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Three social gaming trends for 2011

by Joost Rietveld on 01/13/11 09:00:00 am   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Social gaming, both expanding and diversifying the gamer population, has been maturing at rapid pace resulting in heavy consolidation, while at the same time leaving room for innovation. Drawing in part on 2010’s social gaming summit, consultancy activities in the social gaming sector and academic intersts, in this article I look at three broad social gaming trends for 2011.

Trend 1. Mobile social gaming

It is no secret that smartphone adoption and consequently mobile data usage is on the rise. In the United Kingdom iPhone adoption has increased with 161% in one year (as measured April 2010), whereas Android adoption rose from nothing to nearly two million devices in just one year. Both operating systems offer app stores that stimulate data usage as 94% of iPhone users downloads apps (games included) and 89% of Android users do so. As a result, mobile games are on the rise too. Angry Birds is a nice example of a game that has performed well on both mobile operating systems (7 million and over 2 million copies respectively).

Currently there are over 200 million mobile Facebook users and this number is rapidly increasing. Out of 500 million total users, this is a significant amount, where this user segment, in addition, is also more actively engaged with the social network. Facebook has combined games and mobile usage in its company devision ‘Games and Mobile’ and is currently a lot of the company’s attention (frequent updates of the mobile apps, Facebook places, single sign in, etc.). From a developers perspective, mobile’s significance to social gaming is also apparent. Market leader Zynga has acquired mobile games developer New Toy this December before releasing a mobile version of its hit game Mafia Wars (mobile).

’2011 will see the rise of mobile social games, both on Facebook as well as on other platforms such as iOS (Apple), Android Market and HTML5.’

Trend 2. Location based social gaming

With the advent of smartphones and mobile data usage, location based services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places further consolidate their significance. Foursquare went from 100.000 to 4.500.000 users in just one year. Location based services’ popularity one the one hand is facilitated by the above mentioned surge in mobile usage, while on the other hand is fed by the ‘gamification’ craze that is currently upon us. Location based check-ins will further contribute to social gaming’s growth in 2011 as it enables for even greater diversification and relevance.

As Facebook’s Top 5 social games alone support over 200 million monthly active users we can speak of a critical mass in terms of user population for social games. The vast and divers crowd, as mentioned above, allows for a more targeted, relevant and useful user experience in social games, according to Playfish CEO Kristian Segerstrale. Location based services will provide additional value in serving these segmented user audiences true and immersive social interactions through real world connections.

‘Backed by location based services, 2011 will see the rise of niche products in which cohesive communities will be served with innovative and meaningful products.’

Trend 3. Social advergames

Both in the fields of digital games and digital marketing, advergames are legitimized as a proper product category, both enlightening brands and game players worldwide being an effective and engaging form of entertainment. Advergames as a genre is just over ten years old and has evolved from mere fixed product placements (FPP) to bespoke solutions in the form of online games. 2011 will see the rise of social advergames, advergames building on social networks in terms of reach and gameplay mechanics. A move facilitated by the expanding user population, the emergence of mobile social gaming with the inclusion of location based services.

When properly executed, advergames are an extremely effective marketing tool. Disney acquired social game developer Playdom in July 2010 with the likely rationale of brand proliferation of Disney’s intellectual property rights through Playdom’s games and reach. McDonalds was one of the first and most visible to actually engage in social advergaming by taking over Farmville for a day in the form of a gigantic in game dynamic advertisement. Whereas Frima has attempted to iterate on the success of Farmville in favor of Mazda by developing Mazda’s DriverVille.

‘As companies have become aware of the strength of social media in 2010, 2011 will see the rise of holistic social advergames.’

These trends might seem only logical to the informed reader as they are. However they might have far going implications for the way we perceive social games in the near future. First of all, the combination of mobile and social games might imply a shift away from Facebook, be it through alternatives that use Facebook’s single sign in, be it through mobile operating systems or completely new platforms. Furthermore, as games for mobile devices are different from games for desktops, in addition to the possibility of niche products and integration of location based elements, there could be serious innovation in social games design in 2011. Where social games were characterized by monetization scams in 2010, they could well be characterized by meaningfulness and relevance in 2011. Let’s hope so, happy 2011!

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