Industry Perspectives: Trends in Social Gaming Platforms with Playfish COO Sebastien de Halleux

By this point, most people with an eye on the social gaming space know Playfish. The company, one of the top developers of innovative free-to-play social games on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and the iPhone, now has offices in London, Beijing, San Francisco, and Tromso, Norway. In addition, the company says it is profitable.

Now that the cat is out of the bag in terms of the size of the Facebook Platform transactions market, more and more companies have set their sights on Playfish even as the market is just starting to mature. We recently sat down with Sebastien de Halleux, co-founder and COO of Playfish, to get his thoughts on current dynamics in the space.

Justin Smith: Thanks for joining us, Sebastien. How does Playfish think about its platform strategy?

Sebastien de Halleux: Since the old days, the gaming model has always been attract users to where you are – first to shops, then to game portals through SEM and SEO and other marketing efforts. For the first time, with social games you can take a different approach and bring games to where people are.  It really means bringing the games to multiple communities, like Facebook, MySpace, the iPhone, and Bebo. For the first time, users don’t come to us – we go to them – you can call that “widgetized” games or whatever you want.

Our approach has always been to start on Facebook due to the growth and maturity of the channel and its clean and well-defined user experience. Since then, we have expanded to a number of other platforms, including MySpace, Bebo, Yahoo, iPhone, iGoogle.  We are tailoring our products for the different communities, i.e. customizing it for the viral channels on each. However, because we are a Flash based company, the transition for us from one environment to another has been easier.

Some communities (like Facebook) are very forthcoming with applications stats, but others aren’t. We see no reason why this information should not be accessible to everyone.

Do you think players will become more loyal to games instead of platforms?

Yes, and it’s very interesting because many games are very important in attracting new users to the platform. If you Google Playfish, you’ll notice that Playfish is mentioned on many, many blogs outside Facebook or MySpace recruiting friends to play on Facebook or MySpace.  People see the game as the activity they want to be involved in, which is very much in line with what Facebook is trying to do.

In addition, we have done a Facebook Connect integration on Pet Society, and some users like to use it because it runs in a small frame and is easier to find.  We have contests where players are submitting pictures of themselves holding Playfish signs, and the entries are flooding in.

Recently, Facebook launched chat invites, a feature largely requested by the social gaming community. Do you think platforms like Facebook are likely to coninue to add features to their platforms due to game developer requests?

This is also very interesting, because typically platforms are born independently. The console is the console, and as the developer you try to push it to the limits. Here, the platform is software, and yes there is tremendous indication that the platforms are listening to the needs of the developers and adjusting the direction of the platforms.  I cannot think of one platform that is not doing this.

The game content has become so popular, and games are pushing innovation to the limit and moving the plafforms forward. On Facebook, whether that’s chat invites or sharing or other services, game developers are showing the need for new APIs that will be valuable for the whole ecosystem and other platform applications.