Gaming pundits across the board have been looking at Zynga’s slow stock decline, as well as the ebb of its monthly user count, and wondering aloud whether social games are just a fad. Zynga just held a press conference this week and along with its own new gaming social network, announced FarmVille 2, which received a lukewarm reception from critics everywhere. So is it true that “social gaming” has already seen its peak?
First off, it’s important to note that “social games” pretty much refer to Facebook games at this point. Games like FarmVille, CityVille, Draw My Thing and Sims Social are slowly becoming available on other mediums, they were released first on Facebook and rely on a social graph to enhance their gameplay. This is the key element of today’s social games: use of the social graph to access a player’s friend for some sort of interaction. That said, at this point the interaction between players is pretty limited. It usually involves visiting their house/city/farm and performing some tasks, and both players receive bonuses for the action. This essential viral component is what separates a game like Sims Social from the Sims itself. There are other changes, but if you took out that social interaction, you’re really looking at a new version of the Sims that could launch on the Nintendo DS.
So is that era of simple “visit your friend” bonuses has grown stale? Are players tired of playing a single player game with basic social activity? That’s the question on many people’s minds ss they prognosticate on the future of Facebook games. I for one believe that the entire industry is going to have to take a collective breath as users become a bit tired of Facebook and Facebook games. Part of the attraction of the games was their novelty, and the novelty of playing on Facebook. I honestly can’t think of a single friend of mine that hasn’t played through a few games with friends, had some fun, gotten tired, and never gone back. Even games like Draw My Thing are finding their numbers taper off within months.
After the collective breath, I suspect that there will be a new brand of game which will need to be layered and accessible. It should be easy to get into the game within seconds, but once the player has played a few rounds, they detect the depth. And with the depth comes the social aspect. I look at iPad games for examples. Simple games have started to perform very well, but the leaderboard and competitive elements are still kind of weak – the Apple gamer ID is a bit vague, and I don’t even see any of my friends on the list. I suspect we’ll see Facebook improve their layout and app store so that it’s as obvious as the Apple App STore, and when you get an app, you just jump in as quickly as you can on Apple. Then you play a round, and at the end see your friend’s high scores.
Taking that friction out of the process and simplifying the games may represent a new wave of Facebook games that could be more action oriented like Rocket man or Angry Birds or Temple Run, and would still involve social interactions.
In any case, time will tell how the games will evolve. If it was easy to predict, I’d make the game myself, but the Facebook audience is fickle and vast. What do you think will be the next wave of social games?