Though a dashing young fellow, Charles Merrin is an industry veteran in casual games, having worked at Real Games, TikGames, and Trymedia.
Along with Anatoly Tikhman, Charles just recently started a new social games company, Playteau. We spoke with Charles about his new gig at Playteau, their first Facebook game Fortune Stones, and his predictions on social games in the future.
Tell us more about your new company, Playteau. What cool and exciting plans to you have in store for us?
Simply, we started Playteau to create innovative and entertaining games that are different than today’s wave of “me too” games on Facebook. This means experimenting with less “obvious” categories, with new mechanics, and on platforms beyond Facebook.
Your first game you are launching is a 3-in-a-row puzzle arcade game, Fortune Stones. Why did you pick a 3-in-a-row puzzle game as your first game to launch on Facebook and not a FarmVille-style harvesting game?
We created Fortune Stones because we felt, and still feel, that there are unexplored opportunities in the “match 3” genre. Today, there is only one really solid game in the category. By comparison, I am not sure anyone knows how many farm or animal or RTS-battle games there are on Facebook today. It just wasn’t clear to me that the world needed another one of these games, regardless of how clever or well produced.
3-in-a-row puzzle games are among the most popular casual games on the planet but also the most challenging to innovate on. What innovative features does Fortune Stones bring to the table?
Fortune Stones delivers the features players asked us for – many of them seemly simple and obvious. For example, players can customize the game with different tile sets and backgrounds, some of which provide in-game benefits like extra time. It was amazing to see how quickly players identified the different combinations of power ups and tile sets that yielded the highest scores.
Strategy Mode lets puzzle-oriented players “solve” hundreds of puzzle levels. Regular updates of new strategy levels, tile sets, backgrounds and more keeps the game fresh. Plus we have a bunch of cool new features coming out in the next few weeks.
Do you have plans to create a download version of Fortune Stones in the future?
We weren’t planning to originally, but customers are starting to ask for it, so we’ll see. Playteau’s philosophy on things like this is simple: Ask the customers, and then listen to their answers.
Facebook is the largest social network for gamers, but they have removed a lot of the viral features in the past year that made it so easy for a game to be spread among its millions of users. What do you think of the changes Facebook has made recently in terms of game notifications, game stories, etc? What challenges does a company like yours face in releasing new games on Facebook?
You are absolutely right. The recent changes on Facebook have made it much harder for new companies like Playteau to build a viral audience. Early movers, like Zynga, have the luxury of massive audiences and big budgets. Do you think Cityville could have gotten to where it is now if a start-up had produced it?
With that said, we still feel there are tremendous opportunities on Facebook, and on other networks and platforms. If people love your game, they will invite their friends, write nice reviews, brag about their high scores, and play a lot. Fortune Stones has seen great growth with almost no marketing. We have 4.6 stars, a really high “like” rate, and nearly 10 million games played. It’s been amazing and very satisfying to watch.
We clearly have a lot left to do, but we are pleased at how well players have responded to Fortune Stones so far.
You mention in your company bio that you are focused on providing social games across all platforms. What do you think are the most interesting social game platforms in the future beyond Facebook?
That’s a tricky question… Personally, I am watching a lot of trends to see what happens. For example, how will consoles expand social play beyond the current XBLA-type of engagement? Will players become more active across multiple social networks to satisfy their game play needs?
If you have any other ideas, I would love to hear them.
How many games do you plan to launch over the next six months? Can you give us a sneak peak into what future products you are working on?
We currently have a few games scheduled for the coming year. Like Fortune Stones, they will be innovative and fun, although not necessarily “match 3.”
I can say that Fortune Stones will be seeing a few major updates in the coming months. These will keep the game fresh with more features, content, and fun!
Any last words for you existing and future fans out there?
Thank you for playing Fortune Stones. If you haven’t tried it yet, check it out. If you have, keep an eye out for new stuff. Happy holidays!