Social gaming under spotlight

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In an extract from her forthcoming new iGaming report on social gaming, Rachael Church–Sanders asks industry representatives, "Why Has Social Gaming Become So Popular?

Lisa Marino, CEO, RockYou!Most importantly, social gaming has brought a new demographic to social gaming. Casual gaming was popular in the early 2000s but there was no way to aggregate that until Facebook came along. The development of games on Facebook introduced the 40–year–old mom demographic to gaming by allowing them by play in five minute increments if they wanted – or equally, for longer amounts of time if that is what they wanted. The last 12 months have witnessed the emergence of different genres succeeding in this space including management games such as FarmVille, PopCaps parlour games and combat/strategy ones too. Ravi Mehta, VP of Publishing, Viximo There are three primary factors that have led to the popularity of social games. The first is accessibility. Traditional games often require the user to download software and learn complex game mechanics, whereas social games are instantly accessible in a browser and provide lightweight mechanics that are easy to learn. As a result, social games are able to reach and engage a much wider audience than traditional games. The second factor is viral distribution. Facebook's app platform has provided a powerful way for game developers to integrate their game experience into a person's daily social habits. When used effectively, the social channels available on Facebook can turbocharge word–of–mouth marketing an enable a social game developer to reach thousands or even millions of users in a short period of time. Lastly, social games benefit from a free–to–play business model. This enables the majority of users (anywhere from 95–97%) to enjoy the game without barriers to entry while providing an effective monetisation path for the 3–5% of a game's most avid fans. The large base of users, both paying and non–paying, allow game developers to maximise virality whilst the small base of paying users provides a lucrative revenue channel through virtual goods microtransactions. Since microtransactions provide perfect price discrimination, the most highly monetising users (some of which are whales that spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a month) subsidise the game for non–paying users. Nick Berry, President, DataGenetics I think social networks have made gaming popular because they have revealed the true nature of what is a game. At its most basic, a game is any non–obligatory activity that is performed for fun, and this certainly describes many of the pastimes on social networks. Be they simple, complex, challenging, or script–based click tasks, games are activities that people enjoy doing. Its almost impossible to draw the boundary around all the activities that can be classified as games, so its easier to state the opposite: games are not work. Anything that a person elects to do, that they are not required to, for fun, is a game. Since time began, people have thrown rocks in ponds or drawn doodles on paper, and deeds analogous to these performed on social networks are just as qualified to be called games as the more traditionally classified diversions such as chess, draughts/checkers or backgammon. Social networks have exposed people to copious quantities of non–essential activities and provided easy channels to announce participation in these entertainments to others. Players broadcast their indulgences, performances and achievements (both actively and passively). Either because of curiosity, invitation, peer–pressure or simple thrown–down–gauntlet challenge, the viral channels inherent in social networks massively reduce the barriers of discoverability to new activities, swiftly exposing an exponential number of people to new pastimes. Another essential element that makes social networks such an efficient distribution mechanism for entertainment is the ease of accessibility. In no more than a couple of clicks, users can be having fun, and jumping on the latest bandwagon of distraction. Finally, whilst social could be considered a poor adjective to describe games when many games are solo activities, these activities do earn it the moniker social because they offer a shared experience. Albeit asynchronously, all the people who have enjoyed the same activity have been down the same path. Even though they might be separated by thousands of miles and/or hours of time, players share a camaraderie with their friends who have run the gauntlet of the same challenge. The trinity of discoverability, accessibility and camaraderie, along with the refined definition of fun (something that is not work) makes for a very venomous combination, and explains why gaming is so prolific on social networks. Alexey Kostarev, Co–Founder and General Producer, iJet MediaThe main reason why social games have become so popular is their core feature which includes playing with friends, and even dozens, hundreds or thousands of them, wherever they might be at a certain moment. Lots of people around the world have used social networks only to share photos, music, news, and so on. Social games provide another way of communication with friends. The game allows you to hook the biggest fish and show it to everyone, to fight your friend in a star war, to hire your brother as a restaurant manager, to buy the most expensive car, or to burn with shame having neglected your farm and left your plants withered. Of course, its all virtual, but. . . I know exactly that for many people a new virtual jacket means the same as the real one. Social games are a new and quickly growing sphere of the entertainment industry. The industry already ranks with the television, music and film industries. While preparing for another forum in Switzerland in February this year, we compared the popularity of TV programmes and social games. It turned out that social games are very successful at competing with the TV for the audience, and several top Facebook applications are by far more visited than the most popular TV shows. Its likely that well see the same situation on other markets soon because the market of social networks and games is growing actively whereas the number of TV viewers declines or stagnates. Theres also another important thing. Social networks discovered a new section of the population for the internet and entertainment industry. Social games are very simple. This allowed any housewife to plant a carrot. You do not even need to buy or download anything – just go to your favourite social network, click on an app, and thats it!As a result, social games have become the first digital entertainment for this demographic. Pauline Malcolm–John, EVP of Global Sales, SGA Network and WeeWorldSocial games have evolved into the new escapism of the 21st century. During periods of immense economic decline such as the Great Depression people have always coped with hardship through escapism. Whilst going to the movies and watching soap operas gained prominence in the 1930s, the 2008 financial meltdown paved the way for a new era of escapism – this time taking the form of social gaming. Casual games have always been a popular form of escapism. Together the openness of the Facebook platform, digital audience explosion and innovative companies like WeeWorld and CrowdStar, which have delivered engaging cross–platform interactive experiences, combined to create the ideal environment for social gaming domination. With Facebook now approaching 700m users (10% of the worlds population) and 40% of them playing social games, its clear that social gaming has exploded. In fact, the powerful homemaker demographic is now more likely to be buying crops on Farmville or spending time in online parenting communities like BabyCenter than watching old entertainment formats like daytime soaps – hence the cancellation of longtime favourites like Guiding Light and All My Children [in the US]. Margaret Wallace, CEO, Playmatics By their very nature, the best social game designs are masterful at tapping into typical player motivations – such as the need to achieve or to gain status – yet also have an amazingly deep social layer present throughout the entire gaming experience. This added social layer allows for rich player interaction. The best social games give friends and families opportunities to interact in a very light–touch fashion in the context of gameplay that sometimes approaches addictive levels for some players. I think we currently occupy a third wave of social gaming. Each phase tells us something important about what makes social gaming so popular. Social Gaming 1. 0 – All Games Are SocialThe first wave of early Facebook games (like the first Parking Wars) reminded us that games are inherently social – and successful games on Facebook, for example, knew how to leverage the social graph to gain traction. We saw this used for better and for worse in the form of notifications, gifting, and news feed posts. Social Gaming 2. 0 – Metrics–Driven Social Game DesignFast on the heels of this initial crop of successful social games, we saw top social gaming companies perfecting tools and techniques for truly knowing and measuring their audience. Enter the era of metrics–driven game design. Through constantly refined and cross–referenced data, these leading social gaming companies really have written the book on metrics–driven products and using data to maximise profits. The best social games these days design the player journey down to the moment interaction throughout the entire player lifecycle – all thanks to Social Gaming 2. 0 I like to say. Social Gaming 3. 0 – Time & EngagementWere sort of back to the future these days as far as social gaming goes – with a renewed emphasis on such old school principles as time spent and engagement. Its back to basics for Social Gaming 3. 0 – but with the added support of never losing sight of deepening the social and using metrics to guide, but not drive, all decisions.

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