Social Gaming Summit 2010: Lessons From Leaders

The second day of SGS2010 kicked off with Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed ventures moderating a panel of social gaming titans. Mark Skaggs of Zynga, Christa Quarles of Playdom, Peter Relan of YouWeb, and Sebastien De Halleux engaged in a lively discussion of how they keep players coming back and what they focus on to increase retention. The audience listened to the awe-inspiring statistics , pleased to hear that room for engagement and innovation still remains in this premature yet rapidly evolving industry.

Social gaming giants tend to focus on hits. An under performing game can be a cause for concern and even shutdown in some cases. Mark Skaggs jolted the crowd by stating that Zynga aims for a 60% same-day repeat engagement of a newly released game but their core focus is on long term retention of around 30%. Zynga manages to attain 1.5 million DAUs on the first day, upwards of 3 million DAUs at times. Zynga’s game Mafia Wars saw signs of stagnation in players repeatedly doing jobs and diversified the experience by adding an array of places players could visit, instilling adventurous emotions in the adventurers.

Sebastien emphasized engagement as a key point of focus for their games along with mass appeal. Sebastien also discussed Playfish’s shutdown of one of their previous games Quiztastic, stating, “one of the ways to create engagement in Quiztastic is through highly relevant content that’s only relevant to a narrow set of friends. However, it turned out to be massive engaging for the active contributors but not others.” Another game Playfish shutdown was Minigolf Party because too much was being demanded of the players. The panelists agreed, concluding that a balance is necessary to engage a mass-audience.

Christa brought in her unique perspective as CFO of Playfish, commending the rapid success of their game Social City. She attributed growth to additions of surprise mechanics – specifically random animations that rewarded users with an aesthetic and delightful experience, encouraging them to return frequently for more.

“Engagement and monetization are not at odds,” added the esteemed Jeremy Liew, cautioning, “you cannot overuse special events or people lose that urgency to do a call to action.” All panelists concurred this philosophy. Special events and actions such as the breeding mechanic in Happy Aquarium use the element of chance to woo players and have been fruitful. Special items are also often used by game developers, seeing a spike in the first day and then leveling off.

The panelists heeded the questions gracefully, spicing things up by adding their unique opinions interspersed with humor. Although their views on success metrics and the future of social gaming varied, they agreed that quality game play and listening to your community is essential for success.