With Over 20 Million Users, CityVille Is Already a Metropolis

If CityVille were an actual city, it would now be the world’s second largest. Zynga’s newest game edged over 22 million monthly active users this morning, just eleven days after launching.

It’s often said that the days of jet-fueled app growth on Facebook are over, a common wisdom that is invalidated only by Zynga, which also saw FrontierVille rapidly grow to over 20 million players earlier this year. CityVille is far faster than FrontierVille; in June, when the latter was only 12 days old, we clocked it at 7.4 million MAU.

In fact, Zynga’s claim just a few days after launching CityVille that the game is its fastest-growing ever have proven to be quite correct.

Even when Facebook’s viral channels were vulnerable to any use developers could dream up, Zynga’s top growers like FarmVille, PetVille and FishVille only grew about half as fast as CityVille. The quickness with which Zynga was willing to crown CityVille its best-ever suggests that it had a good idea of how CityVille’s growth might unfold.

The broad strokes are pretty visible. We can see four major reasons for CityVille’s growth:

Cross-promotion

Although all game developers now engage in some form of cross-promotion, Zynga took promotion for CityVille far beyond the usual top-bar ad network. Although its efforts did start there: in Zynga’s huge, 200 million plus network, CityVille is the only Zynga game (other than the one that you’re currently playing) with an oversized button displaying its full name.

More additive to growth, there has been heavy promotion between FarmVille and CityVille. When you’re playing CityVille, it asks you to email FarmVille friends and encourage them to play; when you’re playing FarmVille, your top neighbor is now Sam, a character that pops up a link for CityVille.

Localization and international growth

During its preview of CityVille, Zynga pointed out that CityVille is the first game it has really put effort into localizing for an international audience (with the exception of the Chinese-language version of Texas Hold’em). The languages it translated to are strictly European: Spanish, French, Italian and German, which have somewhere between 100 and 200 million native speakers on Facebook.

But the international audience that Zynga is tapping goes far beyond Facebook. Although it’s too early for us to break out CityVille’s demographics with any accuracy, a look at the game’s various boards and reviews shows large numbers of Pacific Rim users in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as eastern European users whose native languages weren’t included.

International users could well be the biggest reason that CityVille has grown faster and larger than past Zynga titles, especially in the Asian region, where Facebook users are more likely to be active gamers. Facebook’s growth took off this year, leaving American users at around a quarter of the total population now, a trend we’ve been closely tracking with our Inside Facebook Gold subscription service.

Given recent signs, it’s easy to imagine a new normal of international users driving growth. Zynga probably will break out its specific numbers, but for a view into another popular game, check out the LOLapps slides for Ravenwood Fair that we posted earlier in December, which show over two-thirds of all traffic coming from points abroad.

More professional appearance and operation

Facebook games have clearly progressed both technically and artistically since FarmVille showed the huge potential of the genre, but this progress has been uneven. Many developers are better in one or the other field, and new games show much larger differences in appearance and performance than would titles released concurrently in the traditional games space.

Both matter. Starting with the technical side of games, it’s accepted practice to release buggy games and address issues over time. The downside is that major glitches suck the wind out of early growth. CityVille had a few early problems that we saw, but they were quickly fixed; in general the game loads faster, and performs better, than most competitors. Besides taking months before release to iron the problems out of CityVille, Zynga has likely made other sacrifices in this area — think of the all day and night crunches common in the traditional game industry when titles are about to be launched. Anecdotally, we’ve heard large numbers of employees have been staying late at Zynga.