How RockYou and Slide Missed The Social Gaming Wild West

While Zynga and Playdom slowly became ubiquitous house hold names, their lesser known competitors slowly fell from grace in the world of social gaming. As the world sets its gaze upon a burgeoning industry, let's take a look back at what made RockYou! and Slide miss the boat

While Zynga and Playdom slowly became ubiquitous house hold names, their lesser known competitors slowly fell from grace in the world of social gaming. As the world sets its gaze upon a burgeoning industry, let’s take a look back at how RockYou! and Slide missed the boat. More after the jump.

RockYou! was around well before Facebook opened its API in 2007. The app developer quickly gained traction in what seemed to be the wild west of apps, starting with photo-sharing apps. RockYou’s reach allowed them to simultaneously be an ad network that includes cross-platform video distribution targeting multiple social networks. In May of 2010 RockYou was reaching roughly 280M people across its major social networks and launched services to help developers monetize their social games with virtual currency solutions.

By April last year, however, RockYou had already started delving into the publisher model, licensing Chinese social games and publishing them around the world. This dual approach of being both a developer and a service provider was unique to RockYou, compared with 6 Waves that was one of the original publishers on Facebook focusing on distribution.

RockYou’s insight as an ad network driving installs saw that the demand for social game developers was surging. RockYou’s position as both a publisher and monetization platform enticed them to put more resources in self game development. But was this the right decision?

It was apparent that getting advertising fees was more lucrative for them at the time than being a gaming company, causing them to push their efforts back while Zynga and others continued to take the lead. RockYou did come out with an RPG game, a Pet game and a Poker game, but none were ‘successes’ until ZooWorld.

The delay in execution wasn’t the only reason for RockYou’s slow penetration into social game development. Zynga and Playdom had been aggressive in hiring top talent due to large revenues and and venture financing that gave them enough capital to build a strong management team that knew how to create games that retain players for the long term.

Slide had a similar start – creating great applications on Facebook that were stellar in virility and distribution but eventually failed in engagement. Although Slide’s journey has been a bit mysterious, they did release some games in 2010 only to throw them in the deadpool because they weren’t ‘performing’ as well.

According to Adam Gries, Slide and RockYou’s downfall was their lack of pursuing an aggressive cloning strategy in 2008 as they evidently lacked game product experience that companies like Playfish possessed. Mob Wars at the time was generating roughly ~10 to 20k a day, and games like Friends for Sale, Texas Hold ’em and (fluff)friends were validating the virtual goods monetization model in the west.

Slide and RockYou may have avoided this cloning strategy due to potential legal risks, especially at a time Zynga was facing fire because of IP infringement allegations from Mob Wars’ creator. Since both companies raised large rounds of capital (Slide in January of 2008 and RockYou and June of 2008) prior to the validation of virtual goods, investors could have put pressure to prevent the companies from pivoting to social game development, especially as they did not have the game product experience.

Adam Gries also cites the following for Slide’s journey away from social game success:

  • poor estimation of market size and sustainability
  • product inflexibility (quest for massive reach circumvented ability to develop engaging products)

Both RockYou and Slide seem to be all right now, with the latter company selling to Google to help drive its social product strategy. RockYou’s situation remains nebulous as it attempts to reinvent itself and bounce back from substantial layoffs. Rumors surfaced last month about Lance Tokuda, RockYou’s former CEO, parting ways with the company – but turned out to be false. RockYou could very well have a substantial future in social and mobile games but its unclear whether it will push the envelope as a game developers or solution/service provider.