Social Games Don't Have To Be On Facebook

There is a common misconception that social games exist only on Facebook. I hear from people everyday who have just read the latest press release from Zynga and are eager to get a piece of the social games pie. And what a tasty pie it is. The entire online games industry (casual games, MMOs, etc) is expected to be worth over $20 billion by the end of 2010. Social games, still considered to be "noobs" by their casual game elitist elders, only account for $1.3 to $1.6 billion of that total. While social games may not count for much when you compare them to traditional casual games, social games are rising in popularity faster than any other type of game, in history. It's the pie everyone wants a slice of in 2010.

When people hear about Zynga having more employees than Facebook and boasting over 230 million active monthly users across all their social games, they tend to get a bit excited. The first idea that pops into their head is to mimic Zynga's success by "getting a game on Facebook", as quickly as possible, hence why they approach me. In response, I always ask a series of questions.

  • Do you want a casual game that exists on Facebook or do you want a social game that exists on Facebook and utilises the Facebook network?
  • Do you understand the difference between a casual game on Facebook and a social game on Facebook, when both are often grouped together by the media as "Facebook Games"?
  • Why do you want a game on Facebook and why does the game have to be on Facebook?
  • Do you have an existing Facebook fan-base that you can use to launch a game?
  • Have you considered putting the game on your own website and using Facebook Connect, to make the game "social", without steering traffic away from your website?

Most of the time I'm met with blank faces or a "just make a game, like FarmVille" mentality. And that's why there are so many dud social games on Facebook. Instead of asking questions, people are rushing into the social games arena because they've caught a whiff of Zynga's pie cooling on the window sill. They don't realise the social games space is so hot right now, if you enter unprepared, you will get burned. People who play social games, have most likely played a Zynga game. Which means Zynga is the benchmark. If you try and make a cheap FarmVille knock off, players will recognise it and dismiss it, almost instantly. Being prepared is about sitting down and taking the time to work what the best game is for your target audience. Focus on the audience first, then the game; only then can you decide where you are going to put it. Facebook is only one option. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia wanted to launch a new online social game to teach primary school kids how to manage money. Realising their target audience wasn't using Facebook, they avoided the world's largest social network and instead developed the game as it's own entity, on their website, unburdened by any network restrictions. CommBank also wanted a game environment that they could control  because the safety of kids was a major concern. The game, called Coinland, was just part of their ongoing goal to improve the financial literacy of 1 million Aussie kids by 2015.

An innovative feature built into Coinland is the ability for parents to control access to the game by monitoring their child's progress. Parents can even opt-in to receive email updates that come directly from the bank that notify them of their child's activity within the game. These custom features would have been quite difficult to implement if the game was on Facebook. Over in the states, American Girl is launching a new social game in July, called Innerstar University; a safe online world where girls learn to be their best. The social game will be accompanied by a series of book titles. Innerstar University will be available to play on the American Girl website in a few weeks, check it out!

If you want a slice of the social games pie, be prepared by contacting 3RDsense. - Chris Gander

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