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Google+ Games: Analysis and Opportunities

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In mid-August, Google announced the launch of Google+ games integrated directly into the search giant’s new social network. Silicon Valley consensus is that Google is finally making a direct attack at Facebook and that company’s commanding lead over social networking; the inclusion of social games, which comprise much of Facebook’s own user activity, seems confirmation of that strategy.

Ted Simon of Kabam, one of the developers in Google+ game’s pilot launch, told SocialTimes Pro the company’s so far seen a promising response by Google+ users to its complex strategy games with a deep social focus:

“Based on early returns, we’re pleased with how things are going so far for our two titles on Google+ games, Edgeworld and Dragons of Atlantis,” Simon told us. “Those are both hardcore social games, not casual games, and Google+ gamers are responding to them well. That’s an indicator that members of our primary audience, core gamers, are residing on this platform.”

As Altimeter’s Jeremiah Owyang sees it, Google+ is an opportunity for game developers simply by being a relatively large social network: “All social profiles are key for game developers, as they can tap into existing networks for increased ability for login and registration,” he told SocialTimes Pro. “Secondly, by using existing friend networks they can increase the chance of content, scoreboards, leaderboards, and sharing of virtual goods.”

In the estimation of comScore’s Andrew Lipsman, Google+ will need about 20% total market penetration to establish itself sufficiently and grow organically. “[Once] a site reaches 20% penetration in the U.S. for example,” he explained to SocialTimes Pro, “the network effects tend to strengthen and propel it higher.” (Lipsman noted that Facebook, and before it MySpace only, reached critical mass upon reaching this level of market penetration.) “That means 35 or 40 million users in the U.S.”

According to comScore, Google+ had about 6 million monthly U.S. uniques at the end of July. So while Google+ is showing strong growth in its early months, it will probably still need tens of millions more in the U.S. alone, before becoming an attractive platform for game developers.

Flurry’s Jeferson Valadares did offer cautious advice for developers interested in Google+: “I think if you manage to get support from Google it might be worth taking a chance,” he told us. For those developers who do wish to pursue this opportunity, Valadares had this recommendation: “Be ready to figure out monetization for yourself since Google Checkout penetration is not particularly high,” he told us. Related to this (and based on Flurry’s analysis of iOS and Android app monetization), Valadares recommended that Google game developers “not rely 100% on Google Checkout and to find out alternative ways of making revenue such as Trialpay or find some other payment providers in parallel.”

What’s incumbent on Google, Will Harbin, CEO of leading hardcore social game developer Kixeye, told us, is this: “They need to prove they have traction that makes it worth our while… Meanwhile, life as a game developer on the browser and Facebook is quite good.” He went on to argue that for his company at least, Facebook’s 30% commission on revenue is more than compensated for by the social network’s large user base. “We didn’t see any change in revenue [since switching to Facebook Credits].” Harbin added that the company has been increasing month-over-month in revenue, even with Facebook’s 30% take.

At the moment, Google+ has no key market differentiator to Facebook, in great part because it has branded itself as a network for real names and identities, which is also the core branding identity of Facebook. This cedes enormous advantage to Facebook and, in SocialTimes Pro’s view, misses a tremendous market opportunity: To become the social network that can also appeal to all those who wish to share content with the many individuals in their extended, Internet-based social circles, via hundreds of millions of pseudonymous identities. By a very rough estimate, there are about 200 million of these in the West alone, a great many from Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms, and perhaps as many associated with gaming platforms, such as the online service Steam (30 million) and virtual world games such as Habbo Hotel, Gaia Online, IMVU, and Second Life (25 million+). Allowing and enabling pseudonymous identities would give Google+ a unique value proposition distinct from Facebook. And, because so many pseudonymous identities are associated with online games, such an offering could greatly increase interest and engagement with Google+ games in particular.

Purchase the rest of this report here.

REPORT: How Free-to-Play iOS Game Developers Thrive in a Market Forecast to Be 200M by 2012

High Noon iPhone MMO

Many of the most successful iOS games are not sold by big name publishers like Electronic Arts. Rather, they’re from smaller developers and are not even sold at all, but given away in the App Store’s Free section, earning their revenue via in-app payments. Flurry, a mobile app analytics company, recently reported that of the Top 100 grossing iOS games this June, 65% were freemium. This analysis is consistent with data samples taken from AppData.com, Inside Network’s service that tracks app and developer leaderboards. On a recent day, for example, 15 of the top 25 grossing iOS apps were free (and 8 of 10 paid apps were just priced at $0.99.)

What’s more, the total market for freemium iOS games is poised to rapidly grow. It’s currently 75-150 million, and forecast to reach 200 million by 2012. That forecast comes from Jeferson Valadares, GM of games, at Flurry. “The total iOS base now exceeds 300M devices,” he explained to SocialTimes Pro. “We assume that at least a quarter to half of those play freemium games, as games are the most popular category on iOS, and freemium games are the most popular form of gaming. If Apple continues to grow daily activations of iOS devices at 350,000 per day (a conservative estimate based on recently released Apple numbers) over the next two years, then they will add approximately 90 million new devices each year for the next two years. If we assume a quarter of those users will play freemium games, then the market will add over 50 million new freemium gamers over the next two years.”

What kind of games are succeeding in this new ecosystem? SocialTimes Pro talked with two leading developers about the secrets behind their high grossing titles:

Reminiscent of FarmVille with strategy elements, in The Playforge’s Zombie Farm, the player must harvest zombies like they were crops, and then send them to attack neighbors. Since launching 17 months ago, the company reports the game has attracted over 12 million downloads and monthly active users in the millions, The Playforge VP and general manager Thomas Chung told us.

The best strategy for increasing in-app purchases? For The Playforge, said Chung, “[it] has been to seed users with virtual currency and tutorializing them how to spend it.” In fact, he told us, the company gives away six times as much virtual currency as they actually sell.

High Noon is an extremely popular iOS game which mixes first-person shooter and MMO elements with innovative gameplay that uses the iPhone’s internal accelerometer. According to the developer, it currently has about 1 million monthly active users and 250,000 daily active users. It’s performed well in many countries and, in 2010, was the top 10 grossing game of the year in 60+ countries, according to Apple Rewind.

Developed by Beijing-based Happylatte, managing director Bjørn Stabell told SocialTimes Pro that social media is not very important to their monetization rates: “We do leverage Facebook Connect and Apple Game Center to find friends,” as Stabell put it, “but the game is mainly viral through word-of-mouth and in the real world; the funky controls for holstering and reloading makes the very act of playing the game essentially an ad for the game and acts as a good conversation starter.”

Read more about monetizing free-to-play iOS games in the latest SocialTimes Pro report.

Report: Mobile Social Gamers Are Younger Than Other Gamers

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Flurry, a smartphone application analytics and monetization platform, recently released a study pertaining to social and traditional gamers. According to the study, the video gaming industry is currently transitioning; no longer are gamers between the traditional age range of 18-34. What has happened to the gaming industry over the years to make this transition, and how can we take advantage of this new direction?

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