London-based King.com has launched just three of its games on Facebook so far, and yet it’s already the fourth-largest game developer on the social network worldwide.
The titles King.com has made available on Facebook now represent about two-thirds of the 1 billion plays that King records each month. Total monthly gameplays are up five-fold in the past year, attracting now more than 25m monthly unique users and the number of King.com games played per month has gone up from 500 million to 1.2 billion.
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We met with Riccardo Zacconi, the chief executive and founder of King.com,who spoke at the Game On! Panel at LeWeb 2011, to talk about the trends for gaming in 2012, what’s next for King.com and the future of casual social games.
2011 marked a turning point for King.com, with your move to Facebook bringing you incredible results in only a few months. Can you tell us more about how all this happened?
Riccardo Zacconi: “We started the company in 2003, so we are one of “the oldies”, and we’ve developed over the course of 8 years about 160 casual games, all of which were games you could play with other people, not just by yourself. We distributed these games through online partners.
In 2008 Facebook started taking off and we saw that more and more traffic was going from classic partners to Facebook, but we still didn’t launch anything there. We were a bit late to Facebook, we only started trying different things in 2010. We launched our first game last April, an existing title from Kings.com, which we put in what we call a social envelope, a story mode where you can play not only the 3 minutes game, but you can also play with a story line and many levels, so it lasts much longer.
We launched the second game in June, the third game in October and within 8 months we’ve become the fourth biggest game developer on Facebook with 5.8 million daily players. Our latest game became within two months the largest casual game on Facebook with 3.3 million players per day. Bejeweled, a classic game title, became the second largest casual game on Facebook with 2.7 million daily players.”
What’s next for King.com? What are your priorities for the first months of 2012?
Riccardo Zacconi: “For 2012 our number one goal is to continue to launch new games on Facebook. Every game has to have super high quality. The first focus is that – continue to build on the reach of Facebook and Google+.
We plan to bring the rest of our 160 titles on Facebook’s platform. This is the easy part as thanks to this platform we’ve developed and which we use for every new game, making the transition very efficient. For instance, for the latest game we launched on Facebook we only had to change 1% of the code on the platform.
The second one is to do the same thing we have done on Facebook on mobile, and these are our two key strategic priorities for 2012. I think casual games are perfect to bring on mobile, as they don’t really need to change. Now, we are in the process of developing mobile games, we’ve launched our first test game and we’ll be launching our first saga game in January, which is basically the same game you have on Facebook, and then more games will follow.
We opened up three new development offices, next to our main development office which is in Stockholm, one in Romania with main focus on mobile, one in Poland with focus on social and a third office in Malmo so we can have access to the talent pool of Denmark.”
What about Google+ as a gaming platform? Is it too soon to say if it’s worth the investment or not?
Riccardo Zacconi: “We just launched on Google+. My feeling is that Google+ is a long-term play, it would be hasty to say it’s off because they had more traction initially. I think that for Google it’s a strategic move, they will put Google+ in the center of search and in the center of their android efforts. For smaller players it makes sense to focus your resources, meaning focusing on Facebook alone but if you are a bigger player you need to make your strategic investments and pay attention to more platforms.”
Do you think Zynga’s IPO, and the increasing popularity of social gaming has attracted more interest from VCs? How has it affected game developers?
Riccardo Zacconi: “There is a lot of interest in the VC community for games but at the same time it’s much more difficult to get money in comparison to two or three years ago. Then, the quality didn’t really matter as long as you offered a game on Facebook. Since Facebook was growing so fast you were growing with Facebook. Now it’s more complex, in order to compete you must have:
1. Quality. The quality of each game must be much higher these days as the competition stiffens.
2. A rich portfolio. You need to have more than one or two games, a rich portfolio helps retain the user long-term.
3. Marketing muscle and a very good marketing team, so you can build up a user base.”
Has Facebook made your work ‘easier’?
Riccardo Zacconi: “Definitely. In the past we had to also build a community from along with the game, where you could see your friends and set up a profile. Now you can focus on building the game and just integrate all the community functionality from Facebook, which is much more efficient.”
What do you ‘read’ in your demographics? What countries are in your focus?
Riccardo Zacconi: “From the demographics point of view, our target group are casual players which means females over 25. If you look at who is playing the Zynga games, like Farmville, it’s also the same group of users. There is also a second set of users who are playing games like Zynga Poker and Mafia Wars, those are younger males, but this is not our target group. In terms of countries, we focus on the US and Europe. We don’t focus yet on Japan or China and we plan to work on that for the second half of the year.”
What do you think will be the big trends for gaming in 2012?
Riccardo Zacconi: Casual social gaming is going to be big in 2012 because mobile is a reality that is growing very fast, and social platforms like Facebook are a reality that is already there. Facebook’s penetration especially is super high. Additionally the recent changes in Facebook’s app makes playing games through Facebook’s mobile app look really good.
The fact that almost everyone has installed the Facebook app on their phone means that if you have a game on Facebook, it’s super easy for anyone with a Facebook account to access and playing in on mobile even if you haven’t built a mobile app for the game yet. In other words, if you have a large user base on Facebook, this enables to also build a strong user base on mobile I believe. We now have the largest casual game on Facebook and so if we develop the same casual game also for mobile and it’s free, I think it’s gonna be interesting. Also tablets will factor in the success for social gaming in 2012. Tablets will substitute, I believe, home use of computers, it’s much nicer to sit on your couch with a tablet and enjoy a game.”
Do you believe that Kindle will be a strong player?
Riccardo Zacconi: “I just received my Kindle Fire before I came to LeWeb , from the US. I’ve held it in my hands but haven’t really used it yet. From a physical point of you though just by interacting with the hardware, you know you need to love your gadgets, I love it! it’s only so small but it feels right, it feels good.
I think it’s great for consumption of content. Actually I like it so much that for the King.com Christmas party I’ve bought a Kindle Fire for everyone in the company. I believe that this is the device that will open up the tablet market, unless iPad becomes cheaper. It’s a price point. For a large portion of users to pay 400 or 600 dollars is too expensive, whereas Amazon’s Kindle Fire is very affordable.”
What do you thing will be big for the gaming world in 2012 apart from the social media effect?
Riccardo Zacconi: “Casual is a genre of games that you can put accross everywhere, so this is one thing, next thing I think are specific genres for which there is a high demand, especially high quality game titles for a male audience that likes to play, for example on a console.
They are used to playing games with a much higher quality, but the quality that is offered now on mobile and social platforms is not enough for them. Games of chance is also an area that we’ve seen some companies developing games which are getting traction because of the instant monetization, but it’s a niche group, but in terms of reach I think definitely casual games on all devices I think will be an interesting trend to see.”