Casual games developer PlayFirst has a successful background on PC and iOS downloads, but so far the company has only introduced three of its franchises on Facebook. Of those, only Diner Dash seems to be thriving — thanks to a $9.2 million round of funding, a loyal fan base, and tight integration with Facebook Credits.
Diner Dash launched on Facebook early this year and saw strong growth throughout the month of February. Since that time, the developer has been steadily adding new features to the title, including additional playable restaurants and purchasing options via premium decorations and gameplay boosts. It also recently added Frictionless Credits as a payment option for boosts and is planning to integrate Buy With Friends in the next couple of weeks.
In the meantime, PlayFirst is sunsetting its second Facebook title, Chocolatier: Sweet Society, before the end of the month. In a farewell message posted on its blog, the company explained that the title was no longer performing at a level that justified the expense of maintaining it. Sweet Society players are being offered a special discount on the PC version of the game for a limited time. PlayFirst’s oldest Facebook foray, Wedding Dash Bash, went offline in September 2010, roughly six months after its launch.
We spoke with Eric Hartness, vice president and general manager of social games at PlayFirst, about some of the lessons the team is learning to make Diner Dash a sustainable Facebook game. Though it would’ve been easy to port the original PC retail game to Facebook, PlayFirst approached the platform instead with a new game in the series, complete with its own storyline and character cast.
“That was one of the key challenges, adapting the gameplay from a disc to a live game on Facebook,” Hartness says. “Our core audience is older women, so it works out really well with all the older women on Facebook. [The Facebook audience] is a bit different. We’ve got about 20 percent male, when historically we’ve been 90 percent female. We’re seeing a younger demographic as well and international players. So Facebook has really allowed us to broaden our audience.”
Diner Dash currently has 2.3 million monthly active users and 196,000 daily active users on AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers. It already surpasses Chocolatier’s peak traffic of 902,000 MAU and 119,000 DAU, which the game reached in October 2010, five months after its initial launch. Wedding Dash Bash boasts far less than that at all-time highs of 164,000 MAU and 15,000 DAU. Hartness points out that Diner Dash achieved these results not through ad buys or extensive cross promotion within its iOS title, but through sheer brand recognition with existing fans.
“Recently we’ve been testing with some ad spend, but predominantly most of our installs have occurred without it,” he says. “This is something that I’m very proud of. It showcases how much the fans love Diner Dash. We have over 58,000 reviews and we’re holding steady at 5 stars, a claim most of our competitors can’t make.”
In the long run, PlayFirst hopes to sustain Diner Dash’s growth through additional monetization features and steady content support. As detailed in our early look, the game is structured around the traditional restaurant time management gameplay and a park decoration meta-game where players can spend the currency they earn from working shifts at the restaurant. PlayFirst has adjusted the traditional gameplay so that players can only play two restaurants for free and must spend Facebook Credits to unlock premium restaurants. Recently, the developer downgraded a premium restaurant to an unlockable restaurant that players can earn by increasing their star rank.
Hartness says the company is thinking of different ways to do these downgrades. “We might use [materials gifted by friends] or an ‘invite friends to unlock’ [mechanic], or some different combinations to work that out,” he tells us.
For now, the social features in the game are limited to gifting energy or items used for decorating restaurants, visiting friends’ parks to help out with daily missions, and some light leaderboard integration. Hartness says that the leaderboards will be “beefing up” in the near future with weekly tournaments, score-tracking, and the ability to challenge friends.
On the horizon is the possibility of integration with the larger Diner Dash brand. PlayFirst has a large enough fan base to where cross-promotion could be especially helpful to the Facebook version. Hartness is no stranger to the ideal of cross-platform cross-promotion, having spent nearly nine years at EA before entering the social games space.
“We have talked about it but we haven’t gotten to that stage yet,” Hartness says . “Chris Williams who heads up the iPhone team and I have talked about it, about how can we link Diner Dash on iPhone and Diner Dash on Facebook. It’s very cool conceptually, but very difficult technically. How can we carve out the time?”
Chocolatier: Sweet Society closes officially on April 28. You can follow Diner Dash’s progress on AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.