At the recent InterPlay Conference devoted to social gaming in San Francisco, Charles Yong and Jing Chen from social networking metrics platform Developer Analytics addressed the engagement for social games since Facebook launched as a platform.
In particular, they discussed in depth monetization of social games, and looked at the feasibility of adding greater and greater depth to online-based social games, even those based around social networks - for which there is a significant venture capital funding surge right now.
Charles Yong, co-founder of Developer Analytics opened by stating boldly, "Social gaming is where the really great monetization is at. You can prototype with little to no money down. The whole premise of this is that marketing cost is really, really low, compared to a real game, like Grand Theft Auto IV."
But that's not to say that casual gamers aren't "real gamers": "If you have someone playing 25 hours a week on casual games, that's a hardcore gamer. But they're really easy to impress. They haven't seen GTA IV, they haven't seen Half-Life 2, and real money is coming out of virtual goods and currency."
"Right now, some of the best monetary strategies are with virtual goods, virtual currencies. The games that can meld the strategy right into the game will do much better than the ones that can't," he continued. "The goal is to have something, virtual or real, that the users are willing to spend time on it, and if you're willing to spend time on it, you're willing to spend money on it."
However, that didn't necessarily include a point where users would be willing to pay money to interact with an application: "Just from what we've seen, people stay away from direct subscription models. It's better to integrate the monetization directly into the game, like virtual goods. Do things like get people to spend $100 on in-game credit, then they can just spend that on the fly."
When it comes to measuring success, "most people look at daily active users. This is not a bad metric, but there are others," said Yong. "For example, pageviews. Facebook game Packrat has over a 500x multiplier on pageviews per active user."
But in the "next generation" of social games, Yong sees games being created by developers who "don't spend just a weekend or a couple weeks on making a game with almost no resources."
"Imagine what you could do in a couple months with decent resources," he said. "I am really interested in seeing what kinds of metrics, what kinds of longevity we could get out of a game like that. Social gaming on social platforms will be the new console."
"I think if Spore included a social networking application, it would be ridiculous," he continued. [It is unclear whether he is aware of the existing online connectivity for the game.] "At this point in time, for a lot of these larger companies it's hard to move into this, when they have these big teams. But the return is that much greater. It's more than just the effort spent on it."
"We're seeing a really similar development pattern in terms of technology in terms of no downloading, just things being available right when you click the button - it's not that far away. Flash is getting the same graphical capability that bigger games had five or six years ago."
However, Jing Chen, also a co-founder of Developer Analytics, warned the panel that by "looking at the data and the games that are already there," you could see that consumers were "already happy with the games that are already there. You don't necessarily need fancy 3D graphics."
However, Chen concluded with the thought that with online social games, it's perfectly acceptable to continue to develop your game to add more depth. "An app that started out very simple can definitely evolve into something more complicated."