Tuesday's victor (of sorts) is King.com, the small British publisher of Bubble Witch Saga and other arcade titles, which toppled Wooga as the No. 2 game publisher on Facebook, according to AppData.com, a site that tracks traffic on Facebook.
Although King.com was founded eight years ago, it is a relative newcomer to Facebook, publishing its first game, Bubble Saga, on the social network a year ago. It continues to operate more than 150 games on its own site.
Now King.com has 11 games on Facebook that together racked up nearly 10 million daily players as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, with Bubble Witch Saga accounting for about two-thirds of that traffic. By comparison, No. 3-ranked Wooga garnered 9.9 million daily players, while Electronic Arts Inc. came in fourth place at 9.1 million. All three are still leagues away from Zynga Inc., which clocked 65.3 million daily players.
Since launching Bubble Witch Saga in September, King.com has seen a 143% increase in players who check in at least once a month and a 312% increase in players who log in daily, according to AppData.com.
Why the sudden popularity?
"King.com's games are easy to learn, difficult to master," said A.J. Glasser, managing editor of Inside Network, research group focused on Facebook social games. In addition, its games aren't overly aggressive in urging players to spend money on virtual "potions" that help them advance faster in the games, she said.
King.com should relish its popularity, because it may not last, Glasser warned: "It'll take more than that to widen its daily lead on Wooga and EA."
In fact, when traffic from the last 30 days are taken into account, King.com is No. 4 with 39.1 million monthly players, behind Zynga's 285.9 million, EA's 46.1 million and Wooga's 44.8 million. It was just seven months ago when EA's Sims Social game toppled Zynga's FarmVille as the second most popular game on Facebook. On Tuesday, Sims Social was No. 26 on the charts.
When it comes to making money, though, King.com is an old hand. The company has been profitable since 2005, according to co-founder and Chief Executive Riccardo Zacconi (right). It's so profitable that it hasn't bothered to touch a cent of the $46 million in venture financing it has raised over the years and is preparing for a possible initial public offering in the U.S. next year, Zacconi said.
Much of King.com's revenue comes from its main site, where it hosts more than 2.5 billion game sessions a month. Its audience, 70% of whom are women, range between 35 and 45 years old.
Aside from the usual mix of advertising and virtual goods sales, King.com also generates revenue from hosting competitive, skill-based tournaments on its main site (it does not offer tournaments on Facebook).
Here's how it works. Four players each pay a 50-cent entry fee to compete for a $1.50 cash prize. (Online competitions based purely on skill are perfectly legal; only when the element of chance enters the equation do things get legally dicey.) The house, however, wins every time, with King.com collecting 50 cents from each game.
In an environment in which developers brazenly release nearly identical games, how can King.com avoid being squashed by rivals with more resources or being outdone by nimbler start-ups?
"You can't avoid that, really," Zacconi said. "But you can try to be faster, more focused."
-- Alex Pham
Image: courtesy of King.com.