The Facebook Platform has been growing dramatically around the world in recent months, and entrepreneurs are building new businesses that are generating a majority of their revenues from international users in 2009. One such new social game development company is showing that international Facebook games can generate impressive revenue numbers with relatively small distribution.
TYLER Projects, founded by three friends in Singapore, has largely been flying under the radar since their Facebook launch in late 2007. Their flagship game, Battle Stations, has been steadily growing in popularity in recent months – about 70,000 people have played it in the last 30 days.
However, co-founder Leonard Lin has agreed to speak about the company’s business publicly for the first time with Inside Social Games. Below, Leonard talks about TYLER’s Battle Stations strategy, demographics of the game’s audience, and how the company has been successful in building its virtual goods business on Facebook.
Thanks for your time Leonard. Could you give us a little background on TYLER Projects?
TYLER Projects was founded by 3 guys who just enjoyed coding Flash games for fun on weekends. “TYLER” is an amalgamation of the founders’ names (TY – tiamyang, LE – Leonard, R – Ron).
We coded a Flash based RPG (called Mobile Weapon) with features similar to a Final Fantasy game and tried to sell it as a casual game. We had about 3 million unique players trying the free version of the game but hardly anyone actually bought the premium version (the usual biz model for casual games). We then realized it was because we had a large audience mismatch; the casual games market was comprised mainly of females aged 25 – 40 whereas most Mobile Weapon players were aged 12 – 18 and male (they also didn’t have credit cards).
Then we saw some games (Warbook specifically) doing really well on the Facebook platform and getting exponential growth in users and thought “hey, we want a piece of that action too”.
When did you start Battle Stations, and what has been your strategy to date with Battle Stations?
We started working on Battle Stations in late 2007. We had just about exhausted all our money (our own money, we don’t have any investor backing) making our first game. If we were going to make another game we knew we would have to do it differently if the company was to survive.
Battle Stations was a last ditch effort to save the company. I (Leonard) was actually going for job interviews at some banks while we were creating the game, while the rest of us were making websites for corporate clients to pay the bills.
We came up with the game design for Battle Stations in 3 days and deployed a prototype on Facebook within 2 weeks. We didn’t have a strategy when we first started Battle Stations, we just assumed that we’d get exponential growth and things would take care of themselves. That didn’t happen. Battle Stations grew and then it stalled at about 10,000 DAU.
We decided not to go the route other developers went: focusing on growing their user base, adding more apps, making them more viral, etc. Instead we kept working on Battle Stations trying to improve it: more content, better security, better gameplay and balance.
The reason we chose that strategy? We wanted to monetize with a virtual goods model; and for that to happen our game would have to be:
- Relatively secure – Customers probably wouldn’t like it very much if a hacker or scripter could obtain the same virtual goods for free.
- Long term engaging – The game has to have enough content and provide a deep enough experience if we want repeat purchases of our virtual goods.
Going forward the strategy is to evolve the game into something that will provide players entertainment for many months (or even years, like WoW) as well as to come up with new titles with a broader appeal (airships are a rather niche market afterall).
What are the age/sex/location demographics of your players?
- 30% – 12 – 17 years
- 52% – 18- 34 years
- 54% Male (this is from Quantcast, although our in game numbers seem to suggest a much higher % of males, closer to 90%). Players who didn’t list their sex in FB are automatically assigned a male character. We didn’t log down how many users didn’t have their sex specified in their FB profile.
- 51.8% of players from Asia (Top 5 countries: Hong Kong 17.5%, Singapore 12.2%, Malaysia 6.6%, Indonesia 6%, Australia 3.4%)
- 21.0% from US
- 7.3% Canada
You can view the detailed data at Quantcast.
I hear that you’re doing $40,000 in monthly revenue on virtual goods sales. Is that accurate?
We started selling virtual goods end of July 2008. We started selling ad hoc through emails and Facebook PMs. We only managed to get a “cash shop” listing all our items for up for in September. The growth in sales was pretty quick: August – $15K, September – $20K, October – $25K, November – $39K, December $50K (all revenue figures in USD); As of January 15th we have made $25K for this month. Going forward I’m expecting our average monthly revenue from Battle Stations to be about $30K – $40K. We also did a campaign with Sony Ericsson recently although advertising-based income is not a focal area for us now.
We had 34,000 MAU in July (hardly impressive by Facebook standards). That figure went up to 55,000 by September and dipped hovered around 50,000 MAU for October and November. Only in early December did the numbers start to improve and by the 31 of December we had about 68,000 MAU. I’d say on average we had only about 50,000 MAU on average last year (as soon as MAU replaced DAU)
What are your price points for most items?
The best selling item is our Action Points (these are like extra turns to play the game) package, these are priced at $5 each. The most expensive item is US$40 though we have players offering up to US$60 for limited edition items and customized character “skins”.
What payment processing partners do you use?
We started with just Paypal but we’ve added Cherry Credits which provides prepaid cards for quite a few countries in Southeast Asia. Are speaking with a few new payment providers which will give us complete Asia coverage for accepting offline / non credit card payments.
What do you think are the most important things your team has done well in building your virtual goods business?
Many Facebook “games” might give some short term satisfaction but they don’t really involve any strategy (which is critical to creating an engaging experience). They also have limited content which means players will get bored quickly once they feel they’ve seen all there is to see in the game (which is bad obviously if you want them to spend money on the game).
We regularly catch scripters, audit our code for exploits and listen to a lot player feedback on possible cheating. Clamping down on cheating means competitive gamers will be more willing to spend time and money on the game.
I wouldn’t buy a $20 virtual game item in a Facebook game that I only play for 5-10 minutes a day and would be bored with after a month. But If I’ve been playing a game actively for a year and it’s still fun; then buying a $10 – $20 virtual item to enhance my enjoyment might not be such a ludicrous idea.
Thanks for your time Leonard!