.5 million DAU, then began a slow slide of users for most the rest of the year. Its growth finally stabilized around October.

5 — Magic Land: 520,000 DAU, 2.4 million MAU
Wooga’s fantasy-themed city sim launched in August, and has enjoyed strong, steady growth of DAU since then, reaching its current peak this month. A mobile companion game debuted on Facebook’s HTML5-based mobile platform in October.

4 — BINGO Blitz: 880,000 DAU, 2.8 million MAU
Buffalo Studios launched its Facebook-era update to the classic board game around the start of the year, and has enjoyed strong growth and very heavy engagement rates since, with a DAU/MAU rate in the 30-35% range for most of its run.

3 — Gardens of Time: 2 million DAU, 8.5 million MAU

Launching in April, Disney Playdom’s hidden object puzzle game enjoyed sharp growth in its first couple months, a slower growth rate in the next three months, then saw a steady but gradual loss of users starting in September. However, the game’s DAU/MAU rate has remained strong throughout its run, and has fluctuated between 22% and 26% in the last three months.

2 — Diamond Dash: 2.8 million DAU, 11.8 million MAU

Wooga officially launched its arcade-style matching game in March, and has maintained a DAU/MAU rate of about 20% since then. Growth of DAU has also been consistent, with the game reaching its current peak this month. The game went cross-platform on iOS at the beginning of December.

1 — Words With Friends: 5.6 million DAU, 13.5 million MAU
Zynga launched the Facebook component of its Scrabble-like board game in July, allowing Facebook users to play games against users both on desktop and mobile. Growth has been consistently strong since then, with the game reaching its current peak of MAU and DAU this month. Words with Friends has maintained retention of over 40% since October when Facebook debuted its mobile platform with the game as a launch title, making it by the far the most engaging game on this top ten list.

A notable absence from this list is EA Playfish’s The Sims Social, which launched in late summer and still maintains a very large userbase of 5.1 million DAU and 27.7 million MAU. The reason the game didn’t make our top is due to a decline in overall traffic begun in October that brought retention rates below 20%. Similarly, the DAU/MAU rate of Zynga’s Empires & Allies (now with 16.1 million MAU and 3.1 million DAU) has been trending below 20% in recent months. Other prominent absences from our list include 6waves Lolapps’ Ravenskye City (launched in October, 20% retention), Zynga’s CastleVille (launched in November, 21% retention) and Zynga’s Mafia Wars 2 (also launched in October, 8% retention).

Interestingly, no single game genre dominates our list: Three are classified as casual arcade, two are fantasy-themed city sims, and two are gambling-themed with just one RPG and one hidden object game, plus a Scrabble clone at the very top. Also notable: The top ten games were created by nine different developers, with only one, wooga, creating two of the ten. While previous years in Facebook gaming have been dominated by one genre (such as farming sims) or one company (such as Zynga), 2011’s most popular games suggest a growing diversity and sophistication of the market.

How January 2011’s Top 10 Facebook Games Are Doing in December 2011

Here’s a look at where AppData‘s top 10 games of January 2011 are now in December 2011, as the calendar year draws to a close.

A year is typically the better part of a social game’s life cycle for titles launched on Facebook after 2009. During those first 12 months, a game will grow rapidly in first three months, peak in overall traffic, then begin to shrink over the following six months. During this shrinking period, the percent of daily active users as a percent of monthly active users (or DAU/MAU) will often decline toward 10%. Generally, we find that if engagement rates fall below 10% DAU/MAU, a game has a very strong chance of being sunsetted, as its developers seek to cut their losses.

By December 2011, almost all of January’s top 10 games have lost much of the traffic they had at the start of 2011. However, this does not necessarily mean they’re candidates for sunset in 2012. Many of these games maintain high levels of engagement, and probably continue to earn decent revenue for their developers. At least one game, EA PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz, retained most of its traffic while increasing engagement levels through 2011.

At the start of 2011, these were the top 10 Facebook games by MAU, according to AppData:

In January 2011, top entry CityVille had the advantage of being the newest game among the first 10, having launched the month before. Still, several top games which launched in 2008 — Pet Society, Texas HoldEm, and Mafia Wars — also maintained ranks in the top 10. (The others in the January’s top 10 launched in mid 2010, with the exception of FarmVille, which launched in mid 2009.)

By the end of the year, Facebook’s top 10 had changed dramatically, with just three games in the January 2011 list ranking in the top 10 for December 2011:

The three January 2011 holdovers — CityVille, FarmVille, and Texas HoldEm Poker — are from Zynga, reflecting the company’s continued dominance in the market, and its strategy of maintaining the lead by releasing numerous new games and cross-promoting across its titles. However, several competing developers managed to grow their own audiences to attain top 10 status since then.

Here is where January 2011’s top 10 games stand now, according to AppData:

CityVille – Zynga: 48.9 million MAU, 10.4 million DAU
December rank, by MAU: 1

Launched at the end of 2010, Zynga’s city management sim enjoyed stratospheric growth in January 2011, when it reached over 100 million MAU. In February and March, the game attained a peak of daily active users (or DAU) of about 21 million. Since then, however, CityVille has experienced a slow but steady decline in both MAU and DAU. While it retains the number one position in December, its MAU and DAU have fallen by over 50% from its peak. At the same time, CityVille’s DAU as a percent of MAU has remained strong, at about 20%, throughout the year.

FarmVille – Zynga: 31.7 million MAU, 7.3 million DAU
December rank, by MAU: 2

Popular since its launch in 2009, Zynga’s farming sim steadily lost MAU and DAU through 2011, beginning the year with nearly 60 million MAU and 16 million DAU. As with CityVille, it lost about half of those users by year’s end. DAU/MAU for FarmVille has fluctuated throughout 2011, falling and rising between about 20 to 30%. It now stands at nearly 24%, retaining strong engagement rates (if many less total users.)

Texas HoldEm Poker – Zynga: 28.9 million MAU and 6.3 million DAU
December rank, by MAU: 4

At the close of 2011, Zynga’s online poker game maintains its place in the top 10, and even grew during the first few months. (The game had about 35 million MAU and 7 million DAU in January, then grew to a peak of about 38 million MAU and 7.75 million DAU in February.) After some eight months of relatively stable user rates, the game began losing traffic. However, compared to Zynga’s CityVille and FarmVille, which both lost about half their maximum number of users over the year, the HoldEm Poker game has retained about 85% of the total players it had at the start of 2011. The game even managed to increase DAU/MAU engagement rates over the year, at first fluctuating between 16 to 20% through 2011, but from late October to now, fluctuating between 21 to 23%.

FrontierVille – Zynga: 1.2 million MAU, 230 thousand DAU
December rank, by MAU: 83

The 2011 performance of Zynga’s adventure/RPG game is somewhat complicated, due to the launch of Pioneer Trail, a standalone expansion to the game released in August. At the start of 2011, FrontierVille had about 30 million MAU and 6 million DAU. By the time Pioneer Trail launched, the original game had dropped to about 12 million MAU and 3 million DAU. At first, Zynga encouraged FrontierVille players to install the new Pioneer Trail app, then eventually made redirection automatic, so that users attempting to search or access FrontierVille would instead be taken directly to Pioneer Trail. FrontierVille now has just 1.2 million MAU and 240,000 DAU, with a 18% in DAU/MAU. By contrast, Pioneer Trail maintains 5.3 million MAU and 1.7 million DAU, for an impressive DAU/MAU rate of about 30% and claimed a place on the top 25 Facebook games for December. So while FrontierVille has fallen far from its high usage rates at the beginning of 2011, its successor has inherited a relatively large and very committed base of players.

Mafia Wars – Zynga: 2.7 million MAU, 590,000 DAU
December rank, by MAU: 37

Zynga’s crime-theme role-playing game also had an interesting performance in 2011. Mafia Wars enjoyed a peak of about 20 million MAU and 3.5 million DAU at the beginning of the 2011, but steadily lost traffic through the year, down by 85% from its January totals. At the same time, the game enjoyed a modest increase of DAU/MAU in 2011, going from about 15% in January to between 20 and 25% from October to November. This increase in engagement occurred despite Zynga’s heavily promoted launch of Mafia Wars 2 in October. While the sequel still enjoys higher traffic (now 7.4 million MAU and 670,000 DAU), its DAU/MAU has fluctuated between 7.5% and 8.5% over the last couple months. Given Mafia Wars 2’s steady decline of players compared to Mafia Wars’ relative stability, it’s quite possible the original game will eclipse its sequel in 2012.

Café World – Zynga: 6.6 million MAU, 1.5 million DAU
December rank, by MAU: 17

Zynga’s restaurant sim has lost over 60% of the audience it had at the beginning of the year. However, as with Zynga’s Mafia Wars, Café World’s loss of total players was coupled to a gain in engagement. The game climbed from a DAU/MAU rate of about 18% in January, to between 22 and 30% in the last three months of 2011. This high engagement suggests the 2009 game has managed to maintain a large group of dedicated players.

Treasure Isle – Zynga: 2.1 million MAU, 410,000 DAU
December rank, by MAU: 55

Dropping from a peak of 15 million MAU and 3 million DAU in January, Zynga’s treasure hunting game lost some 83% of its audience in 2011. Despite this loss, Treasure Isle’s DAU/MAU ratio has remained relatively consistent and healthy through the year, fluctuating between between 20 and 25% for most of 2011.

Millionaire City – Digital Chocolate: 2.4 million MAU, 410,000 DAU
December rank, by MAU: 44

Digital Chocolate’s city sim lost some 80% of its traffic through 2011, and saw a decline of DAU/MAU from 22% in January, to between 16 and 18% from October to December.

Pet Society – EA-Playfish: 6.2 million MAU, 1 million DAU
December rank, by MAU: 19

EA Playfish’s pet care sim lost over 50% of the players it had in January (when it enjoyed 12 million MAU and 2.25 DAU). Engagement rates have remained relatively low through the year, fluctuating between 12 and 16% for most of 2011.

Bejeweled Blitz, EA/Popcap: 8.7 million MAU, 2.9 million DAU
December rank, by MAU: 14

Of all the games in the top 10 for January 2011, EA PopCap’s casual arcade game has seen the strongest performance this year, maintaining 70% of the players it had 12 months ago. It also enjoyed extremely high engagement rates throughout the year, fluctuating between 26 and 36% DAU/MAU through 2011.

It’s interesting to note that most of these games still maintain healthy DAU/MAU rates above 20%, even one to three years after their launch. Only three, FrontierVille, Millionaire City, and Pet Society, currently have a DAU/MAU rate closer to 15%. However, this rate, while not optimal, is still suggestive of relatively strong engagement rates. It’s therefore likely that most of January 2011’s top 10 will continue to generate revenue for their developers well into 2012.

How Sequels & Expansions to Popular Facebook Games Compare to Their Predecessors

This year, as many of the most popular Facebook games reached a mature stage in their development cycle, the social network saw the launch of more sequels and expansions than any other year in the platform’s history. This report will consider the challenges inherent in doing this successfully, and then analyze the performance of three recent sequels/expansions: Pioneer Trail (an expansion to FrontierVille), Mafia Wars 2, and Zoo World 2.

Challenges of Launching a Facebook Game Sequel/Expansion: Audience Appeal, Transition Friction, App ID Considerations

In theory, creating a sequel or expansion to a Facebook game with strong engagement rates is an obvious revenue opportunity. The developer can transition existing players to the spinoff game by adding information, links, and installation incentives in the original game, while also creating a new audience drawn to the promise of new and enhanced features.

However, a number of concerns still loom. A key consideration is whether the sequel/expansion will run on the same app ID as the original. If that’s the case, difficulties with transitioning users to a new app can be alleviated, but this strategy comes with its own challenges: According to Facebook’s app policies, a developer may not make updates to an app which significantly changes its original gamplay experience. So while a game’s sequel may exist in the same app ID, Facebook’s policy precludes the kinds of enhancements (such as new gameplay and expanded content) that typically increase new user growth and engagement.

Another point of risk is that the potential audience for a sequel may not be as large as the original, and the existing audience may resist installing and staying engaged with a second app. Fans of the original may consider the follow-up’s gameplay to be too different, for instance, or a distraction from their progress in the original. In a worst case scenario, the transition may cannibalize players away from the first game, who then engage even less with the sequel.

A cannibalization effect seems to have occured, by example, in Playdom’s role-playing game franchise Mobsters. As recorded by our AppData traffic tracking service, the original game enjoyed over 1 million monthly active users and just over 120,000 daily active users going into August 2009. In that same month, Playdom launched Mobsters 2: Vendetta, which added a deeper story-line and themed missions set in numerous locations, among other enhancements to the original. At first, the sequel showed growth rates, exceeding 5 million MAU toward the end of 2009 with about 400,000 DAU. While the sequel grew, Mobsters saw a rapid drop in MAU, presumably as players of that game transitioned to the sequel, falling below 100,000 as it went into 2010. Four months after launch, however, Mobsters 2 also experienced sharp user drop, falling close to 1 million MAU by June of 2010. At the moment, the original Mobsters game has just 6,000 MAU and 200 DAU, and the sequel, just 190,000 MAU and 30,000 DAU.

With these considerations in mind, here’s a brief review of three prominent sequels/expansions released in 2011:

From FrontierVille to Pioneer Trail – Zynga

Launched in June 2010, Zynga’s FrontierVille combined farm sim gameplay with RPG and adventure game elements. By the beginning of 2011, the game had upwards of 30 million MAU and 6 million DAU. After this apex, user activity began a slow decline, and by August of this year, when Pioneer Trail launched, had declined to about 12 million MAU. The sequel continued FrontierVille’s general theme of wildness homesteading, with gameplay reminiscent of the classic adventure title Oregon Trail. (Indeed, the original game included an “Oregon Trail” sign, creating user expectation that the sequel finally fulfilled.) In contrast to FrontierVille, Pioneer Trail’s gameplay was focused more on exploration and adventure, where the player commands a party of four characters with a unique role, who must complete a series of story-driven quests to progress.

To transition FrontierVille players into this expansion, Zynga added a link to Pioneer Trail in the original game, and encouraged players to install the new app, explaining in the user forums that Pioneer Trail represented “two games in one.” When FrontierVille players installed the Pioneer Trail app, their progress in the first game (FrontierVille homestead, completed quests, inventory, etc.) was migrated over to the new app. If the player clicked the game’s “Return to Homestead” option, they were sent not to their original homestead in the FrontierVille app, but to a copy of it housed in the Pioneer Trail app. Shortly after launch, Zynga made the redirection from FrontierVille to Pioneer Trail mandatory, so that users attempting to search or access FrontierVille would instead be taken directly to Pioneer Trail.

In the months after Pioneer Trail’s September launch, the game attracted about 22 million MAU before it began losing users. At the moment, it has just 5.5 million MAU and 1.7 million DAU, albeit with very strong engagement rates: Over the last 30 days, DAU as a percent of MAU has fluctuated between 30-35%. (As supported by data from Inside Virtual Goods, games with a DAU/MAU of 20% or higher have strong user retention and monetization rates.) Meanwhile, FrontierVille continues to shed users; the app currently enjoys 1.4 million MAU and 260,000 DAU, for a 19% DAU/MAU ratio. While Pioneer Trail approached FrontierVille’s high of 30 million MAU at launch, it is now under a fifth of that number. While the user transition rate from FrontierVille to Pioneer Trail was not one-to-one, it’s still fair to say that most FrontierVille users who tried Pioneer Trail did not continue playing it — and that most did not continue playing FrontierVille, either. From that perspective, the move from FrontierVille to Pioneer Trail has been at best a very limited success for Zynga.

From Zoo World to Zoo World 2 – RockYou!

RockYou’s animal raising sim Zoo World 2 was launched this June within the original Zoo World app ID. While most of the gameplay remained the same (as required by Facebook to maintain the same ID), the developers added zoo customization and building elements, which were integrated into the animal care aspect of the game. For example, adding decorations influences the well-being of the zoo animals, which is the Zoo World franchise’s core gameplay element.

Since Zoo World 2 runs in the original Zoo World’s app ID, it is difficult to form an early picture of the app’s growth. In addition, the company at first gave the game a “toggle” option, so longtime players could switch from the sequel to the original game. We can see clearly, though, that in the six months leading up to Zoo World 2’s launch, usage had trended downward from about 9 million MAU and 700,000 DAU to about 2 million MAU and 200,000 DAU. With the launch of Zoo World 2, user growth returned, reaching 8-9 million MAU for the months of August and September. However, during this same period, DAU/MAU remained low, trending downward between 15% and 5%. This user activity pattern is suggestive of one-time installs or plays (presumably as new and returning users checked out the game’s updates).

The company attributes this waning usage in part to difficulties with a new ad platform that were addressed in September, and reports that despite the declining user numbers, has more than doubled the game’s average revenue per user in October. To further complicate analysis of Zoo World 2, RockYou laid off half its staff in November, which may have impeded updates and maintenance to the game. The game now has a MAU of 1,7 million and a DAU/MAU that’s fluctuated between 12 to 16% over the last 30 days. While the sequel helped drive user growth for about three months, it could not regain the numbers it enjoyed at peak in Spring 2010 (about 20 million MAU, 275,000 DAU). However, by retaining a relatively large audience while earning a reported profit, the sequel might be described as a modest success.

From Mafia Wars to Mafia Wars 2 – Zynga

The most recent sequel in this report, Mafia Wars 2, is the successor to one of Zynga’s very oldest social games, dating back to 2008 on Facebook. The original is a turn-based role-playing game, and as of today, the game still maintains a relatively large and engaged user base, with 3.1 million MAU and 640,000 DAU, for a 21% DAU/MAU ratio.

While the first game has very simple gameplay (outcomes to player moves are generally resolved by a single click and depicted in terms of static illustrations and player stat updates), Mafia Wars 2 is a vastly re-imagined version of the franchise, with 2.5D graphics in an expansive gameplay world, sim-type “empire” construction and maintenance similar to Zynga’s CityVille, and combat visually depicted in animated sequences. Zynga launched Mafia Wars 2 in mid-October with a large press and publicity campaign, along with heavy cross-promotion to its existing users.

However, Zynga still faced a challenge of transitioning players of the original game to this sequel that features very different gameplay. Throughout October and November, the MAU of the original Mafia Wars fluctuated between 3.25 million and 3.5 million MAU, while the sequel, which reached a peak of almost 17 million MAU in late October, began losing users through November, and now has just 10 million MAU. More concerning, DAU/MAU also dropped below 10% by mid November, and currently stands at 8%. This activity pattern is consistent with a low monetized game with light engagement rates. It appears that players of the original Mafia Wars, which still maintains much higher engagement rates, did not take to the sequel, at least with the same degree of interest as they do the first game.

It may be too early to write off Mafia Wars 2 as an ineffective sequel, however. While Zynga has devoted far more promotional energies to its new game CastleVille in recent weeks, it’s possible the company many soon try to boost user and engagement rates of Mafia Wars 2 with new content, offers, and promotions, especially in the run-up to its IPO. At the moment, however, it’s also fair to conclude that the game offers a cautionary example of the difficulty in launching a successful Facebook game sequel.

Despite the ambivalent results of sequels and expansions like these in 2011, it’s likely that the new year will see additions to The Sims Social, It Girl, and CityVille, among many other popular titles. Whatever games do get the sequel treatment in 2012, one hopes that developers will better avoid the shortcomings they often faced in 2011.

Facebook’s Top Farming Games By Traffic

While farming games no longer dominate the Facebook gaming platform as they once did in previous years, they still retain a very large userbase. Join us for a look at the top six farming games by traffic, as recorded by our traffic tracking service, AppData.

1. FarmVille 7,000,000 30,900,000 23%
2. المزرعة السعيدة(Happy Land) 3,000,000 920,000 31%
3. 開心農場 (Happy Farm) 2,200,000 890,000 41%
4. Komşu Çiftlik (Barn Buddy) 2,100,000 450,000 22%
5. Farm Town 990,000 260,000 26%
6. Gourmet Ranch 620,000 160,000 26%

Beyond FarmVille, the leading five farm games have over 13 million total monthly active users (MAU), spread across a demographically diverse userbase, much of whom are Arab, Turkish, and Chinese speaking Facebook users. Many of these top farm games boast engagement rates over 20%, which is considered high based on data collected in Inside Virtual Goods. This report will briefly review each of these games’ core gameplay loops and monetization features.

[Editor's Note: For the purposes of this report, “farming game” is defined as a simulation where the act of farming forms the core gameplay loop. This list also excludes games where  farming mechanics such as harvesting and planting are used to collect non-farm resources -- monsters, zombies, marijuana, etc.]

Farmville – Zynga

Launched in the Summer of 2009 and reaching a peak of of nearly 60 million MAU in December 2010, FarmVille’s userbase is now roughly half that number, with a downward trend that continued into May 2011. At that point, Zynga launched a branded FarmVille ad campaign linked to pop star Lady Gaga that created a short-term increase in DAU and MAU; a complete expansion launched in September also temporarily increased MAU, but not DAU. Since November, FarmVille has seen a recent drop of DAU as a percent of MAU, falling from 28% in mid-October to 23% now as MAU continues to rise while DAU falls.

Beyond FarmVille, however, activity rates for the top farming games are often quite different:

المزرعة السعيدة (Arabic, Happy Land) – Peak Games & Halfquest

A farming game aimed at Arabic-speaking Facebook users, Happy Land contains art assets targeting that demographic; for instance, the player’s advisor character wears a keffiyeh headdress. In the core gameplay loop, the player harvests farm resources which can be used to feed livestock, or processed, and then sold at market. Players can customize the look of their farm, and compete with other players to gain the most wealth and experience points for developing them. Monetization is through Ranch Cash (purchased with Facebook Credits) used for buying equipment upgrades, special items, and farming power-ups.

Clockwise from top left: Happy Land (Arabic), Happy Land (English), Country Life, and Our Farm (Turkish)

Note that publisher Peak Games also has a Turkish language version of the game called Bizim Çiftlik that enjoys 980,000 MAU and 26% DAU/MAU in addition to an English language version of the game called Happy Land, which now sees 500,000 MAU and 23% DAU/MAU. There also appears to be second English language version of the game, Country Life, with 1,100,000 MAU and 19% DAU/MAU, but as of press time Peak Games has not responded to request to clarify whether or not this game published by it or was perhaps created by developer Halfquest independently of its publishing agreement with Peak Games.

開心農場 (Chinese, Happy Farm) – ELEX

A farming game aimed at Chinese-speaking Facebook users, Happy Farm’s core gameplay loop centers around a 4×7 farming grid, where crops can be planted and harvested. Players have some customization options for the look of their farm, and a ranking system enables competition between friends playing the game. Monetization is built on special Happy Farm currency, purchasable with Facebook Credits, which can then be used to purchase special seeds, plants, equipment, livestock, and special enhanced farm layouts with different backgrounds (such as a fantasy or island theme). Happy Farm enjoys very high engagement rates, with over 40% of its users playing on a daily basis.

Komşu Çiftlik (Turkish, Barn Buddy) – TheBroth & Peak Games

The Turkish language version of TheBroth’s Barn Buddy farm game far outpaces its English language original in MAU (2.1 million versus 1.6 million), but arrives at roughly the same DAU/MAU around 20%. In the core gameplay loop, players tend a field by removing dead plants, spraying for bugs and weeds, planting and watering new crops, and then harvesting and selling them at market for the game’s currencies, Coins and Credits. As with many other farm games, players of Barn Buddy can visit their friends’ farms to help care for their crops and livestock. However, they also have an option to sabotage friends’ farms by adding bugs and weeds, or even steal their crops. This component adds an extra layer of competitiveness to the game’s leaderboards.

Monetization comes through Facebook Credits purchased to buy farm animals, which earn the player extra currency and experience points. This includes guard dogs, which protect against player-to-player crop theft. Among the animals that can be purchased in Barn Buddy is a branded virtual good: Domo, the popular Japanese television character — who also has his own Facebook game developed by TheBroth. Facebook Credits can also be earned in the game by watching embedded commercials.

Farm Town – Slashkey

Among the very first Facebook farm sim games to gain a large number of players back in 2009, Farm Town still maintains a relatively large and active userbase. Players customize and control an avatar, and use him or her to grow and harvest crops, sell them at market, and then use the profits to develop and expand their farm property. In the marketplace, players’ avatars can interact with each other in real time, and earn bonuses for cooperating with each other on their respective farm tasks. (The game has live chat and player-to-player messaging features for this purpose.)

As for monetization, players can also customize many aspects of their farm, adding factories and other buildings, along with livestock. To purchase in-game items, such as seeds, trees, flowers, animals, buildings, additional land, and furniture, players spend Coins (which can be earned with in-game activity or purchased with Facebook Credits) or FarmCash, which are only available for Facebook Credits, or by fulfilling advertiser offers.

Gourmet Ranch – Playdemic & RockYou

In Gourmet Ranch’s core gameplay, players expand and customize their farm, which is attached to an organic restaurant. Commands are directed through a customizable avatar. As with the other farming games in this list, the player must grow, tend, and harvest crops/livestock. Unlike these other games, this harvest is used to bake products served in the player’s restaurant. These harvested goods (along with cooked products) can be sold to other players. Earnings from these sales can be spent to purchase higher quality farm products, to bake more expensive restaurant items, and to develop the farm and restaurant.

Monetization comes via the game’s official currency, GR Coins and Cash, both buyable with Facebook Credits, used to purchase farm and restaurant items. Keys, which unlock game content, and Speedups, which automatically hasten game goals, can also be purchased with GR Cash.

Note that Gourmet Ranch developer Playdemic was purchased by publisher RockYou in January 2011, causing the game to grow steadily as the publisher integrated its ad platform within the game while the developer continued to release content. RockYou recently underwent dramatic restructuring, ultimately selling Playdemic back to its founders along with Gourmet Ranch, which may explain the decline in MAU and DAU reflected in the chart above.

Facebook’s Top 5 Player vs. Player Strategy Games by Traffic, With Gameplay Analysis

“Strategy & Combat” is a new sub-category leaderboard on AppData, tracking the most popular Facebook games from multiple genres which emphasize physical fighting. Here, we analyze the top five games in the player-versus-player strategy sub-genre, which enjoys overall strong engagement rates and now attracts an audience of over 30 million monthly active users.

For the purposes of this analysis, “strategy” is defined as combat and resource-management games with military themes and conceits, played out on a map-like field, while “player-versus-player” refers to direct combat between two or more players. By that definition, here are the top five by monthly active users (or MAU) and daily active users (or DAU) and DAU as percent of MAU (or DAU/MAU) as of November 23:

Top PvP Strategy Games by Traffic

1. Empires & Allies 18,800,000 3,900,000 20%
2. Backyard Monsters 2,800,000 720,000 25%
3. Army Attack 1,400,000 260,000 19%
4. Dragons of Atlantis 1,200,000 310,000 26%
5. Battle Pirates 740,000 180,000 24%

UPDATE, 12/1: Due to a mis-categorization, Social Empires was previously left off this list.

In general, a game with a strong DAU/MAU correlates to strong user retention and regular monetization. Based on this trend, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the top Facebook strategy games enjoy more robust monetization compared to other game genres on the platform.

Does PvP Increase Engagement in Strategy Games?

As noted above, the top Facebook strategy games with PvP likely enjoy higher monetization rates than other genres based on their strong engagement rates. But does the PvP feature in itself influence engagement? While it’s difficult to isolate that element (especially since Backyard Monsters, Dragons of Atlantis, and Battle Pirates launched with PvP), it’s possible to make some tentative assessments:

In mid-September, when Zynga introduced “Battle Blitz” PvP to Empires & Allies, the game’s DAU as a percent of MAU was at 15% and trending downward. Within a week of introducing the new PvP mode, however, the DAU/MAU climbed, reaching 16% by 9/25, and by the first week of October, reaching 19%.

Army Attack did not launch with a PvP mode, but added that feature in mid-September, when the game’s DAU as a percent of MAU was at a low and flat 12%. After adding PvP, however, DAU/MAU began trending upward, and by mid-October, had reached 14%.

In early June, Backyard Monsters was under 20% and trending downward. That month, however, Kixeye added “Champion Monsters” for use in PvP combat, and changed the artwork to emphasize violent, graphic combat that would appeal to the core market (see below.) Total MAU dropped considerably in the months after this update (perhaps because many players disliked the new art style), but at the same time, daily engagement by percentage increased. By mid-July, DAU/MAU had grown to over 25%.

In each of these examples, the rise in engagement levels does not definitively prove PvP increases user activity. (And in the particular case of Army Attack, PvP was added after a period of little or no content updates.) However, it is fair to say the addition of PvP tends to correlate with rising user engagement, which, in turn, could signal an increase in monetization.

Facebook Strategy Games from Casual to Core

Facebook’s most popular strategy games range from casual to core in terms of tone and gameplay experience. For the purposes of this analysis, assume that a casual title uses cartoon-inspired art direction and simplified gameplay intended for broad audience appeal. A core title, by contrast, is often characterized by realistic, visceral graphics and complex gameplay intended for a specific young male demographic that also enjoys console and PC games. “Mid-core,” as the name suggests, are games which aim to strike a balance between these two audience poles, in the hopes of appealing to both.

Zynga’s Empires & Allies falls on the casual side of the PvP spectrum, with comic book-inspired art direction and simple combat mechanics. In the game, players build and maintain cities (which include military units and resources), extend their territory, and increase their player levels by defeating enemies.

To the left of Empires & Allies is Army Attack, which also features cartoon artwork and humorous elements intended to keep the overall tone light. For instance, the commando units have dialog segments that parody Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action movie characters. In this game, the player expands their territory by defeating a series of enemies and liberating innocent cities featured in a single-player campaign. Unlike Empires & Allies, there’s little or no emphasis on city building and maintenance. Instead, the players only builds and maintains military resources such as troop barracks, defensive barriers, and missile/airbases.

Toward the middle of the spectrum is Kixeye’s Backyard Monsters, which was first launched as a casual game with cartoonish combat units and an emphasis on custom building and decoration. In June 2011, however, the developer altered much of the game’s artwork to make the monsters appear more violent and grotesque, while increasing the game’s combat options — changes intended to better appeal to a core market.

Following Backyard Monsters’ shift toward the core market is Kixeye’s somewhat newer PvP title, Battle Pirates. This game is firmly to the right of casual PvP title, given the game’s dark, industrial-themed artwork, realistic explosions, and combat animations. In Battle Pirates, the player expands their territory from a home base island by sending war vessels to battle and loot opponents’ island bases.

At the right-most position on this spectrum is Kabam’s Dragons of Atlantis, with complex gameplay and user interface. In the game, players build cities and expand their territory to create an empire, battling fantasy-themed monsters and competing players along the way, while raising dragons to defend their cities and outposts.

Forms of PvP in the top Facebook Strategy Games

Empires & Allies (Zynga)

In Empires & Allies, players must build up an island city and defend it with military units. In the core gameplay loop, players send some of these units to combat non-playable enemy characters or other players, earning resources if they are victorious, which can then be spent to construct new buildings and combat units. Monetization includes resources or premium combat units, energy refill items, and battle power-ups.

The PvP element of the game resembles CityVille’s visiting mechanic, in which players can visit their friends’ cities, interact with their buildings, and harvest some of their resources. In Empires & Allies PvP, however, players can choose instead to invade friends’ cities, clicking an area of a selected friend’s city to invade. Battles between attacking and defending units is resolved with turn-based asynchronous combat. (Empires & Allies’ Battle Blitz mode allows for PvP between strangers.) As with the core campaign mode gameplay, the player has a set number of units they can deploy in a specific arena (land, air, or sea) and combat consists of the player first clicking the unit they want to attack, and then the target unit. Once an attack is launched, the game’s artificial intelligence retaliates and combat ends when all attacking or all defending units are destroyed.

Befitting its design as a casual strategy game, combat in Empires & Allies features and easy-to-understand combat design. For instance, when selecting units to use in a battle, icons inform the player which type of unit is best deployed against units on the opposing side. The results of PvP combat, however, can be punishing for both the invader and the defender: All units destroyed while attacking or defending are permanently lost, and must be replaced. When a player’s city has been invaded by a friend, the player must engage the attacker, to repel them — but if they fail to do so, the invader remains in the player’s city, incurring a resource gathering penalty in the occupied sector. As of this writing, Empires & Allies has no play balancing to account for players of uneven levels; in practice, this means a lower level player can be dominated by a more experienced player, who is able to invade with units that have far more hit points than the lower level player’s units. Because of this mismatch, an out-ranked defender may have to sacrifice a high number of units, to finally repel the invasion. (Unless, that is, the player purchases monetized elite units and power-ups.)

Backyard Monsters and Battle Pirates (Kixeye)

In both Backyard Monsters and Battle Pirates, players build and enhance their home base while defending it from attack by invaders (both non-player characters and other players), and launching attacks of their own. In the core gameplay loop, players harvest resources from their base’s production facilities, and use these resources to build and upgrade new base structures, and create new combat units. According to Kixeye, the most popular PvP monetization options for both games are base upgrades which increase their attack capability (such as elite battle units), and power-ups which decrease the time required to make attacks.

To launch PvP in both games, players click on opponents’ bases from the game’s overhead map. Players in Kixeye’s games have a high degree of attack options, from choosing the units to be deployed, selecting areas of the base that they’ll begin to attack, and directing long range strikes at designated portions of the enemy base. With Backyard Monsters, deployment choices must be made with extreme strategic care, because once sent into battle, a player’s monsters operate autonomously.

Battle Pirates differs in that the combat can be performed synchronously in real-time. This game is the first prominent title to achieve this kind of PvP play on the Facebook platform. Players can choose to attack another player from the strategic map, and if the defender is online during the invasion, both sides are able to move and control their units to influence the battle’s outcome in real time. (If the defending player is offline during an invasion, the game’s AI controls their defense.) Unlike Battle Monsters, the Battle Pirates player also enjoys discrete control of their units throughout the attack, and can adjust the units’ position or target. In both games, an invader may make multiple attacks on the same target, but after the defending base is heavily damaged, the game prohibits further attacks for an extended “cool down” period.

In both Backyard Monsters and Battle Pirates, the risks and rewards for PvP are relatively heavy. If successful, the attacking player collects all game resources destroyed in the attack. However, any attacking unit killed during the battle is lost to the player, and must be replaced, along with any resources used to raise the attacking army. This is a time-consuming process, and if a player’s initial invasion is unsuccessful, they have a strong incentive to purchase monetized speed-ups to hasten resource/army production to launch another attack. For the defender, damaged buildings and defending units must be repaired and rebuilt, also incurring a time and resource penalty. At this point in gameplay, many players monetize, Kixeye reports, buying speed-ups and production boosters, so they can launch a powerful retaliatory attack against their invader.

Army Attack (Digital Chocolate)

In Army Attack, players must liberate cities from enemy units and invade enemy territory while building defenses and other military resources (such as money, energy, and fuel) from the areas under their control. In the core gameplay loop, the player harvests resources, uses them to repair damaged units, and also build new units. The player must also launches attacks against non-player characters and accomplish other objectives to complete the single-player campaign. PvP monetization options in Army Attack include unit health, range, damage boosters, and elite units, all of which increase chances for victory, and can be purchased for Facebook Credits.

In PvP mode, called “Versus”, players battle other Army Attack players in skirmishes that require energy and supplies to launch. A player can choose to fight either strangers in the game, or Facebook friends who have become the player’s Allies. Versus combat is resolved on a smaller version of the Army Attack strategy map, with units chosen by the player beforehand; the player clicks a unit, then sends it to another location on the map within its movement range. If an enemy unit comes within its attack range, the player can click on it to order an attack. There are also healing and attack bonuses located at random around the map, usable by the first side to reach them. As with Empires & Allies, the opponent’s units are controlled by the AI. The winning player claims in-game currency, Prestige experience points, and game power-ups.

The PvP mode includes a Weekly Tournament, in which players compete to claim in-game boosters, energy, and elite units by winning the most Versus matches,. Army Attack’s Versus mode also rewards players with collection items for the campaign game, and a specific item needed for the game’s new “research facility” building. Risks for losing in PvP, by contrast, are relatively mild compared to the other games in this report. If a player loses a skirmish (either as an attacker or a defender), their units are not permanently lost in the main game. The only direct cost to PvP are the Energy points and Supplies needed to engage in “Versus” battles.

Dragons of Atlantis (Kabam)

In Dragons of Atlantis, players expand their territory to create and maintain an empire. The core gameplay loop involves harvesting resources and building up the player’s kingdom (both the main city and surrounding area), raising dragons to defend this territory, and exploring the wilderness map area, which contains resources, monster habitats, and other players’ kingdoms, which can be invaded. PvP monetization options include boosts to a player’s attack and defense capabilities, special items for elite units, and “Speed ups” that shorten the time to create, train, and march new troops into battle.

To initiate PvP combat, a player clicks on an opponent’s territory from the wilderness map. Doing this sends a “Sentinel” warning to the defender’s inbox, giving them the option to repel the attack, withdraw, or hide the troops in that territory. To increase the odds of victory, a player can customize and balance their armies with various troop types that come with unique strengths and weaknesses. Players can also send their powerful dragons, which usually guard a player’s cities and outposts, into PvP battle. If the defender chooses to fight, the battle’s outcome is automatically determined by the game, based on the total unit strength of the opposing sides. The results of the subsequent battle are sent to both the attacker’s and defender’s inbox.

If the invading player is successful, they win looted resources from the defeated defender. But the consequences of losing an invasion are relatively punishing: If the invasion fails, the player permanently loses their attacking units, along with the resources and time that were required to raise this army. If the invading player sends one of their dragons into the invasion, they gain an attack bonus; if the invasion fails, however, the defeating dragon must heal, leaving the territory it was defending vulnerable to attack. The defending player also risks permanently losing defeated units, along with territory and resources. Opting out of a PvP battle comes with its own risks: If the defender chooses to hide from an incoming invasion, no troops are lost, but the player’s resources are looted, and the player’s dragon defending the invaded territory is injured, and will require time to heal before it can attack or defend again.

New Entries in the PvP Strategy Market

A number of new Facebook strategy games with PvP have entered the market in recent months:

  • Kabam’s latest game, Edgeworld, features sci-fi combat and base building resource management and PvP combat similar to Kixeye’s Backyard Monsters. (In fact, Kixeye has accused Kabam of copying its game.) However, Edgeworld’s art and themes are more directly aimed at the core audience.
  • Kixeye’s latest title, War Commander, a sci-fi military game aimed at the core market, features PvP base battles similar to Backyard Monsters and Battle Pirates, but with additional PvP gameplay features. For instance, players can send offline commands to individual units when their base is under attack. The company also plans to add a tournament system for massively massively multiplayer combat between players.
  • Crowdstar’s Wasteland Empires, launched in late October, is also a sci-fi themed resource management game aimed at the core market, in which the player builds and expand their territory in a post-apocalyptic wasteland by attacking opponents (NPCs and players), in asynchronous combat where the player controls individual units against the game’s AI.

Core PvP Strategy: A Subgenre With Promise — But Many Unknowns for Future Growth

As suggested by the new games noted above, the competitive field for PvP strategy games is expanding. With these new entries, game developers are targeting the core market in particular, which typically monetizes at higher rates than more casual segments.

However, it may be difficult to grow this core market rapidly: By their very nature, core strategy games demand more from a user, in terms of engagement and playing time. By contrast, Facebook is more conducive to lighter, shorter, “lunch break” gameplay sessions. Further, it’s not clear that the market for core is growing. With the exception of Empires & Allies (which enjoys the cross-promotional advantage of Zynga’s massive userbase), the strategy games released this year have not come close to reaching the popularity of that game, let alone 2010’s Backyard Monsters.

It will be interesting to see whether these new entries grow the market — or end up fighting the current champions for their audience’s eyeballs and dollars.

Facebook’s Top 5 Games by DAU as a Percentage of MAU

When judging which Facebook games are the most successful, many people look at total monthly active users or daily active users. While both metrics are important, daily active users as a percentage of monthly active users is another relevant metric for ballpark-estimating the retention and monetization rates in social games. Let’s look at the top five games on Facebook by DAU as a percentage of MAU.

As supported by data from Inside Virtual Goods, games with a DAU/MAU of 20% or higher have strong user retention and monetization rates. The most successful Facebook games tend to maintain a DAU/MAU somewhere between 10% and 20%, while also enjoying a large total userbase in the millions. There are a number of games with a far higher DAU/MAU percentage, some even exceeding 50%, but do not enjoy large audiences. Even so, these games are likely still performing well in terms of monetization — otherwise we can assume a developer would eventually sunset the game to save on resources. From that perspective, apps like those on our list could be called Facebook gaming’s hidden gems of high engagement.

[Editor's Note: Games which launched in the last couple months or had fewer than 20,000 monthly active users were excluded. This list also excludes game apps that are actually non-game utilities, extensions, or promotions for other games.]

Empire Avenue – by Empire Avenue: 80% DAU/MAU

A business simulation in which each player becomes a stock that can be bought and sold by other players on a trading exchange, the goal of Empire Avenue is to drive up your Share Price with in-game activity, and activity on social media sites that other players are connected to. This latter feature encourages players to follow and engage with the stocks (i.e. other players) they are invested in.

“So aside from having fun by playing the investment game, it actually enhances how you meet and engage with people online,” says Empire Avenue VP Tom Ohle. “As new people arrive on the site, they’re introduced them to new people quickly, and discover new content that lines up with their own interests.”

The game is monetized with the sale of the in-game currency “Eaves,” which can be purchased with cash or offers. (Empire Avenue is also playable on a standalone website.)

Earlier this year, the game enjoyed strong growth on Facebook, which then plateaued to around its current level of user activity, with 40,000 DAU and 50,000 MAU.

“[W]e’re starting to roll out some more features, which will see us start to focus once more on new-user acquisition,” Ohle says. “It’s just something we haven’t spent a ton of time on lately.” These new features include a mission system “which allows users to earn virtual currency by engaging with other players’ online content.” With additions like that, the company hopes to see user growth return.

無限德州撲克 (Chinese Poker) – by 6Waves Lolapps: 55% DAU/MAU

As the title suggests, Chinese Poker is a Chinese-language poker app similar to such successful apps as Zynga’s Texas Hold ‘Em, with turn-based, timer-driven multiplayer games of poker played around a casino table. While the game icons and UI are in Chinese characters, the gameplay is similar enough to other poker games for non-Chinese users to understand and play

According to Jim Ying, Senior Vice President at 6waves, the game’s high DAU/MAU is due in great part to being among the first poker games in Chinese. In the last year, the game’s total number of MAU has been dropping, as DAU/MAU has risen.

Ying attributes this to the game’s life cycle: “DAU/MAU will naturally rise for high-quality, older games as the people who just try out the game stop playing and you’re left with the ‘stickier’ people who keep playing the game.”

Fairyland – by Play and Connect Ltd: 55% DAU/MAU

A gardening sim with modest graphics and complex gameplay options, Fairyland was launched in 2008 and still maintains a relatively small but very engaged following. Players customize and expand their gardens with a wide array of plants and flower types, and earn in-game gold by leveling up their garden and through various mini-quests. (Gold can also be purchased for cash and Facebook Credits, the game’s most evident monetization channel.)

Fairyland enjoyed a high of 800,000 MAU in late 2009, but has steadily dropped to its present-day traffic of just 110,000 MAU. At the same time, its DAU/MAU rate has risen, going from a low point of under 20%, to nearly 55% now. This is indicative of a game that’s managed to retain a core userbase of very active players, even three years into its life cycle. The game is still being refreshed with new content, such as “Limited Edition Poppies” added to the game’s store in early November. (The developer, Play and Connect, did not respond to request for comment as of press time.)

Lexulous – Word Game – by Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla: 52% DAU/MAU

Created by Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla of Calcutta, Lexulous is a variation of the Agarwalla’s Scrabulous, which was launched in 2007. This was one of the very first Facebook games to show strong engagement rates. Strikingly similar to the classic boardgame Scrabble, a lawsuit from copyright holder Mattel forced the brothers to change the game’s name. (Wordscraper, another Agarwalla game similar to Lexulous, but with customizable playing boards, also has a very high DAU/MAU rate of 50%.)

Jayant Agarwalla says that the game enjoys high engagement for several reasons: Users can play many matches simultaneously, and also play matches asynchronously. At the same time, there is a time penalty for taking too long to make a turn, so players tend to return to the app on a regular basis, to finish ongoing games. In addition, Lexulous has a chat/messaging feature, and Agarwalla says Facebook friends use the game as a context for general socialization.

At the moment, Lexulous is monetized with display ads. “Our DAU count has been pretty consistent, so it’s easier to predict daily ad impressions and thus strike deals with ad networks,” Agarwalla says, adding that they plan to add Facebook Credits as a revenue stream soon.

Over the last few months, the total MAU of Lexulous has been trending down, while DAU/MAU has risen. In the next few weeks, Agarwalla says they will overhaul the game to better attract and retain new users.

Legacy of a Thousand Suns – by 5th Planet Games: 50% DAU/MAU

A turn-based role-playing game with a deep story and high quality game assets, Legacy of a Thousand Suns see a very high DAU/MAU rate with just 40,000 MAU. Even so, 5th Planet Games’ Chief Business Officer Braden Moulton says that the game is very cash flow positive for the company, attributing this and the game’s high engagement levels to the game’s passionate community of users. For this reason, he says any new design decision is weighed against how it will impact this community.

As a consequence, says Moulton, the game has strong ARPDAUs. Stamina/energy refills and Expeditions (a gambling mechanic players use to acquire coveted in-game items) enjoy high monetization rates. However, Moulton says players are more likely to spend money helping their in-game guild, than themselves.

In the last six months, MAU and DAU for Legacy have been dropping slowly while DAU/MAU has been rising. Moulton attributes this to the game’s relatively modest launch numbers in the six figures, as opposed to millions. In future upgrades, the game will add new zones for PVE players, and a PvP mode for the game’s guilds, called “Alliance vs. Alliance.” This may increase total users. In addition, the company plans to deploy the game on other major networks in December, which may boost Legacy of a Thousand Suns’ overall userbase.

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