November 4th, 2009
[The following is a guest post by Eric von Coelln, a social game consultant who occasionally contributes articles for Inside Social Games. Last week, he looked at how the number of daily active users correlate with the amount of money that a social game can make. This week, he looks at some ways that big social games try to keep their daily active user rates up.]
One of the more interesting applications of the social game “sticky factor” that I introduced last week is the ability to look at the life cycle of some of the most popular games and identify some of the key feature roll-outs that greatly increased engagement. The sticky factor is simply the daily active users (DAUs) of an application divided by monthly active users (MAUs).
Let’s take a look at two of the largest games on Facebook, by DAUs, that have been around over three months and also have a pretty accessible view of product feature launches: FarmVille and Mafia Wars, both from Zynga.
First, it’s critical when looking at the data to not really pay too much attention to the first thirty days of data, especially when trying to compare different games: By definition the MAU requires a month’s worth of data. Also note that because of the growth in Facebook, an application launched in September of 2009 is going to be exposed to a lot more users more quickly than an application launched a year, or even six months earlier. So you can see after launch that the sticky factor had dropped down to around 32% one month after launch (July 21st). Over the following month, you can also see that FarmVille increased its sticky factor to somewhere between 37-38%. Let’s take a look at some of the main features launched in the game that might have impacted engagement:
- On July 24th, Zynga launched its 2nd expansion of the farm (the amount of land you can plow, harvest and decorate) but this seemed to have little impact.
- On August 7th, Zynga launched in-game achievements, with the ability to send a notice to your friends once you had earned the white, red, blue or yellow ribbon.
- On August 18th, The sticky factor was at 37% and Zynga then launched tractors to help make game play a little less tedious on those larger farms
Of these three game feature releases, it would seem that achievements had the biggest impact. And of course achievements generally increase how viral a game is, helping to bring in new users into the fold.
For Mafia Wars, I don’t have reliable launch data prior to March of 2009, so I can’t pinpoint what helped increase the sticky factor from late December 2008’s low point, but we can pinpoint a couple other key feature launches:
- March 26th: Gifting of items is launched, allowing users to send useful in-game items to their “mafia” of friends, greatly increasing re-engagement and driving new users. FarmVille launched with gifting from the beginning, so we couldn’t see it in that comparison
- April 30th: Achievements are launched, again seeing an increase much like we did with the earlier FarmVille example
- The broad releases of the Cuba expansion (June 11), new Cuba achievements (June 18) and a daily lottery ticket (June 25) may have helped contribute a bit to the increase in the sticky factor to nearly 30% over the Fourth of July weekend, but that also may be due to the fact that during that weekend Zynga launched special loot that could only be earned by engaging with the game over that holiday weekend. This looks like it was a huge boost to re-engaging users and has been repeated nearly monthly (the next red dot was Labor Day weekend’s Loot event)
- The launch of the Moscow expansion pack (September 25th) doesn’t appear to have had as much impact, and that may be because these expansion packs are focused as drains on some of the highest level users who are already extremely active.
There is no question that achievements and “gifting” have been enormous engines driving viral growth and re-engagement – the sticky factor analysis lets you visualize the actual impact on engagement those tactics bring and can be used as a benchmark for measuring the impact of future initiatives.
Does a More Viral Game Mask the True Sticky Factor?
One criticism of the sticky factor is that it can be greatly influenced based on how viral a game is – that the influx of new users skew the DAU number. That’s definitely true during the first 30 days (as mentioned in the FarmVille example above) or where there is a large promotion (huge ad buy or a cross promotion from another large game that drives a spike in new users), but after that I think this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that with a rolling 30 day MAU you are not going to see huge swings.
Ultimately, the sticky factor is an approximation of churn – the secret sauce that helps you understand your customer lifetime value and maximize revenues. As a developer, you’d have access to much more granular churn rates with an understanding of the differences of newbies you are acquiring virally and those that have been with you a number of months. Plus DAU really looks at JUST daily usage, where you may find quite a profitable experience with users that play every other day – to that point Playfish’s vice president of product, John Earner, mentioned at the Virtual Goods Conference on Friday that 50% of the users who ever played Pet Society are active each month, and that’s 65% for Restaurant City.
Still, I wanted to look at the impact of a game’s viral rate to drive new users, to see how much that can impact the sticky factor.
As an example, last week I mentioned that it looked like a 15% sticky factor was the breaking point for a game’s success. I took a pretty straight forward model assuming steady viral growth rates (e.g. of the users you have on the service x% will post something or invite a friend that induces another user to join the game) and a steady churn rate (you lose y% of your total users every day through attrition). These are the sticky factor curves based on a core churn rate and a viral rate.
When you have a churn rate of 10%, you easily reach that break-away velocity (the 15% sticky factor), regardless of the viral ability of the game. But as your churn rate increases, you need increasingly more viral pull to reach that 15% sticky factor:
- With a 12% churn, you need a 5.9% viral rate (1 in every 17 users bringing in someone new)
- With a 15% churn, you need a 13.4% viral rate (1 in every 7.5 users)
- With a 20% churn, you need a 23.9% viral rate (1 in every 4.2 users)
Generally, for every 1% increase in churn above 10%, you need a 2.3% increase in the game’s viral rate.
Again, this is a very simplistic analysis but I think it shows that while a game that is more viral can help mitigate churn, when that churn rate gets above 12%, it will take a great deal more viral growth to make it sticky enough to sustain that level of Stickiness.
Is the Facebook News Feed Change Impacting the Sticky Factor and Exposing Churn?
As I noted above, some of the big gains in the sticky factor for Mafia Wars came from gifting and achievements – two tactics that post to a user’s wall and would get replicated across their friend’s news feed prior to the recent changes to the Facebook news feed. Now that the changes have been in force for two weeks (and developers are exploring tactics to get these valuable cross-promotion and re-engagement tools back), what are we seeing?
It’s only been ten days since the change and there is a lot of noise in the data, but roughly:
- FarmVille and Mafia Wars actually look like they are up since the change, but there were a great deal of Halloween promotions (specifically limited item drops and Halloween design contests in Mafia Wars and FarmVille respectively) during the last week that may have temporarily re-engaged users.
- Newer games (Café World and Roller Coaster Kingdom) are still coming off their launch highs and hadn’t found a stable sticky factor prior to the news feed change, so it’s hard to attribute the declines solely to the news feed at this point.
- YoVille had been on a decline in its sticky factor prior to the news feed change and appears to have stayed on a similar trend since the change, so again, hard to attribute it solely to the news feed changes.
- Texas Hold ‘Em had a fairly consistent sticky factor prior to the change and appears to definitely be feeling the impact of the change, trailing off in the last week.
At this point, the sample size is too small to really tell if the news feed changes have had an impact. Because viral tactics do support re-engagement, I would expect that higher churning games will see their sticky factors decline at a slightly faster rate over the weeks ahead. Until then, we can continue to look at the sticky factor as a strong indicator of user engagement and as a metric to measure the impact of initiatives on moving the engagement rate.
Eric von Coelln was the vice president of marketing at Oberon Media, a leading multi-platform casual games company, and most recently the vice president of Marketing at PowerSoccer.com. He is now a New York based freelance consultant to games, e-commerce and social media companies — including some of the largest social gaming companies on Facebook. While Mr. von Coelln does write about some companies for which he has done paid consulting from time to time, this post is based on publicly available information and in our view is an unbiased analysis of the industry. You can find his blog here.To dig deeper into the virtual goods market, check out our new report: Inside Virtual Goods: The US Virtual Goods Market 2009 – 2010.
October 27th, 2009
[The following is a guest post by Eric von Coelln, a social game consultant who occasionally contributes articles for Inside Social Games. Below, he takes a deep dive into the "daily active user" metric and how it ties into game growth and monetization. Important note: DAUs are now viewable on our AppData service. So read this post then go check out your favorite game to see how it's doing.]
The concept is straightforward: The more a user comes back and plays, the more engaged they are. And the more engaged they are, from my experience at PowerSoccer.com, the easier it is to monetize them. Why? A user who comes in and plays your game every day is much more likely to get to that point where they open their wallet, compared to someone who visits once or twice a month or plays twice and never comes back.
So while Monthly Active Users (MAU) has been a metric that has been used to identify which games have been strong in getting reach (either virally or through advertising), the Daily Active Users (DAU) is the true base you should be able to monetize, weeding out the users that only come for a quick trial and don’t come back. A step further in this analysis is something I call the “social game sticky factor” (DAU/MAU) which allows you to benchmark applications’ ability to retain their users.
If your application has a 33% sticky, that means that for every new user you bring in, you have a 33% shot at turning them into a daily user. Compare that to an application with 20% Social Game Sticky Factor, and you can now compare the potential return-on-investment of a Facebook Ad campaign or further development of a game (either to make it stickier or focus your development on another game with a higher sticky factor).
A key for driving the sticky factor, besides great game play, has been the ability of the application to prompt users to reach out to their friends via the Facebook News Feed with stories and pictures. With several changes to the news feed being rolled out on Friday, including going from a real-time to algorithimic listing of top stories and a reduction in the number and size of images, there may be some significant changes in overall sticky factor metrics going forward.
I’ve looked at the top developers and their average sticky factors, but let’s break that down by game and over the last year (and prior to the newsfeed changes) to look at game-specific insights:
Some highlights looking at the Social Game Sticky Factor for Zynga’s top games over the last 12 months:
- You can see that all of Zynga’s older games (Mafia Wars, Texas Hold’em and YoVille) have steadily increased their Social Games Sticky Factor over the last year from the mid teens to the mid-to-lower 20s.
- While Mafia Wars came close to 30% in early July, you can see it begin to drop off once FarmVille is cross promoted. FarmVille has sustained an incredibly high 36% Social Game Sticky Factor so far, which has helped it vault beyond the competition in total DAUs.
- New games like FarmVille, Roller Coaster Kingdom and Café World often have very high Social Game Sticky Factors in the early weeks before settling to some sort of equilibrium
- Roller Coaster Kingdom sunk below 15% post launch and then the game mechanic was altered (to a more “appointment gaming” model like FarmVille). When the game appeared to be approaching 20% again, Zynga began cross-promoting in their toolbar across applications, showing a quick spike in the Social Game Sticky Factor reminiscent of what we see when a game is launched.
- We are still waiting to see where the natural Social Games Sticky Factors will lie for both Café World and Roller Coaster Kingdom, but it looks like they will be 30% and 20% respectively
Now let’s take a look at the 2nd largest Facebook game developer, Playfish:
Some key points over the last 12 moths:
- In contrast to Zynga, Playfish started with high sticky factors in games like Pet Society and Restaurant City, but has actually seen those decline. Not included in this analysis are first generation Playfish games like Word Challenge and Who Has the Biggest Brain? which have Social Game Sticky Factors of 8% and 4% respectively.
- For a good part of this year, Pet Society saw a Sticky Factor in the low to mid 30% range. Then Restaurant City launched in late March with a more compelling game play with early retention rates in the 40%. Pet Society almost immediately saw a drop of the Sticky Factor to the mid 20% range, which suggests some Pet Society users stopped playing consistently as their attention was focused on the new Restaurant City game. Zynga saw this same “cross-promotion-cannibalization” of its playing base with FarmVille and Mafia Wars.
- New farm sim game Country Story looks like it’s settling into the 20% range, which is still strong, just a marked difference from the 36% FarmVille is seeing. Likewise, the other new title from Playfish, Crazy Planets, has had a difficult time building an audience (been flat around 250,000 DAU) and has been hovering around an 11% Social Game Sticky Factor.
Fish Sim Genre
Fish Sim Games have jumped into the top 25 and a great deal of this has to do with the strong Social Game Sticky Factors across the board:
Collectively, Happy Aquarium (by CrowdStar), My Fishbowl (by TwoFishes Interactive) and Fish World (by Tall Tree Games) would be the #2 application on Facebook, with over 8.9 million Daily Active Users. All three games have launched since August and seem to have seen slow sticky-factor declines, except for My Fishbowl. This Chinese developed game has a cross-promotional toolbar (à la Zynga and Playfish) that seems to be shared with the #13 game, 開心農場 (Happy Harvest), that I first noticed around September 30th, when you can see My Fishbowl’s Social Game Sticky Factor stabilized and since has grown.
Is a 15% Social Game Sticky Factor the Tipping Point?
There undoubtedly can be a great deal more analysis, but it would seem that when your game application reaches a 15% Social Game Sticky Factor, you have an application that can maintain sustained growth. Below this, it appears harder for games to grow; when Roller Coaster Kingdom was revamped and finally passed 15%, Zynga appears to have turned on the advertising and cross-promotional muscle to push it into the top 15 by DAUs.
While there is a correlation of stickiness to monetization, I’m not suggesting that there aren’t other factors involved. You can have a game that everyone plays, but if there is no motivation for users to buy items (either through impacting game play or providing personalization), you aren’t going to make money. But I would suggest it’s improbable you’ll make money from a social game that no one continues to play.
Eric von Coelln was the vice president of marketing at Oberon Media, a leading multi-platform casual games company, and most recently the vice president of Marketing at PowerSoccer.com. He is now a New York based freelance consultant to games, e-commerce and social media companies — including some of the largest social gaming companies on Facebook. While Mr. von Coelln does write about some companies for which he has done paid consulting from time to time, this post is based on publicly available information and in our view is an unbiased analysis of the industry. You can find his blog here.
To dig deeper into the virtual goods market, check out our new report: Inside Virtual Goods: The US Virtual Goods Market 2009 – 2010.
Social Network application developer and advertising platform RockYou
has raised a whopping $50 million in a Series D round of financing from existing investor Softbank
, we’ve confirmed with the company. RockYou, which launched in November 2005, has now raised $119 million
in capital and has revenues rumored in the $30 million to $40 million/year range.
The company continues to develop and acquire social networking applications, but a big part of their business is serving advertising to their own as well as third party apps. And they are now taking a deep dive into the rather sensitive area of in-game offers. Last week the company spoke publicly about Scamville, saying that they would only offer Facebook compliant offers. When asked what types of offers that includes, the company said they’re looking at paying users to watch and respond to videos (like clips from upcoming movies), and getting them engaged with nonprofit groups like ASPCA and UNICEF.
There are 213 million monthly users of apps that RockYou owns directly or has advertising relationships with, says the company. And tomorrow they’ll launch a new virtual goods application on MySpace, called Gifts By RockYou, that lets users buy gifts for friends.
no offense to rock you, but the whole social gaming/virtual good space is way too frothy right now.
iPhone App Review: TweetDeck 1.1 - A Love Affair
My sweet Tweetie. I am sorry to be writing this, but it is with a heavy heart that I must admit I've met someone else.
When I had that fling with Ping.fm last year, I told you it was the last time. As I spent less and less time with you, I swore it was simply a relationship of convenience. I didn't lie, but perhaps that shallow affair set the stage for TweetDeck to break into my life.
I know, you think I'm just leaving you for someone younger. You think I've been seduced by the glamor of a multi-column user interface. I'll admit when I first met TweetDeck, I thought it made promises it had no intentions of keeping, that its Emo/Goth attire bespoke a certain immaturity. But now, with 1.1, I realize TweetDeck was telling the truth the whole time, it's shown me a whole new face. The connection I share with TweetDeck goes so much deeper than mere physical attraction.
This isn't all my fault you know. You said last month you wanted to take our relationship to a new level. I hurried along to download 2.0 and the realization hit me like a punch to the stomach: You only wanted me for my money. After all the time we've spent together, all the love I've given you, you keep bleeding me, wanting more. I think that's when I first started pulling back. Taking another look at your "love" for me. TweetDeck doesn't care if I'm rich or poor. Don't you DARE call it cheap. What we have transcends such ugly considerations as money.
It's not only your fixation on nickels and dimes (and $2.99).TweetDeck understands me, is accepting of my needs. I've finally seen how you snubbed my Facebook friends, pushing me to stay in the "high society" of Twitter only. If you wondered why I cheated on you with Ping, you need look no further than your own snobbery.Continued on the next pagePage 1 2
awesome review of tweetdeck on technorati -- get it now for your iphone!!!
here is the clip from his first episode in 2007
http://www.precentral.net/wal-mart-sell-pixi-rock-bottom-30 overall, the reviews look good. especially for the price. here is a review roundup: