Becoming Social Smart in 2012


By Michael Johnson and Mary Kurek

As we dive head first into 2012, it’s time to evaluate the upcoming year in gaming. Looking back at 2011, it’s amazing to see the changes that took place in the industry and the great games that were showcased throughout the year. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a phenomenon take gaming by surprise and resurface the terrain we all know so well. A market that was previously dominated by young males has had its foundation shaken as females have infiltrated the ranks and have become a game-changing demographic. Gaming has been adopted by older generations, and it’s not uncommon to have a competitive match of Words With Friends with our mom or dad. It seems that we only have social gaming to thank for that.

Most of us remember one of our first experiences, or at least our most popular experience, with social gaming being Farmville. Things have changed drastically since then. While Farmville is still wildly popular and dominates the social scene on Facebook, the way social games are played — and the business behind them — are in an accelerated rate of growth. Companies such as Zynga, EA’s Playfish and Wooga are learning what it means to grow up fast as they have to manage the development, production and finances that come with a successful business. But, what’s interesting about these companies is their ability to handle the pressure … it’s why we will see the Zyngas of the play-space separate themselves from the competition and redefine the social gaming industry.

The two biggest changes we will see this year are companies’ ability to adapt to the rapidly growing gaming platform market and their ability to develop successful monetization models. The companies that successfully address these issues this year will be the players who define the space.

Smartphones and netbooks and tablets … oh my!

It’s been less than 10 years since Facebook exploded on the Internet. Mobile smartphones have allowed us to access anything, anywhere, anytime; and now we’re seeing tablet computers and netbooks enter the arena. Gaming has morphed alongside technology and has redefined what it means to be a gamer. It’s not all about sitting at home with a pizza and stash of energy drinks anymore; people are gaming in the subway, on their lunch breaks, off their lunch breaks and even while they’re driving. By the way — you should stop doing that. High accessibility spells potential for talented developers looking to break their way into the industry and make it big. IPhone users aren’t the only ones demanding games anymore. If companies want to experience success quickly in 2012, they need to adapt quickly to the increasing platform line-up and develop social games that are accessible on all of these devices.

With that said, developers also need to realize that the social gaming craze doesn’t stop with mobile devices. In fact, some recent AAA games have adapted these newfound social aspects into their games. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a good example. The game uses a system called “Autolog,” which allows a player to track their friends’ best times and compete to break their records. Assassin’s Creed Revelations compares your top scores in multiplayer and consistently challenges you to break your friends’ records. Break all of your friends’ records, and you’re sure to be at the top of the leaderboards.

It’s not that these features weren’t sought prior to social gaming, but games such as Farmville have proven that it can be done successfully and that the market is hungry for it. Note to developers: You should follow the trends, realize where the potential is and get your social games out to as many users as possible. The mobile landscape isn’t slowing down, and neither should you. The companies who take the most advantage of their resources are coming out on top in 2012.

Monetizing your game

Now, on to the part we all care about … making money! Let’s hope you’re not out there putting in strenuous, well-earned and valuable time making your games and then simply giving them away for free.

Oh my … you are?!

Well, there’s good news: There are plenty of options for starving artists looking to make money for their hard work. Some companies go for the free-to-play model, implementing microtransactions, while others prefer to have their users pay before they play. Both are successful models in their own right, but developers have to decide which models fit their games best.

There is some research to prove that social games thrive and bring in the maximum profit when they offer a low barrier to entry and then allow their users to purchase in-game items as they go. In an article titled “The Rise of the European App Economy” in the fall 2011 issue of Casual Connect, writer Regina Leuwer points out that a recent study conducted by research firm Distimo shows that the top 200 iPhone developers who use the freemium model have increased their total revenue by 79 percent year over year. I can personally attest to the theory that people will spend more money when the game’s value is determined over time, rather than in one moment. Games such asMapleStory have tested the model, and I’ve personally spent well over $60 on the game; something I would have never spent had I been asked to pay it up front.

You may be asking what your options are for making money, and you’ll be happy to know that there are a lot of options. First, you have the App Store for iPhone devices, as well as the Market for Android. These are standard, and most games that are launched use these avenues to sell their games. There also are some more obscure game portals, but still relatively popular, which allow developers to submit Flash-based games for free, or for a low-price, and encourage players to pay fees for extra content or no advertisements on their websites. These are websites such as TeePee Games, XPO Games and Newgrounds.

Still, probably the best way to go is linking your games directly to Facebook. In some cases, you can offer in-game purchases through Facebook and use Facebook Credits in order to make revenue. This makes it easier on consumers who don’t want to have to purchase different currencies for multiple games but would rather purchase one virtual currency and use it across all games. In this case, a low barrier to entry is the key.

The social games that will be the most successful in 2012 are the ones that actively utilize and implement an easy-to-use monetization model, allowing players to easily drop into the game, purchase items at a reasonable amount and are encouraged to do so more often as they experience increasing fun. This is most easily obtained when companies learn to broaden their horizons and adapt to the rapidly growing mobile platform market.

The task is at hand, and there may be a long road ahead, but the harvest is ripe. Developers who meet consumer expectation by melding social games with the increasingly available mobile devices will step above the rest and experience a good growth in sales this year. Keep it fun, keep it social and find the right way to monetize.


Michael Johnson is a games industry marketing professional with a focus on feature and review writing, as well as social media management.

Mary Kurek is a professional networker who makes business introductions for games professionals. She is a nationally endorsed author, business columnist for IGDA and Casual Connect writer. http://www.maryurek.com


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