Andrew Chen Archives

Subscribe · Featured · Recent · The Cold Start Problem 📘
Dear readers, I have moved to Substack and I will be writing here from now on:
In the meantime, I will leave up for posterity. Enjoy!

New Diner Dash: Entrenched casual game companies versus new casual MMOs

Update from New York
I’m still alive and kicking in NY – I’m hanging out with some folks from Union Square Ventures, IAC, Massive, BuddyLube, etc. I’m also spending time with some interesting bloggers and entrepreneurs – including Darren Herman from IGA (in-game advertising) as well as Linkshare, and Bronte Media, and some other advertising pepople.

First, an intro to Diner Dash
I had the pleasure of spending about an hour last week to get an early preview of the Diner Dash team – thanks to Gus, Kirem, and John for setting that up. They showed me the new release of Diner Dash that came out this week that incorporates a lot of interesting social features.

First off, though, if you haven’t tried Diner Dash, please go to the site and check it out: Download Diner Dash. It’s a fun game, but more importantly, it’s an example of an extremely successful casual game that generates real non-advertising revenue (whoah!). They’ve had 1 million customers who have paid to play the full version of the game, which is very impressive. I also recall they said they’ve had close to 100 million downloads of the game overall, which is also incredible.

Casual games like this, being targeted at the 30+ women audience, often evade the attention of Bay Area geeks because it’s not really targeted at them, and while a social networking site with 500k non-paying users that generates marginal ad revenue might get a lot of attention, a property like this is ignored. I think that’s a mistake.

Casual games going social
The new features the team showed me go hand in hand with becoming more social overall. As you might expect, they are adding user profiles around the game, allowing people to pick and choose avatars, among other innovations. It’s a good step in the right direction.

They are still keeping the downloadable aspect of their game, although their strategy has been to build a web property around the download. So although you need to run the game to play, you can still do things like build avatars, play around with your profile, etc. This combined strategy will be interesting relative to the soon-to-be onslaught of casual MMOs that are coming out which are 100% on the web via Flash.

Furthermore, their downloadable client strategy is also quite interesting – as many folks know, although the disadvantage of a client is decreased conversion rates, the advantage is that people rarely uninstall applications. It’s often stickier, especially if you can justify getting the app to start up when the computer does. They are updating the game within the client automatically, so that people can go into the Diner Dash world and when new properties are launched, they appear as "NEW!" signs within the world map. That way, they can incorporate dynamic updates from the web while still keeping the download.

Entrenched casual games versus Flash casual MMOs
My main questions I have, after seeing the demo, is comparing their
approach to those of the casual games that are coming out. If you are
building one these days, you are likely to:

  • Choose Flash for the technology platform
  • Start by building an undirected "sandbox" experience
  • Rely on chat, avatars, and messages for entertainment
  • Use advertising and virtual goods as the business model

You can think of Club Penguin, Habbo Hotel, and the myriad of other properties as the first generation of these sites.

However, if you’re coming from the traditional casual games market you are likely to have a different situation:

  • Created as a downloadable game built in C++
  • Often a very directed game experience
  • Users play the game as a single player experience
  • Usually pay $20 to have the download

Now, if you are moving from the downloadable games, you are really going bottoms-up: You have a great core game experience, and now you need to layer on social features. This is in contrast to the new casual MMOs, which are typically ALL social features to start with some basic activities, followed by a deepening of that experience.

Which way is the right approach? Only time will tell, but my guess is that long-term engagement will win out – and thus the game designers have a great chance to succeed – as long as they can overcome the user acquisition hurdles of using a downloadable game.

Thanks again to the Diner Dash team for the great discussion, and good luck!

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see for additional important information.