Despite Stale Concept, New Restaurant Sims See Growth

rcityRestaurant simulation is one of the oldest Facebook game genres we can think of behind pets and variations on what eventually became Mafia Wars. You’d think after three years, the market for this kind of game would be completely saturated to the point where no new restaurant sims could find an audience — and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. A few 2011 entries to the restaurant sim scene are making some headway, however, leading us to examine the top restaurant sims by traffic.

Most restaurant sims put players in the role of a chef or store owner charged with cooking, cleaning, and serving customers in a semi-customizable virtual restaurant. Gameplay progression is tracked through character level, number of recipes unlocked, or via a customer satisfaction rating that fluctuates depending on how well players perform the primary game tasks. Social features in restaurant sims usually come in the form of gifting where friends may send each other energy refills or decoration items; a few restaurant sims also allow friends to visit each other’s restaurants as patrons or hire friends as additional staff. All restaurant sims monetize mainly through premium decoration items. A few differentiate by blending other gameplay genres like farming or treasure hunting into the core experience.

Games By Genre: Restaurant

Name MAU
1. Café World by Zynga11,800,714
2. Restaurant City5,281,857
3. Gourmet Ranch3,792,636
4. Baking Life2,170,320
5. Cafe Life1,977,110
6. Tea4Friends1,750,266
7. Diner Dash1,618,609
8. TinierCafe641,791
9. Cooking Mama604,396
10. Cupcake Corner519,453

Top Tier: In Decline

Zynga’s Café World, EA Playfish’s Restaurant City, RockYou Playdemic’s Gourmet Ranch and PopCap ZipZapPlay’s Baking Life are some of the longest-lived restaurant sims on Facebook stretching back as far as early 2009. Each game at one point held well over 5 million monthly active users and 500,000 daily active users in its prime, and each has seen a somewhat steady decline in the last six to eight months.

The exception appears to be Gourmet Ranch, which experienced its largest growth spurt to date at the beginning of 2011 not long after Playdemic was acquired by RockYou; at that time, the developer launched a content expansion that included a new gameplay mechanic is a themed in-game event timed to coincide with the wedding of England’s crown prince. Since that date, however, Gourmet Ranch also appears to have slowed down, losing nearly half its peak-level MAU and DAU.

Mid Tier: On the Rise But Still in Danger

As the old restaurant games decline, new ones appear to be taking their place. Since the beginning of 2011, we’ve seen newcomers like Diner Dash and TinierCafe climb the charts at a rapid rate, reaching peaks of 1 million+ MAU and 250,000+ DAU in some cases. We’ve had two entirely new restaurant sims, Cafe Life and Tea4Friends, debut in our top 20 lists of fastest-growing games by MAU or overall growth in the last two weeks alone.

This suggests that while players have become bored with the old titles, there’s still enough interest in the genre to support new games in the market. That interest, however, might not support a restaurant sim longer than three months; we observe that the oldest of these “new” restaurant sims, Diner Dash, is apparently going into a period of decline that began about 30 days ago.

Lower Tier: Specialty Stores Struggle

While the top and mid tier games in this analysis offer a comprehensive restaurant simulation experience, the games showing up in the lower tier are more focused gameplay experiences that usually limit players to creating a specific food. Cupcake Corner, for example, follows the same pattern as all other restaurant sims but only allows players to craft sweets instead of a wider array of foods. (An exception here would be mid-tier game Tea4Friends, which does limit players’ menu planning to drinks and cakes.) Another approach we’ve seen to restaurant sims coming out of the lower tier is shifting the focus of the gameplay. Take Cooking Mama, for example, where gameplay is more about the tactile act of cooking than it is about pleasing restaurant customers or decorating a restaurant patio.