Interview: Playdom’s City of Wonder Debut Reflects Social Gaming’s New Focus on Mobile

Crowdstar, Zynga and Playdom — three of the big social gaming companies which grew up on the Facebook platform — have all had launches on iOS in recent weeks that reflect evolving strategies in terms of thinking about the mobile space. Either through internal reorganization or acquisitions, all three companies are building out devoted mobile studios, instead of creating “companion” apps that exist primarily to promote their Facebook titles.

We talked to Playdom, which up until the launch of City of Wonder offered two apps in the iOS store. Although City of Wonder has fallen down the general free app charts since its launch nearly a month ago, it’s still in the top 100 for the platform’s highest-grossing apps.

“In the past, we viewed mobile as being an interesting adjunct, largely because the opportunity was there, but it was small relative to Facebook,” said Omar Siddiqui, who is vice president of game production overseeing City of Wonder and Gardens of Time at Playdom. “We would add a helper app or something that supported the web experience.”

Those “helper” apps for titles like Social City and Sorority Life would have some core features of the games on Facebook, but they were mostly targeted at hardcore fans, he explained.

“But over the last five to six months, our thinking has evolved. What we realized was that we were limiting our market and appeal of our games” he added. “We needed to really try and understand the idiosyncrasies of each platform and adjust accordingly. City of Wonder was really a reflection of this new approach.”

The game doesn’t require players to log-in through Facebook. (Anecdotally, we often hear from casual mobile game developers that children, who are often too young to have Facebook accounts, make up an important part of their user base.) Siddiqui wouldn’t comment on how much overlap there is between users on both platforms.

By having a studio devoted exclusively to the iOS platform, Siddiqui said Playdom can refine the way it designs games for mobile devices — making sure that an interaction makes sense when it’s initiated by a swipe or gesture instead of a click.

“We have to make sure the same mechanics on Facebook are paced and adjusted to be fun on a phone and work well with a touch interface on a smaller screen,” said Tanmay Saksena, an executive producer on the game. “There is a lot of subtle product adjustment. Consumers expect games on mobile to be simpler and not as complex.”

Then, of course, there are different channels to spend marketing dollars on and optimize. Siddiqui wouldn’t provide specifics on how the company is marketing the game.

“That’s part of what we are testing pretty closely and trying to learn from at the moment.” (Zynga’s general manager of mobility Justin Cinicolo also gave us a similarly vague answer on marketing spend and strategy last week when we chatted with the company about the Cityville Hometown launch.)

He did say though that Apple’s recent crackdown on incentivized installs, which will prevent developers from paying for downloads of their apps through offer walls in other games, was beneficial to relative newcomers like Playdom.

“I actually think the crackdown by Apple was good for developers for us,” he said. “We’re focused on building quality games and I think it allows our content to speak for itself.”

Siddiqui said the company was focused on iOS first, but that Android was “obviously growing rapidly.” Playdom also wouldn’t comment on its HTML5 strategy, which is important to note because Facebook is expected to debut an HTML5 platform at some point this year with mobile web apps from longtime partners.

“Everyone in the industry is looking at HTML5 and assessing it,” Siddiqui said. “I think it’s really interesting, but beyond that I can’t really comment.”