Social Gaming Here To Stay...

Mainstream, conventional gaming has been a household hit with consumers since the 70's. In recent years though, it has seen sales free fall year on year - with many high street retailers feeling the brunt, the likes of GAME, Gamestation and HMV have all recently seen the administrators knocking at the door

Though mainstream gaming popularity is falling, social gaming is on the rise. Zynga, creators of both Farmville and Mafia Wars, (two of the biggest Facebook games) is now worth more than conventional games publisher EA - with a net worth that stands at a staggering $5.51 billion. Needless to say, social is doing something right.

Which now leaves a million dollar question; how can mainstream games tap into the social market? 

The Issue

Mainstream gaming over the years, graphically and in functionality, has improved massively. Lets face it, it was only 30 years ago we were amazed by the site of two rectangles hitting a square back and forth a screen. So, the issue doesn't lie with a worsening of content but the lack of extended engagement beyond the console - a role that social media regularly plays in our lives daily.

Well why not just play the games for longer? A valid point in an ideal world, but let's face it, it would be impractical no matter what type of life you lead. Simple things like the weekend are over, you are back to work or there is food shopping to be done. This leads to another issue in mainstream gaming, the human connection. If there is no time to invest in a game, then human emotion' and a much needed connection to the video games industry is being lost.

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This again opens the door to social media playing a larger part. You only need to take a look at how many people are playing games via social media to realise how mainstream games could use it to their advantage. Here are some numbers:

  • - Farmville -  70 million monthly active users
  • - SongPop - 20 million monthly active users 
  • - Mafia Wars - 8 million monthly active users

The Future?

It may seem that it's easy to point the finger and say 'this is what you should be doing' and it perhaps is naive to believe that conventional, mainstream game companies haven't already spotted this opportunity. Like any good 'Blue Peter' host would say "Here is one I made earlier..."

The NBA 2K series is an american franchise that brings its audience a yearly dose of NBA basketball action. Their latest offering, NBA 2K13 - is in every way what you expect from a sport franchise. You have the latest teams, the latest kit and the chance to put yourself into the game, or MyPlayer mode; as it is called.

It's this mode that draws the attention of social media. A brief introduction to MyPlayer goes like this:

"Build your MyPLAYER by giving him signature skills, and acquire your very own custom animations using Virtual Currency (VC). Includes all-new GM sit-down feature, new endorsement paths, improved in-game AI, and all-new swag including casual clothing, equipment, custom shoes and much more" 

Description from 2K Sports

The crux of this game mode all lies in it's own Virtual Currency (VC). A carrot that is dangled in front of users to offer exclusive content or to just make your player the next Michael Jordan. In fact without large amounts of VC, your player will find life playing the game very tough indeed.

This is where the social side of the game awaits with open arms. 2K has developed two additional games where the main prize is their highly sort after VC. With the opportunity to add large amounts of currency it will find users engaging with the game on a whole new level.

2K delivers MyNBA2K, a mobile app with a selection of mini games and NBA 2K: My Life, a Facebook game that takes utilises a 'Farmville-style' approach.

As mentioned the MyNBA2K mobile game, delivers a range of mini-games; from practising shooting (in a freakishly reminiscent game style seen in Angry Birds) to using the touch screen to sign your own name (its a megalomaniacs dream).

Each of these tasks earns you VC that gets added to your in game account and voila just like that you're instantly engaging with the game as you sit idly on a train to work. What is even better for users is using the mobile and the Facebook games gives you VC in a quicker and easier way than in game. The amount you can earn in 3 minutes on the social games would equate to over 3 hours of console game time.

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It will be no surprise that the Facebook offering The NBA 2K: My Life, gives you a sense of deja-vu. Again players connect to their console game account to play for - you guessed it - more VC!

The game, though addictive isn't the best game Facebook has to offer, but it's enough to keep users connected to the games beyond the console and does a good job of keeping users active in the 2K world.

NBA: MyLife currently has 50,000 daily active users. This clearly shows NBA 2K13 is doing a great job of keeping the user playing beyond the console. In terms of sales, in it's first week it posted a franchise record with an increase of over 49 per cent on the previous record. A large part of this success is down to the social games contribution keeping users engaged with the brand. With the fan base growing through the game, next year should see that record fall again. Something which should make any game developer stand up and take notice.

It may seem like a small step, with just one game expanding across platform, but it is a step in the right direction. Social gaming is a massive market with some already big numbers being posted and hopefully mainstream gaming's history and innovation can help take social gaming to the next level. In the future, expect to see a lot more games crossing from console to Facebook etc. If you know of any mainstream games moving into the social market let us know. For better or for worse?

I want to know your thoughts on the matter.

Is it a good thing social games are so popular? Is there room for both industries to grow?

Do you think there should be more cross-platform gaming? Or is this just a gimmick that will die out?

And finally, have you seen any other good examples of what NBA 2K13 is doing?

This post is written by Studio Manager Will Gray