Facebook Games: Scrabulous Is Fabulous

scrabulous.jpgForget about Zombies, Ninjas, or even Texas Hold ‘Em– if you’re looking for the Facebook game with the numbers that matter most, think more old school.

Facebook developers recently added a Daily Active Users metric to their Applications page, and those numbers drastically changed my thinking of what games are currently working on the social network. [digg=http://www.digg.com/playable_web_games/The_Most_Scrabulous_Game_on_Facebook]

While it’s true that a couple million people have installed the Zombies app to their profile, for example, right now only 5% of them (202,960) play it on a daily basis. In fact, most FB games attract everyday usage of around 10% or less. While vampire bites, zombie infections, or other viral mechanisms create impressive new user numbers, so far most of these players quickly lose interest. An important consideration, if you’re planning to develop a title with a reliable revenue model.

So which Facebook game is showing the most active users and the highest retention rates, and how did it get so sticky?

That honor goes to Scrabulous, a kind of reverse-engineered version of Scrabble(tm) created by India’s Rajat Agarwalla and his brother, now with 256,705 daily active users comprising 33% of the game’s install base. Since it’s modeled after such a well-known board game, it’s easy to start playing immediately.

Just as important, I think, is that you get immediate and graphic feedback for each move, while gameplay remains continuous, so there’s an incentive to constantly check Facebook notifications, waiting for your next turn. Multiplayer mode is a great addition, as is an internal messaging system, which you can use to smacktalk/flirt with/console your opponents.

“[W]e think people find Scrabulous a great way to stay in touch with each other,” Agarwalla tells me in a Facebook message, explaining the secret to his game’s appeal. “Other than that, it has always been our emphasis to provide a very easy to use interface and customer support.”

Originally a web game, Agarwalla and his brother ported Scrabulous into Facebook in June; they added advertising strips to it later, to cover the costs of hosting the game on multiple servers. They’re adding more features now while cautiously expanding their revenue stream. “[W]e hope to increase it with more targeted advertisements as long as the privacy of our users is protected,” he says. “We also do not want to clutter the interface as the primary focus is game play.”

But have they received any nastygrams from Hasbro/Parker Brothers about a certain resemblance to the company’s classic board game? “We have not heard anything on these lines,” says Agarwalla. For my sake at least (I’m the middle of several matches), I hope they never do.

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