Playfish COO touts success of "social gaming"

94 million games installed. 30 million players each month. Seven games, all having been in the top 10 of Facebook's app list. Not bad for a company that's just 18 months old. Pocket-lint spoke to COO and co-founder Sebastien de Halleux to find out what he credits his success to.

"Social networks", says de Halleux. So far, so clich├ęd - but there's more to it than that. This isn't a company that spams its way to dubious success. Instead, it lets you have a good time and then suggests you might like to send it to a friend or two.

In fact, all of Playfish's games are made in such a way that they're considerably more fun if you're playing with your friends. In one game, Restaurant City, you can pick friends to be your waitresses, cooks, or even the janitor.

All the games are free, and the company is funded by advertising and microtransactions. De Halleux states with a smirk that Playfish is "substantially profitable". We asked why he chose that path, rather than the traditional route of boxed copies.

"A huge frustration with traditional distributors", de Halleux says. Opting to push games out across social networks instead means that there's no middleman, he explains. Updates can be delivered instantly.

De Halleux refers to this as a "move away from immersiveness". He isn't convinced that the current popular model of video games that you sink yourself into for hours on end has a wide enough appeal, pointing out that Tetris wasn't "immersive" in the slightest.

Playfish's games are available on Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, as well as My Yahoo! and iGoogle. They're also available on the iPhone and on Android - so users can log off their PC and carry on playing on the bus. It's that constant connectivity that's important, says de Halleux - giving users the same experience everywhere.

Given that statement, we questioned whether Playfish would be available on more handsets. Currently Android is limited to just two phones, and there are only two iPhones available at the time of writing, with another just around the corner. De Halleux said that they're keeping it to "top tier handsets" for now. There are no plans for Symbian games.

And what about moderation? How do you stop users cheating, or abusing other users? Well, as it's tied into your social graph, the only people you're able to cheat or abuse are your friends. If you don't like what someone's doing to you ingame, then just de-friend them.

We asked Playfish what it sees as the grand future of video games. De Halleux paused for a moment, and replied "5 things". First is that games will come through a social filter - word of mouth will be the dominant way that you hear about games.

Games will be "run as services", says De Halleux. They'll listen to you and constantly update themselves. They'll also be free to the user - funded by advertising and micropayments, and will overlap with the real world. Your friends in the game will be your friends in real life.

For a company described by TechCrunch as the "Wii of social gaming companies", Playfish is doing rather well. Sure, it might not be creating the next Half-Life, or World of Warcraft, but it's giving 30 million people a month a bit of fun for free. We wouldn't bet against it.


>