Check out the social gaming goldmine on your way to FarmVille
WHEN social networking site Facebook assessed the most popular topic its 350 million users wrote about in their status updates in 2009, the answer was clear: farming.
The term farming relates to FarmVille, which has often been the top social game on Facebook. It clocked in 81,125,786 monthly active users in the week of 22 February 2010, according to AppData, with the point being social gaming has been growing in popularity faster than raspberries in FarmVille.
"Looking at just our experience, gaming is one of the most popular activities on Facebook and we expect this to continue," says Sophy Silver of Facebook.
"There are more than 100 million unique users across the top 10 games alone."
Social gaming combines online games and social networking to allow players to involve their online contacts in a game. The interaction in the game - or "social capital" - is among the reasons why social gaming is such a hit, along with the convenience and the little or no cost that comes with playing the games.
All someone needs to play a social game is a computer and internet connection, meaning he or she can play a game, for free, from his or her sofa.
Social capital involves actions individuals can take in a game: comparing scores, issuing challenges, or giving each other virtual gifts to help one's game.
Zynga, FarmVille's developer, is "constantly looking at that dynamic," the company's vice-president of marketing, Brandon Barber, told Insidegaming.com. "As we increase that capital, people will get more enjoyment from our game because they feel like they're getting value back for what they're doing."
That value being status, interaction or relationships.
Explains Silver: "The social aspect of games makes it easy to quickly connect with friends, regardless of where they are, and what their level of gaming expertise is."
A recent survey by PopCap Games, 2010 Social Gaming Research, of UK and US internet users who play social games at least once a week, has echoed Silver's words. Most social game players, the survey reports, have reconnected with friends, classmates and relatives as a result of playing games on social networking sites.
An increase in social capital, in turn, can translate into income for the game developers and publishers.
Revenue from FarmVille - as with many other social games - comes from micro-payments. Players can buy virtual goods, but Zynga has also used other promotional methods to make FarmVille a success, such as ad buys and cross-promotion on its toolbar.
Another area in which game developers and publishers can capitalise on the rise of social gaming lies in the expansion of the gaming market beyond the core demographic of 18 to 35-year-old males. This is according to panellists at the recent CES Game Power Conference at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The PopCap Games survey, in fact, revealed that your average social gamer is a 43-year-old woman.
Developers can also create console games that interact with multi-player online games and social networking sites, which would allow them to access a larger audience. The web-based gaming marketing opportunity is huge.
"To address this new audience, game makers are creating games where the core mechanics are designed for people to have fun together and spend time with each other," says Silver.
"The best games optimise user experience to make people want to come back. So integrating this social aspect and creating games where users rely on their interaction with friends will help developers capitalise on this trend."
Developers are also becoming more innovative with games, Silver adds. "We expect game developers to continue to bring innovation to Facebook users, including with high-production values, 3D and virtual worlds."
So social gaming may not just be a trend, after all.
"In the future, all games will be social," says Silver, "and, as game experiences proliferate on all devices, we're starting to see multi-device gaming: a single, unified game environment and experience that encompasses all devices.
"Players can experience the game on their Xbox in the living room, continue the game on their computer at work during a break, and then use their mobile device on the go."
© Silicon Republic Ltd