Interview: Charles Merrin of Playteau on Fortune Stones and Facebook

Anatoly Tikhman and Charles Merrin, co-founders of Playteau, are no novices in the world of games. Charles Merrin assisted Anatoly Tikhman in founding Tikgames before he moved to Real Networks where he was Vice President of North America Games, then to Smith & Tinker. He left to found Playteau in March 2010 with Tikhman, when they saw real opportunities in the gaming arena they thought were not fully taken advantage of.

Fortune Stones is their first offering, a take on the match 3 game on Facebook, with two game modes; Frenzy which is the familiar square of colored stones, and Strategy which combines puzzle solving in the shape of the game board as well as other challenges such as locked stones. Released in beta in January and announced March 10, the game is seeing strong growth even before the company begins a marketing push.

Inside Social Games: What is Playteau’s strategy with Fortune Stones?

Charles Merrin: It’s not just with Fortune Stones but Playteau’s strategy is to bring our games across all platforms.  We announced that we will be releasing Fortune Stones across other social sites and platforms including the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad, and we will do that with all our games.  With Facebook Connect, players will be able to connect their accounts and preserve their scores.

Inside Social Games: With your experience with Real Networks and the casual game space, why did you choose to launch Fortune Stones on Facebook?

Charles Merrin: The sheer size of the market and the huge amount of activity to be found on Facebook, but the code is designed to go other places.

Inside Social Games: PC, Xbox Live, PSN, PSP, the DS and such as well?

Charles Merrin (smiling): It could, indeed, yes.

Inside Social Games: How do you take an old chestnut like the match 3 game and make it compelling and make it work as a social game?

Charles Merrin: By creating games within games. By innovating within the genre, by listening to our players. It’s a faster, more dynamic design.  There’s more room for creativity as well as error. On the social aspect, there are badges to be earned and shared and there are weekly tournaments and your league are your friends playing the game.  Trophies are award to the top three players in both game modes and you can view your friends stats as well as your own, and how you compare.

Inside Social Games: No trash talking?

Charles Merrin: No, but if our players want it! We’ll provide it!

Inside Social Games: Facebook Games have gotten a bad reputation of spamming their players, spamming their friends list or needing many other friends playing to advance in the game.  How have you avoided that trap?

Charles Merrin: The majority of our contact with our players is via Facebook and Twitter and we make regular postings twice a week, so our players have come to expect a regular update, but we don’t think it necessary for players to receive two emails every day!  As for requiring friends to play the game, there is a power up in the Strategy mode that is unlocked with six friends, and you get more bonus coins if you have ten friends playing the game.  More of a value-add then an onerous requirement.

Inside Social Games: What about gifting? Is it even possible to keep that balanced in a game like this?

Charles Merrin: It’s coming. The gifting of power ups is on its way. You are right in that we’ve had to design it in a way as not to unbalance the game but yet be of value to the player.

Inside Social Games: Is it too early to talk about monetization of the game, seeing as how you’ve only just announced its launch? How are you monetizing the game?

Charles Merrin: Monetization is going well. We’re working to improve it, but we’re proud of how well it’s going. We’ve listened to our early users and adopters and we provide many of the game’s features for free and game coins are easily earned, but we’ve got many points of monetization in the game.  First there are the power ups which can be bought, then we have tile-sets, collections, backgrounds, and level sets.  Players can either play the game to earn collections which provide different boosts and earn the game coins to buy other things or just buy them outright.

Our players do love the cosmetics though. We have a dog themed background wall paper and players have clamored for a cat themed one which is coming out soon, and the different tile sets are also popular.

Inside Social Games: Finally, why will Playteau be successful?

Charles Merrin: Firstly, I would say the team we’ve assembled.  Anatoly and I have, between the two of us, released over 40 games, designed on every platform imaginable.  We’ve assembled a very strong team here.  Secondly, it’s the portfolio strategy. What we are concentrating on are the best of breed strategies and designing games for portability across all platforms.  We will not be shy about innovating within a genre even as we also look to innovating outside of a genre with new games.