PlayFirst, one of the leading developers, publishers and distributors of casual games, is abandoning the distribution side of its business to focus exclusively on developing and publishing games for the PC and other platforms including Facebook, iPhone, and home videogame consoles. Starting Jan. 13, 2010, PlayFirst’s online PC and Mac game distribution portal will be powered by Big Fish Games, who will provide e-commerce and customer support services and access to the company’s catalogue of more than 2,500 titles.

This new multi-year affiliate agreement strengthens the companies’  existing relationship in which Big Fish Games has exclusivity as PlayFirst’s third-party launch partner, giving customers of PlayFirst and Big Fish Games first access to all PlayFirst original titles.

"We have an excellent relationship with PlayFirst – one cultivated over several years of partnership," said Jeremy Lewis, Big Fish Games president and chief executive officer, in a prepared statement. "PlayFirst is very successful in developing brand loyalty, thanks to their strong portfolio of award-winning, engaging games … We look forward to generating a greater lifetime value for PlayFirst’s online traffic though superior customer retention and data-driven merchandising of our vast catalog of content."

Beginning on Jan. 13, content and services from Big Fish Games will start to migrate to The migration will be a gradual process that takes place over several months. Members of PlayFirst’s PlayPass games club will receive credit for any outstanding account balance that they will be able to apply to Big Fish Games purchases. Ultimately, PlayPass members will be migrated over to Big Fish Games Club and the PlayPass membership will be discontinued.

"PlayFirst has led a strategy of developing, publishing and distributing over the past few years and what we’ve come to realize is that there are folks out there who are able to do a better job on the distribution side than what we can do, which allows us to focus on developing and publishing," PlayFirst CEO Mari Baker told Gamezebo.

"What [the partnership] will allow us to do is offer up to our customers a bigger, deeper, broader catalogue of games with the Big Fish catalogue," Baker said. "We believe they will have a better e-commerce experience, we believe we can do a better job on creating engagement with PlayFirst titles, and it will allow us to really focus on what the company does best, which is creating award-winning games."

Baker acknowledged that the download business has had its difficulties over the last year and a half, not because of a lack of consumer interest but rather because of price compression. In a short span of time, the standard price of a PC download casual game has dropped from $19.99 to as low as $6.99 on most major digital download portals.

"We are certainly hopeful that [pricing] has reached the bottom because the danger that you run into is there not being enough business potential left to invest what you need to invest to create a great, engaging experience for customers, and that game quality may suffer," Baker said. "We’ve committed to developing quality games, and we think in the end that quality will matter, and so as long as pricing has stabilized in that area, we can continue to invest in creating great games."

Baker stressed that PlayFirst is in no way abandoning the PC downloads market, where the company has enjoyed phenomenal success with its Diner Dash, Chocolatier and Dream Chronicles series’, and numerous Diner Dash spin-offs including Wedding Dash and Cooking Dash. PlayFirst is planning to release a robust line-up of PC download games in 2010 that include updates to popular franchises as well as new IPs.

PlayFirst will also continue to explore opportunities on other platforms as well. The company recently found success with an iPhone version of Cooking Dash, and Baker said plans are in the works to bring more top PlayFirst IPs to the iPhone and update existing IPs to be more native to the device. The company also recently launched Diner Dash on the Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare.

"We see continued growth, especially in the connected console space, and certainly one can’t ignore the tremendous amount of growth that’s happened in social gaming in the past year and we’ll certainly be making some efforts there," Baker said.

"If you look at the iPhone you can definitely see where top brands have ended up for the most part being consistently in the top 15 despite the huge number of apps that are available," she added. "Obviously Electronic Arts’ acquisition of Playfish on the social site is evidence that brands will end up gathering in that space as well. Any place where you have huge assortment creates opportunities for small, independent developers to gain exposure and for great new IP to break through, and it also creates opportunities for quality known brands to bubble to the top as they are recognized by consumers.

"We believe that there’s tremendous amount of growth going on overall in gaming, with more time being spent on gaming and people enjoying playing games across multiple platforms, and PlayFirst is committed to bringing its award-winning IP and developing great new IP in those areas where there is growth. Where consumers want to play, we’ll be there."