There are 200 million unique users playing games per month on Facebook, and they’re playing 4 games on average -- stats fast becoming familiar to anyone with an ear to the social gaming sphere. Does that mean it's time for a career change for traditional developers?
Super Rewards CEO Jason Bailey thinks so, and at GDC Canada, he laid out his mandate: "What I’m going to do today is convince you all to quit your jobs, and go make social games,” he said. “Because you really, really should.”
Super Rewards is an early virtual currency platform that supports Facebook, Myspace, and the MMO space, and the CEO has seen enormous opportunity in viral, social gaming.
"Everybody is moving to Facebook," he said. "My mother plays FarmVille, and I don’t think she played Monopoly as a kid, frankly."
Facebook has become mainstream, but as the space gets more crowded, it becomes more difficult to break in as a new developer. Still, Bailey says it's not impossible.
“One of the biggest myths is that Facebook has shut down the viral channels,” he said, citing common dismissals of the platform that "oh, Facebook’s getting rid of notifications, the gold rush is over. Only Zynga can do it, only Playdom can do it. I’m going to have to dispel that."
As a case study, he showed a slide representing the growth of the new Family Feud game, from Russell Ovan’s company Backstage. It went from zero users in March to over a million users daily now.
"Is it because Russ spent a lot of money? Or maybe he’s like Zynga, and pushed users from other games into this game," posed Bailey. "Absolutely not. He used the Facebook viral channels.”
Bailey was dismissive of launching a browser game on its own, independent of a social platform. “You can go out there and make the best game ever, then put it on its own standalone site. Then tell me how that goes,” he joked.
By way of a second example, he showed stats for a game that launched only four days ago. By day four, it has almost 70,000 active daily users. “There was not a nickel spent on marketing, just using the Facebook viral channels.”
"If Super Mario were invented today,” he posed, “This is how it would work. Every time you found a mushroom, it would push to share it with your friends." In fact, just days ago, consumer weblog Kotaku recently published a series of humorous images intended to satirize -- and lament -- that same fact.
Bailey suggested that while most Facebook games can become profitable just by using the viral channels, if you do have the power and money to advertise, you can get crazy results. Zynga’s latest game, Treasure Isle, went from zero to 9 million users in six days.
Average revenue per user is low in Facebook games, he admits, but doesn’t think it’s a problem. “Sure it’s low, but you’ve got 10 million of them!”
Based on the checks Bailey is paying out to his customers, these are the ARPUs he found broken down by genre:
- Farming genre: 10-20 cents per month per user
- X Wars RPGs (such as Mafia Wars): .25-$1
- City building: sub 10 cents
- Gambling (poker, lottery, slots): .25-1$
Bailey says there is a common thought that the “wars” games don’t do well anymore, but he says he “still write(s) a lot of big checks for these guys.”
“The biggest miss on all this stuff is really the international,” he says. “Facebook is expanding so fast, and most of these companies are missing that opportunity.”