Pretty Simple’s formula for success: Take a talented team and have them produce quality content

CriminalCase_TitleScreenParis-based social game developer Pretty Simple’s been catapulted into the public spotlight after launching its macabre hidden object game Criminal Case in November 2012. Over the past five months the game’s seen a meteoric rise in traffic, jumping into the top 10 Facebook games by daily active users. We got a chance to sit down with co-founder Corentin Raux to talk about the studio’s small beginnings and massive success.

The company was founded by Raux and Bastien Cazenave in January 2010. For its first title, the studio created My Shops with only five people; within six months of launch the game hit 300,000 DAU and Facebook still reports it has more than one million monthly active users. However, Raux tells us, “we decided to move onto something bigger.”

Raux says that creating a game like Criminal Case was actually a planned project even before the studio was formed. After receiving a $2.5 million investment from ID Invest Partners in 2011, Pretty Simple began to seriously work on the new game; approximately a year and a half later, the game was ready to launch. When asked what took the studio so long to develop the game, Raux explains, “the game is quite complicated to do. There is a lot of high-quality content and we had to recruit a team of very talented people and create a new type of game with a rich storyline and minigames.

“We really like to think the game is a game of investigation instead of just a standard hidden object game. The content isn’t something trivial to come up with. It’s coherent and elegant. It took us a year and a half to come up with the recipe.” (more…)

Zynga: Higher frame rates lead to monetization

FV2_Logo copyZynga today revealed during its FarmVille 2 post-mortem, “What Grew Wild and What Withered Away”, that higher frame rates are often tied to monetizing players.

The talk was given by FarmVille 2 design director Wright Bagwell and creative director Michael McCarthy, touching on a number of topics like how the design team decided what elements to include in the game, as well as what things didn’t work.

Although FarmVille 2 got a lot of attention from press outlets because of its 3D graphics, McCarthy said the more important thing was the inclusion of GPU acceleration made possible by Flash 11 and Unity. This allowed for the game to run smoother on a wider array of computers, which was important because 80 percent of revenue comes from players seeing their games run at 15 frames per second or better. As a result, McCarthy said, the GPU acceleration leads to increased retention and monetization.

Additionally, the design team approached FarmVille 2 with the goal of making it a title that lasted as long as the original FarmVille (which is still going strong four years after its launch). “The question was, ‘would a 2D, un-accelerated PC game be competitive in 2016?’” he said. “The answer was ‘unlikely.’”

The decision has ultimately paid off. FarmVille 2 is still an incredibly successful title. Although it’s no longer the top game on Facebook (that bragging right now belong’s to King’s Candy Crush Saga), McCarthy said the game has 8.5 million daily active users. Likewise, Zynga is incredibly happy with the game’s revenue, as FarmVille 2’s bookings were about two times higher than originally anticipated during the company’s fourth quarter.

GDC roundup: Godsrule, Unity and PerBlue

godsrulefeatureGodsrule close to launching on iOS — We got to see a demo of Sega and Gogogic’s social strategy game Godsrule: War of Mortals on iOS today. The game was running on an iOS app (as opposed to being played on the web like the desktop version), but provided a synchronous cross-platform experience with the game’s web build. Not only can players play with others regardless of the platforms they’re on, but they can carry the game over for a synchronous play experience between web and iOS. Also, since we ran our review earlier this month, Gogogic’s also updated the game so it contains leaderboards. We’re told the tablet version of the game is in the refinement stage and will launch soon.

unitylogoUnity 4 now Facebook functional — Unity Technologies today announced it’s joined with Facebook to launch an improved experience for Unity-powered games on the social network’s platform. This is likely to be perceived as a major improvement for developers looking to tap into core gamer audiences on Facebook, as 84 million male gamers between 18-35 years old play on Facebook each month (representing approximately a third of Facebook’s monthly active gamers).

Boardtastic HeaderPerBlue updates Boardtastic 2 — Since launching Boardtastic 2 for Google Play in February, social mobile developer PerBlue released a major update for the game. Now, players can earn hard currency Gold in a punishing Prize Mode, receive permanent bonuses and buffs and enjoy an updated multiplayer mode that encourages competition between them. Since February, the game’s been installed on Adroid devices 1.6 million times.

61The Walking Dead is on sale — Just in time for GDC, Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is on sale across all platforms. From now through Wednesday, April 10, the iOS version of the game’s episodes are 40 percent off. Each episode is $2.99, or you can buy the entire Multi-Pack for $9.99 on the Apple App Store.


Facebook reveals new growth stats; 20 percent of web users play games every day

Today at the Game Developers Conference, Facebook revealed new statistics, features and a Game Center for developers.

According to Facebook, more than 250 million people are playing games on the social network every month. The company is continuing to showcase itself as a huge asset for mobile developers, too, pointing out that (as of February) 55 percent of the top 400 iOS apps are integrated with Facebook. Likewise, Facebook drove 263 million clicks to the Apple App Store and Google Play.

As for Facebook’s continuing growth as a viable games platform, the social network says game installs on the web platform are up 75 percent from where they were in March 2012. Accordingly, roughly 200 titles on Facebook have more than one million monthly active users apiece and roughly 100 developers generated more than $1 million on Facebook last year. Year-over-year growth of the total number of paying players has also increased by 24 percent from March 2012. Finally, more than $2 billion was paid out to game developers in 2012.

In addition to these statistics, Facebook also revealed that it’s about to launch a new games section of timeline that will be included in the new timeline rollout. This section will provide users with the ability to show what their favorite games are, both via their timeline and About page.

This last bit will be of particular interest to game developers interested in pursuing Facebook as a platform for their titles. One of the constant complaints we hear about Facebook is the difficulty one faces in terms of getting their game discovered; this new section sounds like it will be another channel for potential viral sharing, especially amongst users who are heavy gamers.

Exclusive: PopCap bringing Plants vs. Zombies to Facebook with Plants vs. Zombies Adventures, confirms PvZ 2

PvZ_Adventures_Primary_RGB copyPopCap Games today officially revealed the social adaptation of its incredibly popular game Plants vs. Zombies with Plants vs. Zombies Adventures. At the San Francisco Game Developer Conference, we got to sit down with head of PopCap’s San Francisco studio Curt Bererton and Creative Director Mathilde Pignol to check out what gamers can expect to see. The company also officially confirmed Plants vs. Zombies 2 will release sometime early this summer, though we didn’t get the opportunity to check that game out.

Plants vs. Zombie’s impending arrival on Facebook has pretty much been the worst-kept secret in the games industry for the past year, with PvZ knockoffs regularly appearing on the social network and gaining popularity before getting shut down. Finally, though, PopCap is getting ready to launch a limited regional beta of PvZ Adventures, with a wider launch planned for later this spring. During this time, Bererton and Pignol tell us the studio will take the time to do some A/B testing with certain features before making final game design decisions.

As opposed to the original Plants vs. Zombies, the core gameplay in PvZ Adventures will see players defending a motor home from the cartoonish undead. The storyline takes place during these “Road Trip” missions; which occur in different settings (we saw both a post-apocalypse cityscape and a chasm called “Dire Spires”, though there seemed to be many more) and players can choose the difficulty of the level before they start.

The game is set to feature a number of new zombies and plants, of which we got to see a few examples. The new plants include the Beet, which deals heavy amounts of melee damage, and Aspearagus. Likewise, some of the new zombie types includes one wearing a barrel that then charges at full speed when the plants destroy said barrel and a “Mad Hatter” zombie that appeared to be heavily armored with a variety of headgear.

Zombie battles are presented in a 3D isometric format. Instead of having the zombies progressing in a straight line, there are often multiple winding paths leading to the motor home’s front door. Players choose a limited number of plants before the level begins and then place them along the pathways at strategic points to hold off the walking corpses. Clicking on the plants will provide a temporary range and power boost for a small amount of sunshine (which is normally used to purchase and place plants during battles). (more…)

Stay tuned! Inside Network’s covering GDC!

Mike_HeadshotSmall copyToday through Friday, Downtown San Francisco will be teeming with game developers for the Game Developers Conference 2013. Inside Network will be present to cover the show.

From left to right: Inside Social Games lead writer Mike Thompson, Inside Network editorial assistant Emanuel Maiberg and Inside Mobile Apps editor Scott Reyburn will be at the Moscone Center and surrounding areas. The three of us will be meeting with developers (and hitting the show floor) to see what’s in the works and to talk about future plans for both social and mobile titles.

Like last year, social and mobile games are going to be a major presence at the conference. This time, however, it won’t just be Zynga who’s talking about publishing social/mobile titles. Groups like Kabam and Rumble Entertainment are also providing developers with other publishing platforms, and everyone (including EA) is getting bullish about pursuing mobile and mid-core audiences.

If you happen to see us on the show floor or at one of the industry parties, don’t hesitate to come up and introduce yourself.

Social Games news roundup: Hyper Hippo, Gameloft and Rage of Bahamut

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 9.43.59 AMClub Penguin team members form new studio — Club Penguin co-founder Lance Priebe and former Studio Head and VP of Global Operations for Disney Online Studios Pascale Audette have teamed up to form new studio Hyper Hippo Productions. Hyper Hippo’s first game, Mech Mice, will launch later this year and will be meant for children over ten-years-old.

imagesGameloft gets in on the UNO game — Mobile developer  Gameloft revealed the upcoming launch of UNO & Friends, a new version of the classic card game, which will launch soon for iOS, Android and Facebook. No definite launch date’s been given, but you can head over to YouTube for some quality trailer action.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.39.42 AMOver 10 million people play Rage of Bahamut — Love it or hate it, Rage of Bahamut just had its one-year anniversary. As a result, we’ve been given a handy infographic showing off various highlights about the game, like how it’s in the top three grossing apps on Google Play in 25 countries now and been mentioned on Twitter over 2 million times.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.45.56 AMScopely launches Mini Golf Match-up [Launch] — Social mobile dev Scopely this week launched Mini Golf Match-up on iOS. The game was developed by Rocket Jump Games, one of the partners recently announced by Scopely. Since launching, Mini Golf Match-Up’s already hit the No. 1 spot on iTunes in 24 countries.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.43.16 AMPlaydek discounts Penny Arcade for PAX East — Playdek’s got another sale going on! This time, in honor of PAX East, the digital hobby game publisher has put Penny Arcade the Game: Gamers vs Evil on sale for $0.99. The sale ends on March 24.


Gameloft launches Order & Chaos Duels – French mobile game developer Gameloft announced the launch of Order & Chaos Duels, a card battle and collecting game set its  fantasy Order & Chaos universe. The game is available to download for free from the iTunes App Store and will be made available on Google Play “very shortly.”


Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment opens WB games San Francisco — Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment  today announced the formation of a new game studio in San Francisco, WB Games San Francisco. The studio will open this year and focus on creating free-to-play, mobile, social and browser-based games. The studio will be located in the same offices as San Francisco-based Flixster.

Years after launch, PlayFirst’s games continue to thrive due to regular updates

Becky_Ann_HughesSocial mobile developer PlayFirst is continuing to see a rise in user numbers and revenue for its core “Dash” games, something of a rarity in an industry where dwindling players result in titles being removed from the App Store less than a year after they launch. PlayFirst VP of Marketing and Product Management Becky Ann Hughes tells us the company’s user base is continuing to see impressive growth due to the regular updates it provides to its games, especially seasonal content.

Hughes tells us PlayFirst has refocused itself to treat games as a service. “Every department is focused on games as a service development,” she says. “If we don’t update our games every two weeks, it affects our population. There’s a noticeable drop off in players.”

A recent example she provides is how in Diner Dash recently rolled out St. Patrick’s Day themed content including unique serving settings, recipes and themes. The themed content led to the game’s number of daily active users increasing by approximately 30 percent. The big draw, Hughes tells us, was simply that “it was new content people hadn’t played before.”

“In the past, PlayFirst has been a product-focused model,” Hughes says. “Now we’re using a retail-focused model.” (more…)

Zynga reveals updates for web platform

Zynga-LogoZynga today revealed its planned update for its web platform of

In a blog post, CTO Cadir Lee explains that the past year was an extended beta period for the platform. During this time, the beta “gave us an opportunity to have a real dialogue with you about things you want and care about,” he writes. As a result, he explains, Zynga listened to users’ desires to share progress in games, earn achievements and create unique player names for games beyond Words With Friends and Draw Something.

As a result, Zynga is now getting ready to roll out a new version of the site. Lee says that starting next week players will encounter a new “streamlined” sign up process that allows users to create an account solely dedicated to playing games (though all players will continue to the option to connect their Facebook accounts and only share what they want with the gaming community).

Lee says features like live Social Stream, Fast Load and Online Presence (a way to check and see who’s playing what games) will also remain.

Finally, Lee re-affirms the company’s commitment to its publishing partners, calling out Mob Science’s Legends: Rise of a Hero and Playdemic’s Village Life as examples of successful games that have helped introduce players to other kinds of games outside of Zynga’s regular purview.

The Tap Lab launches Tiny Tycoons

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 7.00.30 PMMobile developer The Tap Lab today launched its debut title, Tiny Tycoons, for iOS.

The Massachusetts-based studio has spent the past year working on the title, part of an ambitious effort to change how location-based games on  mobile devices work. Founder and CEO David Bisceglia wrote an in-depth guest post for us back in February, discussing the lessons developers can learn from earlier efforts in the genre and where future titles are likely headed.

Like many location-based games, the basic idea behind Tiny Tycoons is to become a virtual property holder, accumulating businesses and hiring friends to work within them. However, a quick play-through of the game reveals there are deeper mechanics to take advantage of, like working at said businesses and being able to travel around the game world via airline tickets (which can also be gifted to other players).

Bisceglia tells us the game is designed to tap into the “Risk-element” of buying one’s favorite places and then using them to generate in-game gold. Players perform jobs to level up the businesses, building them into skyscrapers and engaging in light RPG gameplay as they earn experience for completing in-game quests.

The game monetizes through the sale of hard currency, which is then used to purchase avatar vanity items (we have yet to discover any bow ties, though) or can be exchanged for in-game materials (which takes the place of energy needed to perform jobs) and airline tickets. (more…)

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