GDC Europe: Wooga CEO Begemann On Social Gaming's Appeal

In a GDC Europe keynote presentation, wooga CEO Jens Begemann highlights the differences between social games and traditional games, and why the segment is attracting so many new players.
"Social games are not here to take today's gamers and make them Farmville farmers," wooga CEO Jens Begemann reassured the public during today's Business & Marketing keynote at GDC Europe. As the founder of one of the three top social game developers on Facebook, Begemann said "[the] game industry has specialized in creating games for gamers." While there's nothing wrong with that, he said, the demographic most often targeted by video game developers was but a small "sub-set of the overall population." To help illustrate his point, Begemann called upon Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's 'flow theory,' which states that people are most happy when they are in a state of concentration or complete absorption where nothing else seems to matter. "We have fun playing games if we are challenged," he noted, "but only so long as it is not too hard or too easy." He also explained that flow in video games, while hard to achieve, can be accomplished with the introduction of four vital elements: clear tasks, immediate feedback, balanced and attainable goals as well as concentration on the game. In his talk, Begemann observed that games like Starcraft II and World of Warcraft have successfully actualized that balance. However, he also pointed out that these games have never grown easier or become more accessible in spite of their increasing depth. A hypothetical 'Average Jane' isn't playing those games, Begemann explained, because "she could not achieve flow" thanks to high entrance barriers like the need for a 300-euro-minimum computer and a somewhat arduous initial set up process. In addition, many such games cannot be played everywhere, and may require players to invest a large amount of time before they can become fun. "If you play less than 10 hours a week, you will not have fun," he said of these games. "They are not designed for short bursts." In contrast, social games appear to be the polar opposite. Social games are often free to play, possess no entry barriers, can be played in quick bursts and, most importantly, are easy to learn, he noted. "It can take 3 minutes to understand the game," he said. While 5 million monthly active users for a social game can sound like a ridiculously high number, Begemann noted it is only a small proportion of the 750 million potential players a game is marketed to. By this metric, there are only "25 [really] successful games on Facebook," he said. On a more optimistic note, Begemann added that social, casual and mobile games are growing. "It's roughly as big as the traditional game industry," he noted. "Together, they represent about 51 percent of the market." Using wooga's popular Monster World as an example, Begemann stated that there were many methods of monetization: avatar customization, decorations, expansions, instant builds, materials, magic wands and fuel. While most would assume that the largest share of the profit originates from character customization, Begemann noted players often spend money on things that bring them forward in gameplay. "Time is money even for social/casual players," he said. Towards the end of his talk, Begemann touched briefly on the development of social interaction between gamers and its future evolution. Begemann drew comparisons between asynchronous gameplay in social games with the interaction often witnessed between toddlers. "Social games are parallel play. People want to play for themselves. Sometimes, they may walk up to the other and either help or destroy what the other has been doing." Begemann also stated that while wooga has experimented with synchronous play, he does not believe that this will be successful for the mass market, because players are often interested in short sessions. "Asynchronous play is not going to go away," he said. Begemann also used his keynote to showcase the launch of Magic Land, a Heroes of Might & Magic-esque title that appeared to be an intriguing mixture of social gaming elements and aspects from the dungeon-crawler genre.

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