Game developers the world over continue to explore the free to play model, whether it's a large-scale MMO or an ad-supported casual game. But one of the more interesting free to play experiments of late comes from Facebook application developer David Gentzel, a 24 year old originally from Roanoke, VA. Mr. Gentzel now calls San Francisco home where he is a developer at SocialMedia, marketing guru Seth Goldstein's rapidly growing "Social Advertising Network."
David's free to play experiment is the incredibly popular Food Fight application.
When the game first launched on Facebook, Food Fight players could sign up to receive a daily allowance of virtual cash that could be spent at the Food Fight cafeteria to purchase one of dozens of available food items. Players would then virtually "throw" said item at one of their Facebook friends. If the recipient had the food fight application, a small image of the item would appear on their page.
But recently, Food Fight's the resourcing model changed, which is when it became interesting from the perspective of free to play revenue models.
As of mid-September of this year, a player's lunch money account isn't cleared at the end of every day - it's persistent - like a real bank account. Additionally, the daily stipend given to each player was removed, replaced by a model where players earn virtual cash by answering short marketing surveys about a wide range of products. Each multiple choice question takes just a couple seconds to fill out with a reward of one dollar of lunch money per question answered. Interestingly, players earn a higher payout when they answer the same question the same way down the road, an attempt to value accurate answers more highly than one-offs.
Marketers pay for player responses to their surveys, creating a nifty free to play revenue stream and making Food Fight the definitive social networking application for SocialMedia. Seth Goldstein is understandably thrilled about the "craplet" (his words), saying in a recent Business 2.0 article:
People really like to throw piles of poop... So you price the poop high and people have to answer a bunch of questions to pay for it. That's the future of Internet advertising: throwing shit at people. Literally.
That is it. No scoring, no winners, and no end. Nonetheless, a very successful idea.
It takes a bit of conjecture to figure out, but here's our back-of-the-napkin revenue estimate:
- There are 36,257 active daily Food Fight users (among 2M registered FF players)
- Assuming each daily user answered just two surveys (reality is likely higher, as the lowest priced item is $2 - requiring two surveys to be completed)
- Assuming each survey response cost a marketer 25 cents (reality is likely lower, but Facebook polls already charge clients 25 cents/response)
- This would result in $18,128 of revenue per day
- Or ~$6.6M of annual revenue for SocialMedia, from one app
That is no small potatoes for an application that likely cost less than $100k to develop.
Since Food Fight introduced surveys, food prices have increased significantly as the game gets balanced. Prices for food items range from $2 to $11 virtual lunch money dollars. For instance, at $10 lobster is significantly more expensive than most items with only Bubble Tea having a higher price tag.
Consider the following price comparison from June 25th of this year till October 26th, a four month time period.
- Haggis = $1.75 / $3.40 (194% increase)
- Orange = $.50 / $2.30 (460%)
- Banana = $.50 /$3.25 (650%)
- Sucker = $.25 / $2.30 (920%)
- Shrimp cocktail = $1.75 / $3.40 (194%)
So according to these numbers Food Fight items have increased in value by an average of 484%. However, in less than a minute a player can answer enough survey questions to buy even the most expensive item - keeping the game easy and fast to play, while deriving more and more potential revenue from the same virtual items.
Given the fad-ish, viral-flocking nature of social networking apps, it will be interesting to see if Food Fight can maintain and grow their numbers long enough to start capitalizing on this potential revenue stream. In the meantime, SocialMedia is using Food Fight as a beta test for their social advertising network as a whole (and a host of similar apps) - electing not to charge for most, if not all, of the marketing surveys they host. (F2P.biz's request to SocialMedia for clarification on the "revenue stream, on or off?" point was not answered before this article was published).
Regardless of when SocialMedia turns on the money tap, it's clear they're onto a high-ROI free to play revenue model that traditional game developers could do well to emulate.
Here's a great opportunity for a Colorado-based (or relocation-willing) Producer to work in the Virtual World/Casual MMO field.
This position is as the lead producer behind a new child-themed casual MMO backed by Barry Diller's IAC. Diller is one of the last true media moguls, in the vein of Murdoch, Eisner and formerly Martha Stewart and Conrad Black. Sidebar: A salacious read is Autumn of the Moguls by Michael Wolff.
The Game / Virtual World Producer drives the product vision and development of a MMOG and sub games for kids, from concept through release, and is responsible for the definition and execution of future releases. Manage third party developers and migration to, and management of, an internal development team.
- Oversight of the design of MMOG and all games - including interactivity, UI, inventory management, AI, NPCs, social networking and community features, and point systems.
- Maintain an ongoing understanding of youth market trends and emerging technologies in the on-line gaming space. Primary focus is on kid-oriented games.
- Strong desire to make a difference in the lives of children and a passion for games/MMOGs.
- Flexibility for some travel."
But what’s next? For some it will be Koinup.
Koinup is the first social networking site for your virtual life. Not exclusive to Sims gamers, Second Life devotees or WoW weekend warriors, KoinUp is a place where you can give your multiple virtual world identities their own social network.
Koinup was founded in March 2007 and has thus far chosen to focus on Second life, Imvu, WoW and Sims 2 - but are not exclusive to these worlds. The most powerful feature - some sort of integration with these games - hasn't happened yet, so Koinup instead pledges to be a place to document all your virtual world activities.
I signed up for an account and was very impressed with the ease of registration. I think it tool a minute and a half total with no frustrating or invasive queries for personal information. It was also fun to get the user name I always try and grab on new sites - without resorting to a 36 letter mutation of an English word or a numeric sequence after the handle of choice.
Koinup's design is fairly straight forward, although not as intuitive as it could be. Where Koinup stumbles is the English language. It doesn't have the easy colloquialism of most Web 2.0 sites. A couple snippets:
It's very easy to use and it allow to anyone who have some ideas to tell stories.
But the founders, Italians Pierluigi Casolari (CEO) and Edoardo Turelli (CTO), likely speak their native language better than I. Casolari pulls double duty as the site's content creator, but there's room for a translator or English editor on their team.
Koinup allows users to upload videos such as Machinima and tutorials, associated still images and still image series referred to as storyboards. One of the great features Koinup has incorporated is CrossPosting, or the ability to load pictures onto Flickr and other photo sharing sites from within the Koinup uploading system. At this point, CrossPosting doesn’t work with video or storyboards but perhaps that will come next.
One aspect of Koinup that stood out was the site's emphasis on “Coolness” (their word). Obviously the idea of karma or kudos or cred has been present in social networking sites almost from day 1, but never has it been tacked on quite so blatantly. Site members themselves in addition to the media they uploaded are ranked on coolness. The coolness of media is determined using the usual vectors like views and comments, but member coolness is determined with a "unique" metric.
Members are ranked on coolness based on the popularity of their work (naturally) but also by the number of times that member has flagged offensive material in other people’s profiles.
This is a bit of a head scratcher. It's akin to incentivizing programmers for finding bugs. Obviously peer moderation is crucial in a user created content environment, but such a direct rewarding for overzealous policing seems destined to backfire.
Ideas like Koinup are inevitable, but Koinup is in need of much refinement before it serves its audience well. I'm looking forward to the next iteration of an avatar social network - whether it's Koinup or not - as we're certain to hear a lot more about social networking for the metaverse.
Three questions, a couple that Koinup might answer:
- Do people use similar avatar personalities in different worlds?
- How many people use multiple virtual worlds concurrently?
- Couldn't Facebook or myspace easily incorporate avatar profiles - either on their own or as a section of your primary profile - thereby eroding the market for standalone avatar social networks?
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