PlayFirst serves up 'Diner Dash' for Android as Kindle Fire exclusive

Few gaming franchises have enjoyed the enduring success and cross-platform appeal of PlayFirst's pioneering time-management title Diner Dash. Spotlighting the entrepreneurial exploits of Flo--a burned-out stockbroker who ankles Wall Street, buys a roadside greasy spoon and builds it into a five-star restaurant--Diner Dash first launched on PCs in late 2003, expanding to Mac, PlayStation, Xbox and Wii before landing on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone in 2008. Late last month, Diner Dash finally made its move to Android as an Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) exclusive; the game is currently available for the original Kindle Fire tablet and the Kindle Fire HD 7", and it also will run on the new Kindle Fire HD 8.9" when the device arrives on Nov. 20.  

PlayFirst logo

Diner Dash for Android follows roughly a year after PlayFirst dramatically overhauled its casual gaming business to focus solely on the mobile segment, halting its work on other platforms. The ongoing restructuring process is led by PlayFirst President and CEO Marco DeMiroz, who joined the firm in 2011--a technology industry veteran, DeMiroz's resume includes stints with companies including Oracle, Sun Microsystems and General Magic, the ill-fated Apple spinoff that introduced smartphone-like personal communication devices in the mid-1990s. FierceDeveloper contributor Jason Ankeny spoke to DeMiroz about his return to mobile, Diner Dash's expansion to Android and why retention must precede monetization.

Marco DeMiroz

   Marco DeMiroz

Marco DeMiroz on joining Playfirst: General Magic went out there about eight years too early for the market. Processing power for handheld devices was not where it needed to be. Some of the company's engineers like Tony Fadell and Andy Rubin went to Apple and ultimately proved General Magic's vision was correct. After General Magic I started focusing on the investment side--I looked at a number of companies, and invested in Pandora. But I've always been interested in the mobile sector, so when I was approached to join PlayFirst, I was very interested.

The Dash games originated time management games, and we now have 700 million downloads across all platforms, as well as wide brand recognition and a large installed base. I felt there was a huge opportunity to build on what was already here. About two years ago, PlayFirst started experimenting with mobile and social gaming, and when I came on board last year, we decided to eliminate everything but mobile. Look at the sheer numbers: There are 6 billion mobile subscribers, and 1 billion with smartphones and tablets. Mobile is ubiquitous--it's our primary mode of communication. A company like PlayFirst can't extend in all directions and execute successfully. You have to choose one.

We want to build high-quality stories. Our internal ambition is to become the Pixar of mobile gaming. We're nowhere near that, but it's our ambition. We believe that a compelling story combined with great gameplay creates an enduring experience.

DeMiroz on expanding Diner Dash to the Kindle Fire: Time management games are very addictive, but you have to relate to the story and the experience. It's our belief that Flo's story as a struggling entrepreneur has global resonance. People of all backgrounds relate. Her appeal is universal. The combination of a great character, a great story and great gameplay made it a global success.

We want to grow Diner Dash's scale from 4 million [mobile active users] to 10 million MAUs. We're almost there. We also want to expand the franchise, build on our original IP and prove our ability to handle multiple platforms. If you look at the Android market, it's now monetizing at a competitive level with iOS, especially in the U.S. We wanted to go out there [to Android] through partnerships. We've always had a good relationship with Amazon on our Mac and PC games. We look for long-term partnerships--we invest in partnerships designed for longevity.

Flo - Diner Dash

Diner Dash features Flo, a budding restaurant owner.

We didn't know what to expect when we launched Diner Dash on the Kindle Fire. We're going into a new market with no prior knowledge or battle scars. I've been very pleasantly surprised in terms of our chart ranking but also in terms of the customer feedback we've received. [Amazon Appstore for Android] conversion rates are very high--it's curated by Amazon, and because customers have an established commerce relationship with the platform, there's no apprehension factor or concern.

DeMiroz on developing for Android: We're learning. On iOS, we do universal development. Our focus has always been on making a great experience on iPhone and iPad--we did not create a deviation in the game design to optimize a different experience for each device. But with Android, you go through a different learning curve.

We're looking at where the high-quality Android user experiences are, and where we think we can deliver a great game. We know we can't provide broad coverage, so we're focusing on a small number of configurations. We may work with a small number of manufacturers, and we may not be compatible with all versions. We're a venture-backed company--for us to try to cover all permutations of Android is not the best use of our resources. We have to pick and choose carefully.

Diner Dash

DeMiroz wants to grow Diner Dash's MAUs from 4 million to 10 million.

DeMiroz on what's next for PlayFirst: This is a brand that is continuing to expand its global appeal and presence. Beyond Diner Dash we have our Mall Stars franchise, which was first released for iOS in June. We're building a robust portfolio--we have our own proprietary publishing unit, and that allows us to do cross-promotion of own content across all of our games. It helps us control our destiny. Our user acquisition costs are far below other companies.

We're now seeing millions of monthly installs, and as we continue to expand our portfolio, we're also expanding across platforms. We will also increase our footprint on the Android front.

DeMiroz's advice for aspiring mobile developers: I'm not going to say you have to develop great games. Developers all want to build great games. But you need to focus on delivering an immersive experience and engaging people over a long period of time.

Discovery and visibility are going to become more challenging. There is severe competition in all directions. You have to focus on getting out there--build your brand and presence through partnerships and through opportunistic deals with large content players. People have to enjoy your game and come back to it again and again. Don't focus on monetization--focus on retention. Give them a reason to come back. Manage that, and monetization will follow.

Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile focuses on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offers their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better.

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