Notes from Casual Connect: The Power of Show and Tell

casual-connect-logoGuest post by Soyon Im.

It can’t be overstated that sites like Facebook and MySpace are crucial to the casual games industry. During last week’s Casual Connect Seattle, everyone from COOs to marketing analysts to mommy gamers were talking about their favorite social networking sites, and in particular, the power of news feeds.

Eric Goldberg, managing director of Crossover Technologies, who led the panel titled, “The Social Game Revenue Machines,” advised game designers who jump over from traditional to casual games to “try using Facebook more often.”

In another panel, “A Perilous Journey: Negotiating the Chasm Between Casual and Social Games,” Jon David, director of PC/online products at PopCap, shared the company’s experience of releasing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.  After the application was released last Christmas, it saw a steady rise in users. However, in March, the growth suddenly leveled.  PopCap wondered what was going on.

It turned out that Facebook had at that time allowed people more control over what gets published in their news feeds. Great for users, not so great for game makers.  Suddenly, posts such as “Colleen won a game of Wordscraper by 116 points” or “Keith just earned the Big Slick achievement in Texas Hold ‘Em Poker” had disappeared from millions of profiles, thus decreasing the number of people clicking on the applications in attempts to beat their friends’ scores.

The lesson learned there, David said, was the importance of monitoring changes in Facebook, MySpace and other online sites on which games depend.  Sounds like a no brainer, but he reminded everyone that “if you are going to be a player in the social space, you need to keep up with the changes in the platform.  You need to devote staff time to this.”

Popcap was able to ramp up its growth curve again by releasing a new medal system in Bejeweled Blitz. Since many game players like to show off their virtual trophies, the feeds started up again. The company saw an immediate positive impact on viral growth after release of their new medal feature.

Similarly, this past Friday, July 24, Playfish launched a fishing feature in their popular game Pet Society. Every time players catch a fish, they have the option to send an announcement to all their friends, along with a picture of the fish caught.  It’s a digital version of the classic show and tell, and it may turn out to be a great move for the company, as players who are normally protective of their privacy (so many of them are playing at the office or are embarrassed to be perceived as “gamers”), are now allowing leaks of information.

Vivian, a web producer from New York, who rarely publishes posts from games she plays, made an exception for this announcement on her profile: “Vivian caught a magnificent Puppyfish with Bone in Pet Society!”

Why?  “It’s hard to catch a Puppyfish or even describe what that is to a friend,” she said.  “I wanted people to see what it looked like.”

Soyon Im is a writer based in Seattle, Washington, and is also the author of Pet Society Anonymous.