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King.com's hard-fought battle for Facebook games' second place
King.com's hard-fought battle for Facebook games' second place
May 1, 2012 | By Chris Morris

May 1, 2012 | By Chris Morris
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While it's going to be a long while before anyone gets within striking distance of Zynga's dominance when it comes to social games on Facebook, the fight for the number two position on that site is a fierce one, when it comes to daily active users.

Three companies are battling for the silver medal -- Wooga, Electronic Arts and King.com. EA's held the lead for a while, but earlier this month King.com broke away from the pack, largely on the strength of its Bubble Witch Saga game.

As it looks to extend that lead, the company is also focusing on what's next. And for now, the field is fairly wide open. The Saga series is likely to continue growing -- and there are other games the company can move over from its Web-based game series. Acquisitions aren't out of the question. And there's even some chatter about a possible IPO.

That 'going public' talk started around the top of the month, when the company's CEO and co-founder Riccardo Zacconi told Reuters he was "preparing the company" for a possible offering, even though it would be at least next year before it made that step.

Alex Dale, King.com's chief marketing officer, seemed to take a step back from that in a recent conversation with Gamasutra, however.

"We have done some internal reorganization to take that [IPO] option if we want to or need to, but there are no specific plans and that is not a focus for the company."

Right now, the focus for King.com is on growth, both in terms of daily and monthly average users, as well as financially. King.com bought its first external studio a little over a month ago -- Fabrication Games in Stockholm. And as consolidation becomes more common in the mobile and social space, prices are sure to rise.

EA's $750 million buyout of PopCap Games nine months ago (with incentives that could drive the price to $1.3 billion) and Zynga's recent $180 million purchase of OMGPOP have inflate the market -- and if it wants to keep its lead, King.com has to be able to compete with those sorts of bids.

Dale didn't discuss the size of the company's war chest, but said King.com is happy with its growth.

"The profitability is good," he says. "The business models are good. We are growing revenues fast -- and by that, I mean high double digits -- and we're investing in developing new games."

Profitable since 2005, King.com has diverse lines of income -- social games on Facebook and mobile (both of which draw from player microtransactions) and web-based skill tournaments, where player can make small wagers of 10-15 cents (which supplements the advertising income).

"We're coming from business model 'A' and we're adding both 'B' and 'C'," says Dale. "If you play Bubble Witch Saga on Facebook, that's a very relaxing experience. It's competitive, but in a gentle way."

But he adds, "The same game mechanic on the tournament side is different. If you play Bubble Witch on King.com and you're playing for a cash stake, it adds a competitive edge."

While King.com has been around the games world for nine years, it was the move to Facebook a little over a year ago that has caused it to see a major surge in popularity. Bubble Witch Saga's DAUs now top Zynga's Farmville by 1.4 million -- but that popularity hasn't come without criticism.

Some players have noted Bubble Witch Saga seems very reminiscent of Puzzle Bobble and taken the company to task for that. Dale dismisses those comparisons, however.

"We are 100 percent using our own IP," he says. "We've been taking the IP we like that has performed well [on the website] and launched that on Facebook."

While the company is regularly looking for new ways to expand its reach, don't expect it to broaden its focus to include resource management games like FarmVille. While they've been successful for other social gaming companies, King.com thinks they're too difficult for lapsed players to return to. Instead, casual titles (like it focuses on) always leave a door open for players to walk away -- and don't penalize them for leaving.

"It's a lot easier to reactivate in a causal game, whereas if you go to a resource management game after you haven't played for a couple months, your castle has been destroyed," says Dale.


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