This week’s departure of Kristian Segrestrale, the last Playfish founding executive at Electronic Arts, marks a turning point for the company that could shift it away from the Facebook platform. Here’s a look back at how the social game ecosystem has changed for Playfish following its 2009 acquisition.
EA at one point was viewed in the industry as the example of how mainstream publishers could successfully straddle the lines between social, mobile and traditional games. This was, in large part, due to EA’s $400 million acquisition of Playfish in 2009. It was a smart investment, as Playfish was one of the major presences in the early days of social games with user numbers on par with Playdom, Crowdstar and Zynga.
The benefits of the acquisition went both ways with EA gaining an experienced Facebook games developer and Playfish gaining access to major brands like MLB, Dragon Age and FIFA. For a short period of time, each of these Playfish-managed titles performed well in MAU and DAU rankings, but they lacked staying power beyond about 12 months. Meanwhile, the Facebook games ecosystem began to change in ways that made it harder for Playfish to maintain their position in the leaderboards. First, the platform cut back dramatically on the viral channels available to social game developers to address quality concerns. Then, the mandatory introduction of Facebook Credits throughout the spring and summer of 2011 made it more confusing for people to purchase virtual goods — because first they had to buy the platform currency and then spend it within specific games. Moreover, a player could spend Credits on any game they wanted instead of just purchasing Playfish currency that could only be spent in Playfish games. Toward the middle of 2011, as Zynga moved closer to its initial public offering, it came to light that Facebook was providing exclusive advantages to the developer (which while Playfish may have known about all along, likely came as a nasty surprise to EA). (more…)