Row Sham Bow's Philip Holt on his studio's transition from Facebook to mobile

Social good for business, bad for users says CEO

Row Sham Bow CEO Philip Holt says there’s a good reason for abandoning the platform that won his studio a GDC Online award.

Woodland Heroes was launched on Facebook and gained accolades for design at the prestigious award show in Austin, Texas, but Row Sham Bow has already switched to iOS and Android for its new title Letter by Letter.

While many developers have abandoned the social network in favor of the mobile market for business reasons, Holt’s reasoning has more to do with game design.

"One reason is – I don’t know how to put this delicately – looking at what works in social games, the mechanics that allow for viral growth and retention and monetization are not the kind of mechanics that we enjoy as users," Holt told Gamasutra.

"The stuff that works on the platform leads to games that we don’t like to play. So we’re not the audience. Therefore, it felt a little disingenuous to focus on that platform as our primary launch platform."

While mobile has its own problems, Holt says it’s a better home for his team.

"It felt like a better place to be, because it’s a platform we’re more passionate about, so that was probably one of the most important influences."

This doesn’t mean Row Sham Bow has ditched the social network entirely, as the studio is currently working on a version of Letter by Letter for Facebook, but from now on Holt’s company will consider mobile its primary platform.

On the other hand, while mobile may be more condusive to less cynical game design, it isn’t exactly easier to find users.

"Our approach to launching the title was we went through a number of paid acquisition channels," said Holt.

"We wanted to get a seed audience established as quickly as we could so that we could get as high up the charts as possible, because we know that a lot of app discovery happens from people just browsing the charts."

One of the primary tools the studio used to get a viral presence was Facebook registration, but Row Sham Bow quickly found that many users instead opted for e-mail registration.

This has led to the Studio scrambling to provide a way for users to spread the word through e-mail and SMS.

But Holt admits this is no replacement for the natural word-of-mouth success enjoyed by the best games.

"I think what we’re seeing is a transition to the kinds of games that are going to be successful on Facebook, and going away from the very mass casual stuff, to games that a bit more ‘mid-core,’ ones that don’t appeal quite as much to a broad general audience, but can retain and monetize users better."

"Platforms come and go," Holt concluded, "and I think the companies that survive understand that platform transitions are a natural part of the game industry, and you need to go where the audience is going."

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