Social games are “in”

Last Friday, we went to see Zynga, the company that made Mafia Wars and Vampire Wars for Facebook. This reminded me the “bites” from some friends that I “ignored” some time ago. By making extremely simple games on facebook, they managed to obtain millions of customers and hire a hundred people in 1.5 years. The philosophy is based on “poking”, the simplest social applicaton ever. If your game lives in the cracks of a social network, there is no need for substantial game content -just a few signs and symbols to trigger a theme, and an initial momentum.

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Last Tuesday, we went to another studio called Three Rings. Their most successful game is called Puzzle Pirates, which is five years old.

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Lessons learned:

  • Unlike retail games that have a fast and short lifetime, successful social games create a monthly revenue that increases slowly and then becomes a constant financial source.
  • Monetization alternatives are:
    • Charging for client download, as in an iPhone game.
    • Fixed monthly fee as in WoW.
    • Advertisements around the game screen. However, these may harm the game’s effect.
    • Item shop: Selling in-game items and upgrades by microtransactions. These give the player either:
      • Big advantage for a short time
      • Small advantage for a long time
      • Cosmetic control over avatar (or sometimes the game world)
  • If used efficiently, ‘item shop’ is the best method for social games. It’s based on the decomposition of players into two subsets:
    • Grinders: These players prefer spending time over money, so they have a greater share in the game population in a given time.
    • Shoppers: These players want more from the game and they are willing to pay, so they obtain an advantage by buying items.
  • Note that the game masters need “shoppers” for financial support, and the “shoppers” need “grinders” for social support and satisfaction.
  • MMO’s like WoW are extremely time costly in terms of both development and playing. This is due to the amount of game-space, the large maps that require developers to design/populate, and players to run from place to place. In contrast, facebook games are both easy to make and play, because they place themselves as atomic signs (image/text) in the cracks of readily constructed social spaces. They are not MMO’s, because the game does not own the space, but it uses the potential playfulness inside each connection that couples virtual identities of user-players.

(These points are limited to the pragmatic business approach. Another approach could be an ethical one: We could define the types of games that ‘should not be’ developed for the good of players (and humanity))

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