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[Can new developers find success in the post-notifications era of Facebook? We've got three resounding affirmatives from two developers and a consultant, and we explore their paths in this Gamasutra feature.]
While conventional wisdom says one needs the sort of massive hits that Zynga and CrowdStar generate to be really successful on Facebook, that's "total nonsense," says one consultant -- and developers concur.
Rather, in today's market, a great game that targets a smaller, dedicated, niche audience can bring in decent money.
Indeed, developers say, within the last year, the pendulum has begun swinging away from the so-called "soccer moms" -- who gravitate towards casual games -- back to the more traditional core gamer. And savvy small-to-mid-sized developers are creating the sort of deeper, more strategic games that appeal to them.
For instance, the Facebook portfolio at Redwood Shores, CA-based Kabam consists mainly of what the company is calling "massively multiplayer social games," while San Francisco-based Casual Collective is creating Facebook games for the sort of hardcore gamers who enjoy a good Call of Duty match.
None of this surprises the folks at Facebook who are recognizing the phenomenon -- and, in fact, Facebook CTO Bret Taylor reported on how small-to-midsized social game developers can be successful on Facebook at the recent Inside Social Apps conference.
According to David Edery, principal of consulting firm Fuzbi LLC, "What we're seeing is the smaller, more targeted games growing considerably faster than the 'big mommas' that appeal to the large, general audiences, like CityVille and FrontierVille. If you believe the statistics, the top five games seem to be losing users while the games ranked 51 to 175 are growing substantially over last year."
Especially, he says, the targeted games that do a good job of promoting themselves in communities that would be specifically interested in the content. "It stands to reason that if you make a terrific soccer game and you advertise it in blogs for soccer fans, you better damn well believe you're going to have a better pass-through and better retention than, say, a FarmVille that appeals to -- who, farmers?"
He cites EA Sports' FIFA Superstars -- currently ranked #62 -- which, he says, "is getting 594,000 daily active users, according to AppData, which is a pretty good number. With anything over a few hundred thousand, you can make some really significant money."
But the majority of Facebook developers don't understand the opportunities available to them by narrowly targeting their games, Edery says. Many of them can't even get their heads around the concept of free-to-play games, he adds. "That's still very hard for most developers to accept -- the idea of giving a game away for free, treating it as a service, and trying to make money over time, not immediately."
Edery spoke last year about how Facebook developers can make money "at the lowest reaches of popularity."
In other words, he says, if a game is ranked #163 on Xbox Live, for example, "you are hosed. It means that maybe five people a day are playing you. Same with PSN. But, on Facebook, #163 might have a daily average user level (DAU) of 50,000, which means you have a good chance of making money. That's an astonishing statistic.
"So what I'm saying is that if that game is designed correctly, if it is monetized correctly, it can make $200,000, $300,000, even $500,000 a year. That's totally feasible. Facebook is one of the only ecosystems where you can be that far down on the chart, and still be making a good profit."