GameDuell’s edge on cross-platform games for Facebook, mobile and open web

Cross-platform games are a new frontier for many social and mobile game developers, but some companies have more than a years’ worth of a head start. Meet Germany’s GameDuell, one of the first developers to cash in on cross-platform games for Facebook, mobile and open web.

Founded in 2003 when bandwidth was still expensive by three people with no video games industry experience, GameDuell got its start as a web games portal that offered real cash prizes in skill-based games. Competition became a huge draw for the company and over the years, a strong online community formed around the GameDuell brand.

The developer branched out to Facebook and mobile in 2010 and succeeded in launching its first cross -latform game that summer. According to co-founder and CEO Kai Bolik (pictured), the company now has 70 million registered users in total; our AppData traffic tracking service records 3.4 million monthly active users and over 500,000 daily active users among its Facebook audience alone.

Speaking to Inside Social Games and Inside Mobile Apps, Bolik explains GameDuell’s strategy toward cross-platform releases going into 2012.

Inside Social Games: How did cash prizes guide GameDuell’s early development?

Kai Bolik, GameDuell co-founder & CEO: It was part of our concept from the beginning. People got a thrill from getting prizes and it made it exciting for players, so it was part of our strategy. When we started, there were sites where you would go play mini flash games like Yahoo Games where you play a simple flash game by yourself. What I liked is that we had this pure platform where people could interact and meet new friends and share their specific passion for the games.

That was something that we worked on very early on and we’ve grown very strong. A lot of the people that have been with us after one year, [even from] five years ago — 80 percent are still there. Once people like these games, they stay with the platform.

ISG: Walk us through your expansion onto Facebook and mobile.

Bolik: We started early on Facebook because we saw a strong need from the consumer side. With mobile, our first truly cross-platform game was in summer 2010. Users were actually asking where the mobile games where, so this was the trigger [to launch on mobile]. On mobile, there’s huge potential by itself. Android is growing quite quickly. Around Christmas, we saw 100,000 installs on one game because people bought the new Android and downloaded our games. When they know our games, they like to have them on mobile devices.

ISG: You told us you have 70 million registered users across Facebook, mobile and your own site. It doesn’t seem like Facebook makes up a huge chunk of that audience.

Bolik: We don’t necessarily focus on the growth of monthly and daily active users. It’s much more important to us that we offer a [cross-platform] experience for our users. That’s our strength. On the web, they come and play tournaments. On Facebook, people that know each other already, and mobile it’s having your games anywhere anytime.

ISG: How are your cross-platform games built?

Bolik: On Facebook and our own platform, it’s Flash, and then we use native code on mobile. We have some HTML5 test games running. But right now, we have the feeling that it’s hard to give the best user experience with that. You can do a really good game, but it’ll be inferior to the natively coded game. It’s sound integration, it’s stability — a lot of things that have nothing to do with the gameplay.

For us, “truly cross platform” is a philosophical question. The gameplay should be the same and it should have it the same feeling. But for the [type of] data that’s [moved across] all the different platforms, it really depends on the game. It doesn’t make sense to stop a Fluffy Birds game in the middle on mobile and then pick it up on Facebook. But for games with the same currency, [that makes sense] to have it be persistent on both Facebook and mobile. We really look at what we can do in the different areas to do the best by the user.

ISG: What kinds of promotions or user acquisition do you do for cross-platform games?

Bolik: We track and manage the game graph of our users — when they are on which platforms — and then we do smart cross-promotion on each platform. We have about 16 games on mobile and eight of them are truly cross platform. We’ve been doing that for about a year.

What we use is the concepts you see on Facebook — cross promotion bars and pages. I don’t believe too strongly in giving users something else, so if you play Fluffy Birds on Facebook, we will present it to you [on mobile] as Fluffy Birds. Users will download our games on iOS because they can find them easily and they go and play them on Facebook as well. Sometimes on iOS, we have games that are still [paid downloads] and sometimes users aren’t ready to pay — but they go and play on Facebook and then come back and download the game.

ISG: What’s the plan to grow in 2012? Will you shift to more of a freemium model for mobile and add cash prizes to your Facebook and mobile titles?

Bolik: On iPhone, everyone says future is in [the] freemium model, but we still see a lot of [paid] downloads. We have a portfolio of both and we sometimes offer two versions — a lite version and a paid version. I think it will move to a freemium version like on Facebook, but people are still willing to pay, so I think both approaches are right. We’ve seen different behavior in different areas — like in Asia, they prefer freemium and in other places, they are more willing to pay.

We haven’t implemented [prizes] on Facebook and mobile yet because you need a really reliable platform and that’s a challenge. [Instead], we’re looking at smaller prizes that don’t use real money.

We see the quality on Facebook increasing, but we see room to grow in the genre that we are serving. We are a company of 170 people which isn’t really small, but because we have our own platform, we still have opportunity for growth. We think now is the time to grow the cross platform offering for customers.