Social Gaming Is Here to Stay

Gaming has always been social, even long before the web stretched across the globe. Multiplayer tabletop games are as nearly as old as civilization itself, and it’s only natural! Given free time, human beings tend to choose to spend that time playing in the company of peers. That’s why it’s no surprise that two of the things people do most on their phones and tablets are check in with social media and play games. Specifically, social games.


Social games in the broadest sense are turn based, let players know (to some degree) what their opponents are up to, are casual enough for the layperson and involve groups of players. Dungeons & Dragons was a social game. So was Farmville, though the obvious difference is that getting help from friends in the former meant chatting across the table while in the latter it meant pinging people on Facebook.


The social element of social gaming hasn’t changed much in function but has most certainly evolved in scope. The peer with whom you’re playing may be thousands of miles and more than a few cultures removed. And that might very well be why social gaming is so big in the mobile gaming sphere.


First, social gaming is booming in emerging markets where huge populations are adopting the latest mobile technology without necessarily having owned the desktop equivalent. It’s in these markets that freemium MMOs can ensure democratic access to games and the kind of built-in social features that make games yet another way to reach out and touch someone. Asia is currently the biggest market for free-to-play social games, with an estimated $3.3b in revenues and ongoing growth driven by up-and-coming economies.


Second, social games – which often have no real conditions for victory plus continuous goals and are therefore playable indefinitely – employ engagement strategies that keep people coming back for more. The most successful social strategy has been integrating games into the players’ social networks to the point where advancement is only possible when players share the game with friends. Another strategy involves gaming capital like badges, trophies and titles that demonstrate to a player’s network that he or she is amassing in-game accomplishments. Both promote sharing, making it easier for new social games to gain traction.


Consequently, game companies are doing their best to blur the line between gaming and social media to cast a wider net. A player’s gateway drug might be Criminal Case on Facebook thanks to an acquaintance’s social share. From there it’s easy to find oneself playing Words with Friends or even Marvel’s Avengers Alliance, moving from game to game as friends do. And the money is there, so thanks to a flood of people becoming more comfortable with in-app purchases and the pay-to-win model, there has been a real surge in inexpensive, fun and surprisingly rich social games.


All that adds up to the fact that social games aren’t going anywhere. Serious gamers may look upon social gaming as a less important part of the games sphere, but it’s looking more and more like casuals are driving mobile gaming’s rise. The mobile side is set to overtake the console industry thanks in part to companies like Snapdragon making mobile tech that’s up to the task of delivering amazing playability on mobile and to the fact that casual gamers simply represent a huge force. Adult women now outnumber teenage boys in the gaming world. Grandparents are gaming. So are toddlers. And as noted above, human beings are innately social creatures.


If a game is good, we’ll give it a try. If a game is good and helps us feel connected to friends and family across the globe, we’ll fire it up every time we have a free moment.

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