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A recent press story that was published in the New York Times says that bad corporate culture could destroy Zynga.  The article talks about how Zynga intimidated staff into returning stock options and also mentions lawsuits against EA and Activision brought by their employees. In all of these companies what is not being questioned is “what” they make or “what” they do, but “how” their people go about doing it, and “who” this says they are. What is implied is that, in the end, if customers don’t like the people, they won’t want to use their products.

Companies need to care more about “who” and “how” because of how actively consumers connect with brands, companies, and the people behind them. On the Internet, news travels not just fast, but superfast. The world is increasingly transparent. Netflix recently announced a customer service policy change that was unpopular. They rapidly shed customers and the value of their stock plummeted nearly 80%, trimming the company’s value by more than $12 billion. Before this misstep it looked like Netflix could do no wrong.

As the game industry goes to the web and becomes increasingly viral, we are shifting from products to services. The industry used to have a phrase, “ship it and forget it”. But with live online services, the true business now begins only after the public begins to use a new game and gives us feedback about it. And these services involve millions of daily interactions with our customers. Customers notice how responsive we are and how they are treated, and they’re going to talk about it and it’s going to go viral. To be competitive we have to behave better than our competitors. We need to develop healthy ecosystems both internally and externally. A first and basic need is for our employees to collaborate. I also think that even with competitors, we need to look for more new ways to connect, share, cooperate and build value as collaborators. Because of the nature of the Internet it is possible for many companies to collaborate and make new ecosystems that are better for everyone.

I’ve always believed in building a strong corporate culture. Back at Apple in 1979, the founders asked me to lead a committee to define Apple Corporate Values, which we defined for the first time. And from then until I left in 1982, I gave a weekly speech to our new employees as the company grew from 50 people to 4,000. I think that giving attention to corporate values helps sustain the right culture as an organization grows. Managers can incorporate “who” people are and “how” they behave in recruiting new staff and rewarding and promoting existing staff. I took the same approach when I founded Electronic Arts. Time and leadership changes are going to modify organizations but even after 30 years both of these companies are alive and well.

At Digital Chocolate, I worked with my early employees to choose key values that would fit into an acronym. To my amusement, they waited until I was out of the room to organize them into the acronym, “EIEIO”, which helps us keep our sense of humor. Our key values are Excellence, Innovation, Energy, Integrity and Ownership. We want to do things well and we have made over 100 award-winning games. We’ve always focused on originating our own IP (Intellectual Property) and we’ve built a culture that has the courage and trust to do it well. We are very passionate about what we do, and it takes tremendous energy and commitment to tolerate the industry’s high pace of change. Integrity is very important to me. We have a one-class work society that is an open, transparent, fair, empowering, egalitarian, and team-oriented meritocracy. For example, I have always insisted that every employee must have stock options so that we are all owners. We’ve had to make extra legal efforts with the governments of India, Spain, and Russia to make this happen. Many other companies would not have cared or would have given up. We bring that same attitude to how we value and prize our customers. Finally, we are determined to hold ourselves accountable to each other and to our customers. We strive to do the right thing and to follow through on our commitments. We respect each other and our customers. Frankly, we’re grateful.

The book, Creating a Business You’ll Love, has a great story by Howard Schultz of Starbucks. They didn’t think their espresso was good enough so they closed all their stores two hours early one day in order to do a massive live training session. They admitted to their customers that their service wasn’t good enough. And they actively chose to lose money in 7,100 stores for those two hours. I don’t think there is any doubt that their brand and trust grew enormously from this commitment and dedication to caring for their customers.

In the game industry shift from product to service, it’s no longer about the game; it’s about the customer experience. And the customer experience involves rapid feedback loops between our players and our employees. We all need to tune up our organizational cultures to match up with this; and our customers need to be included as members of our team. We need to feel their needs, respond and align with them. The key purpose is to build trust among and between our employees and our customers. That will be the future of great brands.

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Evercore Partners’ research analyst Ken Sena, drawing from sources including The Gartner Group, is forecasting the game industry to reach nearly $115B by 2017, more than doubling from $50B in 2010.They also forecast traditional console and PC games to fall by more than half to a bit more than $15B, leaving the balance of nearly $100B to come from the new disruptive forces of social, mobile and virtual goods.So I may have been the first to predict that our new industry would rapidly crack $100B, but I’m no longer the only one.PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP seconds the motion, pointing out recently that browser-based and mobile games will surpass console games as early as 2013.

See research report.

Meanwhile, in a recent research paper by Clipperton Finance, Digital Chocolate was featured for having the 2nd highest social game MAU growth in the last year, of those ranked in the Top 10 in percentage growth rate.

See rankings

The game industry used to be defined by one key custom game platform.Developers and publishers tried to be the first-movers for emerging new platform leaders, and did this by doing entirely native development to get close to the metal and maximize the highest possible performance in terms of graphics immersion.Players bought these games in a packaged goods form from traditional distribution channels using time-honored distribution business models that have been around for thousands of years.

Well, now that’s all going to go out the window.I’ll soon be starting a series of blog posts that explain why social value has been the biggest disruption in recent years but is, itself, about to be eclipsed by the browser, the cloud and The Era of Convenience.

The browser will emerge as the most disruptive product in history and will become the next big game platform.In a few years there will be more than 5 billion computing devices that can access the World Wide Web, including more than one billion tablets.Game revenue growth will be driven by cross-platform, interoperable, browser-based, cloud-based, free-to-play social games with virtual goods economies.

Developers and publishers will need to change direction and business practices to participate in this enormous opportunity.However, because of several elements of disruption and the open nature of the World Wide Web, game developers will have the biggest chance of their lives for both creative freedom and personal reward.Stay tuned!

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I was pleased recently to have the IEEE present me with a Lifetime Achievement Award, the first such honor they have bestowed upon anyone from the game industry.  The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers was already famous when I was a kid and now they have 400,000 members.  They call themselves, “the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology”.  Their slogan is “Advancing Technology for Humanity” and I am glad to continue to share that mission.  I received the award at their Games Innovation Conference.

Digital Chocolate has won a boatload of its own awards recently:

Zombie Rabbit Hunter – Silver Award

http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Mobile/Zombie+Rabbit+Hunter/review.asp?c=28469&srch=digital+chocolate

3D Rollercoaster Rush Underground – Silver Award

http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Mobile/3D+Rollercoaster+Rush+Underground/review.asp?c=25828&srch=digital+chocolate

Solitaire & Sudoku Deluxe – Bronze Award

http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Mobile/Solitaire+%26+Sudoku+Deluxe/review.asp?c=26170&srch=digital+chocolate

Snake Reloaded – Bronze Award

http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Mobile/Snake+Reloaded/review.asp?c=22162&srch=digital+chocolate

California Gold Rush: Bonanza! – Bronze Award

http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Mobile/California+Gold+Rush%3A+Bonanza%21/review.asp?c=21729&srch=California+Gold+Rush%3A+Bonanza%21

Star Invasion – Bronze Award

http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Mobile/Star+Invasion/review.asp?c=25126&srch=star+invasion

Gorilla Rampage – Bronze Award

http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Mobile/Gorilla+Rampage/review.asp?c=20793&srch=gorilla+rampage

Wedding Madness – Bronze Award

http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/Mobile/Wedding+Madness/review.asp?c=20888&srch=wedding+madness

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It’s really challenging these days to come up with a good name for a product or company.  You cannot protect words that are too descriptive in your category.  And if you come up with a nonsense word, nobody will know what it means and it will cost time and money to build meaning and value behind it.

I’ve always liked two word names where the words are descriptive but don’t belong together, so that the mash-up that occurs when you put them together can define something entirely new.  When I was at Apple Computer I saw how the name aroused curiosity and made computers approachable.  The purpose of the Electronic Arts name was to support my plan to promote video game development as a legitimate art form.  When I founded Digital Chocolate, I was looking for a name that would convey the idea of instant gratification in this new computerized mobile form.  My wife suggested a few names that I did not like, but one of them included the word, “chocolate”, and I liked the word.  I just put the word “digital” in front of it and had the solution I was looking for.  This is the kind of name that is easy to trademark and protect because real chocolate has nothing to do with our trade category, so the name is novel and protectable.  And we’re now one of the best-known phrases or companies that begin with the word, “digital”.

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by Trip on November 7th, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

I’m greatly saddened by the passing of Steve Jobs.  I began working with Steve in 1978 and he was my boss for a good chunk of my four-year tenure at Apple.  I am very grateful to have lived in his era, known him and learned from him.  He was a great source of inspiration in my life.  In my view, his legacy has two parts.

He brought computers to humanity.  He took computing from its total geekdom to fit the hand of man like a glove.  He uniquely understood how to bridge the chasm between the general public and our most amazing technologies.  Before Steve, computers were locked in large meat lockers, toiling mysteriously for the government and large corporations.  Because of Steve, every human being now wants to personally own a computer that embodies his fundamental views and ideas.  Billions of people already benefit from his innovations every day and for many of them a day without one of his products is like a day without food.

Steve should also be remembered as the greatest CEO in history.  Five arguments support this claim.  First, he belongs in this discussion because of the financial value that has been created through Apple.  Second, I would argue that the social impact of his work is greater than other candidates to whom some have compared Steve.  Sam Walton built yet another successful retail chain, but without him things would have barely been different at social, cultural and commercial levels.  Rockefeller monopolized gasoline, so what?  We’ve seen a long parade of monopolists and they often make things worse, not better.  I better appreciate Rockefeller’s philanthropy.  And Ford may have similarly commercialized a key product category, but the life of the gasoline automobile will be finite and it represents only one slice of the transportation industry.  Edison was perhaps the greatest inventor of commercial products but I would classify Edison as more of an inventor than an industrialist.  For example, Edison may have invented the film industry but he did not build it, commercialize it or operate it.  And his projector is already obsolete, probably being replaced now by computers that are using principles of human interface that were commercialized by Steve.

Steve did all of those things as a CEO, and in a category that is more fundamental: you are as naked leaving home without your iPhone as you are without clothing.  Unlike cars, computers will be with us until the end of human time.  For millennia I expect that we’ll be carrying around something that embodies Steve’s principles.  He was ahead of his time and here is my favorite example.  You are a science fiction writer and are asked to envision the 24th century for the TV show, Star Trek.  You invent the holodeck, the warp drive and amazing medical instruments.  You also invent the clamshell mobile phone, which Kirk is always using to check in with Spock when he is planetside.  You also had to imagine the future of computing and what did you come up with?  The computer is still so enormous that there needs to be a Computer Room.  Okay, you were smart enough to have it be voice-activated and able to verbalize human language.  But consider that when Kirk needed help he had to make a phone call to Spock and then Spock had to go to the computer room and ask the computer a question, and then relay the answer back to Kirk!  And this is going to be going on 400 years from now?  Well, thanks to Steve we only needed 40 years to get to a point where each of us carries access to all the computers in the world, and it fits in our pocket.  Now that’s an example of being ahead of your time.

But I still have to explain the three most important arguments to support my claim that Steve is the best CEO ever.

He was a startup entrepreneur that invented his own industry.  This alone is enough to put him ahead of all the Jack Welch clones in the world, that know how to maintain something but neither invent it nor build it from nothing.

And he did it as a turnaround.  Some executives specialize in turnarounds but they are often one-dimensional and virtually never do it by reinventing a company or through innovation, which is harder and far more remarkable when it works.  Look at the mediocrity of Apple in the period before his return, when the company seemed to have painted itself into a corner.  They tried several conventional CEOs but it took Steve to not just revive the company but to make it among the all-time greats.

My favorite argument has been saved for last.  Most of us only succeed once, mainly because it is so difficult and when it works we are the beneficiaries of timing and serendipity.  Steve not only did it more than once, he did two at the same time, which no other CEO can claim.  Steve’s commitment and faith in Pixar are one thing, but his ability to get his head around transforming it from a workstation company into a great film company, and then to commit to such a plan and to actually pull it off, while also giving rebirth to Apple … I am unworthy, a worm in comparison!

I’ll close with a few of my favorite personal anecdotes about my times with Steve.  When I started at Apple in 1978 we had only 25 office workers so it was pretty intimate.  In those days Steve was like the Wild Man of Borneo.  He seemed barely civilized and Mike Markkula told me that the previous year he’d had to teach Steve such social basics as to how to set a table for dinner.  He did not, in fact, evoke any of the traits at that time that would suggest he could be a CEO, and of course was already legendary for his bad treatment of people and for his infamous “reality distortion field”.  We partied together and shot craps in Vegas, where he observed that the energy of every light bulb on the Strip could instead be powering an Apple.  Once he came into my office and said, “Hey Trip, have you ever taken LSD?”  I said no.  He thought for a moment, and then said, “I thought so,” and walked off.  I understood that he was criticizing me about some viewpoint he’d heard about that disagreed with him, and he blamed this on my mental deficiency from having an unexpanded mind.  He had a diabolical range of ways to get into your head.  Then there was the time he interrogated me about what it was like to date an older woman, because he was dating Joan Baez at the time.  The first time I was in his home, he’d been there for a year but only had 2 items of furniture.  One was a plain mattress on the floor of his bedroom.  The other was a small elegant table in his entry foyer.  He was so determined to make every design choice perfectly that the house remained barren for years because he could never get around to it, nor tolerate delegating the task to a decorator.  There was a terrible dot matrix printer in those days that Steve had pushed us to distribute, over my objections about its poor quality.  He never understood how bad the printer was because he’d never used one.  They sold poorly and we had a bunch we could not get rid of so they were sold for peanuts to employees.  Even Steve bought one and took it home and into his upstairs office.  He came in a few days later and explained that he got frustrated when struggling to use the printer and he’d unplugged it, walked to the open second-floor window, and just dropped the recalcitrant device out the window, to shatter on the brick patio below.  He explained all of this with a deadpan expression on his face.  This was his humorous and flamboyant way of admitting a mistake.  He had a great sense of humor and was always quick to smile and laugh mischievously.

We were great collaborators because of a shared vision.  After he visited Xerox Parc on his own, he came back and grabbed me and two other guys for a return visit.  I then hired a guy that had worked at Xerox and got him to obtain and bring in our first mouse, which we gave to Bill Atkinson.  With great determination we overcame tremendous internal resistance, led by former H-P engineers, about our views of the user experience.  Much of this was organized through an enormous document that I wrote in early 1980.  Today it is a remarkable document that describes what would ensue in the next 20 years of computing.  Back then, it provoked an enormous battle with two engineer managers that ended up getting fired because of their resistance.  Even after that there were interesting battles where even the guys we hired from Xerox had it wrong.  Some of them wanted up to 6 buttons on the mouse and wanted the scroll bars to point in the wrong direction.  Steve and I were in the one-button camp, and I still am, despite the Microsoft mouse screwing it up with the extra button.  At least we got the scroll bars right; it’s an industry standard even 30 years later.

Steve had his extremes as I do.  But we respected each other, even when we disagreed and had to fight things out.  For example, he was livid when I told him he could not launch the Mac with only 64KB of RAM, and he strongly counter-argued, but he knew I was right and subsequently doubled the launch memory to 128KB (within a year the minimum grew to 512KB).  He got mad at Shugart and decided that Apple should make its own floppy disc drives, but they never worked.  I constantly complained about this needless risk but he nevertheless forced the Lisa system to use it to support “corporate objectives”.  When he finally realized it did not work he OEMed the Mac floppy disc drive from Sony.  By that time he wanted Lisa to fail and considered it a rival to Mac, over which he had control (For Mac, he borrowed and stole liberally from Lisa, in terms of ideas, assets and people – in fact Mac would not have had printer fonts or any form of printer for another 2 years were it not for Lisa).  The ultimate sign of respect was how angry he got when I left Apple.  To him it was an act of betrayal, but I had been planning to found my own game company for 11 years.

I founded Electronic Arts with many things that I learned from my time at Apple, including the key foundational principles that drove EA’s strategy for years.  Steve’s greatest gift to me was in telling me that I was creative.  From him, this was a high compliment and when a big thinker tells you to think big and that you can create, it can result in big dreams and the founding of Electronic Arts, 3DO and Digital Chocolate.  I’ve had my ups and downs but would have certainly fared worse without my time at Apple and with Steve.  He was a great source of wisdom and inspiration and I will miss him always.

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If you thought you knew Zombie Lane, think again. Though this Facebook game-changer has almost 5 million monthly users, that doesn’t mean that we at Digital Chocolate aren’t working hard to keep making your gaming experience better with new and exciting features. We are thrilled to continue updating one of our favorite games, so you can continue enjoying the thrill of whacking zombies from different walks of life.

Our favorite farmhand is back with a new set of tools to use in the fight against the undead.

Players with withered crops can put Frank the Farmer’s green thumb to good use with the new “Revive Crops” action. By spending a small amount of FB Credits, Frank the Farmer will appear next to wilted crops with his trusty watering pail, returning them back to full health. Once Frank is finished, all of the player’s withered crops will be restored and crops that are revived in this way will never wither again.

But that’s not the only new trick Frank is bringing to the table.

When defenses close to home begin to falter and fences start looking shaky, players can tap Frank’s handyman skills through the new “Fix Fences” action. With this new option, you can pay to hire Frank the Farmer who will go fence to fence, repairing broken or faulty planks.

Free trial

The Fix Fences and Revive Crops items are both available to users free for a one-time use but can be purchased from the Marketplace after that. If a player closes the browser before all of the fences are fixed or all of the crops are revived, the next time the game is opened, Frank’s jobs will be completed.

Dreaming of Downtown

Zombie Lane will be seeing another update in the near future that includes an entirely new area for users to explore.

Decimated by a massive zombie attack, the Downtown area has been left in disrepair for months. Players will have the chance to rebuild the city’s core and return life to relative normalcy in the area. New projects will include restoring a supermart, a gas station, gun shop, and city hall.

Stay tuned. More details are on the way.

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by Trip on September 12th, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

How much money a social game makes depends on traffic volume, retention and monetization. Marketing factors drive traffic, but the product can contribute to traffic from its virality. Retention is largely a function of the game, although there are platform differences. Monetization is also closely tied to retention.

Observation of Facebook ads, web sources of DAU data and Zynga’s S-1 disclosures about customer acquisition expenses allow us to triangulate on relative traffic volumes. Roughly speaking, Zynga can drive 5-10 times more traffic than Disney or EA, 20 times more than Digital Chocolate and 40 times more than a smaller company that has one successful game with 1M DAU. These ratios have to do with cross-promotional volume and advertising budgets.

The product, meanwhile, largely controls retention (return rates), virality and monetization. The good games make players want to return; invite friends to play; and return when they see their friends playing. Obvious strong points for the Facebook platform in this regard are the viral channels that both bring in new players as well as reminding existing players to return (what I call the social “echo”). Apple, by contrast, has a gamer audience that tends to remember what they have downloaded in the last month and will not need reminders to return to those games on a regular basis, at least for awhile. In addition, Apple, unlike Facebook has a store that gamers regularly visit, so that helps generate free marketing installs for something that is high on the charts. As a result of these factors, Apple hits tend to have disproportionate share of market for a brief period when they are new and high on the charts and being actively marketed, and then decline more rapidly than Facebook games. Comparable Facebook games feel more like a service model because the social graph is constantly reminding people to play and daily volume does not depend as much on marketing, chart position or remembering to play.

At the same time, if the game is bad, traffic volume doesn’t matter – all the water will quickly drain out of the bathtub. For example, there have been some recent cases of competitor games that failed to retain customers but that had significant MAU growth from new marketing installs. The marketing activity was artificially supporting DAU, like a bath that is draining at the same rate that new water is added. Two of these companies were acquired and immediately stopped the marketing, and the third just finally gave up the goose, and the MAU and DAU numbers all went into freefall. In short, it is not worth giving any traffic to a game that cannot justify the opportunity cost. And brand differences won’t matter because we are talking about free to play games; everyone can try the game for free and judge it on merit. Only the relevance of the game matters. And the difference will be night and day, as a success will float and a failure will sink no matter what you do.

While it is possible for anyone to make either a good or bad game and produce dramatically different results, if two companies produce products of equal efficiency on the same platform, their volume will then vary according to the traffic their publishers can bring. From this standpoint, we can evaluate some of the better industry games of the last year and ask how would these games have done if they had been published by Zynga? We feel pretty good about Millionaire City, Zombie Lane and Army Attack when applying this logic, and we are proud to be the only company with three such products that also have good monetization. These are games that even Zynga should want. What is disappointing about the market challenges on Facebook in 2011 is that the entire industry has produced only about 30 good games in the last year according to these criteria. The formula for success is very difficult and even experienced companies shoot air balls. It should tell you something when 1,000 companies launch 2,000 games and Zynga would probably only want 30 of them. A small handful got it right with their first game but even these companies, like everyone else, will regress to the mean, like a baseball player that is hitting .442 on May 1.

This post does not address the topic of monetization, but I will add that devices to grow worthless traffic don’t make money. Some companies seem to thrive on this idea, though, I suppose on the false hope that someone will acquire them without a viable operating business, or that the traffic can eventually be cross-promoted into something they will pay for. That has not been our experience. The customers that want to play for free will tend to continue to choose games that are “fun-optimized” for free play. We are trying to run a real business here, people! So we focus on driving viable traffic to viable games.

A concern to highlight is that mobile continues to lack much of an echo, and the echo on Facebook.com has continued to decline in 2011, which frankly nobody expected after its steep decline in 2010. On Facebook, the leading games in 2009 had DAU-to-MAU ratios of as much as 40%, and a comparable game today is lucky to achieve 20%. This is an enormous difference. What it means is that if your marketing and virality bring 1 million new players in a day, back in 2009 perhaps 400,000 of them would be playing again the next day. Now it would be 200,000. At the same level of daily monetization you would bring in half the revenue. At the start of this year, Facebook announced that they had eliminated 95% of game spam. In addition to significantly reducing virality on the platform, it also caused this significant reduction in retention rates by reducing the frequency of reminders to return to games the player had already installed. Facebook has periodically made platform changes in the interest of stimulating the game market but the results have been disappointing in 2011. Even Zynga, for example, saw their DAU-to-MAU ratio decline from 22% in June to around 20% now. Many other companies suffered similar declines in the same period.

Recognizing these patterns merely from DAU and MAU data requires some discernment and analysis. For example, the ratio of a particular game may decline in heavy marketing periods because the denominator is being so heavily forced. By contrast, a mature game that has few marketing installs will lose its least loyal customers first, hence MAU will decline faster than DAU and cause the ratio to arbitrarily increase, but this does not mean that retention changed. This can cause a tired, old game to be overrated because the same game with the marvelous 20% ratio from its niche audience might see the number drop in half quickly if sizable new traffic is added. Zynga found this to be the case when they acquired and then tried to pour new traffic into Warstorm.

With Facebook dialing back the return rates driven by the platform, how do we accurately assess the impact? I have been carefully studying many companies and games for months and months. The best way to confirm the overall decline in the ratio is to do a sample across a group of games that have been in a stable pattern with regard to marketing installs. With that in mind, here are some examples from games that never got a lot of marketing: Island Paradise peaked at a 33% ratio in 2009 but later lost all but 9% of its players. However, despite these being the most loyal diehard customers, the systemic return rate decline caused the ratio to drop to 22%. Over a similar period, Farm Town saw its ratio drop from 35% to 22%. Country Life went from 29% to 17% and Castle Age from 24% to 17% despite some marketing efforts in their case.

Zynga has been no different, though stabilized by regular cross-promotional and marketing support: FarmVille dropped from 40% to 25%, Mafia Wars from 26% to 17% and CityVille from 27% to 19% (in the latter case the drop was entirely in 2011). These declines took place over a period of almost 2 years so the annualized rate of ratio decline is around 15-20%. What is more troubling is that in the last 60 days there seems to have been a systemic decline of about 10%. That would annualize to a 60% rate decline.

The gap between social game revenue on Facebook versus Apple is shrinking. Part of it is these policy changes. The other part is Apple device growth combined with an effective merchandising system. When you then add in Android device growth and tablets, it may not be that long before there is no longer an advantage for a game to be on Facebook. I know Facebook has good intentions and many good ideas and plans. I hope they can work towards improving the echo a bit to encourage better return rates. We all need our customers to be reminded to come back more often. Baby, come back!

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Digital Chocolate is honored to be one of the select partners to be launching on the Google+ games platform. Zombie Lane was selected as one of the initial launch titles and we look forward to expanding our game lineup. After the successful expansion of the Android market, everyone should rightfully expect that Google will be a major factor for games in the browser.

play now!

Digital Chocolate is a big fan of the browser. I believe we have begun the Era of Convenient Computing in which search on the browser is becoming the fundamental way that human beings organize their use of computers and content. Gamers that used to constantly demand higher performance are now trading it for convenience and social value, as we have seen with the rise of games on Facebook. Billions of people already have access to PCs and know how to use the browser.

I like how Google thinks about the structure of social context and is using ideas like Circles and Sparks. I remember how in Web 1.0 we all used the term, “community”, and after a hiatus when we only spoke of Facebook.com friends, the idea of community is now reborn as a narrow “vertical” graph or interest group. Even Facebook is thinking in this direction in how their Open Graph and Facebook Connect can attach to a website that appeals to a particular area of interest. We obviously prefer to have deeper experiences in certain ways with certain people. For gamers, this includes not only which friends to play with but playing as yourself or anonymously, with friends or strangers, with peace in mind or intent to harm without shame. But you can’t do all of that effectively on any one website with one brand definition. Games are fantasy worlds, so it’s all good if there are a variety of approaches that serve different customer needs. Hence, Google Circles and Facebook’s Open Graph are important progressive steps for social media including games.

Google is admittedly a social networking underdog but let’s look at the bigger picture. An enormous change is unfolding in business models, and Google will be a leader. Distribution business models are now being disrupted by new models based on discovery. I helped implement the principles of distribution models in my early days at Apple, and it was one of my key strategies when I founded and built Electronic Arts. But I have a list of the 10 key principles of distribution models, all of which require scale, and find that none of them are relevant in a discovery model, and scale is not the decisive factor. For example, in a distribution model you need shelf space and you want it at the front of the store. When J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, she was entirely dependent on conventional publishers and their control of distribution channels. Even with web 1.0, she remains dependent on Amazon for delivery of a physical book. If she wants Harry on the Kindle or an iPhone, she’s still in a distribution model.

But in a discovery model, shelf space is infinite and what you need is clicks, which often come from Google search. Hence, J.K. Rowling recently announced that she’s got her own website that will exclusively offer a cloud-based ebook service, Pottermore.com. And it is not about brand power; look at what YouTube did with video when it was just getting started. The “video” category began in movie theaters, which at one time controlled 100% of content in a conventional distribution model. Just prior to YouTube, we still had distribution models. You could download and install a video player and then selectively download and play the “apps” from its “store”. This was traditional thinking about distribution and performance. So it’s all browser-based and has embedded social thinking that spans across websites and is viral through email, tweets, social feeds and the next thing you know, it takes over. We all look at a YouTube video every hour and none of us can find a three-hour block of time to go to a movie theater for the ultimate in fidelity and performance. We already knew that “social” was the key new benefit of digital media, including games. Now, make room for “convenience” as the next big theme, and keep an eye on Google.

Play Zombie Lane on Google+

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I’m excited to share the news that Digital Chocolate is expanding…North, and East

Digital Chocolate has already created a strong leadership position in cross-platform social games, and today we’re announcing that we have agreed to acquire Sandlot Games, who has game development studios in Seattle, WA and St. Petersburg, Russia. Sandlot is a leading casual game developer and publisher, best known for web and mobile brands including Cake Mania®, Super Granny®, Tradewinds® and Westward®. Sandlot Games reaches millions of game players worldwide through a variety of distribution channels including online, PC, mobile phones, handheld devices and videogame consoles. Since 2002, its games have been downloaded over 300 million times by its loyal fan base. With highly respected development teams, we can continue the pursuit of our cross-platform leadership strategy. This acquisition will allow us to expand globally, attracting more developers and creating bigger social game studios in these new regions.

I’ve always been a big fan of Daniel Bernstein, the founder of Sandlot Games. Sandlot Games has created a premiere brand for casual game development, and I appreciate Dan’s focus on development and his Russian background. We are among the industry leaders in social game “Best Practices” with our ability to drive traffic to games on any platform. And we’ve been building a great technology platform and toolkit to help developers deliver on all platforms. Sandlot Games adds more quality developers to our framework and we look forward to making many great new games together.

We aim to grow Sandlot’s portfolio of games, and driving awareness of those games to our existing and prospective players.

Our goal is to continue to deliver great cross-platform games and leverage the experience that Sandlot provides. We believe the skills and experience of the team from Sandlot Games will definitely help us win on this mission. Together, we now have strong technology platforms and tools that will help us accomplish our goals. We welcome Dan and his teams in Seattle, and St. Petersburg.

Onward and upward!!

Digital Chocolate’s iTunes Library: Click Here
Sandlot Games iTunes Library: Click Here

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They say success is not for the idle, but those who go and grab it. In Millionaire Boss, Digital Chocolate’s new Facebook multiplayer simulation game, players will have their chance to climb to the top of the business world by building the company of their dreams.

The journey to the top of the corporate food-chain might seem like a straight-shot, but the path to the penthouse requires a balanced and fair leader to build and train an effective work force, create an efficient office environment and keep employees happy through perks and incentive programs. To increase worker morale, players will have to customize their office space carefully with the best equipment and Feng Shui-appropriate furnishings. As the saying goes, a happy worker is a productive worker!

Few Fortune 500 CEOs have made it to the top on their own. Relationships can make or break a business empire. Players who visit their friends’ companies will receive daily bonuses and those who work together can hire their friends to work under the same roof for a common cause.

The business world is all about connections: If you know the right people, with a little hard work and some luck, success won’t be far behind.

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by Trip on August 1st, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

My last post talked about NET DAU and how to tell if a new game is a success or not.  Of course, those are not the only measures of success, you also need to make money!  Here, it is necessary to spend several days actually playing a game to assess how effective it is in convincing you to spend money.

There can be other purposes:  one standout new game today that cloned the game mechanic of one competitor and the brand name of another, and used effective cross-promotion to build a large audience, but the NET DAU number has now fallen well under 10% and the game has zero mechanisms for monetization.  On the surface you would wonder, why bother, other than to increase corporate ranking and visibility?  The clever ploy in this case is that the new game sends low value traffic into the cross-promotional network of third-party partners, which then owes virgin traffic back in exchange.  The virgin traffic they get back, which may have value by coming from stronger games that monetize, is then fed as new customers into a different game that has monetizing elements.  You had to play the games to figure this out.  What we are learning from cross-promotion is that low-value games have low-value customers and you don’t want that traffic.  What’s even worse if you are getting that traffic while having to give back your own valuable customers from your best game, which is what is going on in this case.  This is unfair exploitation of these partners and should provoke a policy change.  I think it is fair if a cross-promotional network has two comparable games trade traffic, specific game for specific game, subject to the joint agreement of those publishers.  Similarly, two publishing companies could assess their total portfolios and agree to trade traffic on a fair basis across both portfolios.  What is unfair and destructive to these third-party collaborations is if one publisher primarily puts low-value traffic into the network and then only takes out high-value traffic.  That is not a fair trade.

Another thing that is useful is observing what happens to a game when marketing is withdrawn.  By this time the developer realizes it is inefficient to do marketing; or perhaps a free source of traffic has run its course and stopped.  In these cases, the glide plane then shows again how the game performs on its own in terms of retention and virality, because if it is good in those regards, it will decline much more slowly.  Divide today’s DAU by the DAU exactly a month ago and compare that monthly decline rate among different games that have no marketing.

How do you know if a game is being marketed?  It is easy to see who is getting no marketing installs: Just create a Facebook account that has no games installed.  On the right hand margin of most Facebook pages, you can see which games are being advertised to you because they know you don’t have them and are trying to get you to install them.  Then click on the Game Requests tab several times in a row and observe the names of the games on the right side of the canvas; these are the games that are currently getting free installs from Facebook.  Also check the game to see if it is using a cross-promotion bar for additional traffic.  Once you’ve concluded that two games deserve comparison, use Appdata to see the last 30 days of MAU and DAU data, or if you want more, use Developer Analytics.

In comparing glide planes, a large company that has a good game and a lot of corporate traffic can sometimes keep the monthly decline at 10% or less because they cross-promote their games at higher volumes than anyone else can enjoy.  This is hard to do if you are not Zynga; but even Zynga cannot keep all the plates spinning and their own DAU has dropped in recent months from 60M to 49M.  Smaller companies with good games should aspire to glide planes in the 10-14% range.  A game without marketing that is declining by 20% is obviously flawed in both virality and retention.  At Digital Chocolate we are reasonably pleased that Millionaire City gets very little marketing love these days as it hit its first birthday, and yet it lost only 13% of DAU last month; new features might even restart growth.  By contrast, we see prominent competitors with games that are declining by 20% per month; after only 6 months such a game will have only 26% of its customers left.

You can figure out a lot about the value of a game or its developers just by looking at the free data at Appdata, even for games less than a month old.  Some companies are frauds; they have no idea how to make a successful FB game and they cover up that fact with marketing installs.  Others know how to make casual games or hardcore games but don’t understand how FB is different or approach it with a condescending and arrogant attitude.  You see their new games hitting the same walls that we quickly hit on some of our own first-generation games last year.  Yet others may have good metrics initially but may hit a premature ceiling if the game is too difficult or becomes too repetitive.

Okay, now you have a better idea as to how to use these free tools, go thee forth and multiply!

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While some of us have developed great analytics and metrics for studying our own customers and games, let’s talk about how any of us can use the free information at sites like Appdata and Developer Analytics to go deeper than the surface appearance.

When a new game comes out you get a pure look at the first 30 days because all new, unique customers remain in the MAU denominator since it goes back 30 days.  But MAU can be very misleading, as often MAU growth does not mean the game is a success.

A game with linear MAU growth is often being driven by marketing installs because viral spread is based on non-linear factors.  This is especially noticeable when a game is less than 30 days old.  Such cases can also have a very misleading growth in DAU, because the initiation of a new marketing campaign will add to both MAU and DAU, and if the campaign is continued for several days, the DAU will be sustained.  In other words, if marketing pours enough water into the bathtub it can be draining out really fast and yet appear to be growing because marketing can force both MAU and DAU to go up.

To get a fairer view of the performance of a game, you have to remove today’s new MAU installs from today’s MAU and DAU to create NET DAU.  To do this you just look at MAU growth in the last day, and remove that amount from today’s DAU.  Then you have the MAU from yesterday, and can ask, how many of them came back today?  To get this you divide today’s NET DAU by yesterday’s MAU.  It’s a proxy for return rates and engagement.

After a few days of a marketing campaign, a game that is leaking customers rapidly will see the DAU flatten or even decline, despite the ongoing increase in MAU.  This is often accompanied by the ratio of DAU/MAU falling below 10%, because the new traffic drives up the denominator but is only briefly helping the numerator.  Many developers will keep failing marketing campaigns going, however, because they are misled into thinking that increases in MAU and DAU indicate success.

Studying NET DAU is a great method for seeing how good a competitor’s game has been designed for FB retention and virality, especially in its first 30 days of life when you know that every player that has ever played is still in the MAU and there is no churn reducing the MAU.

When a game is more than 30 days old, it gets harder to reverse-engineer because MAU churn gets introduced.  However, many games that are growing are still linear, because there are cases where the non-linear churn is equalized by the same degree of non-linear viral spread to new users.  So, with that gross simplification assumption, the NET DAU tool continues to be useful even after 30 days.  If you study our game, Zombie Lane, you will see that it grows efficiently which we attribute to strong virality and retention.  However, it’s efficiency is declining with size, as we are increasingly reaching out beyond early adopters to late adopters who are harder to engage.  You will find other games that are much more dependent on marketing support, as indicated in obvious marketing activity, lower DAU growth rates, lower NET DAU and lower DAU/MAU ratios.  When the DAU/MAU ratio is 15% or higher, you can feel pretty good, and it is especially great to get it above 20%.  We’re pleased to have an overall corporate ratio of 18%, one of the highest rates for any company that is actually growing on Facebook.

But an older game may have a rising ratio simply because all the churn has already left and it is no longer getting any new customers, and therefore has reduced churn of DAU and reduced MAU in the denominator.  A new, growing game with marketing support and a 20% ratio is much more valuable than an old game with declining MAU and a 20% ratio that is only the hardcore cult following that loves the game.  But a new game where the NET DAU is towards 10% or less is a failure, even if you see MAU growing like crazy.  There is one prominent Facebook game company that always brags about MAU, but never talks about DAU.  This is because their ratio is terrible and their MAU growth was largely due to the generosity of free marketing installs from Facebook.  However, the freebies seem to have stopped in February and the top game from this company has since lost nearly half its DAU, declining at a steep 16% per month from an entirely marketing-driven peak.  That’s not only proof of inefficient and wasteful marketing, it is proof that the game lacked the virality and retention to have floated its own boat in the first place.

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by Trip on May 26th, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Chin up and eyes forward, soldier! Shortly, you will embark on a dangerous and risky mission to lead a counterattack effort against the enemy. The objective: Take back key checkpoints and strategic cities. An evil empire has taken over and it is up to you to assume the role of an army commander to fight back and regain control.

Army Attack, Digital Chocolate’s latest action simulation game for Facebook, places players on the battlefield with the task of building guard towers, gathering troops and amassing equipment, artillery and other vital items to win the war. Failure is not an option.

Completing missions will earn money and battle reserves that will aid the effort during the campaign. Each city and town players free brings them closer to victory.

Additionally, players can join up with friends to create formidable alliances and tip the scales in their favor, so start recruiting, soldier. Time is not on our side.

Deployment is at 0800 hours. Lace up those boots and press that shirt. It’s time to lock and load, soldier.

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by Trip on May 19th, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Arms up! Don’t look down! Here we goooooooo!

The cart tips over the edge of the crest.

Air rushes past your face.

Your stomach drops.

You’re upside-down.

You’re speeding around a curve!

Your feet are off the ground and you’re flying!

The cart stops. You can finally breathe.

One more time?

Rollercoaster enthusiasts can now take a ride on the moon with Lunar 3D Rollercoaster Rush for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch from Digital Chocolate.

Admission to theme parks is skyrocketing – Six Flags tickets run at $49, Disneyworld will cost you $68, and Busch Gardens can hit you for a cool $114 – and that’s just to ride the rollercoasters on Earth.

With the sequel to the popular Rollercoaster Rush series for iPhone and iPod touch, players can take a ride on 40 new tracks as they loop around curves, flip upside-down and engage in gravity-defying peaks and drops through space all for just $1.99. Players have to strategically traverse realistic coaster physics to create tracks for riders while keeping carts intact as they hurtle through the stratosphere racing for the best time and competing against others on the Gamecenter leaderboard.

This adrenaline rush is out of this world.

The game is optimized for 4th generation iPod Touch, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPad, though will run on older devices. Download the Full Version or Free Version now on the Apple App Store.

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I enjoyed a recent article about entrepreneurs and it reminded me of my biggest peeve about entrepreneurship: the syndrome that, “success has many fathers”. Unfortunately this falsehood brings propaganda and errors into the historical record and obscures the true nature of entrepreneurs and innovation. The article I reference is here: http://blog.summation.net/2011/02/entrepreneur.html

True entrepreneurs are extremists in terms of passion, optimism and risk-taking. We are far, far removed from “normal”. My history follows this pattern with enormous hits and enormous misses and the appearance of great extremes of stupidity and genius, folly and foundation. It is hard to believe that the same person founded and built Electronic Arts while also creating a disaster with 3DO. But it’s true. Because we entrepreneurs not only have big ideas, we are willing to place big bets on them. We’re generally trying to do things that have not been done before, so there is no evidence that it will work or that anyone will care. Normal people will avoid this kind of “risk”.

We can work on our precious ideas tirelessly for decades even when surrounded by nay-sayers. Many of the same people that were skeptics about 3DO also dismissed Madden Football, which was known inside EA as, “Trip’s Folly”, because nobody thought the game would ever make any money. But I had enjoyed buying and playing with new Strat-O-Matic baseball and football cards every year as a teenager, which is one reason I became a game designer. I knew sports simulation would be better on a computer and that it would be a good business because you could update the teams and players every year and sell the same game again, like Strat-O-Matic. I knew it was a form of “virtual goods” that people cared about, and a great social game. So I hung in there and trusted myself and others when the first version of Madden was a year late, and then two years and three years late. Meanwhile, members of my management team sent the corporate auditors to tell me that we’d have to write off the cash advance to Madden as a total loss since they were sure it was completely un-recoupable. But that didn’t deter me; and my trust, faith and commitment resulted in EA Sports becoming a great brand.

Normal people are less trusting and skeptical and more averse to risk. They also tend to like status, which makes them want to take credit for the accomplishments of entrepreneurs even though they didn’t take the risks or have the ideas. Entrepreneurs regularly get burned by these people in a variety of ways because we’re dependent on delegating to them and relying on what they say they can do. As optimists, we want to believe in them, and they enable us to focus on what we are passionate about. But we true entrepreneurs often get exploited in a variety of ways as a result.

Where this really frosts my cake is when someone refers to me as a co-founder of Electronic Arts. I am the sole founder of Electronic Arts and there were no co-founders. This was pretty well known to everyone for the first several years and every press story correctly identified me alone as the founder (and it should come as no surprise that I am the only person in the world that has all these old articles, it was my baby and nobody else cared). But in later years — as EA gained fame and fortune — several early employees that I had hired and paid out of my own pocket decided to identify themselves as co-founders. This was initially encouraged by EA itself, in part because I was no longer there and they preferred to assign glory to early employees who were still with the company. The saddest part of this period was when EA was caught red-handed for repeatedly removing my name from the Wikipedia entry about EA.

I have deep fondness for my early employees in all of my companies. Many remain close friends today and some still work with me. I have tremendous gratitude for the great work they did, and I always rewarded them with generosity in a variety of ways. Many of them did very, very well and went on to have long and great careers. However, with only a few notable exceptions, these employees are not entrepreneurs; they were the kind of people that were willing to work for an entrepreneur that they thought was on to something. They deserve credit for helping build something substantial in the case of EA, and hopefully Digital Chocolate.

I can also understand the desire and attraction that some of them have to being identified as co-founders. I hope that they can all be proud and satisfied about the truth, because there is plenty of glory in the truth. Early employees at EA, especially those that rose to high ranks and helped build the company over a long period of time, deserve great credit even though they were not co-founders.

According to Webster’s, a company can only have a founder or a group of co-founders, so with the rampant spread of misinformation on the Internet today, there are now thousands of references to “other” reputed co-founders and to me as a “co-founder”. It’s all bunk. I am reminded of Ayn Rand’s distinction between Inventors and Looters. The bunk has often been driven by corporate greed, not just the egos of early employees. Certainly for me this is an issue of pride. Considering my notable failures, I simply want to be accurately remembered for this one good deed where I got it right, on a set of foundational ideas that I worked on for a decade before I even hired the first employees at EA; and then worked on for another decade to make sure it made it.

But I also think that our world’s young entrepreneurs, and society in general, are better off if they know the truth about entrepreneurship and founders and what it involves. Especially in terms of the tremendous long-term commitments that are required, that blot out all other aspects of normal life; the terrible risks that have to be taken, along with the consequences of the inevitable failures; and the sacrifices in personal life and the problems that can result when you have to trust and delegate parts of work and life to others that ultimately betray you.

I began developing the foundational ideas for EA in 1970. In 1975 I decided that I would wait until 1982 to incorporate and formalize the company. Other key foundational elements were developed on my own prior to 1982, as I sharpened my aim and the target date neared. Right on schedule, I incorporated the company on May 28, 1982 and was the sole owner. For months after that I continued to work alone out of my home office. Later in the year I made the first job offers to several employees and moved them into a formal office that I paid for. I paid all of the expenses including salaries out of my own pocket until December of that year. I even loaned money to my first employee so he could buy the stock that I was offering to him. I should also point out that it took 9 years for EA to turn the corner and become a genuinely safely established success. And I am currently in year eight here at Digital Chocolate. Entrepreneurship takes commitment that can only come from the passion and optimism. Normal people – the kind that want to take credit later and say, “ I was there, I was an early employee, therefore I am a co-founder” – they would have no idea about this level of commitment when something is not an immediate success. Normal people join something when someone else is taking the risk or after it stops being risky to do it. And they usually bail out when the going gets tough, and there are always big speed bumps. Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster.

There are companies that have legitimate co-founders. These are cases where the co-founders all took equal risks and made equal initial contributions, such that arguably, it could not have happened without them as a team. Sun Microsystems, for example, had four equal co-founders.  EA, in contrast, is not such a case and was not dependent on any early employees. In fact there was high turnover from the beginning and people left because they didn’t like the stress and risk, got a better offer elsewhere or got removed because of cost or performance limitations. But without me, there is no Electronic Arts. Those at EA that have promoted themselves or others as co-founders, frankly, wouldn’t even know about the founding since they were not there at the time. EA was so foolish about this fact that at one point when they published a press release touting one of their false co-founders, the press release even said erroneously that the company was founded in 1981. Good grief, all they had to do was check the legal files or remember the correct year. But telling the truth was not their goal.

Entrepreneurship is very, very hard. If we’re going to have all these normal people running around taking false credit, our society is likely to lure a lot of nice people into ruin. And real entrepreneurs had better understand what we are getting ourselves into, and what to expect from the normal people around us. I remember a study years ago that asked a bunch of founders of successful companies if they would do it again, if they knew how hard it was going to be. Most of them said, “Are you kidding? No way!” But real entrepreneurs are optimists and risk-takers and this is how we live. We’re doing it for love, not status or power.

And since, to me, it feels like being told I am the stepfather of my own children, I humbly ask and hope that people can stop calling me a co-founder.

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We are thankful that a good percentage of Zombie Lane players are sending us some money, which indicates that people enjoy the game and are engaged. Thank you, Zombie Lane fans! I’m also appreciative of the Facebook Credits payment platform, where we have done a deeper level of integration. More consumers are becoming experienced with Credits and a deeper integration allows for smaller and more convenient transactions. There’s that word, “convenience,” again.

I’ll also give a shameless plug here for my useful companion, AppData.com, which also has a superior version called AppData Pro. According to AppData the total size of the Facebook app ecosystem, and games, continues to shrink. Facebook has good intentions to grow their ecosystem, as evidenced by new hiring, planned new feature releases and the growing use of Facebook Connect on other websites and platforms. And Facebook membership continues to grow. However, at least at the moment, the ecosystem continues to shrink according to AppData’s figures for daily users (DAU). I’ll focus here on DAU, which is a more sincere datapoint for market size, since MAU data includes a lot of one-and-done users that respond to marketing campaigns that are outside the question of organic market size.

AppData tracks more than 10,000 apps; in the last week 5,638 of these declined while only 3,447 gained users. We can also slice the market by looking at all 18 apps with at least 10 million DAU; in this grouping 5 gained while 12 declined. The next grouping of apps with between 1 and 10 million DAU had 92 gainers but 126 decliners. Taking another look specifically at English-language games, there were 12 such games in the Top 40 of Weekly Gainers, which gained 800,000 net customers. However, the Bottom 40 of the same list had 16 games that lost 2.6 million customers.

AppData aggregates the data based on app ID, so it includes unique customers that may log into the game via Facebook.com, as well as users that may be on their iPhone, iPad or in Farmville.com on their PC. Given that we know Facebook is adding new members and that smartphones and tablets are selling like hotcakes, it is concerning to see that the overall market size is still declining.

On the positive side, the decline rate has been slimming down in recent weeks and hope is on the way, as Facebook moves ahead with various new plans that should improve the situation. Hopefully this is just a speed bump.

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There has been plenty of visibility and mojo attributed to the three keywords casual, social and mobile.  Yes, indeed, a huge audience has emerged wanting digital services to be more casual.  And social is the future growth of media, period.  And between phones and tablets everyone wants it in a mobile form.

But let’s talk about the fourth horseman of the digital apocalypse:  convenience.  Here’s a funny story about convenience.  Clayton Christensen coined the term, “disruptive products”, and wrote the seminal book on the topic, The Innovator’s Dilemma.  The book brilliantly explained how disruption had worked in numerous industries:  how a new audience seeking a new benefit bought the otherwise less powerful disruptive product and turned the industry segment upside down.  The book also argued that disruption almost always came from innovative startups and painted a bleak picture for big companies.

But many big companies came begging to Christensen, asking for a prescriptive solution.  He continued his study and searched for one, resulting in a second book, The Innovator’s Solution, which is not as well known.  But it was in this second book that Christensen noticed that, “patterns of disruption are almost always accompanied by a shift to increased levels of simplicity and convenience.”  Since everyone read and talked about the first book but not the second, convenience is the underdog superpower of disruption.  This has certainly been the case with the digital revolution.

In the first place, the shift to mobile is about the convenience of making voice and content networks portable.  Social value may be the end, but convenience is the means.  Texting is not “better” than email but it has become a $100 billion industry because of convenience (and Twitter is next in line).  Similarly, we see this in the emerging ubiquity of the browser, which is largely displacing the desktop metaphor as the fundamental organizing principle of how people use a PC.  Consider that web-based email may not be as powerful as Microsoft Outlook, but hundreds of millions use it anyway because they’re already in the browser.  And they can do it on your device, or the one in the shop or hotel.  And it is easier and faster to find anything with the use of a browser-based search function; you don’t even need bookmarks, much less URL memorization or typing.  And there are no annoying downloads and installs that take time, require memory and may invite spyware and viruses.  YouTube, despite lower video quality, won the video wars because it was conveniently in the browser; you could send a friend an email with a link in it, and it would just work without any fuss on their end.  Facebook, unsurprisingly, is entirely in the browser on the PC, and look what they’ve accomplished in a short time.

Another major trend is the aging of the computer and gaming audience.  A few decades ago I used to joke that not everyone played games yet but that in 50 years everyone that didn’t play would be dead.  It’s coming true.  Today, every new kid in most parts of the world sees a computer in their school while still a pre-teen and learns how to use a browser.  And then they start playing games – if they don’t own a device they borrow one from an older sibling or parent, or use the computer at school or the ones in the arcades and Internet cafés.  And then they age.  This process has now been going on for 30 years.

And as we age, we have more money but less time.  We get busy with work and family.  Our friends get spread out more than when we were kids or in college.  So we turn to social media and mobile devices to stay in touch.  And we still want to play, but we have to do it in shorter sessions; but we can spend more money!

This is also more convenient for the industry, as updates to the cloud can be made easily and often with almost no visible customer disruption.  And browsers represent global standards that span numerous devices, reducing fragmentation problems for developers.  We are now seeing this trendline move to more screens, as the browser is beginning to perform on mobile phones, tablets and TVs.

The browser still needs to be properly adapted to our small screens and fat fingers.  For platforms that support de facto web standards, this process should only take another few years.  It will happen first and fastest on tablets with their larger screens.  The public will increasingly expect and demand that tablets support all de facto web browser standards and the tablet will fast become the ultimate browser experience.  Tablets with crippled browsers will eventually fall behind.  As demand for the browser continues to expand and the industry better adapts the browser to mobile screens, the same process will occur with smartphones.  While Apple was the first-mover for touch screens both with mobile phones and with tablets, Google would appear to have the long-term advantage because they are a web company that is more committed to having a great browser experience (without it, even Google search would suffer as a business).

We’ve all had the same fascination with screentop app icons as we had with the PC desktop.  But the PC desktop was replacing the DOS prompt and the mobile app store concept has replaced an equally inept WAP environment.   But the browser should win again with tablets, mobile smartphones and even on TVs – for the same reasons it has become dominant on the PC.

Because of convenience the browser is likely the ultimate platform champion of the digital age, which could make convenience the biggest and baddest of the four horsemen.

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Lock the doors! Raise the fences! Protect your brains! The zombies have invaded Facebook!

In Zombie Lane, Digital Chocolate’s latest multiplayer browser game for Facebook, players fight to take back their neighborhood after a zombie apocalypse has left the city in disrepair and crawling with braineaters. The goal is to revive the community by constructing buildings, learning to farm and harvest food, and protecting plants with fences while fending off zombie attackers.

Players will earn cash for completing tasks and use their earnings to buy weapons such as shovels or shotguns that can be turned into customized super weapons by combining them with items zombies leave behind.

Having an active social network can be vital to the success or failure of your revitalization project. Teaming up with friends increases your chances of survival and can help your community return to normalcy quicker. In addition to helping the survival cause, players can trade or gift valuable items amongst their network to create bigger and better weapons.

Whether it’s creating the most effective weapons or getting friends to join the cause, it’s all about survival, here at Zombie Lane.

Play Now: http://apps.facebook.com/zombielane

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by Trip on March 15th, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (2)