Candy Crush Saga and Empires & Allies this week’s gainer and loser among May’s Top 25 Facebook games

Now that we’ve published our May Top 25 Facebook list and given it a week to breathe, it’s time to take a closer look at the traffic patterns of each game mentioned.

Counting down from No. 25 we’ll examine the behavior of six or seven of the games on the list each week, based on their daily active user history (the best way to gauge an app’s core audience), and predict how this traffic will affect a game’s position on next month’s list. For the first week of May, we’ll examine No. 25 through No. 19.

25. Marvel: Avengers Alliance

Disney Playdom’s Marvel: Avengers Alliance is reaping the benefits of the massive marketing campaign for the record-breaking film “The Avengers.” The movie came out last Friday, so the Avengers IP is still in the public eye, meaning Avengers Alliance is continuing to bring in new players. Since May 1, Avengers Alliance gained 300,000 DAU, bringing its total to 1.5 million. If traffic continues to increase like this, then the game may very well place somewhere around No. 15 next month. Whether or not Avengers Alliance can maintain this user acquisition remains to be seen, though, especially when the movie leaves theaters in a few weeks. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is due out in theaters on July 3, but it remains to be seen whether or not the inevitable cross-promotion with that film will be enough to keep users coming in at this pace.

T21. DoubleDown Casino

DoubleDown Interactive’s DoubleDown Casino is holding steady at 1.3 million DAU, the point the game has continuously returned to since December 2011. DoubleDown Casino managed to spike up a few times to 1.4 million DAU over the past ten days, though, so it could return to that point again soon. The game showed high growth during the second half of 2011, but this has slowed since DoubleDown Interactive was acquired by International Game Technology in January. Since DoubleDown Casino doesn’t seem to be gaining or losing significant traffic, it will probably appear on our June Top 25 list, but stay on the tail end of the chart.

T21. Hoop De Loop Saga

King.com’s Hoop De Loop Saga is up to 1.4 million DAU, a gain of 100,000 since it debuted on the Top 25 list. The game hasn’t been climbing the charts as quickly as other “Saga” games, but it has showed steady gains since it launched in January. Hoop De Loop Saga’s total traffic is up by nearly 500,000 DAU since April 1, so it seems likely that the game will continue to grow and move up a couple of places for June’s Top 25 list.

T21. Candy Crush Saga

King.com’s newest “Saga” game continues its traffic sugar rush. The game has already gained 500,000 DAU since the May Top 25 list was published, bringing its total up to 1.8 million. Since the game launched in April, it’s proven a hit on Facebook and has regularly topped our weekly lists of fastest-growing games. If Candy Crush Saga manages to keep accumulating users, then it may very well add another million or so DAU to its total, which would easily move it up to the top half of June’s Top 25 list.

T21. Top Eleven – Be a Football Manager

Nordeus’s Top Eleven – Be a Football Manager continues to hover at 1.3 million DAU. This is another title that’s showed slow, but regular, gains since it launched in May 2010. The past few months show Top Eleven will generally hold steady at a traffic point for about six weeks before it moves up by 100,000 DAU. It’s been almost four weeks since the last increase, so the game will probably show a noticeable gain towards the end of May. The game may not move on June’s Top 25 chart even if this happens, since it took 1.2 million DAU this month to just to get onto the list. If minimum DAU increases, the game might wind up even closer to No. 25.

20. 開心水族箱

Happy Elements’s Chinese language aquarium sim 開心水族箱 (“Aquarium Open Heart Box”) is still bobbing along at the 1.5 million DAU waterline. Even though it launched in 2009, this is a title with impressive staying power, even though its DAU figures aren’t anywhere near its peak of almost 2.4 million DAU. Since May 1, the game’s traffic bounced up and down, but it’s returned to 1.5 million. 開心水族箱’s traffic regularly moves in waves, and April marked a valley with 1.4 million DAU.  The game’s numbers are starting to improve again and it may very well gain another 100,000 DAU by the end of the month, possibly moving it up another spot or two in June.

19. Empires & Allies

Zynga’s Empires & Allies continues to lose users at a steady pace, down by 200,000 DAU since May 1. Zynga designed this to appeal to mid-core strategy fans, but it hasn’t had the lasting appeal of its “Ville” titles. The game launched and peaked in June 2011, hitting a high point of 7.7 million DAU before starting to noticeably shrink that August. Empires & Allies is currently at 1.5 million DAU, meaning it’s dropped by 700,000 since February alone. If Empires & Allies continues to decline at this rate, it may not even be on the Top 25 for June.

All data in this post comes from our traffic tracking service, AppDataStay tuned for next week’s continuation of our Top 25 gainers and losers, when we look at No. 18 through No. 12 on the list.

Zynga.com — two months old and 2.8 million MAU

Zynga’s off-Facebook games platform is still in its early days, but the growth is there and the games are running. Here’s how Zynga.com has evolved since entering open beta in March.

Traffic

Like most social games, the only place for traffic to go in the first six to eight weeks is up. Growth kicked in one week after the beta launch, starting from around 1.7 million MAU and 130,000 DAU likely left over from an internal beta test. In seven days, MAU grew 11 percent to 1.9 million while DAU went up 38 percent to 180,000. By the end of the month, Zynga.com was at 2.2 million MAU and 230,000. Now, at the beginning of April, it’s up to 2.8 million MAU and 420,000 DAU.

Here’s what’s interesting: Zynga’s DAU as a percentage of MAU (which is a measure of retention) also consistently rose during the first two months.

Normally, when a social game launches, we see MAU and DAU rise while the retention rate falls. During Zynga’s Q1 2012 earnings call, COO John Schappert explained that Zynga deliberately hasn’t driven users to Zynga.com via advertising or cross-promotion. This makes the platform’s growth seem even more significant, as it’s all organic, presumably from brand recognition or invites sent to Facebook friends.

Zynga tells us that advertising for Zynga.com will be turned on later in the quarter.

Game Features – Sidebar

The sidebar module appears on the right side of the screen everywhere on Zynga.com except when a game is in fullscreen mode. At the top of the module, players can click on their name to access their profile, list of recently played games (each of which display the number of pending game requests), their RewardVille point balance or the settings menu. They can also logout or toggle chat availability on or off. Also at the top of the module are two buttons that produce a chat window or a list of friends (called zFriends).

The rest of the module changes depending on where the user is on Zynga.com. On the homepage or profile page, users see a list of zFriends sorted into those currently online and those that have played Zynga games recently. This part of the module can be toggled to show a list of suggested zFriends — some of which are not on friends with the user on Facebook. In games, the user might see a horizontal list of users that have recently helped them in-game (with links to those users’ profiles) or a live feed of activity from other players of that game. The live feed can be sorted by everyone playing that game at the time or only zFriends that have played the game.

The sidebar is also a place where we’ve seen Zynga serve ads via Google AdSense, but this has only occurred when viewing the sidebar in a game that doesn’t make use of the live feed.

Games Features – Live Feed

Zynga’s live feed (sometimes called “social stream” or “zFeed”) is a feature that currently appears in the sidebar when playing CastleVille, CityVille and Hidden Chronicles. It posts in-game requests made by both zFriends and strangers, allowing players to click on any story to send and receive rewards. The live feed is important to the platform because the main value of playing a game on Zynga.com versus Facebook is that players progress faster if their game requests are answered synchronously instead of asynchronously. It’s also a means of meeting new friends that are more likely to help you in games so that users don’t have to spam their Facebook friends list, hoping some of them play the same games.

This is where Zynga.com has seen the most change in the last two months. At first, when there were fewer users on the platform, the live feed functioned much like the real time Ticker updates on Facebook. Users would click on a game story and receive the rewards attached to that story while also sending the poster the item they’d requested. As has always been the case with Zynga games, each story generated from a request only has a certain number of rewards attached to it — and once they’ve all been distributed, a player can no longer click on that story to receive or send items.

As it turns out, supply exceeded demand — more often than not, people were clicking on live feed stories and receiving a message that all the rewards had already been claimed. Manuel Bronstein and Reed Shaffner, Zynga.com’s general manager and lead product manager, tell us that the average user clicks on stories in the live feed 200 times per session (they declined to give session lengths — but assuming Zynga.com sessions are comparable to Facebook’s five to 20 minute range, that’s a lot).

The trick, Bronstein says, was not to change the supply side (which could unbalance the game), but to adjust demand using several different methods. The most obvious one was improving sharding of different user segments so that an optimal number of players populated a feed. Next, the developer tweaked refresh rates for different feeds, slowing down the rate at which stories appeared in the feed so that people weren’t just racing to click whatever was at the top. Lastly, the platform team introduced something called the Jolts system, which lasted barely a week as it was unpopular with users.

Here’s how Jolts worked for the brief time we had them: Players received a fixed number of Jolts in a given time period to spend on clicking live feed stories. Like an energy meter, it limited the number of times a player could interact with the live feed during a session. It also allowed players to “curate” stories from the feed, looking only for the rewards they actually wanted to have (e.g. currency instead of energy refills). When players ran out of Jolts, they could to wait for the Jolt meter to refill or could earn bonus Jolts by playing other Zynga.com games.

The last option that Bronstein and Shaffner are exploring is how best to communicate to the user that all the rewards have been claimed. Beyond that, they’re looking for a way to highlight the rewards that players do earn. Even if someone clicked 200 times and only got rewards half of the time — that’s still 100 free items. Platform terminology is something we expect to continuously evolve as Zynga looks for ways to explain platform features and systems to users.

There is also the question of how best to use live feed in games where it doesn’t apparently have a use. Currently, Zynga Poker and Words With Friends use the live feed space as an area to recommend new zFriends and possibly serve ads (see below). Bronstein and Shaffner say there is likely more that can be done for these games and others where request fulfillment doesn’t drive gameplay.

Game Features – Fast Load

The fast load feature is a button that appears on the site whenever a user exits a game. Clicking this button takes the user back into the game exactly where they left off without ever showing the user a loading screen. This is a very convenient feature that will likely gain more value as Zynga adds more features to the site that could potentially draw someone out of one game and into another or into a community event (e.g. a tournament or some other group activity). This is one Zynga.com-created feature that we could see Facebook adopting in the future if enough demand for quick-loading canvas apps emerges.

User Profiles

The Zynga.com user profile focuses on the way a person engages with games, displaying most-played games, recent games activity, zFriends on the platform and the number of friends the user has helped and the number of times they’ve helped friends in games for the week. In the past two months, the profile itself hasn’t gotten much of an update, although the sidebar on the profile page and the homepage now shows users which of their friends have played Zynga games recently.

Interestingly, the profile pictures displayed in this module indicate whether a friend is playing games on Zynga.com or on Facebook as all games on Zynga.com are synchronous with Facebook canvas. Facebook friends have a Facebook icon on the bottom of their profile picture while Zynga.com friends do not. Both players will receive an icon in the upper part of their profile picture indicating which platform game they’ve played most recently (no game icon seems to mean that user hasn’t played a Zynga game). Nowhere else on the site does Zynga.com differentiate between platform and Facebook players.

Lastly, the profile page is another venue where Zynga has explored serving display ads. So far, we’ve only encountered banner ads for furniture boutique One King’s Lane (which incidentally was co-founded by Alison Pincus, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus’s wife) on our profile page. These appear farther down the page beside the recent games activity feed, often requiring a user to scroll in order to see the entire ad.

The Potential

While Zynga declined to share session times or specific retention numbers, it seems as though engagement for Zynga.com games has the potential to be higher than what those games currently see on Facebook. Bronstein and Shaffner did share an emerging user behavior where players would log into Zynga.com to play a game — and then play the game again on Facebook later, picking up where they’d left off. Bronstein says Zynga owes this new behavior to the early decision the platform team made on keeping the game experience consistent and synchronous with Facebook canvas, right down to Credits as the sole payment method. Bronstein reports that monetization on the platform is “good,” but declined to elaborate.

The other thing that seems to be working is the synchronous nature of the platform. The counter that appears below Zynga’s logo on the lefthand side of the screen counts the number of users active on the platform concurrently — and refreshes every 60 seconds. That number has gone as high as 1.8 million during our own sessions; Zynga declined to give a specific number. The high demand for items out of the live feed also serves as proof of concept, even if there are some complications in managing demand.

Possible Pitfalls

At present, there are no features on the platform that prevent a user from playing games on Zynga.com as intended. The short-lived Jolts system, however, reveals that any sort of limitation on player activity will likely not work for Zynga.com. Synchronicity will also be an ongoing challenge for Zynga to manage on its platform, as it comes from an asynchronous background on Facebook and may not be prepared to manage demand across a broad range of systems.

There may be some issues in getting Facebook users to convert to Zynga.com players, on account of users having to approve a new set of permissions in order to use Zynga.com. The way the dialogue appears (see below) may also make less-informed users wary, as they may be confused by giving a company access to their data, versus a specific game.

What could really hinder Zynga.com’s growth down the line is discoverability. Facebook itself and many other games networks have struggled with the best way to help users find games, and no one solution has proved perfect. Bronstein says the platform team will consider everything from friend-recommended games and other types of social discovery to ratings systems or other means of sorting. Currently, with just five games on Zynga.com, it’s not a problem the developer has had much time to experiment with solving.

You can track Zynga.com’s progress with our AppData traffic monitoring service.

New games lead Zynga’s revenue to increase; more titles coming in Q2

Today’s first quarter earnings report from Zynga revealed record-breaking revenue and bookings, largely as the result of new games the company launched since January.

As we predicted, Zynga is eschewing a repeat of 2011′s release schedule, which saw user numbers sag because the company launched a majority of new games in the latter half of the year. Zynga released two new web titles and four mobile games this quarter. Schappert revealed a second arcade game is coming next quarter, as are an unspecified number of new mobile titles. Zynga Bingo is also going to receive a marketing push.

“As we get better at driving our related cross-promotion on mobile, we should see better efficiencies on customer acquisition on the web as well,” Zynga CEO Mark Pincus said on today’s earnings call.

Pincus and COO John Schappert were vague on specifics but they did reveal that part of the increase in bookings was due to CastleVille, which showed comparable bookings to those of CityVille from Q1 2011. Zynga games more than a year old remained fairly strong with bookings around 80 percent of what they were in 2011.

Another major factor behind Zynga’s revenue boost was the international market. International revenue was up by 50 percent year over year and 8 percent quarter over quarter. This was credited to improved international payment mechanics and improved localization. Zynga’s titles are now available in over 28 countries and in 18 different languages. The company says that its games will receive more region-specific content in the future.

Advertising and partner revenue was up 3 percent quarter over quarter. Schappert revealed that Zynga has formed new advertising partnerships with companies like Kia Motors, Match.com and Miracle-Gro. Zynga is also going to expand reward advertising — which allows players to receive virtual goods by watching video ads — from CityVille to other games.

Bubble Witch Saga and CityVille this week’s gainer and loser among April’s Top 25 games

We’re in the final full week of April, which means it’s time to look at the highest-performing games on Top 25 Facebook Games in April. As was the case last week, these titles have huge numbers of daily active users; meaning traffic can change significantly without affecting a game’s position on the list.

Here’s what we’ve looked at so far this month:

  • April 5, 2012: No. 25 (Café World) through No. 19 (Pool Live Tour).
  • April 12, 2012: No. 18 (Slotomania – Slot Machines) through No. 13 (Happy Farm)
  • April 19, 2012: No. 12 (The Sims Social) through No. 7 (FarmVille)

This week, we take a look at No. 6 through No. 1.

6. Bubble Witch Saga

King.com’s Bubble Witch Saga is continuing its growth pattern. The game dipped a little to 5.7 million DAU at the beginning of the month before recovering and climbing up to 6.6 million. Bubble Witch Saga is the most popular of King.com’s “Saga” games showing strong, steady growth since it launched in October 2011. Provided the game can keep or surpass the 6.6 million DAU level, it looks like Bubble Witch Saga could climb up to the No. 3 spot of our Top 25 list in May.

5. CastleVille

Zynga’s CastleVille is still losing traffic, down from 6.3 million DAU to 5.7 million. The recent Martha Stewart promotion doesn’t seem to have helped the game retain old players or bring in new ones, either. CastleVille peaked with 8.4 million DAU in December 2011 — roughly a month after it launched — but its numbers have been gradually dropping off since then. CastleVille’s position on next month’s list may remain unchanged, though, now that Hidden Chronicles’s DAU numbers are at a lower point.

4. Hidden Chronicles

Zynga’s Hidden Chronicles is down from the beginning of the month, going from 6.3 million DAU to 5.5 million. The hidden object game peaked in February with 7.5 million DAU and spent the better part of two months hovering close to that number, even getting as high as 7.4 million DAU in late March. Since the March surge, though, the game’s begun to lose users. If Hidden Chronicles isn’t able to start gaining traffic again, it will drop a couple of spots on next month’s Top 25 list.

3. Texas HoldEm Poker

Zynga’s long-running Texas HoldEm Poker continues to enjoy some of its best numbers yet, up from 7 million DAU at the beginning of April to 7.2 million. The 2008 game has seen traffic has continued to grow over the past few years and looks like it might soon pass its March 2011 peak of 7.5 million DAU; Texas HoldEm Poker’s DAU managed to get as high as 7.4 million DAU this month before dropping back to its current level. The game is expected to move up to the No. 2 spot on next month’s list, between its growth and CityVille’s dwindling numbers.

2. CityVille

Zynga’s hit CityVille is down from 7.6 million DAU to 6.5 million, significantly less than the 2010 game’s peak of 21.5 million DAU in March 2011. CityVille’s numbers have been steadily falling since then, but the drop off seems to be picking up speed in recent months. The game still had 9 million DAU at the start of February. Next month, CityVille should still be in the top five games on our list, but it doesn’t seem likely that the game will ever hold the No. 1 position again.

1. Words With Friends

Words With Friends is still Zynga’s No. 1 game on Facebook. Although there were a couple of spikes in April’s traffic, the game seems to have settled at 7.6 million DAU  down a little from the 7.8 million DAU it had at the beginning of the month. Words With Friends managed to peak in early March with 9 million DAU, but it’s started to slowly lose users since that point. Barring a strong surge in Texas HoldEm Poker’s numbers over the next few days, Words With Friends will probably stay the No. 1 game in May, but only by a fraction.

All data in this post comes from our traffic tracking service, AppDataNext week, we’ll post the list of our Top 25 games for May and start looking at its entries the week afterwards.

Latest S-1 amendment shows Zynga and Facebook untangling their finances

Facebook’s latest amendment to its S-1 filing reveals Zynga accounted for 4 percent less of the social network’s revenue, showing that both Zynga and Facebook are becoming less financially dependent on one another.

Although Zynga makes up a smaller percentage of revenue during Q1 2012 than it did during the same period in 2011, this quarter saw the developer generate over $20 million more for Facebook. In Q1 2011, Zynga directly contributed about $95.03 million to the social network, while this quarter saw Zynga provide about $116.38 million, not including revenue from ads displayed on app pages.

As to why Zynga makes up slightly less than what it used to of Facebook revenues, there are some obvious explanations. For starters, Zynga doesn’t have a CityVille-sized blockbuster release lined up for the quarter compared to the start of 2011. Another factor may be that the developer is spacing out game releases by quarter. Recall that Zynga didn’t release any new games after CityVille until the summer and despite releasing several games between Q2 and Q3, daily active users sagged.

Another obvious explanation is that Zynga is relying less on Facebook now than it did a year ago to drive revenue. Mobile games in particular are an area where Zynga continues to expand, starting 2012 with 15 million DAU and the recent OMGPOP acquisition likely boosting that number. The developer is also pursuing new platforms like Google+, Tencent and its own Zynga.com, although the latter is deeply integrated with Facebook. Despite using Facebook Credits as the sole means of transactions on Zynga.com, it is possible for the platform to cut into Facebook’s advertising revenue from ads viewed on Zynga app pages — assuming Zynga is able to lure users away from the social network to its own platform.

Who’s next on Zynga’s acquisition list?

A week out from its Q1 earnings call, Zynga is talking about making more multi-million dollar acquisitions on the order of OMGPOP’s $180-million buy last month. Who could Zynga buy and where can they be found?

If Zynga really has a $1.8-billion war chest, then it can afford to shop strategically for studios that will provide games with long shelf lives or services it can integrate with its own games platform in the long term. While the OMGPOP buy was all about doubling its mobile footprint and cross-promotion network, we think the next acquisition will be more about compensating for Zynga’s weaknesses.

One place where Zynga is not weak is Facebook; its games have had a death grip on at least five out of the top 10 games on our AppData rankings charts for almost two years. Off-Facebook, however, Zynga is still figuring out mobile — particularly Android — and its Zynga.com games platform is young and fragile. It seems like the next major buys will be aimed at shoring up these parts of the business.

Editor’s Note: Some obvious choices in social and mobile are left off this list because we’ve heard that these studios already received and rejected acquisition offers from Zynga. They could always come back to the table in the future, but as far as we know, they’re not in M&A talks at this time.

Mobile

Zynga has made it clear it’s looking to mobile for expansion. But why invest in another iOS developer when it could get an Android expert? Google Play may not monetize as well as iOS, but Amazon’s Appstore is an Android variant that is doing extremely well — which tells us it’s not the platform itself that has issues.

In the long term, investing in established Android developers is a good idea for Zynga because the platform not only has a size advantage in the U.S., it’s also more popular in emerging markets like China and Korea. An Android developer with international appeal will help Zynga expand its userbase out from its North American hub. An Asian developer could also help Zynga’s Japan and China studios gain better footing in the lucrative South Korean and Japanese mobile markets.

Finally, while Zynga does casual well, it might also look to pick up a more core-focused developer to help it expand its established user-base beyond casual-social players.

Using that line of thinking, here are the mobile developers Zynga might consider:

Gamevil — The South Korean company currently has two games in the top 50 of the Android top grossing charts, plus a larger catalog of popular games. It also has a market cap of US$326 million, which makes it seem expensive, but that’s far less than what Zynga was reportedly willing to pay for Rovio.

DroidHen — This is the Sequoia Capital-backed company behind Android’s current top-grossing title, Defender II. For the past few months it’s been rare not to see a DroidHen game somewhere on the top of the Android charts.

Creative Mobile — This Estonian developer’s sports-themed Drag Racing games have been a hit. It’s currently the No. 4 top grossing Android app. Given the small size of the studio, Zynga could likely make the purchase at a fairly low price.

Social

For social game studio acquisitions, Zynga is likely looking in two different directions: Asia and the West. While an experienced studio like Hoolai Games or Happy Elements would help Zynga break into or amplify its presence on Asian games networks like Tencent or Mixi, a Western acquisition would be more about finding talent than anything else.

As for what kind of talent, we’re thinking developers that can offer a service as opposed to a game — much like how DNA’s testing methods attracted an acquisition last year. This could help Zynga grow its games platform out of its too-similar-to-Facebook nascent stage. We’re also thinking of developers with experience in transmedia properties — like the studios that know how to make a TV show into a game or the ones that have experience in converting a non-social video game franchise into a social game. Zynga Slingo proves that there’s room for growth there with the right IP.

Zynga could also shop around on Facebook for developers to pad out its platform with games that it doesn’t already make itself. Hardcore combat games or classic casual titles, for example, are the kinds of things Zynga hasn’t made in the past that still perform well on Facebook and on other games portals. We’ve heard some developers speculate that if a third-party game performs well on Zynga.com, it could fast track its developer to an acquisition; if true, Playdemic, MobScience and Row Sham Bow are first in line.

Aside from those developers, here are a few that could be interesting prospects for Zynga:

3 Blokes (What’s left of it) — Though publisher RockYou acquired and then shut down the Australian developer, the key people at the studio are reportedly soldiering on in the core strategy genre. Assuming larger studios with expertise in these kinds of games are off the table, this might be an easy way to get into the core strategy market and to improve combat game mechanics in Empires & Allies.

A Bit Lucky — This Nexon-backed niche game studio has some smart ex-MMO developers behind it. Its last Facebook title, Lucky Space, never saw the traction of its predecessor, Lucky Train. Even so, both games had a lot more going on under the hood than the average social game from UI design and art to layered gameplay mechanics. At the very least, this team could help Zynga resolve its mapping issues in the various ‘Ville games.

GameVentures — We get the impression that this sports-centric developer has more of a presence on open web than on Facebook. Its baseball and cricket games, however, attract a more male audience than what Zynga’s is perceived to be and could the titles could tap into the fantasy sports league types. EA and Disney Playdom have already proven the appeal of the genre and Zynga currently doesn’t have anything in the sports category.

If you’ve heard anything you think we haven’t about Zynga’s current M&A prospects, drop us a line: mail (at) insidesocialgames (dot) com. If you’re somebody looking to get bought, check out Inside Mobile Apps’ article, Secrets of the acquisition process.

Funzio brings Kingdom Age to Facebook after Google+ exclusive

Funzio’s hardcore strategy/role-playing game is now live on Facebook, after it debuted on March 1 for a 45-day exclusive on Google+.

Even though Kingdom Age is live on Facebook, Funzio has yet to officially announce the game’s launch on the social network. The company’s official website still only links to the G+ version.

Kingdom Age is the second social game from Funzio. It features similar strategy/RPG mechanics to the developer’s first social game, 2010′s Crime City. Even though hardcore strategy titles don’t bring in the same sort of user numbers that more casual titles like Zynga’s “Ville” games or King.com’s “Saga” titles, Crime City was a success. The game peaked with 7.3 million monthly active users and 1 million daily active users, but its traffic has dwindled since April 2010. It now holds steady around 1.6 million MAU and 150,000 DAU.

Kingdom Age’s arrival on Facebook could also mean Funzio is looking to take the title cross platform. It would be a logical move, based on how the company took Crime City to iOS and Android from G+ and Facebook. Even though the Facebook version of Crime City has declined in popularity, the mobile version is still going strong. The iPhone version of Crime City is currently the No. 31 top grossing iPhone app, according to our traffic tracking service AppData.

Pool Live Tour and Café World this week’s gainer and loser amongst April’s Top 25 Facebook games

Now that our April list of Top 25 Facebook Games has been published, it’s time to take a closer look at the traffic patterns of each. Counting down from No. 25, we’ll examine six or seven of the games on the list each week and analyze what’s going on with them based on daily active users (the best way to gauge an app’s core audience). For the first week of April, we’ll examine No. 25 through No. 19.

25. Café World

Zynga’s Café World continues to hold steady at 1 million DAU, down by 200,000 from last month. The game came in last this month, but it’s an improvement over March when it didn’t even place. Café World’s traffic has been on a decline since December 2009 when it had just over 10.7 million DAU, and any gains have been small and temporary. The game is still operating on Facebook, but we don’t expect to see it reappear on next month’s list at this rate.

24. Bubble Saga

King.com’s Bubble Saga is the second-oldest of the three bubble shooters on April’s Top 25 list but it’s never dropped below 1 million DAU since its April 2011 launch. The game seems more dated when compared to the polished graphics of Bubble Island and Bubble Witch Saga, but its unique spin mechanics still make Bubble Saga different enough to keep players invested. Currently, traffic continues to oscillate between 1.1 and 1.4 million and at the moment, it seems to be coming out of one of the lower traffic points — so we wouldn’t be surprised to see the game show up on the list again next month. The main obstacle is the rising DAU minimum bar; in March, it was a steep 1.3 million to make the bottom five of our rankings. Bubble Saga’s traffic — even with an increase — may not be enough to keep the game in the Top 25 for May.

23. Top Eleven- Be a Football Manager

Nordeus’s Top Eleven is still going strong with 1.2 million DAU. AppData shows the game’s numbers have gradually increased since its May 2010 launch and in the past three months alone, Top Eleven gained approximately 100,000 DAU a month. Whether or not Top Eleven will appear on next month’s Top 25 is a tough call, largely depending on where the minimum traffic requirement falls. If it stays where it is, Top Eleven’s positioning may not change much, but if minimum DAU goes up another half million, Top Eleven may get knocked off the Top 25.

22. DoubleDown Casino

Even though DoubleDown Casino is enjoying its best traffic ever, growth is slowing down compared to what we saw in summer 2011 when it jumped from 500,000 DAU to almost 900,000 DAU between August and September. The slowdown in growth seemed to occur just after DoubleDown Interactive was acquired in January by International Game Technology; over the past three months, the game’s gained 200,000 DAU per month compared to the 400,000 DAU per month rate it saw before the buy. If the trend continues, DoubleDown Casino might slip a few places in the rankings — but the continued growth of the casino and slots genres on Facebook will likely keep it in the Top 25.

21. Gardens of Time

Disney Playdom’s Gardens of Time saw a 19 percent decline that knocks it down from the No. 19 it enjoyed in March to No. 21 in this month’s rankings. The game hasn’t seen a traffic increase since August, when it peaked at just over 4 million DAU. Since that time, DAU has shrunk 68 percent. The developer doesn’t seem to be investing much in the game’s continued support, having shifted resources instead to spiritual sequels Blackwood & Bell Mysteries and the upcoming Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers. Given these trends and the game’s age, Garden’s of Time doesn’t seem long for May’s Top 25.

20. 開心水族箱 (Happy Aquarium)

Happy Elements’s Chinese language aquarium sim is another game that’s been steadily performing on Facebook for a couple of years. The game launched in 2009 and quickly hit a traffic high of nearly 2.4 million DAU before dropping back to tread water around the 1.5 million DAU mark. Happy Aquarium continues to show small, steady gains and losses, and it’s currently sitting at a lower DAU point. If the game’s traffic starts to climb again, it may actually move up a spot or two on next month’s Top 25 list. The game hasn’t been knocked off the list in the past six months and isn’t likely to be replaced by a similar title, either, so we expect to see it again next month.

19. Pool Live Tour

Even though Pool Live Tour launched in 2009, the game’s traffic didn’t take off until last summer and has yet to show any signs of slowing down. The current DAU numbers are over six times higher than where they were in June 2011. Geewa’s online billiards game held the No. 22 spot with 1.4 million DAU in March, now it’s at No. 19 with 1.8 million DAU. If the trend continues, it could possibly break into the top 15 games on May’s list.

All data in this post comes from our traffic tracking service, AppDataStay tuned for next week’s continuation of our Top 25 gainers and losers, when we look at No. 18 through No. 12 on the list.

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.

Clones, Schmones: Buffalo Studios, Nimblebit’s jabs at Zynga garner publicity and not much more

Twice in the last month, we’ve seen studios come forward to criticize Zynga for being too inspired by their work.

Nimblebit, which recently won Game of the Year from Apple, said a forthcoming Zynga title called Dream Heights unfairly cribs from their hit Tiny Tower. Then this week Buffalo Studios said Zynga copied some user interface and design details from their bingo game.

Frustrating as it may be to indie studios, this has always been part of Zynga’s strategy. It’s almost silly to address it. As long as games from proven genres earn outsized returns compared to ones from unproven categories and the cost of losing or settling lawsuits remains low, developers will keep doing copycat games.

Zynga’s chief executive Mark Pincus even euphemistically referred to the practice in December’s IPO roadshow by saying: “We have a rule of thumb inside Zynga. For any category we launch a game in, we expect it to be three to five times the size of the then category leader.”

He reiterated again in an internal memo this week that:

Google didn’t create the first search engine. Apple didn’t create the first mp3 player or tablet. And, Facebook didn’t create the first social network. But these companies have evolved products and categories in revolutionary ways. They are all internet treasures because they all have specific and broad missions to change the world.

We don’t need to be first to market. We need to be the best in market. There are genres that we’re going to enter because we know our players are interested in them and because we want and need to be where players are. We evolve genres by making games free, social, accessible and highest quality.

Zynga does market research by looking at leading titles, designs similar games that don’t require a learning curve, optimizes them for monetization with its data prowess and then spends and cross-promotes relentlessly.

If Zynga’s titles appear too close to other games, it’s hard to take the company to task because of its deep pockets and fearsomely litigious history. Few small studios have the resources to pay for lawyers, especially against a company that has been so historically eager to sue others for theft of trade secrets and copyright infringement.

It also helps that the intellectual property system is quite fragmented for protecting games. Copyright covers the art and potentially the underlying source code while trademarks covers the brand and logo. Patents, the weakest form of protection for game developers, can cover code and mechanics.

Another factor is that as the gaming industry has moved away from a packaged goods model toward a highly iterative and serviced-based one, it makes less sense to pursue protection like patents. Like in the broader consumer Internet industry, waiting at least two to four years for a patent is absurd considering that a hit game can flame out in months.

The more interesting question to ask here is whether Zynga’s approach can do as well on mobile platforms as it has on Facebook. Zynga does not have an outsized lead on either Android or iOS. It has 13 million daily active users, which is very respectable. But it’s not enough to produce network effects that would shut out rival games from the top 10. Unlike Facebook, which signed a five-year agreement with Zynga, Apple does not have a vested interest in seeing Zynga achieve user growth targets. Smartphones also support more diversity than Facebook. The past month has proved that indie developers like Imangi Studios can nail freemium in more than casual sim or mafia games too.

Here we take a look back at various Zynga social and mobile titles, and whether they worked or not according to AppData statistics and ranking history from App Annie:

Mafia Wars and Mob Wars: Launched in August of 2008, Mafia Wars triggered one of the several lawsuits Zynga went on to become ensnared with. Creator David Maestri and his company Psycho Monkey LLC went onto sue Zynga for infringing on his creation Mob Wars and settled for a reported $7 to 9 million. (But it’s also worth noting that Maestri had to settle with his former employer SGN because he launched the game while working for them when they were called FreeWebs.)

After Zynga launched Mafia Wars, it went on to reach around 10 million monthly active users in about half a year, while Maestri’s game stalled at about 2.5 to 3 million MAU.

PetVille, Happy Pets and Pet Society: Launched in December 2009, PetVille riffed on a long history of casual, animal care-taking games that have existed long before the Facebook platform even launched. It followed Playfish’s Pet Society, which came out more than a year before in the fall of 2008, and Crowdstar’s Happy Pets, which launched the previous month. Both PetVille and Happy Pets saw decent starts but then leveled off while Pet Society kept on growing.

Cafe World and Restaurant City: Zynga’s restaurant sim game Cafe World came out in September 2009 after Playfish’s Restaurant City had accumulated 16 million monthly actives. It added steps by making players chop up or dice ingredients before cooking dishes and requiring users to add friends as neighbors if they wanted to expand their restaurants. Restaurant City actually hit its peak usage two months after Zynga launched its game before it began a slow and steady decline. Cafe World also peaked shortly after at around 32 million monthly actives.

Gardens of Time and Hidden Chronicles: It’s not surprising that Zynga would want to get into the hidden object genre after Disney Playdom’s Gardens of Time topped growth charts for nearly five months in a row. It is a little surprising that it took Zynga so long to do it, however. Hidden object game designer Cara Ely was brought on at Zynga in July — three months after Gardens of Time’s launch — and it wasn’t until January 2012 that Hidden Chronicles saw the light of day. In addition to similar presentation of story elements, Hidden Chronicles also cribs Gardens of Time’s decoration-based progression system.




Mobile has been a more interesting story this past year because Zynga actually started out as the underdog on iOS. Several games like Playforge’s Zombie Farm and Storm8′s Restaurant Story were taking genres that social gaming companies had nailed on Facebook and were executing them well on the iPhone. Nevertheless, Zynga managed to accumulate 13 million daily active users by year-end, largely because of its acquisition of Words With Friends maker Newtoy, but also because it started getting its core franchises right on mobile.

Zynga Poker and Texas Poker:

Poker is a more than 150-year-old game, so it’s hard to say that any company could own it. However, Russian developer Kamagames said Zynga copied user interface details from its hit Texas Poker early last year.

Zynga started fading out non-active players on the board and added a vertical bar to raise and lower bets. Before last year, Texas Poker was trouncing Zynga’s Poker game on the iOS grossing charts and consistently had a top 10 ranking. But in the spring, Zynga Poker began a steady climb and now outranks Kamagames’ title.

Tap Zoo, Tiny Zoo Friends and Dream Zoo: Pocket Gems had an undisputed run as one of the highest-earning developers last year after Tap Zoo held on to a top 10 grossing spot for about a year. Unsurprisingly, Zynga took note and launched Dream Zoo just ahead of Thanksgiving. It took the same zoo concept but added some complexity with feeding and washing games along with more levels for each of the animals. In anticipation of such a move, Pocket Gems phased out its old game Tap Zoo and launched a new version called Tap Zoo 2: World Tour.

None of the games have managed to hold onto a top 10 ranking. In fact, a different zoo game from developer TinyCo is actually the highest ranked one in the genre right now at #17. Dream Zoo remains at #44 and Tap Zoo 2 holds at #77. It looks like all of these companies effectively split the market.

Pocket Gems hasn’t complained, with chief operating officer Ben Liu telling us, “Look. Our games have copied extensively by many, many companies.” He added, “The way we can stay ahead of Zynga is by listening to our users and putting the best features in our game. Consumers are going to judge what’s the best product.” Pocket Gems has been busy launching a number of new games in the last few weeks like Tappily Ever After and Zombie Takeover.




This story originally appeared on our sister site, Inside Mobile Apps.

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