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Facebook games on the decline? No one told that to Pretty Simple Games Exclusive
Facebook games on the decline? No one told that to Pretty Simple Games
December 4, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

Pretty Simple's Criminal Case is a hidden object game on Facebook. It has also just recently surpassed 100 million users, an impressive figure for any social game, and currently sits at about 6 million daily active users.

"It's difficult to reach this size on any platform," Pretty Simple's head of communication, Serge Versille, tells Gamasutra. "Reaching just a million players is something that even big developers have problems achieving and when the game came out we had only 35 people."

Pretty Simple is keeping revenue figures under wraps, only stating that Criminal Case has garnered total revenue in the "eight-figure" range.

Presently 50 members strong, the Paris, France-based studio is now looking to bring Criminal Case's success to mobile through the iOS store in early 2014. To do that, Pretty Simple first isolated just what makes the game so attractive to Facebook's userbase.

"This sort of crime scene investigation gameplay didn't really exist on Facebook before Criminal Case came out," says Versille. "Doing something new, obviously, is going to get us a foot in the door and some early interest. But building on that, we really needed to do things right in terms of virality and retention."

The model for Criminal Case's gameplay is conventional of free-to-play titles on the Facebook platform: Users get a certain amount of daily actions and can obtain more via friends or microtransactions. Where the game distinguishes itself from its contemporaries is perhaps the rich text and tone of its police procedural format -- which, together with weekly updates, turns it into an interactive version of the sort of ripped-from-the-headlines crime dramas that millions of television viewers enjoy.

"Obviously that same audience is on Facebook," says Versille. "We just tapped into it."

Moreover, Versille says, the view of the Facebook market looks quite different from Europe. While reports circulate concerning the flagging performance social giant Zynga (Farmville), companies in Western and Northern Europe including King (Candy Crush Saga) and Pretty Simple see an enormous platform with high guaranteed visibility simply not afforded by the currently impacted mobile market.

"It's the best distribution platform for free-to-play games right now," Versille maintains, a view also held by company co-founder Bastien Cazenave. "In our opinion, the opportunity is unparalleled today. Even in light of something like Steam... We're talking to a billion people on Facebook, whereas on Steam you are looking at 65 million. And that's a different audience as well."

Now setting its sights on mobile, Pretty Simple hopes to leverage its existing 6 million daily active users in a new market.

"King does this very well, progressing from platform to platform," Versille notes. "We definitely want to offer them a different experience that makes sense on mobile."

Pretty Simple expects that being a known quantity will help Criminal Case stand out from the pack -- far more than a fortuitous windfall like an App Store feature and plentiful press coverage.

"Obviously we want to pull out all the stops and make the mobile version everything that it should be. But that goes along with creating a relationship with Apple and making a game that is as compelling to our Facebook players as well as a new mobile audience," says Versille. "Retention and virality are the two pillars of the success of any game, social or otherwise. One part of it is common sense: people see what their friends are playing and want to join in. The other part is more esoteric, creating the right social feedback loops -- that 'virtuous circle' of play."

The studio is set to launch on iOS within the next few months. Building the team, Versille says, has been the hardest part.

"Everyone wants mobile developers these days," he laments. "It's difficult to find good people you want to work with and who can build their own app. I don't mean to diminish the rest of the project's challenges -- the user experience, bugtesting, and so forth -- but recruitment has definitely been the key thing for us, from my perspective."

Further reading:

-Mike Rose: Are social games on Facebook really dying out?
-Serge Versille: Criminal Case: our path to 4M DAUs

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Kent William Innholt
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Congratulations to Pretty Simple Games! It's good to see companies still making the Facebook model work and showing that it an be done, and it's refreshing to read some positive coverage of social games for a change.

However, this claim:

"This sort of crime scene investigation gameplay didn't really exist on Facebook before Criminal Case came out [...]"

is questionable in my opinion. Masters of Mystery and CSI: Crime City come to mind as earlier examples of the same mechanics and theme respectively. Additionally, there are/have been a lot of hidden object investigation games with less "crime scene" focus as well, such as Gardens of Time, Hidden Chronicles, Mystery Manor, Threads of Mystery, etc.

Nooh Ha
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"Facebook games on the decline?"

The only people who think this seem to be surprisingly ill-informed Gamasutra journalists and old school games devs who are confusing wanting it to be in decline with it actually being in decline. As countless articles have reported elsewhere FB gaming is a multi billion dollar market that grew 18% YOY in FB's last financial quarter.

James McDermott
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No offense, but if you're going to make such a bold claim, you'd better back it up with verifiable facts, such as links to the sites which you claim back up your statement. Also, it would seem you missed the "Further Reading" section which, had you actually looked, you would've found a well backed-up article by Gamasutra's Mike Rose. It talks about the fact that while the revenue of Facebook games was, at the time the article was written, declining, it doesn't represent the Facebook gaming segment's actual profitability or potential for profitability. In fact, the author even talked with some of the current leaders in Facebook gaming for their take on the topic of "is Facebook gaming on the decline?" - and the consensus seemed to be "no".

Nooh Ha
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Sure: Take your pick of sources but the data ultimately all comes from Facebook's filings and data provided to analysts and financial journalists: In fact a basic google search like this one for earlier in the year reveals a host of growth stats for Q1 too while a read through of Facebook's SEC filings unveils additional detail.

RE Mike Rose's "well backed-up" article. Mr Rose elects to base his revenue figures not on actual games revenue data provided by Facebook (which around that time showed solid growth
zynga-down-37/) but on SuperData, an independent research company that in mid 2012, brilliantly, sized the 2012 global mobile games market at $2.7bn, despite the fact that DeNA and GREE's combined publicly stated 2011 mobile games revenue was $2.6bn. I know whose data I trust more.

James McDermott
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What of Rovio? Gameloft? It seems odd to exclude the publicly-stated mobile game revenues of companies not published by DeNA and GREE. Yes, the latter two are bigger, but you need the records of companies both big and small to paint an accurate picture of mobile gaming revenue.

Nooh Ha
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You are missing the point somewhat...