Social Gaming Summit/Mafia Wars, Money, Metrics and Michael Arrington


Impressive was the crowd producer Charles Hudson amassed for the 2nd annual Social Gaming Summit.  500 came from near and very far…game developers, game show producers, VCs…from Vancouver, Australia, Argentina.  There were moments of surprising candor, mass clicking, ooohs, ahas, gasps, laughs and booming applause.  The networking was stellar, and as the crowd drifted off to the Richter Scales after-party with super schwag in hand (Mario mushrooms, sporty tees), the twitter stream was still sparkling at #sgs09.  So if you’re seeking cha-ching, here are some of the gems:

I.  Industry Insights with Justin Smith,,, slides:

FB 200mm mau, 70% of FB growth outside US, US growing 5-10%:  NA 81mm (US 60mm), Europe 77mm, Asia 28mm, SA 19mm, Africa 5mm.  FB is getting older, half of new users are 35y+, more than half of US gamers are 25y+, women outnumber men.  

Top Games as of June 2, popular themes – flirting, charity, virtual worlds, cards, sports, trivia, pets, role-playing, first person shooter
– Texas Hold Em Poker – Zynga – 12mm mau
– Mafia Wars – Zynga – 11mm mau
– Pet Society – Playfish – 11mm mau
– Farm Town – SlashKey – 7mm mau
– YoVille – Zynga – 7mm mau 
– MindJolt – Zynga – 6mm mau
– Pass a Drink – SocialReach – 6mm mau
– Lil Green Patch – Green Patch – 5mm mau
– Bumper Sticker – LinkedIn – 5mm mau
– Restaurant City – Playfish – 4mm mau 
– Chain Rxn – Zwigglers – 4mm mau
– Geo Challenge – Playfish – 3.5mm mau
– Bejeweled Blitz – Pop Cap Games – 3mm+
– Know-It-All-Trivia – CrowdStar – 3mm+
– Word Challenge – Playfish – 3mm+
– Who Has the Biggest Brain – Playfish – 3mm+
– Vampire Wars – Zynga – 2.7mm
– Friends For Sale – Serious Business – 2.6mm 

In 2 years, there are 14,000+ games:
– 3 games with 10mm mau
– 30 games with 1mm mau
– 100 games with 100,000 mau
– 300 games with 10,000 mau
– 1,000+ games with 1,000 mau

Little monetization, rules, infrastructure, powerful viral channels:  invites, notifications, newsfeed – liberal approach led to spam, fatigue.   

FB Connect has been the biggest development in the last 6 months for the social app ecosystem, API allows developers to use social graph data elsewhere (identity, social context, sharing, publishing in a frictionless way, no more log-in), lets you move social graph to multi-device gaming, play the same game with friends across devices, FB Connect making mobile social – FB Connect, iPhone, Xbox, DSi.  

Best kept secret, has as many users as FB (WW 125mm, US 60mm) with twice the ARPUs.  Average revenue per user for top games are $1-$2/month, FB $.30-$.40, MS $.60-$.70.  Opened as a gaming platform a year later than FB, virtual currency coming, FB games are porting over to MS, less crowded, 125mm mau, good viral channels, although more conservative than FB, doesn’t share active player metrics.

#1 social network in 30 countries, big in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, recently restructured entire company around games.  
Now a social entertainment network
with games, virtual currency, and aspirational IDs.  Innovative partnerships with payment companies, 400 games focus on transactions.

3P XPlatform SDKs – Come2Play, J2Play, OpenFeint, ScoreLoop, Gameyola
– Casual/Flash portals (, Kongregate, Pogo, Bigpoint, AddictingGames)
– Web portals – igoogle, MyYahoo – jury is out whether address bookcontacts =friends to play games with, 10mm mau, Y! contacts diff than connections
– Twitter has RPGs Spymaster, 140Mafia, early games:  Fast140, TweetQuiz, very different platform, games feel more like spam.  Following people is very different than friending on social networks.  Greater role will be in integration with consoles (Xbox)

More than half of revenue comes from user payments, the rest from offers, sponsored items, ads.  Offers can be 60-70% effective.  
CPA based offers – Offerpal, Super Rewards, Peanut Labs, Ad Parlor, Gambit, Sometrics, sponsored items – advertiser pays for distribution ($300 greenbucks for every $12 spent), direct payments increasing share of revenue
Web – socialgold, spare change, FB credits, hi5 coins
Mobile – Zong, Boku
Virtual economy optimization – economic management, retain reporting, many new solutions, payment challenges – offers, credit cards, shopping carts, mobile, geo/age limitations, many new solutions 
Freemium dominates, free to paid conversion rates are lower in social games (.5-1.5%) than MMORPGs.  

Free to play games on social networks, crowded monetization ecosystems, social networks FB MS getting involved, optimizing for monetization earlier, new games bridging social and mobile.  Continued focus on engagement, retention, monetization, gaming is a $50B industry, social games just a small percentage, industry only two years old.  

II.  Jeremey Liew, Lightspeed Venture Partners
with Zynga, Playdom, Playfish

On Cloning
As three of the fastest growing social games developers took the stage, all eyes were on Marc Pincus, CEO, Zynga and John Pleasants, CEO, Playdom considering the hit Zynga put out on Playdom for cloning Mafia Wars with Mobsters.  But Pincus was extremely chummy with Pleasants, smiling and whispering in his ear, even laughing at Zynga’s own cloning strategy (FarmVille knocking off SlashKey’s Farm Town, Mafia Wars knocking off Maestri’s Mob Wars.)  Of course, he was being social, that’s what this is all about.  The courts will decide whether cloning is infringement, but meanwhile copycat games, fair or not, are the way many speed to market.  (for more, read Patrick Hoge, SF Business Times^1858291

On Hit Portfolios
Facebook has created an environment where a newcomer can create a hit out of the blue, Farm Town shot to #1 with 4mm daily active users. Cross-promotion and installed base keeps marketing costs down but are not the advantage viral referral is, but viral is more than just invites which can be perceived as spam. Engagement and quality drive acquisition. Console is a mature industry where its a win-lose for every new entrant, but with social games, every new entrant expands the market, draws in new players, its a win-win, all boats rise.  Pleasants, former EA COO, and new kid on the block shared insights.  Games traditionally were always sold to the 25y male hard core gamer with story arc, competition, achievement, rewards, showing off, being prideful, fear of losing, frustration, anger, gaining over someone else, leveling, and scarcity of items fueling the game.  Traiditionally, hits drive category growth.  But social games are not as much about IP as they are about the way the game interacts, must nail viral, social mechanics rather than just the game mechanics.  And since web is the game platform, you get more swings at the plate.  Change games on a weekly basis to tweek the customer experience.  Mitigate risk to drive a hit portfolio.  In packaged games, distribution can make or break a game, and its costly.  iPhone is similar, only so many can fit on the shelf, if you’re not charting in the top 25, you’re not there.  But social games come from your friends, not limited to a single place, levels the playing field.  (Pincus suggested forming a consortium of social game developers to approach Apple, Palm for an open social gaming platform on mobile).  Digital distribution is a huge factor in creating a mass market, look at the success of WOW, coop mmorpg (, portal distribution, mobile with iPhone and Android, where you can quickly deploy to multiple countries.

On Virtual Goods
The white knight on the panel was Sebastien de Halleux, CEO, Playfish, with his Belgian demeanor and poetic vision.  Capture your audience’s imagination, let them deeply engage with content, and play together.  So inspiring, there wasn’t a person I spoke with after the talk who wasn’t in that moment checking out Restaurant City on their computer, or wanting to.  In the first 5 weeks of launch, Restaurant City reached 5mm users with no cross-promotion.  At Playfish, the core metric is fun, they know they have a winner when employees can’t stop playing.  They design games as objects of social interaction so users will be motivated to invite friends to play, perceive value to investing in game over time.  Quality (surround sound, fantastic graphics, immersive experience) shows players the game will pesist, worth the investment of time and money to build social capital.  For Restaurant City, lovingly referred to as RC, players invite friends to help run the restaurant and are motivated to dress avatar, spend on an attractive storefront, soundtrack , etc.  Games like RC transform FB into a Second Life. And real-life behavior is echoed in these virtual worlds.  Around the holidays, Pet Society sold 20 million Xmas trees at $2 each.  When players were asked why, they responded that in real life only a handful will see my real Xmas tree, but everyone can see my virtual one, you can touch more people online with one action and its a way to keep the plates spinning…. Connection with the audience is key to dynamic game design….Playdom sold $100,000 pink VWs on Sorority Life in 2 days simply by listening to audience chatter on what they wanted to buy….The disconnection in our real lives fuels the economy for gift giving of virtual goods.  Pleasants – I may not have time to sit down for a game of Connect Four with my kids but I can make a move in an online game, relate better to kids through shared gaming experience. ….if you’re going to hang out online with friends you never see, you’ll pay to look good.  And with scarcity of those goods, there is greater value.

On Real ID
At Zynga, likens the social network context to a cocktail party and all your friends are there.  The 3 pillars to a successful game long term are real friends, self-expression, and social capital (invest in game over time, own something of value).  YoVille has 10,000 items for sale.  Can use for entertainment or networking.  Social gaming can crossover to cultural phenomenon when half of internet is doing it.  Must feel real and relevant. Dynamic and deep way to communicate and interact, do something new and and in different ways.  Friends will fatigue on feeds, need a new story, new things you can do with your friends, the game is a playground for personality, more than just tricking out with avatars….There are 300,000 peak concurrent users playing poker, 75% of the time a friend is playing at the same time….Playfish limits play to real friends 18y+, skews 18-54y.  The emotional value of playing with friends is significantly higher than with strangers, so is the engagement, you build social capital to impress real friends, games are not a you vs. them but rather with the spectrum of emotions, love, friendship, pride, maximize these emotions with real life connections, like a boardgame, you’ll remember the good time you had not so much the moves to win.

On Investment
Analysis of metrics and targets are key before throwing promotional muscle behind game.  Zynga promotes heavily at launch to accelerate into market. Invested $2mm to develop Guild of Heroes only to kill it at 10,000 players, didn’t have the right metrics to launch.  That said, niche audiences are desirable even if smaller like the 2mm on Playfish’s Minigolf, when 11mm is considered a hit.

On The Audience
There is a gender split 18-34y, most never played video games, enjoying the social experience with friends (fans reports being addicted to beating family members at Biggest Brain), moves it to the broader consumer realm, consider themselves more social than gamers, watch the Twitter stream, they don’t use the same language as gamers.

On The Companies

Zynga – started 2/07 with 10 – now have 300 full time employees plus 50 contractors, hiring, have 90 open recs, based in Potrero Hill SF with backend, net ops and data wh in Los Gatos.  4 studios: Mobile, Casual, MMO, Virtual Goods, 9-10 product groups.  Pincus hope is that soon half the internet will be playing a social game everyday.

Playdom – started 16 months ago – 65 employees, 3 founders in their 20s, still with company focused on operations, 12 MS games, 5 FB games, 1 iPhone game, run lean and mean with 45 on game production, 20 on the business side.

Playfish – 100 employees across 4 creative studios – London, Beijing, Artic Circle(Tromso, Norway), SF (5), produced 7 games in 18 months, iPhone and consoles as access devices to FB web platform, same app, scoring.. Quality more important than distribution.  Game is not a science, can’t be modeled, mix of creative and technical DNA, learn from one title to the next what’s working, freedom to build a fun product has a huge impact on the lives of the people inside the company.  With Biggest Brain, since 2007, weekly release, keep it simple, respond to the audience, not something you can do with a traditional game that’s in development over 5 years.  A social game is not a product that goes live, happening now is a paradigm shift from game as product to game as service, from day one you are building a long term relationship, there is a lot of interplay between developer and audience. 

III.  Michael Arrington, Tech Crunch with FB, MS, hi5, OPI 

70mm US mau, 30mm active app users, working on a MS Connect, only serves to expand the market, it’s all greenspace right now

Seeing more game activity than WOW, social graph + real ID is at the core of FB being a successful social game channel, the larger the audience, the more valuable the platform to the developer, lack of payment system doesn’t hurt FB ecosystem, developers are free to use any payment system they want, sees huge growth on the horizon in multi-device gaming thanks to FB Connect and the summer of smartphones, this is the year consoles will go social across platforms.

3P payment solution makes the platform valuable to developers so that games can be easily monetized abroad as well as in US.  hi5 aspirational IDs, some game play lends itself to avatars, wouldn’t want to whack a friend holding two babies.  Regarding messaging,very cautious, monitor CTR carefully, if low, dial back on messaging, focus on honing and targeting so messages are not rejected as spam, build once, port everywhere.

85mm on their two social networks, in China, gaming is bigger revenue than ads and search, social gaming is a $5B market in China, many games have Xmm concurrent users. (tweets:  did OPI guy just say 1B concurrent users on social nets in China, no he said 80mm).  Arrington catches it, “Really, because that’s like a substantial portion of the world’s population.”  OPI replied in good humor, “I meant 1mm concurrent users…let’s blame it on jetlag.”  Then everyone bolted for lunch.  When the video posts, watch for it.  Absolutely hilarious.  


TechCrunch –  RSS is Dead, Long Live The Stream!

Friday, July 10, join the scene at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City as TechCrunch presents CrunchUp with Facebook, FriendFeed, Microsoft, Salesforce, Seesmic, Tweetmeme, and other thought leaders of the Real Time Stream.  Then head over to August Capital in Menlo Park for a way cool after-party, where hopefully there’ll be some Pong 🙂

Event details and tickets at:  See ya there!


IV.  Monetization-PayPal, Super Rewards, Zong, GMG

GMG Entertainment – from 10/1-11/15, feature printable PDF to show mom and dad whch retailers are selling the prepaid card the kids want (a tweeter asks is it legal to market virtual currency to minors), the prepaid economy taps into the billions spent on gift-giving and allowance

PayPal – launching PayPal developer platform and new API, sign up to become a PayPal platform insider, hear about the beta SDK and developer conference this fall at, soon to be  offering 13-17y student accounts for parents, fraud chargeback rates average 5%, developers happy with 1-1.5%, PayPal concerned when it reaches .5%-1%, soon posting best practices for avoiding fraud on website

Super Rewards – player to player trading increases fraud 100x but not monetization, so don’t allowing trading or cashing out, paid offers is a great way to get players to try the game before starting to pay directly, one user spent $30,000 on 2 games, need a way to capture these outliers

Zong – RMTs a manageable problem
Much competition in the payments ecosystem, consolidation is inevitable 
(Audience Qs: unpack RMT acronym and true vs. friendly fraud)

V. Acquisition/Retention-Offerpal, WonderHill, RockYou, Tagged

FB better retention, no one uninstalls an app because they are not visible, developers can always reengage, MS has greater churn, can lose 10-60% after install because apps are more visible, part of profile, player is more sensitive on MS because app is part of identity, MS less viral, aged up for these messages, need to juice invite path, adoption path, with incentivized virality (beware TOS spamming, devaluing currency with too many offers), conversion rates from FB/MS to destination sites are better than expected.  5-7% of daily returning users is good, discounting promos. FB redesign reduced spam not engagement, focus on building momentum with newsfeeds and notifications (if developer goes skiing, engagement dies off), gaining the FB system, newsfeed very powerful, but gets pushed down fast, need to reinvent viral path, daily/hourly incentives, alerts for retention depends on user behavior, bonus poker chips daily.  Key conversion rates are #monthly users that become daily users. Successful brands mix zero marketing spend viral strategy (word of mouth, cross-promotion, SEO) with paid advertising to acquire users.  Buy ads on FB, MS, RockYou, TV – justify the ad spend with LTV.  Virality with game mechanics – time retention events,  leveling up, treasure chests of randomized gifts, periodicity, novelty of awards to avoid boredom.  

For branding/discoverability, vanity URLs, bookmarking, destination sites. Acquirers value companies with destination sites than those that live on social networks alone, they want something tangible to own. Look to where growth is occuring, MS was less crowded so WonderHill went there first, other great platforms include Friendster, hi5, Tagged, photolog, value proposition to apps, access to a lot of users, not much competition.  Monetize with microtransactions on free-to-play sites.  Stay tuned for more licensed IP on FB for customer acquisition.

50-80mm actively engaged, closed platform, signs BD deals with developers to offer stability for a term, won’t be surprised by a change of TOS. The gold standard is when 50% login daily like Facebook, Tagged is at 25%, 10-50% is a good range to be in.

– Most monetizable demographic – US women, 34-50y!  
– capturing someone doesn’t always mean they monetize well
– 30-40% paying after biting on offers for RPGs on social networks
– look at niches like Christian Singles 
– 80% on Twitter have less than 10 followers (spam bots, perhaps?) 

VI.  Real Metrics – Friends For Sale, Lil Green Patch
– Slides:
– Metrics are a force multiplier, but you need something to multiply, can’t replace a good product, creativity, art, design, or qualitative metrics (user sentiment, net promoter score, etc.)
– (life time value – user acquisition cost) x scale = profit
– user acquisition costs – virality, retention, cross-promotion, marketing
– lifetime value – retention, quality, flow, mechanics, theme, payments
– 3As of metrics – actionable, accessible, auditable
– actionable – build a framework for experimentation not vanity, emphasis on split testing and actionable insights
– accessible – on demand experimentation capabilities, timely, transparent and accessible reporting, separate metrics infrastructure as much as possible
– auditable – sanity check against other data sources: db, fb, google analytics
– the viral loop = visit (product quality, new user experience, social proof – friends, key metric – activiation rate- revenue), infection (invite flows, retention, call to actions, game mechanics, self expression, alocation tuning, key metric – infection rate), conversion (copywriting, persuasion psychology, demographic targeting, key metric – click through rate)
– virality discounts user acquisition costs potentially down to $0 
– user acquisition cost discount k = infection rate * conversion rate (summed across all channels) 
– decrease user acquisition cost to increase life time value
– infection rate – viral flows, calls to action, product quality, game mechanics, allocation tuning
– conversion rate – copywriting, persuasion mechanics/psychology, demographic testing
– viral channels – request, notifications, feed forms, email, profile box, share link, email, app tab 
– build a dashboard for experimentation that allows the study of sensitivity analyses, run tests on 1% re:  language of messaging, metrics can help with revenue, gain actionable insights on virtual goods behavior, on Green Patch stats show average spend $0-$2 for games with nearly 5000 users

VII.  Three Rings, Sparkplay Media, Challenge Games, Kongregate

Sparkplay Media and Three Rings willing to pay $30 for a qualified lead, LTV of a paying Puzzle Pirates customer is $150, but Three Rings not willing to pay it upfront.  Social network games are not MMORPGs, they are single player, asynch play, you don’t get to play your friends realtime, many games like RC use paper cutouts of friends, or force creation of false friends that corrupts the social graph (FB doesn’t let you play with others unless they are friends).  The more social a game, the more commitment required, the more you play, the more you play.  The more social capital (quality, status, fun), the more social games will become mainstream.  Kongregate is growing 8-10% month as a destination site, not splitting focus by going on FB but likes the idea of FB Connect.

Who’s Who in the Mix

At Breakfast – Jeremy Zorn, MyYearbook, Scott & Rachel Thomas, Alif Khalfan, Playdom, Charles Yong, developerAnalytics, Chris Akhavan, RockYou, Dr John Banks, CCI Queensland, Caryl Shaw, EA/Maxis, Barbara North, Moblying, Greg Jagiello, IMVU, Woody Hartman, IGN

At Lunch – Kim Kaplan, Plenty of Fish, talked about:
– how in just 6 years, Plenty of Fish has grown to $350mm in revenue, with 16mm monthly uniques, traffic 4x that of, .15% CTRs
– online dating trends with 1 in 5 now meet their mate online
– and the importance of fresh campaigns every year, seeking out creative spends like exclusive sponsorship of music videos (e.g. Flo-Rida,, Akon Available), NYC/Boston subway billboard campaigns (remnant inventory high ROI, low cost)

Mingling – Anne-Marie Edwards, PlayFirst, Matt Golden, Blackberry Partners Fund (fabulous speaker at EconSM), Georg Alscher, DaoPay (major SGS sponsor), Olivier Delfosse, FremantleMedia (hopefully this means the Price is Right, American Idol brands are extending into social games), Tomio Geron, VentureWire , and Kim Vallee, blogger extraordinaire, possibly with the most comprehensive tweets of the event, and my tablemate, Tom Griffiths,

Other Coverage
Audio Interview of FB Gareth Davis
Venture Beat
Offerpal Blog
 hi5 Blog
Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog
Inside Social Games
Virtual World News
Jussi Laakkonen Blog
Crowdsourced Summary

3 Responses to “Social Gaming Summit/Mafia Wars, Money, Metrics and Michael Arrington”

  1. There is many Player who play Mafia Wars.. that why there much mau there

  2. That’s a long post. Mafia wars is almost number 1 !! 🙂 I’m curious about the stats of this day.

  1. 1 Social Gaming Summit: Post 1 Differences between platforms| SMO | Traffichoney

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: