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Flash Games Summit, March 8, 2010. Please excuse spelling mistakes as these are pretty much liveblogged. Session ended 5 minutes ago.

  • Moderator: Sana Choudray, Traffichoney
  • Dan Fiden, Playfish
  • David Stewart, Playdom
  • Gavin Barrett, Crowdstar
  • Mark Skaggs, Zynga

Sana: What are four words that are the keys to successful social games?

Dan: Social – provide a context for meaningful interaction, Relatable, pick themes and mechanics that are understandable and aspirational; Rewarding, emotionally rewarding and socially, reinforcement schedules to keep players engaged, Emergent gameplay, easy to pick up but emergent complexity and depth

David: Appealing– people have to be attracted to the game and able to acquire new users easily, making something that appeals to a casual user is critical; Addictive – once you’ve acquired user, you need to retain them – important to make a game that makes users come back; Social – that’s the secret sauce about Facebook and what makes the space different – need to have users want to share what they’re doing with their friends; Fun – if something isn’t fun, it won’t monetize…

Gavin: Monetizable – if it’s not fun, you won’t make money out of it; Quality – look at games in the market and know the benchmarks for playability, aesthetic quality, etc

Mark: Mass Market – if it doesn’t appeal to enough ppl, it won’t be as successful as you want; Invest – ppl need to be excited about investing their time in it, Express – needs to be a game that ppl want to express themselves in; Relationships – allow ppl to create new relationships or nurture existing relationships

Sana: How well do you think some of the casual game devs are doing with moving to Facebook/social games?

Dan: Depends on what you’re objectives are, but Bejeweled Blitz is successful. Social mechanic makes the core Bejeweled mechanic even more fun than it used to be. So if that’s your basis for success, they’ve been successful. As a player, I enjoy it. It’s created meaningful social interactions for me.

Gavin: Lot of ppl knock on your door with IP and think they can create a great social game and make lots of money. To date, there’s been limited use of existing brands in the space. Bejeweled is probably the best example.

Sana: Why do you think those casual game companies don’t experience the same success on FB?

Mark: Guild of Heroes was a Diablo 2 clone – I joined the company as it was finishing up. The question was how is it social – and it wasn’t. The team thinking was that they’d add the social afterward. And it doesn’t work. Needs to built from ground up.

David: I agree. So many examples of that. Lots of examples of games on FB that would be big if they weren’t on FB… FB games need to be social from the ground up. Also, lots of the users in the social gaming space are REALLY casual, so Bejeweled did it right with short play sessions, accessibility. Lastly, understanding all the API tie-ins on each platform – i.e. you should know what a user-to-user wall feed is vs a general feed is. Really important to understand these details.

David: Notifications have gone away. FB is moving away from one-to-many notifications and toward more deliberate, one-to-one notifications. User to User, App to User.

Dan: This move by FB has not had an effect on our games so far – it’s been net neutral. If you’re giving users a meaningful experience, they will go the distance to communicate. Cutting out the spammy communications has not affected us.

Gavin: I think this is a pretty profound change. Makes it increasingly difficult for other companies to reach the same success we have. Will be very difficult for other companies to get where we have. Changes way you’re going to distribute your game. For business people, it’s something they need to look at closely to see how they’re going to grow their game. You’re going to have to spend more money to launch something.

Sana: What is the quality that a Crowdstar or another company would look for to choose to cross-promote, etc.

Dan: What it isn’t is amazing incredibly high polish art or sound. It’s a polished game experience… getting into game easily and understanding objectives. Production values are part of it, but it’s easy to mispend focus on things that aren’t super important to the end consumer. Make sure that you’re thinking about your end user.

David: Things we look for in our own games are what we look for in others. We’re interested in partnerships and acquisitions. With new environment, it’s becoming harder and harder to expect to plop something into FB and experience explosive viral growth.

Mark: The platform and industry is always going to change. You will always need to evolve. Make sure your game is a game that ppl will want to come back to play. We can send players your way, but if you can’t keep them it’s pointless.

Sana: Are Zynga and Playfish looking for developer partnerships?

Dan: Yes.

Mark: We tend to acquire teams.

Gavin: Part of my job is to find outsource partners in Europe and there wasn’t any. If you can do it right in this space, there are great opps for partner services or be acquired.

Sana: What should we expect a year from now?

Dan: Over the next 12 months it will get harder… there will be consolidation. More branded content over the next 12-24 months.

David: Production values and player expectations will go up. Not as easy for one person’s 6-week game to take off. Cost of entry will increase.

Gavin: Interested to see how EA gets involved with Playfish. Have you made an announcement about Madden (to Dan)?

Dan: No.

Gavin: Oops. I read it on the internet.

Dan: Then it’s probably true.

Mark: Technical and gameplay production value arms race will continue. But with a new vector: social: Everyone will try to one up each other there. NYT was talking about FB Connect and how everyone wants to take their experience with them outside of the ecosystem.

Sana: What are the key metrics you look at for your games? We all know DAU, ARPU, etc.

Mark: We look at DAU, MAUs, retention. We try to get retention above 30%. If you have a game where 5 out of 10 ppl come back every day, then you have a good game.

Gavin: Revenue per DAU is a great one too. Games team should be looking every day at actions that can drive revenue and retention.

Sana: Most of you have two currencies, right?

David: We have a couple PHDs helpding to manage our economies.

Gavin: I heard one of the Playfish guys saying they deal with a billion pieces of data a day(?).

Mark: Zynga collects 5TB of data per day and we have a team that turns that into reports we can track.

David: Very different from any other industry I’ve seen. I came from Google and YouTube and thought those were data driven companies, but this is way beyond that. You can make valuable decisions within minutes because everyone is logged in all the time and the quality of the info is so much higher than worrying about cookies, etc.

Question: Do we have benchmarks or targets for revenues for active users?

Gavin: I direct you to Justin Smith – Google him – he has a lot of good benchmarks.

David: How leaky is your bucket… retention is big for us. Need to look at how the revenue piece fits into virality and retention.

Mark: Make sure expenses don’t exceed revenues… user acquisition costs don’t exceed lifetime revenue per player, etc.

Sana: What are the different user acquisition methods?

Mark: Ads, fan pages, forums, podcasts, recommendations from friends (these work best). Word of mouth always works best.

David: Totally agree with that. As we’re all growing, cross promotion is really important. Not just friends to friends or word of mouth, but if you can build up a trusted brand, then people want to try the next game you put out.

Sana: Is community marketing important to you guys?

Gavin: Support of your community and the interaction with them is the most important thing you can do. They need to feel that you’re there and listening. You need to find a way to feed what you’re getting from your community back into the game.

David: We have different levels of community marketing. We have fan pages, blogs for more hardcore users, and forums are the deepest – for a smaller number of really dedicated users.

Dan: Managing your community is really curating your space. All of it goes toward getting players to the point where they will promote your game for you.

Question: What do you guys think of the FB currency platform?

Gavin: Positive thing. It’s a trusted brand. The amount of ppl who actually make purchases in our games is quite low. We want to build up that number. So if FB currency increases that number, then great. If it gets more ppl used to spending money on FB, awesome.

David: We’ve been working with FB a lot as well and it is already showing signs of reducing friction in payment, so it’s promising. One of the challenges all devs are working on is trying to figure out how to fit it into the game while having the same freedom we did in the past (in terms of seeding premium currency, for example).

Mark: My sense is FB is really working hard to take care of their ecosystem. If you have your own currency, you can give it away. But with someone else’s you can’t. However it plays out, I think FB will get it right as they know the value of developers.

Question: What is the minimum bar for success?

Mark: 5M DAU

David: Don’t have one.

Dan: It varies. Metrics are important, but we also want to accomplish something creatively.

Question: If games come out today, what chance for success do they have?

David: If you’re really sure you have a hit, do you have the resources or partnerships in place to make it a success.

Gavin: The ladder is going away… getting harder to succeed.

Mark: If you copy, you’re doing what everyone has done before. Innovate and you might have a chance to be successful.

Question: Returns for investors… do you think you are providing good returns?

YES ALL AROUND, of course.

Question: Aren’t these games just sophisticated slot machines?

Mark: Farmville brings families together. Moms play with their 4 year olds, etc.

Sana: Are a lot of people opting in to giving you their emails on FB?

Dan: Yes… we’re just starting to use it, but if you have a positive relationship with your end user, then it can be great.

David: We’re getting high engagement. It’s been very successful.

Mark: Email, used right, opens new possibilities for interacting with players. We don’t have to worry about feed phrasing or whether Facebook likes it – you can communicate directly with players.

Sana: What is the ARPU across all your games.

NO ONE ANSWERS, of course.

Mark: Look it up on the web – lots of what’s out there is accurate.

Sana: Retention rates across games, what are they?

Gavin: Available on the web, but 30% is a good benchmark.

David: We track 1-day, 2-day, 3-day, 7-day retention rates.

Sana: Percentage of time spend on new IP versus optimizing old?

David: Playdom was 60 ppl when I joined in July, but now we’re 300. So we’re really focused on new games now.

Gavin: It’s all about innovation.

Mark: I spend 100% of my time on new IP. I was trying to calculate this across Zynga and I suspect it’s about 30% spend on new IP.

Dan: Same at Playfish. Teams grow at launch, of course.

Mark: Real work starts after launch. Can’t discount the innovation that happens after launch.

David: Our teams grow when a game goes live – we don’t pull away from it.