The Sims Social: 50 Days In and Gunning for CityVille’s Top Spot

After nearly two months of rapid growth, EA Playfish’s The Sims Social is at a critical moment in its traffic cycle where growth has slowed. Depending on how the game performs in the next few weeks, The Sims Social could go into a period of decline or finally unseat Zynga’s CityVille as the largest application on Facebook.

Current Traffic

As of figures tracked by our AppData traffic monitoring service today, The Sims Social enjoys 65.6 million monthly active users and 9.8 million daily active users. In the last seven days, the game has lost a little over half a million in DAU — which brings it down a total of 1.4 million from its all-time high in that category. Meanwhile, MAU has continued to grow, though at a much more modest 3% gain for the past week compared to the 9% growth experienced the week prior.

Cultivating Critical Mass at Launch

The Sims Social soft-launched in mid-August to a fairly large audience that was already aware of the game through extensive press coverage. Additionally, the game’s Page actively recruited fans by incentivizing its overall number of Likes with content reveals. By the game’s official August 19 launch date, The Sims Social already had 4.8 million monthly active users and 2 million daily active users. The first 30 days saw steady growth in MAU and overall growth in DAU punctuated by two sharp spikes in early September.

We cannot know for sure how much of The Sims Social’s early growth was due to advertising or user acquisition activities facilitated by Nanigans. We do know that while Nanigans is currently involved with the game, in early August EA Playfish denied that its partnership with the service provider included The Sims Social. We also know that EA updated its PC Sims series such that when users loaded up the game, an ad for The Sims Social appeared in the Game Launcher window.

It’s also interesting to note that EA revealed The Sims Social to press both through closed beta access and a party-like event that included attendance from Facebook’s Ethan Beard, Director of the Facebook Developer Network. In its core video game press campaigns, these EA party reveal events are common — but it’s almost unheard of for social game launches. As a result of that event, high profile video game press outlets covered the game, further extending The Sims Social’s reach beyond what other social games had been able to grasp with game launch announcements (although Zynga appears to have tapped the same outlets for Mafia Wars 2 pre-release announcements).

Sustaining Growth With Frictionless Virality

Progression in The Sims Social occurs on several fronts: Sim level, house value, and individual skill rank for various activities. The core gameplay loop involves players satisfying their Sim’s basic needs — hygiene, energy, bladder, hunger, fun, socialization — before setting them to performing various activities like cooking or painting or complete tasks like tending the garden or cleaning house. The better satisfied a Sim is, the more soft currency (here called Simoleons) the Sim can earn for performing activities. Money can be used to purchase new activity items and house remodeling or decoration items, which are restricted by the Sim’s level and their skill rank for relevant activities. Certain items can only be bought with Sim Cash, the game’s hard currency, which also can be used to bypass level and skill rank restrictions.

The first 10 levels of The Sims Social experience go by very quickly. The player doesn’t begin to encounter any real resistance to progression that might motivate them to buy Sim Cash until around level 12 when the game invites them to expand their house by adding a room. This activity is friend-gated such that the user needs three people to click Accept on a help invitation before the room is completed. For players reluctant to harass non-player friends, The Sims Social makes it easy to recruit help from the neighbor bar at the bottom of the screen by showing the Sims of the player’s friends on Facebook that are already active in the game alongside the friends that are already in-game neighbors.

Note: The Sims Social also contains a standard “Ask Friends” menu common to other social games that filters the player’s friends into All or Likes Games. Somewhat recently, the Likes Games filter was replaced by a Sims Friends filter.

Further reducing friction, The Sims Social was one of the first Facebook games to introduce the new Frictionless Requests before Facebook announced the feature in late September. This tool allows players to send in-game requests to friends using only one dialogue box as opposed to the old system that required a second approve-request dialogue box. We’d previously seen this feature being tested in Zynga’s Pioneer Trail. The Sims Social added it just a few weeks after its official launch.

Closing the loop is the request-fulfilment activity. When logging into The Sims Social, players are immediately shown all requests or gifts sent from friends — which is the norm for most social games. Clicking the Accept button on each notification clears most notification types from the list with only gift notifications remaining in place with an updated Send Thank You Gift option. Once cleared or when the player clicks Done on the bottom right hand side of the notification screen, the player is already in their game with most of the content loaded, as opposed to staring at a Free Gifts or Marketplace screen where some social games send users after clicking on notifications from friends.

Getting Greedy or Getting Needy?

Approximately two weeks ago, it appeared as though EA Playfish was experimenting with new growth tactics. An in-game pop-up that appeared frequently during our twice-daily play sessions would prompt the player to add new friends, suggesting users that were not already playing The Sims Social. These pop-ups have since decreased in frequency and haven’t shown up at all in today’s play sessions.

In this same time period, the developer introduced land expansions to the game that require the user to send out still more invites to friends to help in the form of gift items. Gift requests have also been divided into direct messages sent to friends via invites and wall posts that the player must hope some other Sims user stumbles on to fulfill.

Whatever the reasons for or the results of these changes, DAU began to decline around that time to its present-day levels. It wouldn’t be fair to draw a direct correlation between the two trends, but we are confident in saying that as players reach higher levels and “run out” of things to do that are unique to this game, The Sims Social starts to introduce content that resembles what we find in other RPG and house-decorating social games.

That’s Great, but Can The Sims Social Top CityVille?

The easy answer is: yes, it’s possible. It’s not a done deal, however, as Zynga still has its IPO trump card to play, plus a larger advertising and user-acquisition budget dedicated exclusively to social games, and a much larger network of users to leverage with cross-promotion.

Even with all those factors working for it, CityVille has age working against it. The game hit its critical mass of users between January and March of 2011 and it’s been all downhill from there. The decline, however, is steady and modest — down just 5% in MAU and 2% in DAU for the past 30 days. It actually appears as though Zynga will try to rally CityVille this month, with a high-profile celebrity promotion set to begin later this week. We’re already seeing slight gains across MAU and DAU reported for the past seven days.

If EA Playfish can keep MAU going and at the very least hold DAU steady throughout October, it has a real shot at toppling CityVille, assuming Zynga doesn’t do anything to flood its juggernaut with new traffic (e.g. launching an expansion or sequel, name-dropping the game in IPO announcements, etc.). The way things are going, however, it’s unlikely that The Sims Social will ever see the massive all-time traffic highs of 101.2 million MAU and 21.5 million DAU that CityVille enjoyed in its heyday. At best, The Sims Social can hope to take home the top spot in the leaderboards with just around half of that.

All data in this analysis was collected with our AppData traffic tracking service for social games and developers.