Why EA's $400 Million Acquisition Failed To Take Out FarmVille

catharina malletCatharina Mallet was a top executive on the Sims Social team.

Photo: LinkedIn

For some time after launch, it looked like Playfish’s The Sims Social, a Facebook-powered spin-off of Electronic Arts’ top franchise, would pass CityVille as the top game on Facebook.Then it stalled. Then it started losing users.

Sources tell us EA threw tons of cash at marketing the game to keep its users above the ground. But it wasn’t able to capture the hearts and minds of gamers like FarmVille was.

Now The Sims Social has around 3 million daily players, while Zynga still has several games in the top rankings on Facebook. CityVille — a game more than a year old — has 5 million daily active users. FarmVille, one of Zynga’s oldest games, has 4.3 million daily players.

What happened?

We spoke with a bunch of high-ranking people in the industry — some whom are competitors and some who are close to the company, but all have been in the games industry for years – to find out what happened. It boils down to about three points:

  • The Sims Social “harmed the player.” “Wither” mechanics are common in social games – such as crops dying if you fail to come back in time to harvest that crop. But in The Sims Social, your relationship with other players would decay over time if you didn’t come back often enough. One industry source said it violates the cardinal sin of social games: don’t harm the player.
  • It was too much like FarmVille. The Sims Social prided itself on being a “social” game that encouraged you to play with friends asynchronously. But the progression of the game boiled down to making your house and room look pretty, instead of building your character into something more than where you started. It was too much like FarmVille, but with a different skin, several industry sources told us.
  • It didn’t leverage the “social” part of the game anywhere near enough. This plays off the last point — The Sims Social could have thrived as both an asynchronous (meaning the players play the game at separate times) and synchronous (they play at the same time) game. It would have opened up a whole new level of social interaction with other players and with Facebook as a whole. The Sims Social didn’t capitalise on this at launch.

Playfish is now getting ready to launch Sim City on Facebook, even though a lot of its top talent has left (or is in the process of leaving). That game has been in development for several years now, and Playfish is convinced it needs a triple-A level game to compete with Zynga.

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