Let's be honest -- when game developers say they develop social games, nine times out of 10 they may as well just say that they "makes games for Facebook."
Facebook -- and its active user base of over 600 million users -- has been the foundation for millions of dollars in venture capital invested, a burgeoning (bubbly?) new market, and the focus of packaged game publishers who are clamoring to get into the high margin social space.
But now some social game developers have a wandering eye -- one that is sizing up new opportunities outside of Mark Zuckerberg's empire and other social platforms.
Google announced this week
its long-rumored Facebook competitor Google Plus, a social network that will implement selective social "Circles." It's that key feature in particular that makes the new network so attractive to the social game makers who spoke with Gamasutra just after Google Plus' unveiling.
Whereas Facebook blasts status updates to all of a users' friends, Google Plus' Circles lets users select specific groups of friends who will be able to see specific updates that are in line with their own interests. Essentially, for a viral medium like social gaming, the system, which implements other new ways to communicate, can turn users into much more precise marketing agents.
Kevin Chou, CEO of core-gamer focused Kingdoms of Camelot
developer Kabam told Gamasutra, "In terms of first impressions, I think what's impressive is that Google has dealt products that connect multiple Google properties, and that has achieved, more or less, feature-parity with Facebook. It's a very impressive feat, and I think Google has shown that they can build a high-quality product with a high-touch user interface, with design in mind."
Chou received an early-invite the to the network's beta (the system is currently in "limited field testing," Google said), and has been exploring Google Plus. It's still too early for any developer to commit a product to Google Plus quite yet, but Chou said, "We'll see how consumer adoption goes across that platform, but I think the initial look of the product is very impressive."
For Kabam specifically, the Circles in Google Plus could more directly target the developer's core gamer audience, rather than friends more interested in FarmVille
. "In terms of whether or not the platform can eventually be a great place for games -- and specifically for Kabam... -- I think it's certainly something we're heavily evaluating, should we decide to go head in that direction," said Chou.
It's not just Kabam that is interested in what Google Plus' Circles could offer. "People who play games on social networks typically have groups of people they play games with, who don't necessarily overlap with 'true' friends they see socially," said Jonathan Knight, SVP of Games RockYou (Zoo World
Knight said that RockYou has been working with Google's "social gaming team," and had early access to the network. While he didn't reveal that any Google Plus games are in the works from RockYou, he said, "We are definitely energized by Google Plus and the work that is happening there...We look forward to watching their platform evolve, and to working with them on projects in the future."
For game developers we spoke with, it's the increased level of communication and the tailoring of that communication that is so promising. "Google Plus is a great step for Google. It's clear that they've built it from the ground up with the idea of improving communication with the social web in mind," said Arjun Sethi, CEO of Ravenwood Fair
Another aspect of Google that has a unique appeal when compared to Facebook is that the company has its massive fingers in major sectors, as it's also owner of a web browser and mobile operating system. Imagine an army of new Android phones and tablets pre-installed with Google Plus, ready to let users access their favorite social games.
"Their approach is simple yet apparent across their Google products," Sethi said. "It will be exciting to see how millions of consumers start adapting to it. For Lolapps specifically, Google Plus will give us the opportunity to extend the ways that we are already innovating upon other social platforms and to see what Google has to offer."
Google itself, perhaps expectedly, isn't quite ready to talk about its gaming plans for Google Plus this early on. But what we do know is that Google has reached out to game developers already, and the gaming space is on the company's Google Plus radar.
"We don't have any specific details to share on our plans around incorporating games into Google Plus," said Google senior manager of global communications and public affairs Katie Watson in a statement. "But, it's important to keep in mind this is an ongoing project and this is just the beginning. We plan to add a lot of features and functionality to Google Plus over time. We're just excited to get started."