Ninja Metrics grows client roster of its Katana Social Analytics Engine

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Social analytics company Ninja Metrics has announced a new client for its Katana Social Analytics Engine, which helps developers identify, isolate and monetize the most influential or valuable users within a single game. Using the “social value” of users, developers can track how a single user may influence others, and what that influence is worth in monetary figures.

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Arkadium creates data analytics tool for Windows 8 marketplace

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Image courtesy Windows 8 App Store

In an effort to capitalize on the growing trends of the Windows 8 Store, casual and social game developer Arkadium has taken its first steps towards the construction of an analytics engine for its games.

The Mahjongg Dimensions developer was responsible for four of the launch titles on Windows 8 when the platform released last October, including Minesweeper and Taptiles.

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PlayHaven picks up AdMob’s Charles Yim as COO

Charles Yim_Headshot[1]Mobile game developer resource PlayHaven announced a new hire today with Charles Yim joining the company as Chief Operating Officer. Yim was previously at AdMob, which was acquired by Google in 2010.

PlayHaven’s mission is to maximize the lifetime value of a mobile game player; a large part of this strategy comes from advertising, which is where Yim’s expertise comes in. With more mobile developers turning to native video ads as a monetization solution, it makes sense to bring in a guy that helped AdMob launch mobile video on iPad and Android tablets. PlayHaven has grown to 60 since closing an $8 million third round of funding late last year.

The following is a brief interview conducted with Yim earlier this week.

Inside Social Games: Do you see Tablet emerging as the dominant “mobile” games platform in the next year, or are we already there?

Charles Yim: If you look at the games industry holistically, it’s pretty broad. Each different game genre — a casual game, a casino game, a hardcore game — they lend themselves to different users and tablet is a good platform for certain genres, but not all genres. I don’t think tablets are the end-all, be-all of the industry.

ISG: We’ve seen a lot of advertisers and ad platforms focus on video in the last year — including AdMob. Where can native ads go beyond video?

Yim: The ongoing debate that you find is in the advertising technology perspective — on one side of the spectrum, you have super native and then on the other you have scalable. When I think back to AdMob in 2009 when we came out with our own video ad unit, the companies were developing niche swipable video ad units, but the industry couldn’t scale those. Integrating with a large number of publishers was a difficult process to manage. Whenever you look at a new channel in native ads, there’s a natural dynamic tension between delivering a native, unique experience and something that can be scaled. AdMob’s [ad unit] was the first that really gained traction because it was easy for advertisers to understand. The things you could do outside of video is really a question of how much deep integration are people willing to do and are advertisers willing to buy into that experience.

ISG: What’s the biggest mistake game developers make in implementing ads on mobile?

Yim: Game developers have gotten much better at this, but they think about building their game before they think about monetizing it. They’re very focused on the player experience and afterwards, they slap ads on top of it. Savvy game devs in mobile understand that ads are a important part of the business model and they incorporate that into their game from the get-go.

ISG: Anything to add?

Yim: My motivations for joining PlayHaven are asking what are game developers doing well or not doing well. As the industry matures, the needs of the developers mature. As their business scale and grow, they run into growing pains they haven’t anticipated. PlayHaven has an incredibly talented team and the best perspective on what’s coming and on helping game developers manage their businesses.

Facebook to report public app usage in tiers instead of specific numbers

Facebook today announced changes to the way it reports user counts for apps and games that integrate with its platform, providing a ranking and a user tier rather than monthly active and daily active users rounded to the nearest ten-thousand, as it did previously.

Monthly active user tiers are 10,000; 50,000; 100,000; 500,000; up to 10 million. Daily active user tiers are the same but stop at 1 million. These caps mean that an app with 11 million MAU and an app with 45 million MAU will both be reported in the 10 million tier, with only their ranking number to distinguish between them.

Facebook reports these figures in its App Center, within search results and via its API. The insights developers receive about their own apps will not change. This just affects what information is publicly available to other developers and non-developers. The change goes into effect on Jan. 16.

Although Facebook is taking away some transparency, this puts it more at par with how Apple, Amazon and Google display app rankings. Apple and Amazon’s app stores rank apps by category but do not share any download or usage numbers. Google Play ranks apps and offers a range for installs: 1,000-5,000; 5,000-10,000; 10,000-50,000; and so on. However, Google Play seems to go up to 500 million installs, rather than capping its tiers at a lower number to obfuscate the data.
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Applifier debuts Facebook-only video ad network for game trailers

Cross-promotion pioneer Applifier is upgrading from display bars to a video ad network called Impact, debuting on Facebook this month with King.com, Gaia Online and Song Pop games.

Impact allows developers to display 30- to 60-second game trailers from within a Facebook game at key points of the user experience. The idea is that the videos increase monetization or acquisition, depending on how they are implemented. A user may be prompted to watch a video in exchange for a virtual good for that game after failing a level, for example; this would increase monetization as the user is more engaged (and therefore more likely to spend) and any advertising seen in the video will yield pay-per-view revenue for the developer. On the acquisition side, a user may see a persistent module in a game’s UI that shows a video trailer of a second game, which could drive cross-promotion.

Whatever method a developer chooses, Applifier’s policy mandates that Impact video ads are opt-in only — no forcing them on users unasked. The video ads can be targeted at either the most engaged users (the ones more likely to monetize), or at users who could be losing interest and are therefore in the mood to try a new game (more likely to become a new acquisition). The targeting is based on player behavior collected from over 250 million anonymous player profiles. Developers can choose to reinvest earnings from displaying the video ads to receive a 25 percent boost in user acquisition.

Impact might seem like a stretch for the noble-spirited cross-promotion network of 2010 that wanted to share traffic between small- and mid-sized developers. Applifier CEO Jussi Laakkonen explains, however, that game trailers are very much an extension of his company’s core values.

“We still believe in Facebook gaming,” he tells Inside Social Games. “It’s not exploding anymore, but there’s still business there. We believe Facebook games deserve more [recognition] for the quality. Trailers can provide that — banners are just not enough.”

Around this time last year, Applifier had just entered the mobile market with a game discovery and cross-promotion app similar to what it offered on Facebook. The company has been very quiet since then; Laakkonen says that we can expect to hear more about Applifier’s efforts in the coming months. Next up on the company’s to-do is a panel on user acquisition panels during the IDGA Summit at Casual Connect in Seattle next week.

Rank Wars: Sorting games in App Center

Facebook launches its new App Center today, centralizing app discovery moreso than the now-defunct Apps and Games Dashboard. For mobile and social games, this will hopefully drive more traffic to only the highest-ranked games.

App Center ranks games primarily by a five-star rating meter. A game’s page will also allow users to preview the title similar to the way the iOS App Store; displaying screenshots, a developer-written description, genres and user reviews. Users can also view — without installing — exactly what permissions an app requests at install. For mobile games, users can navigate directly to the App Store to install an app from their mobile device or can “Send to Mobile,” if they find a mobile app from their computer that they’d like to try.

Correction: App ratings cannot be assigned from an app’s profile page.

Games are sorted in App Center’s homepage by Recommended and Friends Apps. A left-hand module also sorts games by genre — Action & Arcade, Puzzle, etc. Facebook doesn’t say how the display rank order is determined. At a press event debuting App Center in San Francisco, we saw that each game listed in a category displays its star rating and the number of monthly users playing the app. Facebook’s Matt Wyndowe declined to tell us what specifically determines an app’s position in rankings, but he did confirm that traffic and star rating are the main factors considered.

Update: Wyndowe adds that Facebook plans to turn on algorithmic discovery for App Center at some point, but at launch the emphasis is on displaying top quality apps. Facebook had previously said that not all apps would appear in App Center, implying that a certain quality standard must be met when an app is submitted.

Ideally, App Center will only display higher-quality games based on star ratings and user feedback. The danger in a centralized games navigation center is that star rankings can be more easily manipulated than the algorithmic discovery Facebook previously relied on for game discovery. We’ve seen how bots in the App Store can rapidly inflate a mobile game’s position on the top charts. We’ve also seen star ratings metrics abused by users that want to target a developer for personal reasons rather than provide actual feedback on a specific game. The rank at which a game appears on a chart can have an enormous impact on that game’s installs.

Facebook says that over 230 million people played games on Facebook in May 2012 and that over 130 million games claimed more than 1 million monthly users.

Update 2: App Center is now live for us.

From the homepage, top rated apps is currently displaying Pinterest as the top app followed by mobile game Draw Something and Instagram. The Trending apps rankings — which show rapidly-growing apps — now has Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook canvas game Marvel Avengers Alliance in the top three. Finally, top grossing apps ranks Zynga’s CastleVille, Texas HoldEm Poker and FarmVille as No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.

App Center differentiates between social and mobile games on its platform with a Mobile Only icon on certain games (see below). Users can currently filter app platforms by Web, Mobile or All. Interestingly, the top rated games filtered by All displays mostly mobile titles — suggesting that game players engage more with star ratings on iOS and Android than they ever did on Facebook. Filtering the Trending category by returns primarily Facebook canvas games. Note that there is ample space for display ads to the right of all rankings screens.

5th Planet Games making $10M in revenue between Facebook, Kongregate

Facebook seems like the last platform on which a small, independent games developer would want to get started. Cost per acquisition is rising, competition is fierce and when someone does come up with a unique game concept, the clones aren’t far behind. It is where 5th Planet Games got started, however, and its story is proof that indies can make it on Facebook despite the odds. At three years old and with just 300,000 monthly active users, the developer is on track to make over $10 million in annual revenue this year.

Here’s what the odds on Facebook look like going into 2012. Zynga dominates the market, projecting up to $1.5 billion in annual bookings for 2012. As of its first quarter earnings report, Zynga makes 5 and a half cents average revenue per daily active user, with 65 million daily active users across social and mobile platforms. Farther down the developer leaderboard, the picture is less clear as private companies avoid disclosing revenue and ARPDAU. Mid-market developer Kixeye, however, recently told TechCrunch it’s expecting $100 million in 2012 revenue at something like 80 cents ARPDAU. Cost per acquisition is lower for Zynga than for Kixeye by virtue of its massive cross-promotion network; but we’ve heard the average CPA on Facebook is around one dollar.

This picture was very different when 5th Planet launched its first game, Dawn of the Dragons, on Facebook in 2009. For one thing, Facebook Credits were not mandated for game developers back then. The social network had also clamped down on virality, cutting off social games from posting stories in News Feed. To get its hardcore collectible card game off the ground with no funding to its name and no actual marketing budget, the 5th Planet had to get creative.

“The only choice we had was guerilla marketing,” CEO Rob Winkler tells us. “We set up our official forums and started talking to people, then we started talking to them on their walls, then in Facebook groups they had for other games and so on.  What began touching as many message boards as possible, which grew into over 1,000 posts and messages across hundreds of forums and walls to drive that initial traffic surge.”

Dawn of the Dragons peaked on Facebook at over 300,000 MAU and 54,000 DAU in August of 2010, as tracked by our AppData traffic monitoring service. Those are not big numbers compared to other games of the day, but they were enough to keep retention north of 15 percent (which indicates a reasonably healthy social game). A second game, Legacy of a Thousand Suns, launched later that year and managed to climb to over 500,000 MAU and 60,000 DAU at peak traffic — but retention slipped below 10 percent. Its third game, Clash of the Dragons, launched on Facebook in July of 2011 and didn’t even break 100,000 MAU. The platform had changed so much that 5th Planet was forced to change the way it did business.

“Facebook Credits and rising CPAs certainly changed the way we viewed the platform,” Chief Business Officer Braden Moulton says. “Our CPA [in 2011 was] in the $.50 range, so we were better than most. Today that same user would be well over $1.”

This led the developer to look at expanding to new platforms and games networks. For its first expansion, 5th Planet settled on Kongregate, a games portal purchased by brick-and-mortar video game retailer GameStop in 2010.

“The integration was very easy,” Moulton explains. “One of the main differences (and attractions) for working with Kongregate is that they handle promotion themselves. So while they take their cut of revenue, we aren’t burdened with driving users to our games. When we launched Clash of the Dragons there in December 2011, Kongregate poured a ton of traffic into our game — 300,000 installs in just 30 days. We had never seen numbers like that.”

At the 2012 Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, Kongregate broke some of those metrics out for the audience — highlight an average spend per paying user of $120 per month and 90 percent of revenue from players spending over $100. Moulton updated us to say that spend per paying user is now closer to $160. Even so, average revenue per monthly active user is still higher on Facebook than Kongregate for Dawn of the Dragons — a little over $3 compared to $2. Across Facebook, Kongregate and its destination site, 5th Planet sees around 70,000 daily active users and calculates ARPDAU at about 40 cents.

5th Planet Games is planning to debut its fourth game exclusively on Kongregate in June before expanding it to Facebook and European platforms. It also plans to release mobile versions of its game sometime this year. Beyond games, 5th Planet recently acquired collectible card game developer To Be Continued and will likely look for other indie studios to acquire as it expands. The developer is still proudly boostrapped, but Moulton says 5th Planet would explore funding if the right opportunity to accelerate growth came along.

As for other small studios looking to get onto Facebook, Moulton advises, “Make something completely unique or make a good slots game. Facebook can still be profitable, but it’s going to be tough.”

EA shutting down Restaurant City on Facebook, iOS

Restaurant City will be taken offline from both Facebook and the App Store on June 29, according to a Wall Photo added to the game’s album today. Players are being encouraged to move to The Sims Social both with a virtual currency bonus and the ability to convert existing Restaurant City premium currency to Sims Social premium currency.

Playfish’s Restaurant City was one of the top restaurant simulation games on Facebook in 2009; it maintained that momentum through 2010 after EA acquired the developer. The game recently marked its third birthday on Facebook in April — having shrunk by more than 90% in size from its peak numbers of 5.2 million daily active users and 18 million monthly active users to today’s 310,000 DAU and 1.8 million MAU, according to our AppData traffic tracking service. The real problem seemed to come for the game around September 2011 when retention (which we can measure by taking DAU as a percentage of MAU) dropped below 20 percent. Restaurant City rallied in October around the time its iOS version, Restaurant City: Gourmet Edition, received a major update — but retention dropped again in early 2012 and Gourmet Edition fell off the top apps lists.

As a genre, restaurant sims still show some growth on Facebook and mobile when they first launch. The games lack staying power, however — we still see Restaurant City as the second-largest game in the category on Facebook after Zynga’s Café World, which is also in decline.

As a company, EA is apparently struggling to maintain its position as a top developer in social and mobile. It’s slipped to the No. 4 position of top developers on Facebook by DAU and wooga is about to overtake it for the No. 2 position on MAU. On mobile, the developer pulled two titles from the App Store for poor performance in as many months this year. EA has also lost a lot of its staff to Zynga in the last 12 months and is now rumored to be facing layoffs, though the company has denied it. EA reports its Q1 2012 results next week.

Draw Something largest mobile game on Facebook by DAU, Zynga still leads canvas game pack

OMGPOP’s Draw Something is near the top the charts on our AppData traffic tracking service with 10.8 million daily active users, making it the second-largest app on the Facebook Platform by DAU behind Microsoft Live. We’ve been tracking it for the past couple weeks on Inside Social Games and over on Inside Mobile Apps.

Given its meteoric rise, it’s important to note Draw Something runs only as a native mobile app and is not playable on Facebook.com’s “canvas” where most social games reside. On these terms, the largest “Facebook game” is still Zynga’s Words With Friends — which incidentally can be played both on the social network and via native mobile apps. Facebook Platform APIs enable apps running outside the social network to integrate with players’ Facebook data and social graph. Not all apps and games that do this are actually playable on the Facebook.com canvas, though these games still have an official Facebook page where fans can engage with the game’s community. The 10.6 million DAU we’re seeing in AppData is the number of people on Android and iOS that logged into the mobile game via Facebook.

Note that Draw Something’s Facebook stats also don’t represent all of the game’s players because the app also allows users to login with email instead of Facebook. OMGPOP vice president Eric von Coelln tells Inside Social Games that a “large percentage” of users play the game without logging into Facebook at all — which just makes the game’s numbers that much more impressive.

So why is the distinction important? Because mobile and social games are different app ecosystems serving somewhat different and partially overlapping markets. A canvas game on Facebook is usually a different experience from a mobile game on Android or iOS. Users interact with the games using a mouse and keyboard interface, they have different expectations of gameplay experience and Facebook games monetize at different rates even when there’s price parity between a mobile and Facebook version of the same game. Comparing Draw Something to, say, Tetris Battle without a mental asterisks would be comparing apples to oranges unless and until both games became cross-platform experiences for mobile and social.

Most important of all, a game that hits big on mobile is not a guaranteed success on Facebook, and vice-versa. And as TechCrunch rightly points out, what goes up can just as easily come down — and in mobile, games go through the rise-and-fall cycle much more quickly compared to Facebook games.

Incidentally, these are the top 10 Facebook games by DAU as recorded by AppData that are playable on the Facebook.com canvas:

Name DAU
1.  Words With Friends 8,600,000
2.  CityVille 8,200,000
3.  Hidden Chronicles 7,200,000
4.  Texas HoldEm Poker 6,900,000
5.  CastleVille 6,700,000
6.  Bubble Witch Saga 5,900,000
7.  FarmVille 5,800,000
8.  Diamond Dash 4,600,000
9.  Tetris Battle 3,800,000
10.  Bejeweled Blitz 3,300,000

OMGPOP says there are no plans to launch a Facebook version of Draw Something at this time.

zCloud evolution heralds ZLive launch

Zynga’s aggressive development on its private cloud infrastructure, zCloud, shows us just how close the developer is to hosting an independent games platform.

Zynga started sharing more details on its cloud service as of yesterday during its Q4 earnings call, stating that about 80% of its games catalog now runs on zCloud instead of on public clouds. A blog post and infographic released today further illustrate how far the service has come in the last 12 months (click on the image to see a larger version of the infographic).

It’s significant because it means Zynga is almost ready to release its ZLive platform. For two years now, we’ve heard rumors and rough details around what ZLive — or Zynga Direct — is really supposed to be. Near as we’ve been able to tell, it falls somewhere between a fan network and a mobile social games portal built on deep Facebook integration. As early as October 2011, we knew that ZLive was capable of hosting some of its existing social games. Now that Zynga is sharing how far along zCloud has come in the last year, we know that Zynga is planning on hosting all of its games, plus some yet to be released or announced.

In its blog post, Zynga claims that zCloud is able to support more scale, efficiency and power than anything the developer experienced with public clouds through Amazon Web Services (AWS). In mid to late 2011, the developer began launching its games directly within the service instead of starting them off AWS. Mobile game CityVille Hometown was the first title onto zCloud; CastleVille followed some months later, testing the limits of infrastructure with high production values and rapid traffic growth. Zynga CTO of Infrastructure Allan Leinwand tells Inside Social Games that zCloud is already capable of supporting cross platform games for web and mobile — like Words With Friends.

The next step, then, is expanding beyond Zynga’s existing games catalog.

While Zynga certainly plans to launch more of its own IP on its own cloud and eventually on its own platform, we could potentially see Zynga publish other developers’ games on ZLive or some games portal extension thereof. Zynga hasn’t done very much with publishing as yet — beyond hiring Sony’s Rob Dyer to oversee the department and announcing a licensed Slingo game for Facebook as of this morning — but if the developer had an infrastructure capable of doing even more than what Facebook does for games, it’s not hard to imagine that Zynga would court other developers to come launch games on its service. It would go a long way toward decreasing Zynga’s dependence on Facebook.

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