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Playfish: Brands "extremely important" to social success

Tue 22 Nov 2011 11:06am GMT / 6:06am EST / 3:06am PST
Development

John Earner believes social devs without established players or strong brands are in "big trouble"

Playfish's John Earner believes that established brands will prove to be vital for any company seeking a major success in the social games market.

In an exclusive interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Earner, general manager of Playfish's European studios, explained that the rapid expansion of social gaming presents has created very different challenges to those facing developers in the past.

"Brands were less important two years ago. Not that a brand wouldn't have helped two years ago, but I don't think you needed it," he said.

"Now there are ten times as many people making games, Facebook is a less viral environment, and the quality has gone up. So brands are starting to do what they do in other markets; they have started signalling to players, 'you want to play this game, and not that game.'"

The Sims Social was the first game to offer a realistic threat to Zynga's CityVille, the longstanding number one game on Facebook.

For Earner, the high quality of the game was vital to its performance, but the Sims brand played an equally important role. And with the major players seemingly entrenched at the top of the charts, he is pessimistic about the chances of new companies achieving anything outside of niche success in the future.

"I think brands are now extremely important, and I think that you either are a big player in the space already and you have an installed base of users, or you have a... man, otherwise I think you're in big trouble."

"It has just become a much more mature platform, and I'm not saying somebody can't rise up from the bottom - sure they can - but the barriers to entry now have changed in a big way and it's become a lot harder."

Earner's comments are particularly relevant in light of today's news that Gameforge will be closing its free-to-play browser game Katsuro: Path of Honor, citing high costs and a lack of players.

However, the draw of the Sims brand gives Playfish more options when it comes to reinvigorating its Facebook presence in future. Not only can it engage in cross-promotional activities with EA Maxis, it can also build on the series' past success with expansion packs.

"We have many renewable opportunities to continue to bring this franchise to the Facebook platform in different variations, just as you've seen The Sims do with expansion packs. We can do that by continuing to add on to The Sims Social over the coming years, but also when the sort of thing we want to do is a significant enough departure from [The Sims Social], we can make a new game."

Over time, Earner expects Maxis and Playfish to work from a shared pool of player data, allowing them to "push people around all of the [Sims] franchises."

"We certainly see a lot of promise in owning the player and the franchise versus focusing on the hardware. It seems to us that if you can get a player into the concept of playing a Sims game, you can get them playing Sims games on all of the different devices they own."

For the full interview with Earner, in which he discusses the development of The Sims Social, click here.

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