torsdag 11. februar 2010

Facebook case study: Ohai’s City of Eternals social game launches with solid metrics

Since social game publisher Ohai started testing its City of Eternals game on Facebook three months ago, the title has secured a solid following of players who are spending a lot of time and money in the vampire game. Now the game is moving into open beta where anyone can sign up to join.
Susan Wu, chief executive of San Francisco-based Ohai, said in an interview yesterday that the company tested the game in a private alpha test of 40,000 users. The results of the casual massively multiplayer online game have been illuminating, and Wu has taken the unusual step of sharing them with us.
The MMO game is a free-to-play title where players become vampires, fights zombies, customize their characters, and go on quests. It plays in real time, meaning the action is continuous and you’re constantly surrounded by other players moving about in the city, which is rendered in 2.5 dimensions (the view is 3-D, but the camera stays fixed in one position). By contrast, most Facebook games are played asynchronously, or one move at a time, and they’re much slower paced than City of Eternals. Players can play on Facebook or enjoy the game full screen on Ohai’s own web site. The game is social because you can click on any character to see the player’s real-life identity on Facebook and you can recruit your friends into a vampire entourage.
Players can buy items in the game to enhance game play, remove barriers, or customize their characters. The number of players spending money so far is a single digit percentage, and that number is two to three times more than is typical for most games. On average, Wu said that players who are spending money have spent $16.50 each in the first 30 days.
That’s a very good number, considering Blizzard Entertainment makes less than that on each player in World of Warcraft, the most popular subscription MMO. Wu said the number is good because the company spent a lot of time thinking about what kinds of items it would sell and how to set up the game so that players would be motivated to buy them.
Also good is the fact that the average player spends 65 minutes a day in the game. The most active 10,000 players are spending an average of 87 minutes in the game, which is very high for a Facebook game. The most active 1 percent spend seven hours per day in the game. (And those players are active, since the game logs you out if you are inactive for 20 minutes). About 42 percent of active users play multiple sessions a day, and 60 percent of active users return within seven days.
The demographics are interesting too for an action role-playing game. About 60 percent of the players are male, and 40 percent are female. Usually, most players are normal. But these numbers reflect the fact that there are a lot of female gamers on Facebook. About 70 percent of the most active members in the game are female.
The most active player in the past seven days is a woman name Tanya, who has spent 12.77 hours each day in the game. Wagner James Au, a blogger who is working for Ohai creating missions in the game, says the diverse group of players includes Diana, a 20-something non-gamer who is a concert violinist in Transylvania (where vampires are quite popular).
The top 100 players have played the game for hundreds of hours. That’s interesting because isn’t that much content available in the game’s missions. But players can keep on playing because they can socialize with each other, earn virtual currency, and do other things that keep them occupied.
Wu said the early results are encouraging. The company put three engineers to work for nine months to build the engine for the game and the game itself. Now it can reuse the engine and build a new game every three months, Wu said. The company is shooting to build eight games this year with its staff of 13, which is supplemented by outside contractors.
Production has already begun on a second game, which will be a virtual world for animals. After that, Ohai plans to do a mafia game and then a fashion game. Wu is already seeking out portals where the company can distribute the game, beyond just putting it on Facebook.
On the monetization side, the top spender in the game has purchased $584 worth of virtual goods in the past 30 days. The highest volume items are storage (vampires have to carry a lot of things; a Kevlar briefcase costs $7.20), clothing (a male’s haze leather trenchcoat sells for $5.50) and potions. About 44 percent of the purchasers are female. The most expensive item sold in the game so far has been a grand piano that went for $20.
One of the toughest problems so far is getting the game performance to be top notch in real time. I played it and noticed there is lag. The graphics also don’t look that great to me. But for many players on Facebook, these are secondary considerations to social game play.
The key isn’t to perfect the graphics. Rather, the point is to get a lot of players to join the game and to keep them coming back and recruiting new friends. So far, each player brings about 12.5 friends with them, since the game is so social. Wu estimates that the company can get to profitability on a game with a million users. The company is prepared to advertise heavily, so long as the revenues that result are well above the amount spent.
City of Eternals has a long way to go, but it’s off to a good start. If these numbers hold up as the game grows, it will be a hit.
Wu said, “It will be exciting to do our part in changing the MMO industry.”

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