Two years later, Backyard Monsters continues to thrive on Facebook

Last week, Backyard Monsters — developer Kixeye’s bloody, goofy Facebook strategy game designed for hardcore video game fans — hit a major milestone: its second birthday.

Backyard Monsters made the developer what it is today, allowing the studio to grow from only a few friends working together to over a hundred employees in downtown San Francisco. The game is an anomaly, having lasted well past the point where most titles on the Facebook platform would be winding down toward sunsetting. Backyard Monsters also proved that hardcore gamers are a viable market to target on Facebook.

Currently, our AppData traffic tracking service lists the game at 2.5 million monthly active users and 580,000 daily active users for a very healthy retention rate of 23 percent. While that’s lower than the game’s all-time high of 4.5 million MAU and 1 million DAU, the numbers have been holding relatively steady since October.

Kixeye co-founder Dave Scott walks us through the past years with Backyard Monsters, sharing the lessons learned during the game’s continual development to apply toward the developer’s future — both on and off of Facebook.

Humble origins

Backyard Monsters’ story begins before Kixeye was Kixeye. Originally, the  company was called The Casual Collective, a portal for Flash games founded by friends Dave Scott and Paul Preece. Aside from a healthy amount of startup money provided by an investor in the United States, Scott and Preece had been using video ads and paid subscriptions to generate cash. The Casual Collective was able to bring in money with these methods, but it wasn’t enough to be profitable. The subscription model was especially problematic, even though it was bringing in more money than ad sales.

“We’d unfortunately capped how much money we could make from players,” Scott said. “Even if a player wanted to give us $6, the subscription only let them spend $5.”

The final two games created by The Casual Collective for its portal — Minions on Ice and TSG: Missions — featured virtual goods, which proved to be an eye opener for the developer. The original belief was that gamers wouldn’t spend more than what a retail game cost (roughly $50 to $60), but it turned out that some players were willing to spend up to $200 to proceed through a game with a finite length.

Even though company funds were running low,  Scott and Preece had enough left to move out to San Francisco, build a development team and start working on a game that would appeal to hardcore gamers: Desktop Defender, a tower defense game that tasked players with defending their desktop from invading creatures known as “creeps.” The game launched on Facebook in December 2009, peaking with just over 675,000 MAU and 930,000 DAU. To say that the gamble paid off is an understatement. Desktop Defender was making more money in a day than The Casual Collective could bring in over an entire month.

Secure in its newfound profitability, The Casual Collective began work on Backyard Monsters, a deep strategy game that could be played on Facebook. One of the key design ideas was that the title would include all elements that PC strategy fans loved, including making building placement integral to a base’s defense, as well as dynamic battles that were affected by which direction invaders came from and the order they attacked in.

From cute to crazed

One of the main concerns with the game during its development was that it wouldn’t be cute enough for the audience on Facebook. The game went through a number of working titles, including “Desktop Creatures” and “Gnometopia” before the developer settled on “Backyard Monsters.” Six months after launch, the developer decided to overhaul the art style, ditching the family-friend visuals for more blood, more guts and more intimidating creature designs.