East Side Games grew a massive Facebook hit with $800 worth of marketing

Developer East Side Games’s Facebook farm sim Pot Farm is still thriving even though it launched two years ago, an impressive feat since the developer wasn’t allowed to market the game on the social network. Now, the studio’s founders tell us how they grew Pot Farm into a successful title, talk about what their experience with Google+ has been like and share some details about the studio’s next couple of games.

Struggling to market marijuana on Facebook

Pot Farm is proof a Facebook game can succeed on the social network without any actual promotion. According to Creative Director Galan Akin, this was no easy task. “Facebook has made it really hard to survive and grow without advertising,” he says.

That was problematic for the developer when it came to Pot Farm because, according to CEO and founder Jason Bailey,  Facebook won’t let East Side Games advertise the game: “Because of the marijuana-themed content, Facebook’s made it very clear: ‘Go away. We don’t want your money.’”

Likewise, online advertising groups are unwilling to run a Pot Farm campaign. As a result, the game’s growth has been due to viral sharing from things like wall posts providing in-game rewards and word-of-mouth recommendations from players.  According to Bailey, the lifetime marketing spend for Pot Farm has been about $800.

However, the game’s not only survived, it’s thrived. According to our AppData traffic tracking service, the game still retains 910,000 monthly active users and 120,000 daily active users.

Keeping the game’s players around for several years is no easy task, but East Side Games claims it’s possible by regularly engaging fans. Part of the success comes from listening to fans and providing updates they want. The company also does three to five Timeline updates a day, and Bailey says the game’s community posts get more Likes than FarmVille’s do. Indeed, although Pot Farm only has 120,000 daily active users, the game now has over a million Likes on Facebook.

However, Bailey also wryly notes, “you have to be careful about encouraging the fans because we’re up to at least ten people who have Pot Farm tattoos. Some of them look pretty jailhouse.”

“Google’s old and fat.”

While East Side Games has found success on Facebook, Google+ is another story. Recently, the company made headlines when its monster-battling game Zombinis was launched as a 30-day exclusive for Google’s social network. Although East Side Games was happy with the coverage and the ensuing attention, Zombinis hasn’t proven as successful on G+ as it is on Facebook, but the developer’s able to simultaneously maintain both versions of the game.

“It’s more work to take Zombinis off [G+] than it is to leave it on,” Bailey explains. “It’s a minimal amount of effort to keep it going; if it wasn’t doing as well on Facebook and the only source of income was coming from Google+, we’d have to think about turning it off.”

According to Bailey, the biggest challenge for G+ is that it doesn’t understand social games and the third party app experience. “It’s the challenge with any big company. It’s the same challenge Facebook has. If Facebook were to launch a third party game platform tomorrow, they’d fuck it up royally. They’re big and fat and bloated and it’s so hard to innovate in a multi-thousand person company. When Facebook launched their game platform originally … they were a scrappy young upstart. So they made a bunch of ballsy choices in the early days that allowed them to be successful.

“Now — I’ve seen it so many times — when you’re a big corporation, it’s hard to be innovative. It’s hard to  move fast. It’s hard to get a team of people who take ownership of the product and drive it with an entrepreneurial view. Google can’t do that. Google’s old and fat.”

Moving forward on mobile

East Side Games itself is striving to keep itself from becoming “old and fat” by constantly  working on new projects, across multiple platforms. Bailey tells us the development team has built 13 to 15 games, but only a few have made it to completion. A recent example of this is a pachinko game the developer created for mobile platforms: Although a prototype was built, the studio decided not to go any further and killed the project. “We fail a lot, but we fail fast,” he admits.

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