Games portals on Facebook have found varying degrees of success depending on accessibility and marketing, but leading portal GSN has been fairly quiet this year while its competitors raise funding and announce cross-platform plans. Today, the developer shares its mobile aspirations and long-term plans for its Games platform.
When we last checked in with GSN in fall of 2010, the developer had rapidly grown to 8 million monthly active users and 1.4 million daily active users in just a handful of months. That growth has continued at a more gradual pace in the last six months, bringing GSN to present-day levels of 9.9 million MAU and 2 million DAU across all 10 of its Facebook applications. The GSN Games portal makes up more than two thirds of that traffic with Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy combined making up most of the remainder.
Davin Miyoshi, Vice President of Social Games at GSN, attributes part of this growth to implementing Facebook Credits as an embedded payment method. “We’ve seen on the scale of three times increase in the percentage of users that pay us,” he says. “We’ve also seen revenue growth, but obviously not all of that can be attributed to Facebook… but in that same time period [that we introduced Credits], we’ve seen revenue grow about 40%.”
Another contributing factor to overall growth Miyoshi names is adding more games to the Games portal and optimizing the overall portal experience. Though the standalone Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy games are still supported by GSN as part of a partnership with Sony Pictures, the plan is to move away from developing standalone games and instead bring more games to the games portal.
“We’re not looking to be a platform so much as a cultivated community,” Miyoshi says. “We want to provide an experience to the end user that’s much more controlled — but we are looking for high quality games for the platform. We’d pay for the right game and they’d potentially make more money with us than they would with platforms like MindJolt.”
Comparisons to the MindJolt games portal on Facebook are inevitable, but to hear Miyoshi tell it, the two are actually after different goals and potentially different audiences. While MindJolt appears to be positioning itself as a home for indie game development across a range of game types and genres, GSN Games are very focused on arcade and casual titles like match-3 or video poker. Most of the games are made in-house or licensed on a game-by-game basis from other developers.
“We coin it as casual games, more than arcade games,” Miyoshi says. “Our focus is building deeper games leveraging similar mechanics. It’s all confusing and blurry — what I hate is when people say ‘casual versus social.’ Enterprise builders or CityVille — those get coined as the typical social game. In my mind, they’re simulations, not casual games because it requires a tutorial to get up to speed and has more complex gameplay. It’s not [using] naturally understood game mechanics, which is how I would [characterize] casual games.”
As an example, Miyoshi demos one of many match-3 style games available under the Strategy tab on the Games portal called Vegas Nights. This game asks players to match Las Vegas-themed items like gold bars and poker chips to complete the match-3, but matching four or more items won the player a free spin on a slot machine simulation to the right hand side of the match-3 board. Winning in the slot machine sim nets the player one of several power-ups that can be deployed to the match-3 board to achieve higher scores.
“What we do is take this [match-3] game and make it into a much deeper gameplay experience with multiple levels, more social [features], making it more engaging than similar types of games that we’ve already done,” Miyoshi explains, further clarifying what he means by “deeper” casual experience. The social element comes more from tournament play, which appears to be a standard component for games portals.
Beyond Facebook, GSN is just starting to explore a mobile expansion. Already, the company has a small mobile team formed at the company’s Massachusetts location — but Miyoshi is interested in bringing on additional staff here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“We’re still working through the [mobile] strategy at the moment,” Miyoshi says. “Clearly one strategy would be to take our existing games and run them through Flash on the Android through a browser. But obviously they want to have a presence across all major platforms. The next major step is the iOS platform and finding out if HTML5 is the right answer.”