The ubiquity of pink cows: How Facebook and iPhone are changing the way we play.
Just as the Internet has transformed how we watch movies, read books, and listen to music, social media, led by Facebook and iPhone, are changing the way we play games. How has the gaming industry responded to our new recreational habits? To answer this question, SMC-LA invited Girl Gamer co-founder Mike Prasad to chair “Games go social” a panel discussion exploring the impact of social media on the development and marketing of PC and console games.
Some background about the gaming industry
- Market size: estimated between $46 and $65 billion in 2010.
- Demographics are changing, led by strong growth in casual gaming.
- Online and mobile sectors are developing and shaping business strategy.
- Distribution channels are moving away from brick-and-mortar operations to digital downloads.
- 50% of game players are on Facebook.
Building community: Facebook & traditional computer games
Prasad opened the discussion by asking how console and computer game developers are using social media to build and strengthen communities. Aaron Kaufman, community manager for Command and Conquer, said he uses Facebook to connect with loyal, if not hard-core, gamers.
“Message boards are scary,” he said, “and do not represent the actual user population.” In two months, Kaufman created a 20,000-person fan base on Facebook, and is now able to connect with more gamers, more reliably.
Quin Banks said that Tarver Games is using Facebook to help gamers of “Ghost Attack” play with friends and to prolong the experience. Since this game is intended as a television pilot, it also creates excitement and connection to characters.
What makes a game social?
The stereotypical social game is free, small, and everlasting, but, according to all the panelists, bragging rights are also strong motivators. (Think about how proud someone is to inform you that they have 12 pink cows while you are still trying to figure out how to play Farmville.)
Giving users the opportunity to create and share content, a key part of World of Warcraft’s success, also builds community. In addition, Josh Hartwell, CEO of GoSub60 Games, suggested allowing users to customize a game’s presentation thereby creating a personal experience. Again, this provides opportunities to showoff that can increase motivation to play and share.
Games go mainstream
When iPhone made Facebook mobile, games became portable. It set the stage for Farmville and other casual games (like solitaire and word games) to infiltrate the general public. These games replace crossword puzzle books and mad-libs.
“They are filler,” Banks added. “We play them on our phones while waiting in line at the grocery store. The games are secondary.”
Hartwell echoed Banks’ statement when he said that gaming is a service. As a service, a game developer must think about the ongoing, long-term dialogue with a growing, and diverse, set of players. Strategically, the gamer and the developer are partners and that relationship needs to be nurtured.
Social media makes building this relationship easier, but requires forethought. Your users are your revenue base, and making money is necessary. Revenue models need to fair, non-exploitive, and successful. When Prasad asked if anyone was doing it right, the panel had a hard time citing any good examples.
Everyone is still climbing that learning curve.
The challenge for gaming companies in the age of social media: Make long-term commitments with gamers by sustaining (developing) interactive and collaborative communities that generate revenue.