The Rise and Rise of Social Gaming close

Matt Jukes
Matt Jukes
In Codegent News, Musings
3rd August 2010
The Rise and Rise of Social Gaming

It was only a couple of years ago, when we would get a brief a week to design & build a flash game. These simple games were designed to appeal to the casual gamer, a simple game the can dip into and out of, and share with their friends. Over the past year the market has changed, the “viral game” has remained the territory of the tech savvy, leaving the mainstream to be catered for in a whole new wave of viral social games.  What I am talking about here is the rise & rise of Farmville and how it fits into the life the consumer.

When I told my friends I was writing an article about Farmville, I was met with 2 responses. The first “If you take your iPhone out to water your crops, while we are in the pub, Consider yourself no longer my friend” and the second “Have you got the limited edition silver rainbow baby sheep, which gets your double XP points?... I can send one to you”.  This ‘Marmite’ reaction to Social Gaming is brought on by what is at its core; playing a game, and getting your friends involved. This is seen as negative by the social media “creators” as it’s easy to have your Facebook news feed polluted by the constant “calls to action”  to receive gifts from your friends playing a game that you aren’t.  But it is this emphasis on getting your friends involved has lead to Farmville makers Zynga notching up 235 million users of their games per month, with 65 million coming back every day.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past couple of years and aren’t part of that 235 million.  Farmville is a game which is built on the Facebook platform, which has become a social network unto itself.  In this game you can build & tend a virtual farm, doing everything from sowing virtual crops, to rearing virtual animals, to building virtual barns. Users spend their Farmville coins on crops which they can sow,  wait a couple of hours then come back to harvest & sell the crop for which you are paid in Farmville Cash, to repeat the process all over again

But what happens if you want to buy something you don’t have enough Farmville coins for?” I hear you ask... Well this is where Farmville will convert your hard earned and very real Great British Pounds into virtual Farmville coins.  This transaction is currently earning Zynga $1million a day.  Zynga is forecasting to turn over $450m in 2010, this puts Zynga in second position of PayPal’s largest merchant list only behind eBay. The Farmville economy has grown so much that now, more virtual tractors are bought every day than there are real tractors in the U.S.

Facebook are making sure they get their share of the pie, not just by scraping 30% of the top of transactions for these virtual goods, but by accepting almost $100m in facebook ads from Zynga to Advertise its game.

But who are the people spending so much time and money playing these virtual games? The demographic from the game developers shows an even spread of ages, with a slight skew towards female. It is these figures that game developers would like us to believe as they suggest that social games are played by everyone. The anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that this audience’s can be grouped together as passive users of social networks. To these users, social networks aren’t about the usual sharing content with their friends. They aren’t updating their status or engaging conversations. To this audience, Farmville IS social networking. They only really communicate their friends via the game, to send them free gifts… and get their friends to help them to the next level. Farmville has saved this audience for Facebook. Now that their initial interesting in snooping what their friends from high school are doing now has worn off Facebook offers them nothing without social games like Farmville

With so many Farmville users, brands are chopping at the bit (all puns intended) to get involved. The most interesting has come in the shape of Organic food maker “Cascadian Farm” who sell fresh blueberries throughout Canada. They have placed branded blueberry seeds into the Farmville Market so users to buy & grow their own “Cascadian Farm” Blueberries. I haven’t been able to find any stats to prove that these in game sales have effected real sales of blueberries, and I would be keen to know how effective this brand communication is (If anyone has any more information on this campaign please drop us a line in the comments below.)(

A whole host of other brands from Lovefilm to O2, who want to target this market but don’t have products which can be placed into a virtual farm, are now offering Farmville money as a bolt on for the services they are selling. For example when you buy a monthly Lovefilm subscription you can receive 89 Farmville Coins.  Will this style of Bolt on get me to change my mind and switch my mobile contract from T-mobile to O2, or is this just a nice little extra to sweeten the deal? Once again I would like to see the stats and figures on the effectiveness of this style of promotion.

One thing is for sure; with $1.6 billion estimated to be spent on virtual goods this year, the Virtual Economy is expanding at a radical rate. The answers to these questions are going to become more important to both brands and government...can you tax virtual goods?