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In The Shadow Of FarmVille: How Small Studios Can Succeed In Facebook Development
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In The Shadow Of FarmVille: How Small Studios Can Succeed In Facebook Development

March 23, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Learning From Your Mistakes

In contrast, Broken Bulb Studios, the developer behind Ninja Warz and My Town, did the opposite: releasing a mildly successful first game, followed by a much more popular second release. But, like HitGrab, the studio didn't start out as a game developer. After years creating social network content and Flash widgets and toys, Broken Bulb decided to make the move to gaming just nine months ago, selling off all of its assets so it could be 100 percent devoted to game development. However, Facebook wasn't the studio's first choice.

"We originally built Ninja Warz solely for Twitter," Broken Bulb president Jason Moore explains. "When we started building it it was during the heyday of the Twitter rise, and we wanted get in early and bypass much of the competition on Facebook by trying our hat at more of a new platform.

"When it turned out that platform just didn't have the viral channels to really support a developer community, we decided to port it and change it for Facebook and immediately you could see the difference: we went from 40 sign-ups a day to several thousand sign-ups a day just by switching platforms. So we are on Facebook and developing for Facebook because its the most successful platform, as a developer, to get users."

With Ninja Warz, the studio was able to learn the ins and outs of the platform, and took advantage of that knowledge with the release of My Town. "A lot of it was due to the viral channels -- and we, at our studio, we are really into user experience," says Moore.

"Basically, from Ninja Warz we learned what are all the viral channels, or all the communication channels, that Facebook allowed. And once we got intimately familiar with those, what we were able to do when conceiving My Town was decide how can we use every channel that they offer, but in an organic way that is seamless through the gameplay, instead of just tacking things on," Moore says.

"So we actually ended up building My Town kind of backwards. We decided all the features we wanted to use and integrate seamlessly, and then we built a game around that. That was one of the successful models that helped us build My Town."

Ninja Warz

The game currently has over three million MAU and helped create a new genre on the platform: the town creation sim, which has already spawned several clones. But while players may be looking for new experiences when it comes to Facebook games, the trick is, Moore says, convincing the developers.

"I think that a lot of the success that we've had early on was because it was new and different," he explains. "Where it's a tough sell is to the developers. It's an easy thing to say 'OK, this app is successful, let's just clone that app and I will have a successful app.' It's much scarier to developers to say let's create something new, [to say]. 'Let's create a genre.'"

Says Moore, "We consider ourselves a very original, very user-focused game studio. And so we didn't want to just put out a clone. We could've made a FarmVille clone, but instead we wanted to make a new genre and I think that the users are clamoring for new and different. The problem, and the reason why the top games don't show that, is solely because there isn't new and creative good quality games coming out in new genres as often as there are clones and copycats."

And while having a large player base is obviously good, Moore believes that there is another factor that is much more important to being a successful Facebook developer.

"I think that retention of users is the number one most important metric on any of our games, and that is the number that we try and aim for the most. The only thing that's going to retain players at all is gameplay. If it's a good game users will continue to play. And if it's not, if you've got great viral channels you can get users, but if the game is not entertaining and genuinely fun and built for the user, they will tire and bore of it," says Moore.

"If you're building a game to be a stand-alone, quality game: take all viral stuff out, would people play this game and enjoy it for an entire month? That's the question you have to ask yourself and I think that most of the games, and most of the developers, hinge so much on the marketing and the virality side that it really takes away from their gameplay. So we make sure that our gameplay stands on its own," he says. "The dedicated fan base is the buying fan base."

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