The Future of Social Games: Predictions for 2012

December 14, 2011

1:00 pm

2011 was a great year for the social gaming industry – Farmville, Mafia Wars and The Sims Social continue to be really popular.  According to Super Data Research, it is expected that by the end of the year, the total market in North America will reach a growth of 35%.  The Sims Social, one of the most successful social games in the 2011, had 4.6 million people playing daily just a few days after was launched.

Unlike other types of games, social games frequently monetize using virtual good transactions. In Farmville users can purchase virtual items to accelerate the building of their properties. All these items are inexpensive, but if we multiply the average revenue per user (ARPU) per all the Daily Active Users (DAU)  then you have a successful business!

Social games are not without controversy. Ian Bogost criticized them because “friends” in social games are mere resources. Social games exploit costumers’ psychology in order to make money, and sometimes they do not use “real” game mechanics – or allow you to skip the gaming aspect entirely – and they require a huge of investment of time. However, it is true that millions of players enjoy them, and until now, they have been very successful.

But everybody is still wondering if social games are a fad or a fashion. There are different speculations about what is going to be the future of these game’ genre for the 2012. Some experts say that the “bubble” is going to pop soon and that the golden era is going to be over; others, from a more positive perspective, say that social games are the future of video gaming. Maybe the two perspectives are extreme.

I have picked out some trends and changes that I think will occur during the next year:

  1. Much more competition. A few years ago, Zynga became the leader in social games; a few other companies, such as Playdom and Lolapps, began to pop up. Now big companies such as Electronic Arts are producing social games too. I expect the number of competitors to continue to increase.
  2. Use of different platforms. Until now Facebook was the dominant social gaming platform. But Google+ and other platforms are becoming more popular so expect more integration with social media moving forward.
  3. Mobile games. There are not that many social games for mobile devices – yet.
  4. New and updated monetization models.  Innovation in the area of monetization will most likely expand beyond buying virtual goods.
  5. New gaming formulas. Social games tend to follow the same formula, so I expect them to shift closer to console games or other PC games. Some commercial games are also beginning to release their social versions, like Sims Online.

But again, that is just my viewpoint. In the end, I am not a social games business expert – but I love technology. What do you think? All your comments are welcome!

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Salvador Garcia Martinez is currently collaborating as a researcher at the Technoculture, Art, and Games research centre; he is also a doctoral student in Educational Technology at Concordia University in Montreal. He has professional experience as a software developer, web designer, and instructional designer. You can connect with him on linkedIn or his personal website or follow him on Twitter @salgarciam.

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