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F8: EA, Zynga, Disney, Kabam On The Future Of Social Games

At Facebook's F8 conference on Thursday, speakers from EA Interactive, Playdom parent Disney Interactive, Zynga, and Kabam all spoke out on the growing trends and the future trajectory of social games.
At Facebook's F8 conference on Thursday, speakers from EA Interactive, Playdom parent Disney Interactive, Zynga, and Kabam all spoke out on the growing trends in social games, offering insight into the future of gaming on social platforms. Drawing from their experience running some of the most successful social game companies on Facebook, the panelists shared their views on the future of branding in social games, the evolution of new revenue models, and the diversification of social game genres. Social Branding The panel began with EA Interactive's executive VP Barry Cottle noting the growing use of branding in the social space, and how it has affected game performance. For instance, he said that EA's own The Sims Social reached 10 million users before the publisher even began its primary marketing for the game, and Cottle suggested this growth can be attributed to the legacy of the Sims brand. "Brands give people the ability to recognize a game, and brands come with a strong, loyal base," he said, noting that despite the advantage brands offer, developers still "need a great game" to achieve sustainable success. Disney Interactive co-president John Pleasants echoed Cottle's sentiments regarding the power of brands, pointing out that when his company added the "Disney" name to its social title Gnome Town, it "lowered the cost of acquisition by about a third." New Revenue Models In addition to branding, the panelists also pointed out that a number of opportunities exist for developers to explore business models outside of the standard free-to-play, microtransaction based model. Kabam CEO Kevin Chou suggested that developers could look at business models that incorporate strategies used in other online games. In particular, he noted that his own core-focused company plans "to explore a subscription and microtransaction based model over time." Speaking of Kabam's smaller, but highly-engaged user base, Chou said, "Consumers will often spend more money than they plan on spending, and while that's good for us, we want to make sure they can set up a budget for how much they want to pay into a game experience ... it would make our business more predictable." Zynga chief business officer Owen Van Natta added that he hopes to see social games incorporate advertising in new ways, as these games can allow users to have "have a highly immersive experience alongside brands," giving players the chance to "engage with brands in an entirely unique way." Cottle said that he expects the social space to evolve into something that looks more like the traditional game market, where there is room for a number of different business models for different types of games. One thing to keep in mind, he says, is that developers could be doing more to engage with the vast majority of users who don't spend money in microtransaction-based games. "Remember, less than five percent of these people are spending money on microtransactions. There's a whole audience out there that we could be more innovative about bringing revenue from," he said. Making Social Games More Social Speaking of overlooked areas in the social gaming space, Pleasants pointed out that social developers "could do a much better job at making games that are social at their core, and not just viral," adding that games like The Sims Social have done a good job of pushing the market forward in that regard. Looking toward the future of the social market, Cottle said he expects to see more "segments of game genres" arise as the social market evolves, and that developers simply need to find ways to make new genres work well on a social network. "Games are social by nature -- it's just about designing them so they work well with the platform," he said. Reflecting on Kabam's more core-focused titles, Chou said that he believes synchronous gameplay is "key to the core experience" on social networks, as it can provide a virtual world in which people can meet and engage in real-time. "People meet in our games as strangers, and then they become real Facebook friends ... it leads to some very rich social interactions," Chou said. Van Natta voiced a similar opinion, noting, "Connecting people who aren’t connected in the real world is something that’s magical about social gaming."

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