Empires & Allies Launches Strong Thanks to CityVille’s Influence

By AJ Glasser Comment

Zynga’s newest Facebook game, Empires & Allies, got off to a strong start in monthly and daily active users, landing at the top of our fastest-growing games by MAU within 10 days of launch. This is easily one of Zynga’s fastest-growing Facebook games to date.

Note: All figures in this analysis are collected from our social game traffic tracking service, AppData.

When Empires & Allies launched June first, Facebook experienced some reporting delays that obscured the very early launch picture. Even when traffic number reports came back online, the game appeared sluggish in growth for the first full week of June 2011, not quite breaking 1 million MAU. It wasn’t until the weekend of June 10 that the game took off, reaching its present-day levels of 9.6 million MAU and 6.9 million DAU as of June 11.

Empires & Allies’ growth pattern is like an abbreviated version of CityVille’s first 30 days of life on the Facebook platform. CityVille soft launched just ahead of the Thanksgiving 2010 holiday, giving it not much of an audience to connect with in its first two weeks. By early December, however, the game officially launched and found traction, shooting up to 12.9 million MAU and 8.5 million DAU by December 11. CityVille only kept growing from there, reaching its all-time highs of 101 million MAU in January 2011 and 21.5 million DAU in late December 2010.

Though Empires & Allies technically had the stronger launch, it’s clear that the game benefits from several key CityVille influences. For one thing, CityVille launched in five languages on day one, which clearly gave the game an early growth advantage. For Empires & Allies, Zynga upped the day-one language launches to 12, increasing the game’s overall reach. For another, Empires & Allies did not launch ahead of a major holiday that would take regular Facebook users off-platform. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, Zynga made a point to capitalize on the similarities between CityVille and Empires & Allies as a means of attracting new users — something its never been able to do before between any of its games.

In Empires & Allies, players build up an island town to supply military units that go into battle against other players and against AI-controlled opponents. In the latter, players construct metropolises that largely supply their own flow of goods and services in exchange for virtual currency. The citybuilding mechanic between the two games is identical, something that’s not lost on the developer. Zynga made it a point early on to introduce CityVille players by using Empires & Allies’ gifting and friend invite mechanic with a CityVille Friends filter that the game still defaults to even today.  As yet, there is no Empires & Allies Friends filter in the gifting or friend invite menus.

The big question for Empires & Allies overall growth is whether or not it can reach CityVille’s massive all-time high numbers. The game is, ultimately, fundamentally different from CityVille with its player-versus-player combat mode and narrative-driven story arc. While the combat mechanics are simple enough to be mastered by even the most casual of Facbeook players, the core gameplay may still fall outside the comfort zone of Zynga’s existing user base that’s more accustomed to less aggressive gameplay types. It may be instead that Empires & Allies attracts a new kind of player to Zynga’s user base, one that’s sure to be more easily found as the strategy genre swells on Facebook.

Zynga currently enjoys 249 million MAU and 56 million DAU across all its Facebook games and applications. The developer is expected to make an initial public offering sometime in the coming weeks.

ETA: As a clarification, Zynga soft-launched CityVille on November 17, 2011 and then officially launched December 2. In contrast, Empires & Allies ran in closed beta and received no official announcement until the day before its official launch on June 2.