Tetris Battle’s Slow Burn on Facebook Proves Brands Staying Power on the Platform

While The Sims Social has dominated the discussion of branded social games on Facebook, Tetris Battle has quietly — and for the most part, organically — become the second-largest brand-based social game on the platform according to our AppData traffic tracking service.

Tetris Battle arrived on Facebook in July 2010, but it was really only a year after that point that the game began to gain traction. At that time in summer of 2011, the title routinely turned up in our top 20 rankings lists for daily and monthly active users and it had just officially broken 1 million DAU with around 4 million MAU for a very high retention ratio of 25%. That trend continues even now with present-day figures of 2.1 million DAU, 6.5 million MAU and a retention ratio north of 30%.

What’s truly striking about Tetris Battle’s success is that it’s Tetris — a decades-old game that people are still paying for on just about every platform on which the game is available, despite the fact that free versions exist all over the Internet. Even on Facebook, where the game is free-to-play, players still monetize at a healthy rate, according to Tetris Online Inc. VP of Marketing Casey Pelkey. The primary revenue stream seems to be mostly in the energy system where players pay to keep playing more matches — or for passes that allow unlimited play for a day or a week — with secondary revenue streams coming from decoration features and from gameplay customization that allows players more control over the falling Tetriminos.

“Getting people to play the game is easy,” Pelkey tells us. “To the extent that they’re playing Tetris Battle is unprecedented. [Creative Director Eui-Joon “Ace” Youm] is a genius to get you to pay for a 27-year-old game.”

Youm came to Tetris Online Inc. in 2007 from Korean games portal Hangame, where he was actually making a knock-off of the original Tetris. His approach to Tetris Battle for Facebook is to push the gameplay into new directions that still feel like authentic Tetris while at the same time challenging players that have been playing the game for years. A large component of that is the multiplayer, where players compete by speed and score. The better a player is at Tetris, the more “line” obstacles they send to their opponents’ boards during the timed match. The friction between one match and the next is very low, resulting in longer play sessions where players are logging between 15 and 30 games a session for over 25 million games played daily.

Tetris Battle is so compelling that we catch many other social game developers playing it both in their spare time and as a point of study for future games. Even those developing titles that don’t fall under the arcade category feel there is something to learn from Tetris Battle’s monetization and matchmaking techniques. Facebook itself has publicly called attention to the title, circulating a blog article among third party developers that highlight’s Tetris Battle’s take on competitive multiplayer modes. And there’s still the mystery of getting people to pay for a game they’ve already bought before — something branded games struggle to do.

Take, for example, Namco Bandai’s two official Pac-Man games for Facebook. Though both title saw initial traction thanks largely to brand recognition and the faithful recreation of the classic arcade game, each has dropped dramatically in traffic and the developer appears to have backed off on the platform for now. Though we can never know exactly what happened or didn’t happen with Pac-Man, it’s possible that the games were too faithful to the original — causing players to lose interest.

“With brands, it’s easy to get [players], but it’s harder to hold onto them,” Pelkey says. “These legacy games come and go and the tried-and-true gameplay works [on Facebook] to some extent, but if it just feels like a copycat without anything new… It’s not a slam dunk.”

Pelkey tells us that to date, Tetris Online Inc. has only done minimal marketing for Tetris Battle. The developer plans to increase that amount for the coming year, with “sky’s the limit” attitude toward how big the game can get on Facebook. In a follow-up email sent to us for the article, Youm says, “We’re just scratching the surface on what we can do with Tetris Battle. Now the real fun begins.”