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“The Cool Kids Are Coming to Facebook”

An inside look at why we can expect a surge in the social gaming ecosystem

Despite what you hear in the tech circuits, social gaming is about to experience its next phase of growth.

The seeming stigma in the social gaming sphere, epitomized in EA’s struggle with recent buyouts and Zynga’s popularity slump, are expected in a market that has seen little to no evolution in social gaming. You’ve probably seen the stat that a majority of active social game users are women in their 40s. Sound right to you?

Console games are dominated by a market of young hip teens as well as older gamers looking for the next “hot” thing. Why hasn’t this market transmuted to social online games? The answer is quite simple – the cool kids are only now arriving to Facebook.

Facebook will see a resurgence in social game activity – social game startups focused on captivating stories, attractive graphics, and social engagement will reinvigorate a now faded and stagnant social game sector.

And to demonstrate this, we have only to look at the market for console games. Studies show that target audiences for console games are accustomed to the newest functionalities and technologies, and expect the latest and greatest in video games. It’s no wonder that spoiled gamers spare no criticism when they confront the same substandard graphics, weak story plots, and minimal genre variation in social games.

Despite the rough patch, in many ways, social online games have the greatest potential to innovate. Don’t get me wrong, social media is a whole different behemoth that offers a new and disparate set of challenges, but it indubitably offers an underexplored pool of tools and resources.

“Social” becomes the imperative word…social connections that people are making. It is our task as social game developers to understand how to accomplish meaningful social interaction through games and, perhaps more importantly, to be able to adapt the games to an ever-changing “social” gamer. There are a few ways to do this.

One is to tackle how players are interacting, and for this, you have only to think of the first time you pitched for little league - you’re playing the game for the first time and a team depends on you. Several things happen – fear, loyalty, pressure, camaraderie, ego. Teams build emotion – it’s as simple as that, and building games around teams provides a unique incentive to the gamer to prove something. That’s where the fun of life can be transposed to social online games. Not only this, but we can expect strategy in social games to become much more prevalent. Strategizing lends itself to social engagement – whether you’ve had to pitch new ideas with a colleague at work, or are playing a game of Cranium with friends, working with others to solve a problem activates deeper thinking, and starts to create a sense of teamwork and fun. Social online games are no different.

In the same way social media connects people, it also represents the zeitgeist of fashion, art, food, and music. Social media provides exposure to “things” in our society in ways yet unparalleled in tech history. The power of “real” in technology is a trend that emerges from the digital authenticity of human interaction on social media, and it is likely to be just as colossal. In the case of GIG-IT, we are the first and only virtual 3D concert game that brings real music and real products to gamers on social media, allowing the inner artist to not only connect to people, but also to connect to music we love and products we use and wear. Sounding meaningful yet?

Understanding the why is also important – why are people playing games with others? Do they enjoy saving a partner, solving a mystery to prevent team annihilation, or winning more points for their side? The why can vary, immeasurably, and discovering and rediscovering the why for social online games is as various as why we choose to be social beings at all. Games that appeal to this question will inevitably be hitting the nail on the head.

The solutions to the slump in social gaming become much more apparent when we understand human engagement. As developers, our job will be to create meaningful social interaction. The games we build should ultimately reflect what people love most about relating with one another – the emotions, the challenges, the teamwork, the fun, and the “real”.  And once we discover that, our job will be to create social games that are just as mutable as the ever-evolving “social” gamer. 

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