Guest post by Hassan Baig who runs Islamabad based Facebook development start-up called White Rabbits.
After the introduction of Facebook’s Open Platform in late 2007, the social gaming industry has become hot with hundreds of millions of dollars poured in by venture capitalists.
Moreover since 2007, several large Facebook gaming companies have come of age – Zynga, Playfish (now EA), Playdom, Crowdstar being the most notable examples – and have shown the world spectacular spurts in revenue unprecedented in recent business history. Social gaming is perhaps one of the hottest industries to step into right now in terms of bottomline potential and relative poverty of barriers to entry.
If you’re looking to jump into this niche, here are some pointers to get you started:
Why Facebook gaming?
- Because it’s fairly simple to build compared to AAA games like World of Warcraft and the like.
- Because it’s not that hard to monetize through the sale of virtual goods and offers.
- Because gaining user-base is immensely helped via Facebook’s social stream.
- Because Facebook is adding around a 100 million users every month (ever-growing potential user-pool).
- Because these games cannot be pirated.
But then, some may wonder: why not get into iPhone game development? Afterall, it’s an incredibly powerful tool with great production-value potential and never-seen-before mechanics. Here are my thoughts on the subject:
- Because Facebook trumps the iPhone in terms of potential user-base by hundreds of millions of more users!
- Because piracy is endemic over iPhone games. You won’t get a dime for around 70% – 80% of your downloads unless you invest serious resources in anti-piracy measures.
- Because as a monetization platform, the iPhone undersells your applications whereas Facebook over-sells them.
- Because as a monetization platform, the iPhone takes a 30% cut in every dollar you earn. Facebook takes none.
Make no mistake about it; the iPhone is a great way to make some money. Just that Facebook is greater.
What technology should I use?
The game itself will have its front-end coded in ActionScript 3.0 (older versions are not supported anymore), artwork done in Adobe Illustrator and/or Flash, animation work done in Flash, and the back-end having your usual mySQL database(s). These are essentially tools you’d need for any flash game.
Confessedly, this is not the only way to do it. But whichever method you end up using (and you can research that on Google), it’s going to be complicated stuff. There will be days (and nights) when you’ll be stuck on something and no one in the whole world would be able to help you. Literally! So be consistent.
Do expect numerous bugs which keep popping up on the Open Platform, coupled with ever-changing Facebook API may bug you hard, but don’t give up. I’m not saying don’t get into this business, I’m saying know what you’re up against. Bet on facts, not hope.
How do I monetize?
There are two answers to this conundrum. The trivial one is this: outsource your monetization platform to service providers such as these. They’ll probably do some sort of a revenue share with you and it’ll be an all-round win-win situation.
Here’s the harder answer: coming up with content which users actually want to buy. The one thing that you’ll need to keep in mind is ensuring your game centers upon sale of virtual items. That’s the real money-maker. You can Google virtual goods if you don’t understand the concept – many blogs such as these are littered with information.
What should be your strategy to get maximum users to fish out their credit cards for you? Take it from the gurus of monetization here. Be very clear about the fact that unless your game is rich in content, it will not be a good candidate for sale of virtual goods. Which means that quizzes and simple games are out. Which means content-rich games like Pet Society or Farmville are good ideas to emulate. Perhaps the least content-rich game which still monetizes nicely is this – you can use this as a least common denominator of sorts.
Last but not least, whatever content you finally decide on – please do not forget that majority of Facebook game users are female (around 55%-45% break-up), and that vanity virtual items (e.g. decorations) are the biggest selling category of virtual goods out there.
Where do I gather research from?
First of all, do not forget that those who don’t do their research won’t last long in this industry. In any industry. Even beginner’s luck doesn’t last forever.
- To find out all about Facebook gaming trends, bookmark www.insidesocialgames.com.
- To find out Facebook games’ metrics in terms of monthly active users (MAU) or daily active users (DAU), bookmark www.appdata.com
- To understand the psychology that goes behind effective virtual goods monetization, bookmark ZT Online’s classic case study here.
- To understand what successful viral mechanics on Facebook work best, bookmark this article (though the ‘notifications’ bit of it is outdated).
- To understand how Facebook’s Open Platform will morph over time, bookmark this.
- And lastly, to understand virility, bookmark this article.
Facebook game development is a hot industry right now and the time is ripe to jump into the fray. Any later and you would run the risk of missing the band-wagon. If you’re ready to take on the challenges, the rewards can be immense. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, I’m just saying it’s going to be worth it.
Go for it.
About the author: Hassan Baig runs White Rabbit Inc, one of Pakistan’s pioneering Facebook development start-up. Hassan is a LUMS and Duke University grad, and has previous experience in investment banking. You can get in touch with him at baig-dot-hassan-at-gmail-dot-com