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Nine months later, Google+ game devs are reluctant to share success stories

Nine months later, Google+ game devs are reluctant to share success stories Exclusive

May 9, 2012 | By Paul Hyman




It's been nine months since Google added games to its Google+ platform, and developers who are considering whether to get on the Google games bandwagon are surely inquiring from other devs what their experiences have been. They may find, however, that details are particularly hard to come by.

In an informal survey of a handful of Google+ developers, Gamasutra found them to be surprisingly closed-mouthed, reticent to discuss specifics - or to discuss anything at all.

At Wooga, whose Diamond Dash is popular on Facebook and was one of 16 launch titles for Google+, a spokesperson responded that the Berlin, Germany-based developer "doesn't comment on Google+ games at the moment." Wooga's Bubble Island and Monster World were also launch titles.

At PopCap Games, a spokesperson said "we're not really up for a conversation on that topic, I'm afraid." PopCap's Bejeweled Blitz was a Google+ launch title.

And at BioWare, where Dragon Age Legends was a Google+ launch title, a spokesperson reported that "the team isn't doing interviews right now."

In comparison, it was just last March at GDC 2012 that Punit Soni, lead product manager for Google+ games and mobile, was talking up the young social network, stressing that it is games that have the most potential for driving its innovation and growth.

"Games are key to the success of Google+," he said.

So why then the reluctance of developers to discuss their Google+ experiences?

"I really don't know," said Chris Hinton, VP of Central Game Services at Playdom subsidiary of Disney Interactive Media Group.

The online social network game developer currently has a hidden object game, Gardens of Time, that Facebook named its most popular social game of 2011, in addition to it being named best social network game at GDC Online 2011. It was subsequently added to Google+ in January.

"I don't want to speak for the other developers," Hinton added, "but, for us, Google+ is still new and we're still in a learning phase. Looking back, when we were in a learning phase with Facebook, mistakes were made. And I think people are concerned about making clear, declarative statements about a platform before the true story has been written."

He chose not to elaborate, other than to offer this analogy: "Two years ago, people might have suggested that developers ignore the Android platform and stick with iOS. Well, we've learned that there's a lot of money you would have left on the table if you'd ignored Android."

Meanwhile, Hinton recalled that the decision to expand the game's audience -- from Facebook only to including Google+ -- was an easy one. He described the fledgling platform as "small, but ripe for the picking, and we wanted to make sure we were part of it. We have absolutely no regrets joining them."

But he was reluctant to compare audiences or to describe the demographics of the Google+ platform.

"We're just now getting a lot of the data back," he said, "and so it would be a little premature to go into that. I'm afraid we can't really share specific numbers - on Google+ or on Facebook - other than to say that players spend an average 45 minutes per session on Facebook. The Google+ players are just as active if not more engaged. I just can't give you any metrics."

The nature of the audiences are different, he said, with Google+ attracting a slightly larger male component. He was unable to give details on age comparisons. Nor could he share information on retention or virality or monetization rates.

"That's information we're not addressing at this time," he said.

What impressed Hinton was that the team at Google+ recognizes that their Facebook competition has set the bar high and they are eager to improve their product. And they are willing to accommodate developers "in ways that Facebook doesn't necessarily have to do anymore. Especially in the area of testing new features and functionalities. They believe in helping developers of all sizes benefit from their testing, trying new things that, hopefully, will drive installs and help the saturation and proliferation of the platform."

He described working with the Google+ team as enjoyable, "especially watching a new team kind of scratch and claw and fight its way for relevance in a space that's quite frankly dominated by Facebook."

Similarly, Kabam also found Google+ to be a platform that works hard to please - in this case, to secure exclusively the developer's new massively multiplayer social game The Godfather: Five Families.

"Because we had a major movie brand on our hands, we wanted to make the launch a big cultural event," recalled Andrew Sheppard, Kabam Game Studio's president. "So we reached out to all the platforms and asked them what they could do for us. What I love about Google people is they understand the value of content and they saw the opportunity they had with us."

As a result, Kabam decided to go with Google+ exclusively (in addition to its own Kabam.com site), launching its new MMSG in September.

While Sheppard said he's unable to be specific about the terms of the deal, he said Kabam was able to benefit from Google's "direct promotional support, which included game page placement and a lot of good public relations. We were very happy with the results. We're a little bit shy to talk about how we're doing specifically, but let's just say that the game is one of our fastest-growing of all times - that it is far exceeding our expectations -- and it was in large part due to Google's support."

He cited data that Google presented publicly recently indicating that Google+ has 50 million daily active users and 100 million monthly active users. But wouldn't Facebook's larger audience have produced even higher numbers for Kabam? Sheppard said that even though Facebook is an important partner on other Kabam titles, Google's team was the one that presented the best opportunity for what he calls "a really massive launch."

"We tore apart both of their packages - Facebook's and Google's - and determined that it was Google's that made the most sense to us, that was most attractive, and that would generate the highest number of users and the greatest revenue," he said.

There is, however, the possibility that Godfather could end up on Facebook as well in the future, Sheppard said; that decision has not yet been made.

But what of future launches?

Sheppard revealed that Kabam is considering launching all its titles on Google+ and Google Chrome from here on out - but not necessarily exclusively.

"We like the way Google carves out a specific channel for games; people who want to find games on Google+ can find them very easily; I find that very compelling," he said. "Meanwhile, we are committed to Facebook; we love those guys. They're doing some great stuff. Bottom line: Each title will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Our long-term plan is to have our games in as many user's hands as possible."

Just as Playdom expanded its popular Gardens of Time from Facebook to Google+, San Francisco-based social game developer Funzio -- now owned by Japanese social and mobile giant Gree -- did the same for its Crime City. It released the title on Facebook in September 2010 and it became one of the top five Facebook games of the year with 7.5 million monthly active players at its peak and over 600,000 daily active users.

After almost a year, Funzio ported the social action gangster game to Google+ -- and to iOS -- in August in keeping with the company's stated goal of "delivering games to players on whatever platform is most convenient for them," said Jamil Moledina, VP of business development.

What he's discovered is that the demographic is very similar on both platforms, skewing largely male and in their 20s and 30s.

Funzio is so pleased with its Google+ strategy, added Moledina, that last month it launched its Kingdom Age exclusively on that platform.

He is not surprised, however, that developers are reticent about discussing their Google+ numbers.

"It probably has to do with the fact that Google+ is a much smaller community right now than, say, Facebook, and to cite a number now may not be accurate moving forward because of the growth curve that exists on Google," he explained. "So I think people feel it's just a little premature to cite numbers that could change pretty quickly."

Moledina wouldn't discuss specifics about how well Crime City is doing on Google+ other than to say "its RPU is very comparable to Facebook. There are obviously fewer people on the platform, but it is monetizing at a pretty comparable rate."

And what is that comparable rate?

"It's not something I'm comfortable sharing right at the moment," he said.


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