Revenue from social networking games is expected to top $4.5 billion this year, up from $3.2 billion in 2011, and it looks like online-game sales could surpass retail sales as soon as next year. A Chinese study tries to figure out why these games are the fastest growing segment of the $66 billion video-game industry.
The researchers suggest that, unlike other online games, those built directly into Facebook and other social networks are more attractive to casual players.
The study was conducted by Kuo-Hsiang Chen, Kai-Shuan Shen and Min-Yuan Ma of National Cheng Kung University in China and accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed academic journal Internet Research this spring.
The authors interviewed 11 gaming and social media experts and surveyed 321 video gamers and found three main reasons why games on social networks are appealing:
- The games are easy and convenient to play.
- They are friendly and lively.
- They offer social interaction, unlike most traditional computer games.
In many cases, a player on a social network is trying to kill a few minutes, and social-network-based games don’t require a significant time commitment to play or have complex rules like other online and video games.
In fact, social-network gamers use Farmville, Mafia Wars and Zynga Poker in the way that an earlier generation of people turned to solitaire in Windows.
Chethan Ramachandran, co-founder and CEO of gaming-analytics company Playnomics, said he generally agreed with the study, but thought it underemphasized the fact that social-network games are just plain attracting new players.
“Ease of access has translated into several new demographic groups playing games consistently," said Ramachandran. Most notably woman in the Midwest playing resource-management-style games like Farmville.”
Bonnie Ho, an analyst at Inside Network, which provides news, data and analysis on gaming, social networks and mobile apps, also points to how social games spread.
The best games spread virally, but social-game makers build heavy-handed marketing tactics directly into their products.
Facebook members may complain about all the Farmville status updates and other enticements in their feed, Ho says, but that strategy is vital to game success.
“Attitudes from social gamers towards this type of game design is fairly negative. But these mechanics are effective at driving virality as well as monetization,” Ho said. “As long as social gamers respond and convert in the way social-game designers want them to, social-gaming companies will continue to use them.”