Casual Games Have Shortcomings on Facebook but Show Promise

In the last few months a number of casual gaming companies have created social games. Four of the titles, that we know of,  have broken 1 million monthly active users, including: 1) Bejeweled Blitz by Popcap Games at 9.83 million, 2) Bubble Popp by GameDuell with 3.11 million, 3) Jungle Jewels by GameDuell at 2.62 million and 4) Icy Tower  by Muskedunder Interactive at 1.12 million.

While the MAU for these games are nowhere close to those of dominant contenders coming from social game developers, they are still interesting case studies that demonstrate which aspects of a casual game development mentality work on Facebook and which don’t.

What works

Addicting Skill Based Gameplay: Thumbs Up

All four casual games ported to Facebook are skill-based games. Bejeweled Blitz and Jungle Jewels are puzzle games that reward users for aligning certain gem combinations quickly. Bubble Popp scores users for popping as many bubbles as possible in a limited number of shots and gives users bonus points for popping diamond bubbles. Icy Tower rewards user for reaching higher levels of the tower before time runs out.

Like casual games from time immemorial all of these games use scoring to capitalize on users’ competitive desires and thus engagement. They do this by providing scores and leveraging users’ social graph to popularize these scores between friends (and in some cases between other users of game who are not friends). Not all of them do this well.

Viral Distribution: Thumbs Down

With the exception of Bejeweled Blitz, all of these games miss many opportunities for integration of viral hooks. Jungle Jewels and Bubble Popp do not auto-prompt you to share score information at the end of each game with a popup Facebook message. Instead, the sharing option is blended in with other options on the results screen.

Another of these casual games, Icy Tower, has no scoring wall messaging at all. Users who beat a high score of one of their friends send their friend a Facebook notification, a viral element that does not leverage the social graph of either the person who beat the high score or the one who was beaten as these notifications are not visible to all of their friends.

Bejeweled Blitz, however, does a very good job with viral distribution. Like the other games Bejeweled Blitz is a classic casual game that has seen much success outside Facebook. However, the makers of the Facebook version of Bejeweled Blitz understood that the key to a successful social game is interaction with other Facebook friends. Because of this they have not only made high score posting to Facebook walls easy and obvious but have also added many other social features such as the “Jewel Jabber” which allows you to trash talk your friends who are playing the game on their walls. Also unlike the other games as well as many social games — where the copy for the message inviting friends to the game is often bland and uninspiring — the copy for Bejeweled Blitz taps into users’ competitive motivations.

Monetization: Thumbs Down

Being skill-based scoring games, they don’t lend themselves to virtual items. Because of this, three of the games Bejeweled Blitz, Bubble Popp, and Jungle Jewel have no real system for monetization except for what seems like incentivizing users to leave Facebook to go to their own game sites. According to PopCap’s director of online products, Jon David, the company has had success with this, although he declined to tell us how much. He also said that theyhave plans further to monetize Bejeweled Blitz.

One exception to this strategy is Icy Tower which uses pre-game and interstitial advertising to motivate users to purchase or fill out offers for its in-game currency. This currency can then be used for customize the Icy Tower avatar.