GameHouse focused on social, but isn’t betting on real-money Facebook gambling yet

Seattle-based casual game developer GameHouse is still working to make the transition from a downloadable gaming company to a freemium social game leader. In September, the company’s CEO Matt Hulett told Inside Social Games his goal was to break into the top 10 social game developers by daily active users on Facebook.

According to AppData, GameHouse is currently the No. 27 most popular game developer on the platform according to DAU, an increase over the No. 33 spot the company held when Hulett announced his plans. GameHouse now has 821,150 DAU on Facebook and the number has been slowly but steadily increasing. To support the transition, GameHouse recently announced it was doubling the headcount at its Facebook-focused Canadian studio.

Located in Victoria, British Columbia, GameHouse Canada started life as Backstage Technologies, a financial services company that pivoted into Facebook games in 2007. Its game Scratch and Win was one of the first games to integrate with the Facebook API and monetize through the free-to-play model. GameHouse’s parent company RealNetworks bought Backstage in September 2010 to bolster its social game talent, but it’s only now that the company has moved into a much larger downtown office is it ready to push forward with an aggressive expansion plan that will see it grow from 25 to 45 people in the next couple of months, according to Alex Mendelev, GameHouse Canada’s general manager and head of studios.

Inside Social Games had a chance to visit the company’s new offices and speak with Mendelev about the company’s plans in the social gaming space.

Inside Social Games: What can you tell me about GameHouse’s larger Facebook strategy? Earlier this year GameHouse’s CEO Matt Hulett said the goal was to be in the top 10 by DAU within six months?

Alex Mendelev, general manager and head of studios, Gamehouse Canada (pictured right): I think our strategy on Facebook is not necessarily take all the users from our other platforms and bring them to Facebook. I think our strategy is to operate our businesses that run really well. Our casual, downloadable business continues to function really well and we will continue to grow that business in its own way. Social is a giant opportunity to capitalize on. Backstage has been doing it for a long time and at this point we have two studios hitting directly into that market with good numbers and growth to show. Backstage primarily contributes to the social game area of the effort.

ISG: So will you be focusing on new IP or porting existing hits? Are you worried about cannibalizing a casual game’s existing audience by bring it onto Facebook? 

Mendelev: I think regardless of what we do, there are new platforms and new, exciting experiences that people want to partake of. Whether you’re on one platform or another, as new platforms come in, users will want to try them. Some of them will stick and want to play games there and some of them won’t. I think our approach is more to give people a place to play, regardless of what platform they’re on. In that regard, we’re very well positioned with casual downloadable, mobile and iOS and social.

ISG: There’s certainly a precedent for games from casual game portals to find success on Facebook. 

Mendelev:  We’ve seen some great results from some of the titles we’ve had as GameHouse for a long time, such as Collapse, and bringing them to Facebook. Collapse is kind of a classic GameHouse game and it’s shown great results so far and is continuing to grow. Some of the recent titles we’re really excited about are Bayou Blast.

ISG: What is GameHouse Canada working on right now?

Mendelev:  We’re working on a slots game and we’re going to release it early this year.

ISG: With your history working on slots and games of chance, how do you feel you would be positioned if Facebook does make real-money gambling available on the platform?

Mendelev:  It’s really hard to say because Facebook is very good at pivoting very quickly around things. Just because there was an announcement that certain kinds of business would be open doesn’t mean it will happen soon if at all. We’ve learned to kind of temper our expectations in terms of what’s actually going to happen in the platform, so we not actively considering it.

ISG: But if something were to come up?

Mendelev:  We’re always open to looking at new opportunities and consider that as part of our strategy but we haven’t made a decision to move in that direction. It’s really hard to make that decision before Facebook.

ISG: Gambling companies have shown an interest in the platform with some large social game investments like Double Down Interactive and Playtika. What do you think of that?

Mendelev:  I would say that with gambling companies moving into Facebook, they’re recognizing that Facebook is a large revenue opportunity and they’re actively investing in that space. We’re already in that space, so it makes sense for us to continue to invest in the space. If you look at GameHouse as a whole and our entire social gaming effort we have lots of games coming out and they’ll be across multiple genres.