Where does the future of gaming lie? Will we all be rocking games in 3D? Will all our game purchases be over the Internet? And will social games take over from more "core" titles? In this three-part feature, GameSpot looks at three topics that promise to change the way we play games. Presented over the course of three weeks, The Future of Gaming will look at the rise of 3D titles, the increasing importance of downloadable content, and social gaming's impact on the games industry. Contributing to the feature are some of the biggest names in games development, who all share their thoughts, aspirations, and reservations about the impact of these three topics in the years to come. The last topic presented is The Future of Gaming: Social Gaming.
Social gaming can mean different things to different people. Some associate the term with the overnight success of Facebook applications like FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and Restaurant City; others see social gaming as any system or software that allows for, and encourages, social interaction between players. Whichever way you look at it, social gaming is here to stay.
Deus Ex and Epic Mickey creator Warren Spector opened PAX last week with a keynote address calling for gamers to accept the shift happening in the industry towards casual and social games. Spector said that "games are important" and that gamers must be ready to welcome the idea that gaming has become mainstream in order for the medium to move forward.
So how do developers feel about this shift? Do they see it as a threat or an opportunity? Should social games remain outside the gaming industry, or should developers embrace the change and work towards attracting a larger gaming audience? If the Facebook model is anything to go by, the market potential is huge--not only do millions of people get out of bed every morning to plough their virtual farms, but they’re willing to spend money doing it. In their very short lifetime, social game developers like Zynga and Playfish have made millions, leading many industry analysts to predict that the future of gaming lies somewhere between the current games industry model and the one presented by social gaming.
Social games allow users to develop a virtual identity--be it as a farmer, a mafia leader, or a restaurant owner--and expand 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. The question developers are now asking themselves is how will the social gaming 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?
A new gaming audience
A lot of people play social games. 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, Cafe World, PetVille, Pet Society, and Restaurant City are consistent record-breakers, reeling in more users each day. Zynga is currently the dominant force in the social games sector, with over 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.
Social game developers make money through the all-too-familiar microtransactions model: a free-to-play business model that relies on users paying small amounts of money for virtual goods and in-game items. The more popular social games can generate between $2,000 and $5,000 in revenue per day--in 2009 alone, 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. According to a recent study by the Information Services Group, the average social gamer is a 43-year-old female--a potential new market to reach for current game developers.
THQ's WWE All Stars creative director Sal DiVita believes that anything with the potential to attract more people to gaming is good for the industry.
"It's good for gaming in general," DiVita said. "Social gaming is attracting an audience that's never had the means or desire to pick up and play a console game. But they do play social games. And hey, maybe they'll graduate to a console or PC. It's up to us, the game developers, to make better and better games to compete with social games and draw in this new audience. Or make them simple enough for the social gamers to play."
Company of Heroes Online producer Greg Wilson says Relic is very aware of the importance of the viral community. The downloadable, free-to-play online installment of Relic's highly regarded WWII real-time strategy series will in fact be driven by the microtransactions model, with players allowed to purchase special units and upgrades as an alternative to earning them.
"I think social gaming is a great opportunity for developers," Wilson said. "There's opportunity to learn within that space. I think it's introducing the world of games to new people that aren't gamers. That's a whole new generation of people who are now exposed to the things that we are passionate about. As game developers we're missing a big part of the potential market. It's like McDonald's--everyone likes it, but then you get sick of it eventually and you want a steak. Our games are the steak that people will hopefully trend towards. We're looking at those people that are playing Facebook games and social games and they're going to get more and more interested and see that gaming is something cool and fun, and eventually they'll want to look for a little bit more. When this happens, they'll look towards our games. So I'm super excited about that."
The new Mortal Kombat is also set to dip its toe into the social market. The game's producer, Hector Sanchez, says the social aspect of gaming helps bring back the essence of the arcade days.
"Social gaming is bringing the community back together. With Mortal Kombat, we're going to have a Twitter feed that will broadcast match results, and we're also hoping to have Facebook integration as well as a robust online mode that brings back the essence of the arcade days. That was social gaming in those days--people went to the arcade to play together. That's where it began. We're trying for the same feeling with our online mode. I think we as game developers need to incorporate more and more social aspects into our games."
A tale of two markets
With so much money to be made in social gaming, it's not surprising that more game developers are looking for a way in. The idea is certainly attractive: social games cost significantly less time and money to develop than console or 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 developed in less than six months. If more developers begin to experiment with this model, a consolidation of the current games market and the social games market could occur in the next few years.
Some developers are not receptive to this idea. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier producer Stuart White sees social gaming as a threat to developers and the industry.
"At the end of the day it's about competing for free time from the player. Over the years my free time has become more precious--I have a wife, kids, a house to run, etc. Facebook and other social media eats into this time, meaning there's less and less of it. Some developers see social gaming as an opportunity, but at the end of the day we're all fighting for the free time of our consumers. We as developers have to make sure the game industry still knows how to keep people's attention."
DJ Hero 2 creative director Jamie Jackson disagrees. He believes game developers should embrace social gaming and evolve with it.
"Social gaming is one of the biggest things to happen to the games industry in the past five years. We were all geeks as kids, and now you look up and you see your mum and dad playing social games. It's the social side of this that has brought people to gaming. I don't see it going away. I think it's a huge opportunity, and I think we as game developers have to grab it, and we have to feed people the games that fit that bracket well."
Mike Fegan from Trickstar Games in Melbourne says he is interested in something else that social gaming can give the games industry at large: female consumers.
"It's a huge opportunity for game creators. The female market is huge, especially in the social networking arena. This means we have the chance to create new IP suited to this market and make a game driven by viral marketing and other users. I think a lot of people underestimate the female market. Trickstar is strongly committed to creating games for this market, particularly through a network like Facebook."
Spec Ops: The Line lead designer Cory Davis sees social gaming becoming part of AAA gaming in the future.
"This needs to happen. Why can't we be more social in the midst of playing a narrative-driven AAA shooter? I think there will definitely be opportunities there when we connect these two spaces together. We as an industry have to evolve, and if people love that sort of thing, and they clearly do, these two things can come together, and I think they will over the next two years." Will social gaming change the future of games? Let us know by leaving your comments below!
I believe that social gaming will make multiplayer on games different, but I do not believe that they will completely change the future of games. Hopefully they're just an oddball in one of the greatest hobbies ever created by man.
@Kayweg Its not just women that are taking over the video game world... There are plenty of uncles, dads ect that are casual gamers haha.
Having a bit more of an in-depth thought about this; social games will never take over "hardcore" games (or traditional games...that seems more appropriate lol) as traditional gamers are willing to pay a premium for good content. The reason that social games are free or based on microtransactions is that the gamers (if you can call them that...) exhibit much more elastic demand and therefore are not willing to pay a premium. As long as there is a market for traditional games (writing traditional games now seems like I am giving into social games) there will still be AAA games made. As a couple of people said, social games are opening up a new market for developers to make a quick buck which they can then (hopefully) invest in making their company better - so don't be afraid (unless we see CoD go onto Facebook with cartoony graphics and no actual violence...then we're in trouble)
OMG, what have we done ? For years we tried to make them understand our fascination with computer games...our moms, aunts, wifes and girlfriends. Now they've seen it they're taking over the world, and we have only ourselves to blame. Be VERY afraid ! /tongue in cheek
Mainstreaming our gaming market isn't necessarily a good thing. It leaves us with developers who go for the E rating every time just so they can have a nice wide market, rather than really embracing mature concepts and trying to please a particular market. Entertainment media, especially video games, aren't meant to be - and would never work as - a one-size-fits-all type of affair. There will never be a game that interests every audience equally. We can have games that are wildly successful in their specific target markets, or we can have games that are only mildly successful in wider markets. The latter is good for developers only in the short term - it does nothing to establish any kind of long-term devoted fan base. Games need to have a focus if they want to have a following, and you can't have a particular focus when you're busy trying to please everybody. Major developers can dabble in the social market if they want, but social gaming and hardcore gaming will NEVER join as one.
@sgtstrungout Social games are for casual gamers who might not otherwise play video games at all. They are good for the industry because they are helping to mainstream it. They'd only become posers if they started calling themselves "gamers" and only played Mafia Wars...or some such. I'd categorize game players into 3 distinct categories. 1. Casual gamers, 2. Gamers, and 3. The hardcore. I used to fit into category 3 but as I've aged and have more "adult" responsibilities I have less time for that and now I'd put myself in category 2. I still play games on 3 different platforms but just don't have the time to skill develop to the point of being a dominator in multiplayer any more.
Social gaming is for posers who would not normally have given games a chance. I guarantee that if next gen, there is NO social gaming whatsoever, around 80% of supposed "gamers" would quit gaming since they were not even gamers to begin with. Of course I like online gaming, but I don't just play online video games. As a gamer with experience and skill that predates all these gaming posers, I play single player games just as much as I did back in the day.
In my mind, its two different markets. I view flash-based social games as any other casual games. And casual games are nothing new: Tetris, Majhong, Solitaire, any simple flash-based game, etc. People who play casual games exclusively usually never make the switch to serious games. I'm curious to see what will happen with the phenomenon, but this is my theory: social games players will continue to play those games exclusively. So that particular market can grow (unless there is a backlash and people get bored with it), but its totally independent from the real gaming market. We'll see...
only a loser would replace real games for lame games like farmville or mafia wars i cant believe that some game developers are up for this and i though that dj hero and company heroes wouldnt go down to a level like this and now theyre gonna make all the new games in 3d,3d gaming should only be a gadget not the future why dont they stick to their stupid farms and restaurants and we can stick to our stuff let developers think that this will bring people closer to gaming games that are copies of harvest moon(farmville) will only attract kids and people who spend most of their daytime at an office and those people will think that games are all about farmville and mafia wars
The Social gaming market are a bunch of fish that dont know whether to swim up or down the river. if you are going to play a "game", get a real one, not some crappy half-ass games
This won't replace conventional gaming, but you can probably expect a lot of investment and resources put into social gaming. I find some social games to be fun here and there, but rarely will I become immersed in them.
I do not have Facebook or Myspace or Twitter and I never plan on getting any of these or any future networking tend. I prefer to talk to people in real life rather than have a conversation with someone I can just as easily call. Social games shouldn't even be classified as real games, more of glorified flash games you find on any website. If social games do become the norm with actual talented designers being shelved in favour of a bunch of kids straight out of uni who's "games" are cool because you can be a chef and play with your dog then my faith in humanity will be lost and I'll probably kill myself. Go on, thumbs down me. I don't care, some idiot who is going to filter the internet just got elected.
MuffintopX, tdavies1159: the problem with social games, as I see it, is not that they 'take gamers away from the mainstream games', but actually the other way around - the social trend is taking DEVELOPERS away from making decent games. It's just like with PC and console games - with money to be made elsewhere, the big companies are shifting their focus. And yes, some social gamers may be attracted to regular gaming, but it sure won't be 'Baldur's gate' they'll start playing, but rather some Wii family title ... Making games more accessible just accelerates the whole dumbing-down process going on in the industry. 'Casual' is already a swear word in my vocabulary :(.
I like what Ghost Recon: Future Soldier producer Stuart White says, it eats our time, I do play video-games but I can say for sure that these social games are much more time consuming, I tried them, and you really need and want to come every minute to your farm or isle or whatever. Why I dislike social gaming? Because, if I want to interact with other people, I will go out with my friends, in other words with people I know and talk face to face, and have much greater time then I can do with strangers or through network :)
It is likely that none of us reading this (core gamers) are the social gaming target audience they are talking about. There is a lot of money to be made from demographics different from ours, so I do not see social gaming as a threat to the current core gamer's freetime. It is expanding the market and likely drawing new people into our world, plus giving developers more money to fund AAA projects that we will be buying. Anything that keeps developers in business is a good thing in my opinion.
if the future of game industry is focus om make us spend a lot of money in crappy games, we should change it now, before is too late or spread to other industries
I think it's inevitable that we'll see this genre booming in the industry, especially over the next couple years. As long as they don't take the gamers away from the mainstream games, their fine by me.
Hardcore gaming is where is at for me. The day they change the way it's been done for years that will be the day i loose interest in gaming. I spent too much money upgrading my hardware to play the latest games. It will be interesting to see what will happen to the computer hardware industry if social gaming takes over.
I don't wanna be in a future where playing games = this [url]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBPB8CANlLU[/url]
I get tired of these 'social gaming' articles. I don't know why they post them, if you're on gamespot then you're clearly interested in more than 'social gaming'. I hate social- lol, I don't even play mp. Gaming is my alone time, I'm not exactly a people person, so I don't play a game to go online and find more of them (people). (No offense to those who like mp, it's just not my thing).
Never got into "Social Gaming", the games never really seemed like something I wanted to put my time into
my girlfriend spend alot of time playing social gaming like farm ville in FACEBOOK.COM IM a harcore gaming like BF2 ,BBC2 DRAGON AGE
@the_requiem YES!! haha i miss Timesplitters soooo much! i have 1 and 2 for PS2 and 3 for Gamecube on my Wii haha:P i still want them to make a new one! TIMESPLITTERS FOREVER!!
Middle-aged housewives that spend hours a day puttering around their virtual garden aren't going to turn around and plug in an xbox360. The closest they might come to core gaming is picking up a used Nintendo DS and playing Animal Crossing. Social gaming (I.E. Facebook apps) are not adding to the gaming industry in any way. It's good for business, bad for gaming. The more popular these little applications get, the more companies are going to drop core gaming development in favor of cheap-to-develop game apps that are proven to net profit for minimal risk.
online games are aimed for those people that usually doesn't play hardcore ones cause they either say that doesn't like them, that have never played or whatever their excuse is besides online games can be fun but is not something that i you will get to love so they shouldn't be the only kind of games that will be made (and I hope so) cause in long term that would be bad for the video game industry itself for that reason I doubt that they'll take the video game market :P split screen online games are the best cause you can chose if you wanna be antisocial or not
Doesn't get anymore social than splitscreen TimeSplitters fun. Aaah... good times, sniping those melons.
@nickythenewt21 Word! Split screen multiplayer is where it's at. Gaming can and should be something that brings people together. And together doesn't mean sitting alone in a room playing with nameless people online. Online gaming has it's place of course. When I play uncharted 2 online, it's fun, but I can admit that I'm being anti-social. But I'm not being anti-social when my wife and I play split screen modnation racers online. Online gaming is really just making single player games more fun. But split-screen can actually bring people together.
Split screen mulitplayer. That's a feature I haven't seen in awhile and I love to death. It's no single player, but split screen is definitely the way to go when playing with more then one person. I remember playing Battlefront with my brother almost 24/7. Those were great times. But developers have seemed to have forgotten about split screen, which makes my eyes rain a furious hail storm of knives. Enough with only online crap where I have to listen to 13 year olds insult my mumzy. Gimme some split screen so I can have gaming parties.
problem is for me that these social games are not incredible. Actually they're barely mediocre; the only fun aspect is the social aspect. And when you're friends get sick of plowing your virtual cabbage patch the game stops getting played. Don't spend money on them because facebook games are junk....excepect for bejewelled, but it only has a high score list so i wouldnt call it a social game. When did clicking a button for job masteries become fun?
-Evil Sidekick- Hey man i used to be one of the 5 people that didn't use facebook or myspace either. I finally got talked into and i dont really like it at all. But im with you 100% i enjoy a good single player myself Red Dead Redemption is my game of the year, of course im gonna get halo reach to cause its like the last game series you can still sit on the couch with a brother or a friend and play split-screen on system link or live. Thats the kinda MP i like.
I second...third...five millionth the split-screen "social" aspect of games; nothing is more enjoyable (IMO) than having a whole bunch of people playing Halo etc in the same room. Just think of what GTA4 could have been with split-screen multiplayer!
I own almost 30 PS3 games...and never spent much time in the whatever online stuff they bring. It has to be really great to make me spent time in "online" when I feel my time is better spent in a good single player campaign/history mode. @ Evil_Sidekick....glad to hear another sane soul that does not support this online bull***t (facebook, twiter, orkut, etc)... I just can't stand this crap. I may not have 5 gazillions friends...but I do have a good number of very good friends and when I want to know how they are doing I do use the phone or (amazing) I meet then somewhere. Just don't dig this "online social thing" but hey...that's just me. Let alone think about buying a game that would mix a good game with this crap....hope the keep it as "optional"...otherwise I will have to play all my games over and over!!!
Games that incourage interaction between people through online play like Call of Duty, Halo, WoW, etc are fine. These games have depth, a story line, and some form of action. There are those evil games like Farmville that have no depth and little thought involved and no definite end or point. We must promote the good games, but discourage the evil games of Facebook and similar sites.
I think everyone is getting confused (and rightly so, coz I am) when developers say "social games"..some developers refer to social games as gaming with social aspects. Other seems to relate social = casual = flash. Games should definitely have social elements like multiplayer or CO-OP (splitscreen plz for crying out loud) which will attract newer gamers and rightly so, but developers still need to realize at the end of the day, good storylines, good immersive. gameplay is crucial. The problem with farmville is its all social and NO game (personal opinion) on the other hand games like Mafia or Oblivion are all game(good story, great gameplay etc etc) but not much on the SOCIAL. some games have tried doing both SOCIAL and Gaming (I think SIms and CitiesXL). I think things like Mutliplayer (more than 2) co-op campaigns (maybe 5-10 ppl playing a entire squad of troopers in Modern Warfare or HALO) and MMORPGs that put a little less emphasis on pure combat (which is almost every MMORPG at the moment), than people can actually enjoy games as a social hub and gaming at the same time. One more thing...People seem to have equated singleplayer gameplay and soloing in MMOs (i do that) hating social gameplay. Speaking for myself, I do it because I personally don't have the time to play game continuously...so I stay in the "NOOB" or low level region for eons in online gameplay and its just alot less demanding for me to play offline. I'd love a game that'll let me not worry about combat or leveling and play at my own pace (it seems mmos and online games depict worlds with 90% of the population as heroes in combat....I don't think even WWII was that focused on combat) sorry about the mishmash of random disjointed thoughts...but dats my 2 cents
Multiplayer, Co-Op and Social Games, here are 3 things that i'm sick and tired and are ruining video games. I still remember when video games where about the story and the characters, where you actually cared about was going on; now it's all about virtual paintball (MP) and being with friends (you want to be with friends, do like normal people and get your butt out of the house). Now, i can say that i do like MP from time to time, it´s fun and addictive, but i will always put that aside for a good Single Player experience. Hell, gaming is what it is today because of the single player, if it wasn't for it there wouldn't be characters like Mario, Zelda, Kratos, Master Chief, Lara Croft, Gordon Freeman...and the list goes on, and those are just the heroes. Facebook, Twitter...i must be one of the 5 people in the world that don't use that crap, and proud of it
Gee ... I wonder how we could possibly bring social gaming to consoles? Maybe ... just maybe if we let more than 2 people play on one screen and allowed for guests to join in on online play? Wait a minute ... that sounds familiar; isn't that how things used to be before games started trading quality for quantity? Personally I have quite a few fond memories of huddling around 2 TV with 8 other people playin Halo and laughing when someone got owned - that is the social networking of a gamer. Balancing social networking and gaming is something that can never be understood with statistics; just because a couple million women in the 40s (the average stat) wana play some game that looks like it was drawn by a 2 year old does not mean that every gamer wants to be social or that every game is capable of being social. Personally I like the optional inclusion of co-op in Fable or Squad play in shooters, but that doesn't mean we should degrade them in the process or make it mandatory. The Xbox live headsets are distracting enough as it is; we don't need to be mass social networking.
My only concern about social gaming is that, because of low cost and quick development, the experience of gaming will be cheapened. If companies can make a quick buck by developing some lame half-assed farm game that is directed at old ladies, they may be inclined to stop making the AAA titles that have been the core of gaming since its inception. I'm sorry, but I'm just not ready to see Halo, Final Fantasy, and Street Fighter fade into obscurity. I don't mind the gaming industry growing. I don't mind more and more gamers from untapped demographics finally realizing that gaming is fun. I just hope that companies don't flock so much to Social Games that they forget the Hardcore Gamers along the way. If that happens, the next Final Fantasy could suffer in quality and actually become THE FINAL Fantasy.
I'm not sure how to comment on this, I've never heard of Farmville until recently and I haven't really tried any games like that but from the sound of it, if it helps introduce individuals to gaming and helps "expand" the market, not take it over than I don't have an issue with it. If a lot of developers try to follow these "social games" and focus less on creating not just big budget titles but something innovative and unique with a memorable story and characters than I can't support that. As I've said before I don't have an Xbox, I use my PC for Mass Effect,Braid and stuff but a lot of my friends do and that's great. It helps reward talent on some of the great games out there and anything that continues to grow the video game industry so that others someday can experience some of the great moments we've all had, I don't have a problem with.
i think social gaming can be a big possibility. Second life a sort of social sandbox has taken off well dispite major problems like lag, crashes, and other issues. I think if there was a way to more combine free form social interaction with online options it could become big, many people play second life and do not touch any other comptuer or video "game". the problem is right now they are a monopoly as theres nothing remotely out there to match. blue mars is wishful thinking but i just dont see the people being drawn to it..
Maybe "social gaming" is in your future, but I'll stick to my anti-social singleplayer games and soloing mmos, thank you very much.