8 March 2011

Social Games: Inside - Out - by Abhishek Buchvani

      Posted 03/05/11 07:07:00 am  

Over the past few years we’ve seen a tectonic shift in gaming away from traditional, hardcore titles in favor of more casual, social games. It’s no coincidence that this change has has occurred alongside the rise of Facebook and smartphones, as these platforms have thrown open the gates of gaming to entirely new demographics. Now as developers scramble to capitalize on these new markets the question becomes who are these new gamers, and what do they want to see?

Demography

When we look at the demographics of social gamers we find a lot of surprising statistics. According to a survey by Flurry social gamers are predominately women, and the majority of players fall in the age range of 18-49. While some would say that this confirms the stereotype that all the people who play Farmville are bored housewives that isn’t the case, as the gender split is almost 50/50 (men make up 47% of social gamers), and the majority of players are actually age 18-25. Furthermore, the audience is educated, with 61% of players holding at least a bachelor’s degree. So instead of moms looking for something to do while waiting for the kids to come home from soccer practice, the average social gamer is probably a young professional playing after work or on breaks.

With these demographics in mind the notion of applying game design techniques to the design of online applications is gaining huge popularity, but it requires a totally different approach to design a games on social network then traditional console games. I For one thing, we have to really reconsider certain core gameplay mechanics; i.e. player actions, such as collecting, sharing and exchange.

Collaboration

In traditional console games the single-player and multiplayer experiences are often walled-off from one another, and game modes are typically very different. While this model is sometimes broken for MMO games, the majority of console fare is comprised of a single-player game and a separate multiplayer component which must be accessed individually on the main menu. Some titles have begun offering drop-in, drop-out multiplayer and co-op, but they’re still the exception rather than the rule. Gameplay in social networks, on the other hand is a feedback loop of player actions that try to accomplish goals, and are given feedback through the network, either through the system itself, or individual players, or community as a whole. In this world there is no single-player or multiplayer, there is only the game, and we’re all a part of it. Social games are all about social collaboration with your real/virtual friends, creating social property, and share/exchange your experience.

Asynchronous Gameplay

However, social games are asynchronous, and it’s precisely that people feel “I can come back to the game anytime,” that make them so popular. Unlike MMOs (a synchronous game) no one would expect/require, or design a game for users to play hours a day. Instead, the experience is distilled down to a 10 -20 minute exercise that players can jump to quickly as they go about their day.

Retention

Hooking players is only half the battle though, as once they’ve found a new social game the tricky part is keeping them coming back for more. We’ve found that the best way to keep players engaged is to constantly update things — not only content, but also feature updates. Very popular games on social networks (i.e. Farmville, Cityville, etc) keep updating their content and features – That’s one of the reasons why you see the retention there.

Community

Also important is servicing on the community side. Are you listening to users? When a user complains, are you receptive to their critiques? Are you responding to them? It’s a lot of those things combined that eventually result in this thing called “retention”. So, you need to do all these things right.

Platform Explosion

Out of 500 million total users on Facebook, there are 200mn user uses Facebook on mobile, and this number is rapidly increasing. From a developers perspective, mobile’s significance to social gaming is also apparent. There are couple of big players already in this space i.e. ngmoco (acquired by DeNA) , capcom mobile, pocketgems etc..

Second, revenues from in-game purchases will overtake revenues from traditional pay-per-download games. Driving that growth for in-game purchases will be the in-app purchasing system on Apple iOS devices.

A new study of iOS social games and networks shows in-app sales of virtual goods bringing in significantly more revenue than in-app advertising. The shift means that virtual good sales now represent roughly 80 percent of the revenue generated by free-to-use iOS social apps.

The bet is that social gaming is moving to mobile phones, which, while small compared to Facebook, potentially has a larger audience as more people buy smartphones. With the rise of app stores like Apple’s App Store  and Android Market, game makers also have a reliable way to distribute their games and monetize them. As games follow the rest of the web to mobile devices, the opportunities to make them more context- and location-aware will also make them more interesting and perhaps, more profitable.

The world of social gaming is deeper than a lot of people know, and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface here. While some games that pop up may be hastily thrown together by developers looking to make a quick buck, and understand that social gamers are smart and selective people, and they demand nothing but the best. While this world is completely different than the one we are used to with console and PC gaming, we’re very excited to see where it goes and expect social games to be a huge driving force in entertainment for years to come.

What we can predict and excited about is – 2011 will see the rise of mobile social games, both on Facebook as well as on other platforms such as iOS (Apple), Android Market and HTML5.’

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