Years after launch, PlayFirst’s games continue to thrive due to regular updates

Social mobile developer PlayFirst is continuing to see a rise in user numbers and revenue for its core “Dash” games, something of a rarity in an industry where dwindling players result in titles being removed from the App Store less than a year after they launch. PlayFirst VP of Marketing and Product Management Becky Ann Hughes tells us the company’s user base is continuing to see impressive growth due to the regular updates it provides to its games, especially seasonal content.

Hughes tells us PlayFirst has refocused itself to treat games as a service. “Every department is focused on games as a service development,” she says. “If we don’t update our games every two weeks, it affects our population. There’s a noticeable drop off in players.”

A recent example she provides is how in Diner Dash recently rolled out St. Patrick’s Day themed content including unique serving settings, recipes and themes. The themed content led to the game’s number of daily active users increasing by approximately 30 percent. The big draw, Hughes tells us, was simply that “it was new content people hadn’t played before.”

“In the past, PlayFirst has been a product-focused model,” Hughes says. “Now we’re using a retail-focused model.”

By being retail-focused, Hughes explains, PlayFirst is adopting a similar content experience one might find in retail chains like Target; when a customer walks into one of these stores, they immediately see themes and items tied to the current season and associated holidays.

Hughes says this content rollout is universally effective across their “Dash” brand of games (including Diner Dash, Wedding Dash, Cooking Dash and Hotel Dash), even though the titles have been available on iOS for years. In fact, she tells us the bi-weekly updates have resulted in increasing record-breaking revenues for the studio. She also says PlayFirst is expecting the numbers to improve even more dramatically, since the developer is planning to switch its monetization models completely over to a free-to-play from its current “try/buy” (downloading what is essentially a game demo for free and then unlocking the full game for a fee) model.

Over the past year, Hughes says PlayFirst’s user population has doubled. Currently, she says company’s total audience comprises over 10 million DAU. These users are only on iOS and Kindle devices, she says; interestingly, Hughes notes that PlayFirst is very happy with how the games monetize on Kindle, something we haven’t heard from other developers.

Although PlayFirst is continuing to develop for its established titles, Hughes says the developer also has eight new mobile titles in development. While she can’t go into detail yet about these upcoming games, she tells us the first new title is expected to launch relatively soon.

She also tells us the company is planning to keep its games as mobile-only titles, but that it’s working to further implement social features in all of its games. She explains social mechanics are much easier for mobile developers to include these days, between Facebook’s ongoing efforts to make the platform useful to said studios and Apple’s integration of the social network with iOS 6. As a result, PlayFirst’s new games will have a cohesive experience with social sharing and monetization keyed in from the start.

However, Hughes points out that while PlayFirst’s games is seeing its best user growth and monetization figures, none of this would be possible without quality content to build on and customer relations.

“There’s three pillars we focus on: Building community, encouraging social interaction and creating value,” she states. “It’s really about creating a great game first. You can make a bad game first, but there’s no way you can successfully monetize it.”

The PlayFirst team’s focus on creating a fun experience extends often developing game ideas away from digital devices. A tour of the San Francisco headquarters shows us an area of handmade games using butcher paper as game boards and candy as de facto game pieces. “A lot of times, we check and see if our ideas our fun when they’re offline,” Hughes explains.

PlayFirst is in a unique position among mobile developers. It has a substantial user base due to its established “Dash” brands, and also benefits from being a partner with Sony’s movie division (a recent example of this being last year’ Hotel Transylvania tie-in game). Between these advantages, the company will have a far easier (and far less expensive) time acquiring users for its new titles this year.

“This is the first time games are truly mass market,” she further notes. “There’s something really amazing happening here right now. We have an amazing team of really talented people who want to make something great.”