Frisky Mongoose: Why Do We Play Social Games?

I think it’s a bit harsh to say that social gamers are “weird”, as Newsweek recently put it… But you have to dig a little deeper than face(book) value to understand the attraction of playing casual games with actual friends on the (social) web.

In the end, it all boils down to the fact that people like playing games with their friends, and the Facebook platform allows new audiences to enjoy a “gaming community” atmosphere in a familiar setting (Facebook) with people they know, and games they can learn to play easily and that don’t require a large time investment to enjoy (social gamers are busy)!

It’s more fun to beat your friends than strangers, and social games can even lead to better connections with Facebook friends you don’t know very well, or otherwise wouldn’t have a chance/reason to interact with on a regular basis.

I talked about the benefits of social gaming in a presentation (and white paper on social media) last year, and while the landscape has obviously changed a lot in the past twelve months, the core principles remain the same:

View more presentations from Kate Hancock.

What is social gaming anyway? Well besides the definitions offered in the (above) presentation, here’s one way to explain it – I call this Kate’s Social Game Recipe for Success: The formula for developing social game success is rather simple, if you can master step one…

STEP 1: Make a fun and original game. Once it’s ready…
STEP 2: Launch and promote the daylights out of it, via social network sites.
STEP 3: Hook players and offer gameplay with distinct incentives to return to the game (i.e fish dies, pet runs away, crops wither, etc.)
STEP 4: Urge and remind players to interact with their “neighbors” (i.e. free gifts, fertilizer, etc.)
STEP 5: Encourage and incentivize the “need” for players to invite more friends to join (i.e. earn ribbons, park visitors, etc.)
STEP 6: Continuously update the game with new items to keep players interested and to keep gameplay fresh.

Okay, so we play social games because they’re fun and stuff… but why did anyone ever decide to make such a silly-sounding thing in the first place, and why are so many companies trying to get into social game development ASAP?

If you watch the trends in social media and online gaming, it’s easy to see how the idea of a “social game” came about, and for that matter, why developers would want to devote time and energy to creating social games… LOTS and LOTS of people play them. And some (a small portion) of those people spend REAL money on VIRTUAL goods to use in social games. All those $5 and $10 account credits add up, and when you multiply:

The amount of money serious social gamers are willing to shell out
(*) The meteorically growing number of people who play games on Facebook and MySpace
= A whole lotta dough

What do you think? The social gaming landscape is like a giant snowball right now, growing rapidly and much faster than most people would have ever imagined. You can define a “social game” in a million different ways, but no matter how you size it up, what parameters, formats, requirements or platforms you play, expect and love – games are always more fun when they’re social.

It’s an absolutely intriguing time to work in the gaming industry, and to watch the social games sector develop into a massive, stand-alone space in the high-tech, high-fun business of video games. I’d love to hear what you think about the psychology and business behind social games – why do you play and how would you monetize it?

This article was originally published on Frisky Mongoose.