How Sequels & Expansions to Popular Facebook Games Compare to Their Predecessors

This year, as many of the most popular Facebook games reached a mature stage in their development cycle, the social network saw the launch of more sequels and expansions than any other year in the platform’s history. This report will consider the challenges inherent in doing this successfully, and then analyze the performance of three recent sequels/expansions: Pioneer Trail (an expansion to FrontierVille), Mafia Wars 2, and Zoo World 2.

Challenges of Launching a Facebook Game Sequel/Expansion: Audience Appeal, Transition Friction, App ID Considerations

In theory, creating a sequel or expansion to a Facebook game with strong engagement rates is an obvious revenue opportunity. The developer can transition existing players to the spinoff game by adding information, links, and installation incentives in the original game, while also creating a new audience drawn to the promise of new and enhanced features.

However, a number of concerns still loom. A key consideration is whether the sequel/expansion will run on the same app ID as the original. If that’s the case, difficulties with transitioning users to a new app can be alleviated, but this strategy comes with its own challenges: According to Facebook’s app policies, a developer may not make updates to an app which significantly changes its original gamplay experience. So while a game’s sequel may exist in the same app ID, Facebook’s policy precludes the kinds of enhancements (such as new gameplay and expanded content) that typically increase new user growth and engagement.

Another point of risk is that the potential audience for a sequel may not be as large as the original, and the existing audience may resist installing and staying engaged with a second app. Fans of the original may consider the follow-up’s gameplay to be too different, for instance, or a distraction from their progress in the original. In a worst case scenario, the transition may cannibalize players away from the first game, who then engage even less with the sequel.

A cannibalization effect seems to have occured, by example, in Playdom’s role-playing game franchise Mobsters. As recorded by our AppData traffic tracking service, the original game enjoyed over 1 million monthly active users and just over 120,000 daily active users going into August 2009. In that same month, Playdom launched Mobsters 2: Vendetta, which added a deeper story-line and themed missions set in numerous locations, among other enhancements to the original. At first, the sequel showed growth rates, exceeding 5 million MAU toward the end of 2009 with about 400,000 DAU. While the sequel grew, Mobsters saw a rapid drop in MAU, presumably as players of that game transitioned to the sequel, falling below 100,000 as it went into 2010. Four months after launch, however, Mobsters 2 also experienced sharp user drop, falling close to 1 million MAU by June of 2010. At the moment, the original Mobsters game has just 6,000 MAU and 200 DAU, and the sequel, just 190,000 MAU and 30,000 DAU.

With these considerations in mind, here’s a brief review of three prominent sequels/expansions released in 2011:

From FrontierVille to Pioneer Trail – Zynga

Launched in June 2010, Zynga’s FrontierVille combined farm sim gameplay with RPG and adventure game elements. By the beginning of 2011, the game had upwards of 30 million MAU and 6 million DAU. After this apex, user activity began a slow decline, and by August of this year, when Pioneer Trail launched, had declined to about 12 million MAU. The sequel continued FrontierVille’s general theme of wildness homesteading, with gameplay reminiscent of the classic adventure title Oregon Trail. (Indeed, the original game included an “Oregon Trail” sign, creating user expectation that the sequel finally fulfilled.) In contrast to FrontierVille, Pioneer Trail’s gameplay was focused more on exploration and adventure, where the player commands a party of four characters with a unique role, who must complete a series of story-driven quests to progress.