Dante’s Inferno, Battle of the Damned is a new role-playing game that has been growing fast on Facebook. Up to nearly 1 million monthly active users in less than a week after launching, it lets you “fight through the 9 circles of hell” to rescue your murdered and damned wife.
But the story line here is not about Dante Alighieri’s formative work of Italian literature being turned into a Facebook RPG — at least not directly. Rather, Electronic Arts has turned its Dante’s Inferno console video game into a Facebook RPG with the help of developer Lolapps. The purpose is to promote the release of Dante’s Inferno, due out in early February.
For EA, this is its latest experiment in partnering with a third party to promote a title on the web. It has made a number of conceptually similar forays onto Facebook already this year, including apps to promote titles including Need for Speed: Nitro, and an earlier, simpler promotion for Dante’s Inferno, where you could “banish” your Facebook friends to various levels of hell.
Meanwhile, Lolapps has been busy partnering with console gaming companies and others, creating well-stylized RPGs themed around whatever their partners are trying to promote. Earlier this fall, for example, it launched Champions Online, the RPG version of Atari’s Champions Online massive multiplayer game. While Lolapps has been best known for its quiz and gift creator apps, the new strategy appears to be working well — at least in terms of traffic. Along with Champions, its other new RPGs, Diva Life, Band of Heroes and Band of Heroes, have all grown into the millions of users.
While the Champions RPG specifically tried to up-sell players to the MMO, Battle of the Damned is more about brand promotion, at least for the time being. For example, the top part of the app prominently displays an ad for Dante’s Inferno, including details like the February 9, 2010 release date and the supported consoles, Xbox 360, PSP and Playstation 3. Meanwhile, for the many users who are getting into the RPG version, they can do the usual activities of buying virtual goods to help them succeed in it — buying “tokens” with real money or earning them through advertising offers.
However, EA is also planning to let users pre-order the console game, according to Jaap Tuinman, Director, Social, Community, and Online Marketing at EA. “We try and use right partnership for right project,” he tells us, noting that EA has a long history of partnering with third parties in various media formats, to promote its games. “A lot is new for us, but Lolapps’ platform and approach to business made us feel that we’d be able to get a quality product in a very rapid fashion, and leveraging their network.”
Lolapps’ Arjun Sethi explains that this game, like its others are spread through the tens of millions of people who use its gifting and quiz apps, its other RPGs, as well as through Facebook advertising. “Console gaming has been a hit-driven model where 1 out of every ten games succeeds,” he notes. “We’re trying to see if you can reduce the risk.” He’s not sharing the revenue results from its new initiative yet, but the big growth the apps are seeing — along with the combination of business deals and virtual goods sales models — suggests it is headed in the right direction.
And, we obviously had to ask Tuinman why EA is partnering with another Facebook app developer when it just bought a market leader, Playfish, in a deal worth up to $400 million. “Anything going live now was in progress well before Playfish acquisition was known,” Tuinman says, adding that this effort and others are “primarily concerned with creating awareness and reach — more of a marketing play than being focused on product development.” Playfish is going to play an increasingly important part in EA’s efforts to make more social titles, as well as make more of its existing titles social.
So are we going to see a fuller-fledged version of Dante’s Inferno hit Facebook soon? “I don’t think it’s been decided how all games might become social,” Tuinman clarifies. So, for now, Lolapps seems to be in a good position to help traditional gaming companies figure out how to build bigger businesses through the web; meanwhile EA is both driving new sales and seeing what strategies might work for the longer term.