Can tens of millions of people around the world be wrong? Is calculating the growth time of a turnip fun? Are farm simulators and virtual gang wars real games? Who said hours of virtual ploughing, planting, and harvesting isn't worthwhile?
By now it seems that social games are not just a passing trend. Given the term "social gaming" didn't even exist until three years ago, it's hard to believe these games can now make millions in their first month on the market. The overnight success of Facebook applications like FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and Restaurant City has brought with it a spate of social game developers keen to capitalise on the public's newfound love of virtual interaction. According to these developers, social games are neither a trend nor a concrete form of interactive entertainment--they are a catalyst for something deeper and much less volatile: a new genre of inherently social video games. The question of whether social games are here to stay has already been answered; the new question is will the social boom change the way we play video games? Could shooting bad guys in postapocalyptic wastelands be one day replaced by milking cattle on a farm? Will big-name game publishers swap consoles and PCs for Facebook and other social media platforms?
In this GameSpot feature we take a look behind the scenes of social games and talk to the developers and publishers of some of the most popular social games on the market. We also look at the appeal of social games, the intricacies behind their successful business model, the size and scope of the market, and the role social networks play in providing a home ground for these titles. Finally, we talk to game publishers to find out what plans the global video game industry has for integrating, acquiring, and learning from the success of social games and those who make them.
The social gaming market
What turns social games into overnight sensations? What fuels millions of people to get out of bed every morning and plough their virtual farms? Social games allow users to develop a virtual identity--be it as a farmer, a mafia leader, or a restaurant owner, for instance--and expand on this identity through other user interaction; this keeps users coming back to interact not just with the game itself but also with other users within it. As more and more users sign up, the phenomenon becomes viral. Suddenly, everyone's a constant gardener.
A March 2010 report by European investment bank GP Bullhound, titled Social Gaming: The Fastest Growing Segment of the Games Market, found that the global social gaming sector made $1 billion in revenue in 2009, representing 2 percent of the $50 billion global games market. This number is expected to rise to $3 billion by 2012. The key players in this rapidly rising industry are social game developers like Zynga, Playfish, Crowdstar, and PopCap, whose games have become viral sensations on Facebook. Titles like FarmVille, Mafia Wars, Café World, PetVille, Pet Society, and Restaurant City are consistent record-breakers, reeling in more and more users each day. Zynga is currently the dominant force in the social games sector, with more than 66.4 million active daily users and 42 social games available on Facebook (FarmVille alone boasts more than 30 million daily active users). Trailing Zynga are Playfish/EA, with 10.3 million active daily users and 30 Facebook games, and Crowdstar, with 9.4 million active daily users and 12 Facebook games.
The proverbial cash cow--the farm puns will end soon, promise--is fed through microtransactions: a free-to-play business model that relies on users paying small amounts of money for virtual goods and in-game items. Social games also use other forms of revenue, such as advertising and subscription models; however, according to the GP Bullhound report, microtransactions account for approximately 80 to 90 percent of revenue for social game developers. The more popular social games can generate between $2,000 to $5,000 in revenue per day. For example, in 2009, Zynga made around $150 million in revenue from its Facebook applications.
The decline of MySpace has led to Facebook becoming the dominant platform for social gaming, with some 400 million active users expected to grow to 800 million in the next few years. Dedicated social gaming platforms are also popular, with sites like Club Penguin in the children's category and Gaia Online and Hi5 in the teen space growing rapidly in the past three years. According to a recent study by the Information Services Group in conjunction with PopCap Games, the average social gamer is a 43-year-old female. The study surveyed 1,200 respondents from the US and UK and showed that more than 24 percent of Internet users said they play social games while 68 percent of US players said they played daily for an average of half an hour or more.
With such money to be made, it's not surprising that social gaming has attracted the interest of video game publishers looking to enter into--and undoubtedly capitalise on--the social boom. The idea is simple: social games cost significantly less time and money to develop than console and PC games and present a much lower risk to developers who are working on new intellectual property. Where a AAA title can cost anywhere up to $100 million to develop, an average social game costs $100,000 to $200,000 and can be ready to go in less than six months. Like most video game market analysts, GP Bullhound expects that in the next few years more and more publishers will look into spending an increasing amount of development time and money on making games for lower-cost platforms like the iPhone and social networks such as Facebook.
What this will inevitably lead to is a significant consolidation in both the global and social games markets. Key players emerging within the social game sphere will slowly do away with smaller developers, while game publishers will take EA's lead and look to acquire social developers or begin making their own titles. Click on the Next Page link to see the rest of the feature!
You won?t see an Xbox 720 or a PlayStation 4 in this lifetime","Zynga only became popular because the US government cracked down on off-shore poker companies, which drove a lot of players to the Facebook application." Two ridiculous statements. Social gaming will never replace the current gaming arena, it will only add to it. First, almost all of the "hit" social games are free and ad supported. You can bet if Zynga started demanding money (in lieu of ads) to play that 90% of their customer base would disappear. I've played Cafeworld and Farmville and others. They are all shallow games, only meant to be played sporadically. I doubt the majority of the gaming world will suddenly decide that they only want bite-sized chunk games.
They do get more people interested in gaming but that doesn't mean it's going to benefit the hardcore crowd. The people I know that got into gaming with stuff like Farmville have Wiis and that's as far as they're going to go. And they're not playing Monster Hunter or Super Mario Galaxy on them either.
For most people I can understand why they enjoy "social gaming". When the Atari 2600 and NES were new we all thought they were great and the most awesomest thing to ever happen to us. That's what the casual gamer finds in these web based games. This is their first time playing a video game and they enjoy it. As for the impact on "hardcore" gamers, its already happening. Many games are being oversimplified as a way to attract the casual gamer to most hardcore franchises. That is good news for the casual gamer but bad new for the hardcore gamers; as we have to sit through the muck and grin and bear it. I say, if the casualies (as I have coined them) want to get into hardcore gaming, let them learn the same way we did; trial and error.
I think social games are great. Why does everyone seem to feel like they are an attack on the hardcore gamers? If anything, maybe they will get more people interested in gaming...
I played Farmville and Mafia Wars for a week or so but got bored quickly. Only being able to play each game for about 5-10 minutes at a time kills it for me.
Talk about a misleading article blurb "Super Mario on Facebook?" I recommend for the next one, you put "Final Fantasy on Facebook?" as the blurb and have the first sentence be, "There is no Final Fantasy on Facebook," and then go into the real article. That should get you some hits too.
The guy claiming there will be no more Consoles is a total idiot. And also, It's Firaxis not Fireaxis. The largest group of these Facebook games are people who weren't real computer/console-gamers to begin with. It's main group are female teens and up, but the group includes a lot of non-gamers who use facebook, all ages and both sexes.
More people play farmville than the population of the UK is. More people have a facebook around the world than there are Americans.
im pretty addicted to mafia wars, i play it more often then i play ps3. actually, if it wasnt for mafia wars i wouldve ditched facebook a while ago
Only people who post positive comments about social games are the one who plays it....even i played those games but the light shows the way to realize it....sucks..and repetitive
It's nice that social games are there for people who want to play them, but I just hope that it doesn't impact the deeper video games.
its more successful with the older generation than the young generation, Games such as MGS series, Killzone series requires attention and speedy reactions with the controllers when games such as farmsville or mafia wars is simply point and click, simple controls allows the older generation such as my dad to not be easily confused by the controls. Social games on Facebook is the older ganeration version of Xbox live and PSN. Teenagers and young adults love to complete levels and show off our collections of trophies and achievements while Facebook games is similar. it appeals to the older generation as Call of duty appeals to us younger generation. I still don't understand how clicking on fields over and over and over again is entertaining for my dad, it god dam boring!
i think we can all agree that the 'social gaming' market is a totally different market to what we hardcore gamers would associate to. My girlfriend loves farmville.... it does my head in.... facebook does my head in. I'm in a band and facebook comes in handy to plug gigs and stuff.... otherwise i wouldnt use it. I find social gaming inane and very basic. This is the kinda stuff that 'proper' gamers got over years ago, especially us older gamers who remember the 80's / 90's of gaming when gaming WAS basic. I truly believe that either market will never consume the other. There are links between the two forms of gaming, but both demographics have very different needs, with both products bearing very different stimulus. As for the guy who states we wont see another generation of consoles...... he's an obvious idiot that has made a packet from morons. All i see is throwaway flash games that wouldnt hold my interest for seconds..... but i suppose i gotten over that hurdle years ago. I just pity the consumers that spend cash on this stuff....... as long as it's free then cool... but i find the line between social gaming and spam very blurry.... and facebook in general. All i know is... i wont be held responsible for my actions towards the next friend that sends me a magic butterfly.
I have mixed feelings on social games. On one hand, social games introduce a company's game to a large audience which might convince the player "Hey this game is fun! I should try out the real thing!" ex. civilization. On the other hand, these social games are annoying to hard core gamers such as myself, when the company could have spent their time making a more engaging game.
Social games are good for people who either don't own a videogame console or don't really have time to spend on complex gaming, but i hardly see and average gamer, who is used to quality and depth on what he/she plays, actually trying them. Besides, almost all of the themes they touch are already present on normal gaming; games like Warcraft or so beat almost any free online PC game and it also has an important social factor, and if what you want is to develop your created character, then there are games like The Sims or Fallout depending of your preferences, and if what you want is quality, then almost any game on the consoles have it.
Lets just face it. Social games are great for the individuals or masses of people that have to work and want to play something on the run while drinking their coffee or don't want to be taxed with a huge learning curve in order to play a game. But normal video games won't be affected as much because the average gamer and gaming industry has strived for excellence and engrossment in gaming. You want to experience a world you wouldn't see in real life and so even tho facebook games will be there for the social gamer, there will always be that need for the dedicated game that has good graphics and gameplay that requires you to pay full attention and the achievement and reward of finishing it is greater and less superficial than that of a social game where the player isn't looking for that anyway. So theres a need in the market for both.
Sid Meier's civilization isn't new to social gaming. Anyone heard of Evony? It's even advertised on facebook pages and it's much the same and very sociable. Plus seemingly addictive cause people that play on it don't appear to sleep or live normal lives. o.O
These games won't destroy console games...and guess what? Xbox 720, PS4, Wii 2 etc. will come to be. Saying that they won't is completely ignorant. Social games are just a fad, they aren't going to draw away the people that play their consoles on a regular basis, and that's what some companies are thinking right now. People who don't even play regular games will play farmville in order save their strawberries from dying or whatever, but many of them won't touch a 360 or PS3 controller. It goes vice versa for those who are console gamers. Why in the world would they click away at a farm when they could be slaying dragons or shooting aliens? Nintendo is smart not to join the market in my opinion. I do think social gaming will die, because people will realize they simply do not have the time or patience to play them. However, if it doesn't die, it will just be there. It won't "kill" consoles, it'll just be...there. It'll be available. Console gamers will play their games and social ones will play theirs. The industry will not be affected at all, because, trust me, Facebook is a hell of a lot different than Xbox360, PS3 or Wii. You can't compare. To all of the "social gamers" out there, go ahead and keep your strawberries growing and getting that shiny new item Zynga put out and attending to your abnormally large farm, you can't throw your hours of life out the window like that. I, on the other hand, will be doing something that's actually fun.
@georgeww although this is drifting off from the subject but i thought i should cover the allegation "modding is bad". Personally i beleive that if i buy a car i should be able to do what i want with it (strip it, Turbo, neons, DVD player etc.) I pay for it and i should be able to do what i want with it.. same goes with my 360 and depending on the purpose i should be able to do what i want... Now the way modding is bad is if you use it for illegal purposes and harming others.. just like a car if i decide to strap a mini gun to the hood while playing loud music then this is illegal for a reason as its harming others.. this concept goes to modding an xbox.. if i pirate games then that is harming developers etc... That approach is not my purpose.. But if i own the game and want to be lasy by playing from hdd or have back up incase 1 of my kids puts a cd in the toilet (like he done with my phone, then thats not harming anyone and i beleive should be ok. also waiting upon a xbmc of somesort to play all kinds of codecs is the other purpose for my modding which i beleive is more convenient and cost effective than buying a htpc. the same goes for iphone.. i should be able to jailbreak because i shouldnt be restrcted to what the developers want me to do even tho i payed for it.. i like to multi task and have folders etc on my iphone.. im not trying to sound offensive i just thought i should give my opion about modding..
What utter bullcrap. Can't believe that companies who create thrown together games are making more than the companies who actually put time into theirs.
Damn crap... Virtual reality, portable games and the PC are the future, not some f*****g temporary *farmville* fad. Farmville is SO lucky just to be so popular, some retarded guy thinks it´s good and tells his friends and so on...
"PepitoneConQues Posted Jun 6, 2010 8:19 am GMT -12 What is the difference between "social gaming" and online multiplayer? This article makes it sound like this is a brand new phenomenon. This brand of "gaming" may very well be a large part of mainstream entertainment in the near future, but what people who play Farmville call gaming and what I call gaming are two different things. The Wii and these various "social games" are very popular, but to say that there wont be an Xbox 720 or a PS4 is ridiculous and ignorant. If anything the developers of games like Farmville are ruining the image real gaming industry, which has been struggling to be accepted as a true art form for years. " do you think the xbox and playstation are going to make people think games are art? Games are games, shocking isnt it? Are you going to try and tell me that dungeons and dragons is art?
these free to play games are getting better and bigger, its going to be the ultimate downfall of these closed hardware consoles. Why would I want someone to control how I play my games? And why would I want to pay more for my games just so the publishers can pay the console manufacturers? Not to mention that 2 out of 3 of the new consoles are black holes for money, combine that with the fact that we are getting closer and closer to the day where any pc can provide graphics well beyond good enough for 90% of the folks who play games.
@skittzo_s DAM STRAIGHT!!! people can play little social games on line. to pass there boring ass lives as they wait for people on facebook that they don't no to reply, or just pop the disc in. "social" games are for phone and PM3 in class........ if your at home sit back and take in some HD destruction!!! p.s modding is bad. lol
And lol @admund... WTF are you on about? lets start from the top... say i think to my self... um i feel like playing a social game, then all i have to do is press the eject but on my 360 put in a disk then close the tray (wait for the game to automatically load) Select multiplayer then quick match and BANG i'm In and done.... BTW my xbox is modded and I actually dont need to put in a cd so all i need to do it press 2 buttons... No with you... Turn on your pc (by the time u PC has booted i think my 360's game would already be loaded)... Now type your windows password and logon and wait for your desktop to load... now open explorer and type the address to facebook... (i think i would have connected to the server by now and probably already in a multiplayer game).... Now type ur email and password and logon to facebook.. click the games tab...and then click ur game... wait for it too load (wether its web based or console based it still has to load)... Now enjoy ur 2d graphics while i enjoy my HD game while cursing players when they get shot... even if web games were High Def and played on tv.. it just wouldnt be the same typing a taunt than it is to say it...Hardware games are always gonna dominate and i can only see benifits of social games on iphones etc. (which seems to becoming more popular) as when im out i can still play social games
Now lets define "Social Gamming" How does facebook games get that name? what is the difference from loading an xbox game with a head set or facebook game with a keyboard? Dont you think vocal communication is more social than text? Thats why i find this article out of context. Now these developers are gonna try and jump in and dominate thinking its gonna be the next big thing. yet Gamers are the ones who like to pick up a controller and feel like there apart of a new experiance instead of feeling like a spectator.. The only people who play facebook games are the ones talking on there chat system trying to find something to do while waiting for a reply.. These are not real gamers and these ppl will not care about graphics and most of the time gameplay... just aslong as it passes time. Facebook games are browser based and the coding is very limited where as Computer and Console development it has a very wide boundry. There will be a point where Facebook games are maxed out and draw less attention because its not new anymore. Now with these developers moving in, We know that it will be fees based.. specially EA.. A CD from the store would be more pleasing and valuable then an account or fake objects that dont matter to the real world eg. Farmville etc.. and why in the world would i wanna buy a fake barn or something when i could spent that cash on something that i need in everyday living...
I think just the creation of this article is worthless, almost the whole gamespot community agrees that social games are not going to overtake the nowaday gamers. And screw Zynga.
What is the difference between "social gaming" and online multiplayer? This article makes it sound like this is a brand new phenomenon. This brand of "gaming" may very well be a large part of mainstream entertainment in the near future, but what people who play Farmville call gaming and what I call gaming are two different things. The Wii and these various "social games" are very popular, but to say that there wont be an Xbox 720 or a PS4 is ridiculous and ignorant. If anything the developers of games like Farmville are ruining the image real gaming industry, which has been struggling to be accepted as a true art form for years.
Ultimately social games and console games are catering to different audiences. It will be a long, long time before there's a variety of social games that will interest and engage console gamers. And console gaming is becoming increasingly social of its own accord. Things like xbox live are allowing people to game socially with proper and well developed video games. This is bound to improve with the next generation of consoles and as wi-fi becomes faster and more widespread. Console gamers will do social gaming in their own way, if the demand is there.
Every interaction in a game is also social interaction so multiplayer in a game is not much different....
"You won?t see an Xbox 720 or a PlayStation 4 in this lifetime." This is hysterical. The article lost all credibility the minute I read that statement. I can't fathom how anyone could say something so incredibly uninformed.
Cut this 'social games' crap already. What does it mean? Any game that has miltiplayer is social. There are good games and bad (mmo)games and most of those on facebook are 100% crap for now.