Talking tech since 2003

If you talk to people in the gaming world and mention Facebook gaming, you may hear a few things such as “Facebook games are dead,” or “Facebook’s hurting as far as games go.”  But East Side Games, which makes the popular game Pot Farm, would disagree with you.

Based in Vancouver, BC, East Side Games is one of those gaming companies that’s doing things right.  They’ve managed to expand at a rapid rate while maintaing a laid back but hard-working culture (and they have a few hit games to prove it).  The company serves between 70,000 and 100,000 gamers per day across every platform you can think including iOS, Facebook, various Android stores, and even Google Plus.

One of the places that East Side Games has a large presence is Facebook.  Yes, Facebook.  You know the platform that Electronic Arts and Zynga are running from?  EA, if you aren’t familiar, is closing Playfish, SimCity Social, Pet Society and the four other games that the studio ran on Facebook in full by June.  Zynga, which is known for its hit game Farmville, pulled the plug on a number of its Facebook games as its revenue from Facebook games decline.

The reason big studios like EA and Zynga are running from Facebook  is because it’s becoming harder for large studios to make money on the platform  Just look at EA: they purchased Playfish for $300 million in 2009.  To get an idea of how much they dropped on that game, you need to look at the entire Facebook market, which is worth just $2 billion to game makers.

When Zynga was at its height in 2011 and everyone and their mother (literally) was playing Farmville, the company was worth $11 billion.  Now, Zynga is worth around $2.6 billion and its games are no longer on the top of the charts on Facebook.  But for independent game developers, such as East Side Games, Facebook still provides huge opportunities.

“We have a game that’s been around for three years on a platform that everyone says is dead,” said Josh Nilson, co-founder of East Side Games. “But we still have a tremendous outpouring and connection with our fans of Pot Farm and with some of the other games.”

Pot Farm, where the goal of the game is to grow and harvest marijuana. has more than 1 million followers on Facebook and is still going strong after three years.  So how do you keep a game’s users from straying to the next hot game?  Nilson will tell you that it comes down to one major thing. No, not awesome graphics or cool design.  It’s customer service.

“A lot of [game developers] want to talk about how cool their design is or how cool their art is, but a lot of people don’t want to talk about cool their customer support is, which is what we want to talk about the most,” Nilson said.

The company views customer service as the secret to their success, particularly on Facebook, where games are not as well managed.  East Side Games has built their own API’s and frameworks to make sure they are staying on top of their users.  So if someone is close to coming to an end of a game, they can make sure they give them more content.  Tracking metrics may not be “cool” but it’s a way for East Side Games to move quickly.  And for a game developer, the ability to move quickly is one of the ways that smaller, indie companies are able to remain successful on platforms like Facebook, while larger companies like Zynga and EA are having trouble.

“The main thing is having small team that move really fast, that is one of the key goals, and I think a lot of people fundamentally miss that.  And these are service-based games, and people always ask me, what are secrets of this and how are we still around?  It’s really hard, but really our secret is amazing customer service, we’re always trying to do that,” Nilson said.

While Facebook is seeing a decline in gaming revenue from larger companies like Zynga and EA, the platform still has a large presence in the gaming world.  In fact, Facebook is seeing growth in gaming revenue from newer developers like Kixeye, Wooga and, which is making up for the lost revenue from larger developers.

PopCap Games, which makes the hit games Bejeweled Blitz and Plants vs. Zombies also believes that Facebook remains a strong platform for game designers.  In fact, the company is busy building a new version of Plans vs. Zombies for Facebook only.

“PopCap remains committed to Facebook as a gaming platform and we continue to use Facebook Platform to launch and drive discovery for key games such as Plants vs. Zombies Adventures, a Facebook-only game currently in closed beta that will launch worldwide later this Spring,” said members of the PopCap studio.

The number of people playing games on Facebook also continues to grow, increased to 235 million in October from 205 million in the summer of 2011.  During the same period, Facebook grew to over 1 billion users from about 750 million users.  Nilson believes that the growing community on Facebook is hard to ignore and can still be harnessed for game developers.  Nilson argues that while he probably plays more games on his tablet, he still uses Facebook as an information source to get to them, so he believes Facebook is far from their saturation point.

“I don’t think Facebook is dead, but a lot of the industry is saying Facebook is done and a lot of the companies are moving away from Facebook, and I think that’s ridiculous,” Nilson said.  “I think Facebook is going to be one of those disruptors that are going to put people into games.”

So what’s the future for EA and Zynga?  Well, Nilson doesn’t think they are dead either.

“I think it’s cool to hate Zynga right now, just like it’s cool to hate EA, but if there’s no EA, half of us wouldn’t be playing games right now, that’s the truth. If there’s no Zynga, half of the people that are playing games right now that started with Farmville, probably wouldn’t be playing games, or it wouldn’t have grown as fast,” Nilson said.

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