LOLapps has had a big hit with its social game Ravenwood Fair, which has grown to 10 million monthly active users since its launch in October. So the company has done what game publishers always do with a hit: launch an expansion game.
[Update: LOLaps says the launch of Ravenstone Mine has been delayed. We'll keep you posted on when it will debut].
If the expansion Ravenstone Mine takes off, we could see similar strategies at other social game companies where they pour their resources into expanding an existing game rather than take risks on something brand new. That’s a trick from the page of PC game maker Blizzard Entertainment, which keeps adding expansion areas to its online game world, World of WarCraft.
“We are using a traditional strategy in games,” said Arjun Sethi, chief executive of San Francisco-based LOLapps, in an interview. “Instead of focusing on how much money we can make from a user, we are focusing on how long we can hang on to that user. Here’s a new world that interacts with the one the user has been spending a lot of time in.”
In the case of Ravenstone Mine, LOLapps actually decided to scale back on its other existing social games to pour more into Ravenwood Fair, which can be used to access Ravenstone Mine and vice versa on Facebook. It makes sense because Ravenwood Fair — originally created by Doom video game creator John Romero — is one of those rare games that is still growing after its launch nearly six months ago.
The effort is part of LOLapps’ strategy to become a big player in social games and join the ranks of Zynga, EA-Playfish, Disney-Playdom, and CrowdStar. Those companies have been printing money by creating simple casual games that entice users to buy virtual goods.
At 10 million monthly active users, Ravenwood Fair has grown far above the 4.4 million users it had in December, according to AppData. At that time, the game was a financial success because more than 10 percent of those users were spending money in the free-to-play game. In such games, users play for free and pay only when they want to buy a virtual good with real money. Much of the money spent in Ravenwood Fair was spent on consumables, or items such as energy, which can be bought over and over again. Typically, only 3 percent to 5 percent of users pay for games on Facebook.
LOLapps has now launched Ravenwood Fair in markets beyond Facebook, including the German social network StudiVZ and in the social game world IMVU.
Ravenstone Mine takes place underneath the forest of Ravenwood Fair, using a similar art style and characters, said Sethi. (Check out the art style of Ravenstone Mine in the graphic at right). Since the game is underground, it’s a little darker in style and story.
In Ravenwood Fair, users find themselves as a cute animal in a forest. The goal is to chop down trees and build a fair in the clearing and attract more cute animal visitors. But the forest is creepy and you have to constantly battle back the trees and monsters that try to scare your visitors.
In Ravenstone Mine, the game play is very similar — but underneath the ground. Update: The expansion was designed by Romero, who, along with former LOLapps creative director Brenda Brathwaite, has mapped out a multi-expansion strategy for the Ravenwood-themed franchise. That means that Romero, as a consultant for LOLapps, designed the expansion for LOLapps to execute.
One cool feature is that you can use the experience you have gained in Ravenwood Fair to help you accumulate achievements and other rewards in Ravenstone Mine, Sethi said. That’s very similar to the Mass Effect console game series, where decisions you made in the first game can have consequences for what happens in the second game.
As we’ve noted in past stories, San Francisco-based LOLapps has about 100 million monthly active users on Facebook, mostly for its 300,000 custom gift and quiz apps. That has helped the company market its games on Facebook. During the past year, the company stepped up its investment in social games. Ravenwood Fair was developed by Romero as a consultant, and he is still helping with the game.
But Romero has now started his own social game studio, Loot Drop, with funding from LOLapps’ rival RockYou. He is being joined by Doom co-creator Tom Hall and Brathwaite. Both Romero and Brathwaite are helping with the Ravenwood games, but LOLapps has also hired veteran game creator David “Dr. Cat” Shapiro, a co-creator of the Ultima series of computer games. While Romero and Brathwaite are still consulting, Shapiro is taking over the strategic design role for the Ravenwood games.
More games are on the way, including at least one more game in the Ravenwood universe, including a title designed by Brathwaite. LOLapps will launch Ravenwood on the Mixi social mobile game network in Japan.
For LOLapps, 2011 will be a year of investment in more engaging and immersive games, Sethi said, as well as an expansion to new platforms. LOLapps has 53 employees and will likely grow to 65 to 70 in the next few months. The company is also in the midst of raising a round of funding.