A few big developers have dominated the social gaming headlines this past year: Zynga, Playfish and Playdom. But a range of others having been rising up on our AppData leaderboards, including RockYou, CrowdStar, 6 Waves, to name a few.
Fortunes can change quickly on Facebook’s platform. We should not necessarily assume the companies that have gotten big this past year — or in the past few months — will be dominant next year. Indeed, traffic to almost all social games has dropped in the last couple weeks in a double-whammy of users being distracted by the holidays and new policy changes from Facebook impacting how developers can communicate with users.
The next year should see lots of turbulence on the leaderboards, as talented developers from other parts of the gaming industry move in, and as the spam-laden viral channels that many leaders have relied on continue to get shut down (er, reoptimized).
But here’s an overview of where the current Facebook social gaming leaders are. Note: while some of these companies also have significant presences on MySpace, the iPhone and other gaming platforms, Facebook offers both the largest platform and the most visibility into traffic, so it is what we focus on, below.
Zynga: The company has aggressively developed new games in popular categories, while pushing gifts, notifications and other viral features. To the chagrin of many rivals, the quality of its games has also continued to increase as it churns out a new title every month. This fall, it has had hits with PetVille, FishVille and Café World. Although each hit seems to be a little smaller than the last, the company has also kept developing new features for older titles like Mafia Wars, Zynga Poker and its whale, FarmVille. With a portfolio-summed (and not deduplicated) total of 232 million monthly active users across all of its 37 Facebook games, and around 60 million daily active users — and a big new round of $180 million, including an employee stock sale plan — we can expect the company to be around for a long time to come. At some point, probably as a publicly-traded company.
Playfish: After its seminal sale to Electronic Arts earlier this fall in a deal worth up to $400 million, the company has appeared somewhat distracted as its leaders and teams are integrated into the gaming giant. However, it has still been publishing new titles, namely Poker Rivals, while adding features for its existing hits. The company has hinted at big moves in the coming year, including the possibility of bringing EA franchises on to Facebook. The user numbers for its 11 apps have stayed steady at around 60 million MAU, although its DAU count has fallen slightly over the course of the fall to slightly above 10 million. With the resources of EA backing it up, look for the company to introduce significant new titles this coming year.
Playdom: It originally started on Facebook years ago, but the company found its first successes on MySpace; as Facebook has grown, though, it has been aggressively expanding back on to it over the last year. The company’s purchase of Green Patch, a new $43 million funding round this fall, plus the launch of growing new titles like Mobsters 2: Vendetta and Tiki Farm, suggest it will be a bigger competitor in the coming year. As of today, its MAU count for its 12 apps has been sliding down to around 20 million MAU, with DAU at 2.56 million.
RockYou: While the developer has been obsessed with virality since the inception of the Facebook platform in 2007, it has been expanding — into the ad network business in the past year or so, and into social gaming this fall, with the launch of Zoo World. That game, which the company has interestingly both launched as an app and as an app within its various gifting and poking apps, has been seeing strong growth. It also raised a big $50 round recently. The company has seen a big jump to 65.5 million MAU among its 16 apps this past fall, while its DAU count has stayed much lower, currently at 3.53 million — this is likely due to the fact that most of its apps are not games, that do not entice users to use them every day.
CrowdStar: This one came out of nowhere with its genre-defining Happy Aquarium game this fall. It has since pumped out new titles including Happy Pets and Happy Island. The company has actually been around since the early days of Facebook’s platform, and has spent a long time fine-tuning its growth and monetization strategies. After playing its cards close to its chest for so long, it is now clearly aiming to be a social gaming leader, with the intention to be the “most profitable” company by matching a small head-count with lots of successes. It now has 47.5 million MAU with 10.8 million DAU. It notably has the most DAU after Zynga and Facebook’s own apps, according to AppData.
6 waves: Perhaps the most intriguing of the many intriguing Asian developers getting into Facebook apps, this company has stayed pretty quiet as it has launched 114 apps to date, that we know of, in a wide variety of languages. Some of the apps are games, some are of the simpler gifting and poking variety — in any case, the company’s plan seems to include using its reach to promote games and apps from other developers. It currently has around 36 million MAU and 6.77 million DAU.
Slide, Inc.: After engaging in a viral-app battle with RockYou when Facebook first launched, the company has changed focus in the past year and a half to make more social games. It has played clean, neither engaging in many of the spammy tactics that lots of rivals have relied on, nor using the often-scammy offers that others have used to monetize. It has also been coming out with a range of original and genre-driven games, or “social entertainment” apps, as the company has described them, some of which have been seeing decent traction. Its MAU count has dipped down to 23.1 million and its DAU to 1.09 million. However, given the many platform changes hitting spammed-up channels, Slide’s strategic shift to quality could pay off in bigger ways this coming year.
Lolapps: After getting big via quiz and gift creator apps, this company has transitioned to creating quality role-playing games intended to promote off-Facebook products like Console games. It has already cut deals with companies like Atari and EA. While we don’t have a lot of visibility into all of the white-label apps it has running, titles like Champions Online and Dante’s Inferno have been climbing up our charts.
There are also quite a few other social game developers that are seeing significant, if still relatively small numbers. Slashkey had a notable hit with Farm Town: the virtual farming app preceded FarmVille, and while it has not kept up with Zynga’s version, the user base has stayed strong. Casual game developer Popcap Games has managed to bring its classic Bejeweled puzzle game on to Facebook — a positive sign for other casual game developers looking to get more social. SGN, a long-time Facebook developer, has been busy focusing on the iPhone, but it has also maintained its games on Facebook. Serious Business has been working to follow up on its successful Friends for Sale game with others, like The Hierarchy. China-based Rekoo also has a couple solid hits. Other notables include MindJolt, Meteor Games, TallTree Games, Country Life, Kobojo, Five Minutes, IGG Inc., Metrogames, GameHouse and GameDuell.