What social gamers look like

 Posted by (Visited 8804 times)  Game talk
Feb 172010

All these come from a study sponsored by PopCap (PDF), for game players in the UK and US. (GigaOM has an article here: Average Social Gamer Is a 43-Year-Old Woman – GigaOM).

  • There’s around 100m social game players
  • 24% of US and UK Internet users play social games at least once a week
  • Slightly more women than men
  • Average age of 43
  • Only 6% of them are 21 and younger
  • They’re not all housewives: 41% of them work full time, and only 11% are homemakers.
  • 2/3 of them also play other sorts of games — casual or hardcore.
  • And if they, do they spend more time on the social games than on the casual or hardcore games
  • And they’re stuck: more than half have been playing for a year.
  • A third play more than once a day
  • 2/3 of them play over an hour a week — 12% report over 10 hours.
  • And they report that their social game playtime is increasing
  • For half of them, it’s why they use Facebook at all.
  • And also, half of them say it’s very unlikely they will spend real money

  24 Responses to “What social gamers look like”

  1. I wonder what is considered “playing” when it comes to some social games. Do you really count an hour, when in reality you spent 10 minutes playing and 50 minutes talking to your Facebook buddies?

  2. Most of these social games don’t have chat. A high level Farmville farm — say you’re maxed out — requires over 1500 individual clicks of the mouse just to do the harvesting, plowing, and planting for one crop cycle.

    So the answer is, they are playing.

  3. Not to add fuel. but the wife plays and id say most of her time is watching it either load or just watching the actions play out. flash games still have lotsa loading…. not a lot of social interaction.

    however if were talking pogo. thats a social nightmare. its like barrens chat but worse… av chat? trade chat….

  4. Its easy to be dismissive of the ‘play’ element in the current leading social games. It certainly takes a back seat to the viral and monetization aspects of those games. But games they are in a bottom scraping way.

    I covered some of the points in an old blog post of mine Grindville – population 74 million Monthly Active Users when an Inside Social Games article really flipped a nerve with me.

    Some of the points above are interesting, like the second last point, that for half the users, social games are their only reason to use facebook. The viral elements of Social Games are so spammy that there is an intrinsic alienation effect: Your notifications are overloaded with Social Game notifications that you miss details of your real friends. Your real friends are busy hiding all of the game posts to your feeds that they may miss out on your occasional real post.

    There is no way to partition your real social network from the swarm of social gamers that you meet through various connection services. So if your friends look through your friends list, they get to see some ‘interesting people’.

    ‘Social Game’ is probably the wrong term by far.

  5. There are a couple of takeaways you could get out of these numbers.

    I think the path of least resistance is, we should make social games. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

    But the more challenging and potentially more rewarding path is this; we should find ways to make MMOs more inviting for this huge potential audience. And ideally, we should do it without dumbing down what we’ve already got and alienating existing players.

    Is that possible? Hint: it’s already happened. In UO, I can think of two or three members of my guild who never fought – no monsters, no players, nothing. They opted out of the monster-bashing/player-bashing game entirely and focused on making stuff, whether they were grinding potions or building entire communities. UO’s structure and mechanics made this possible — you were never forced to fight for resources, you didn’t have to level up a combat class to reach rare nodes, your crafting ability was not gated by an arbitrary character level requirement. Players could build establishments and towns that could be stumbled upon by other players out wandering; they didn’t have to be sought out in a particular instanced zone.

    Give players the tools, systems and rewards for playing the social game, and then find ways to effectively market to social players. You’ll gain a core of creative, invested players that will keep your game running long past the point where most achievers have moved on to newer eye candy.

  6. @Yukon Sam:
    I have been thinking along the same lines as yourself – you can have co-operative MMO like Facebook social games. Clearly you will have to dispense with a lot of the UX/Graphical immersion, but co-operative world games could be quite interesting.

    I have thought quite a bit that an economics type game could work quite well under the constraints of a social network. Kingdom of Loathing had a player economy, Gifting is quite established in most social games too. There is something to work with here.

  7. In the new market, if you even believe in the concept of “dumbing down” as part of your design vocabulary, you’re already in trouble. I’d say “making more accessible to more people”. If I were the designer of Chess, and I wanted to make a version to reach a broader audience “keeping it just as intellectually challenging” would not be part of my agenda.

    Some of the what appeals to the broader audience is the opposite of what appeals to hardcore gamers. A game you can play in minutes a day, in some cases games that you CAN’T play for hours a day because you only have a few things to do? That’s great for the people who don’t want to sign up for the 300 hour epic RPG. A game where you don’t have to think hard to make the best move? Awesome, no need to feel dumb or inferior to the “top players”! No losing, or getting your stuff stolen by other players, just steady small doses of getting more and more goodies. That’s what millions of people WANT.

    Me, I’d like to put some genuine socializing in there. Actual conversation. But I don’t know if there’s room for that in that market segment, I guess time will tell. MySpace and Facebook are the dawning of the “post-conversational era”. Poke poke, anyone?

  8. Oh, and this bullet point is worded wrong:

    “And also, half of them say it’s very unlikely they will spend real money”

    I would have said “And also, an amazing 50% of them wouldn’t rule out the possibility of spending real money”.

    That’s a huge percentage!

  9. @Yukon,

    I’ve been trying to get that game funded for the past eight years. We’re closer than we’ve ever been to securing the funding but the current publishers will drive the WoW model into the ground before they realize that there’s an entire large market segment that could be introduced to the AAA MMO with a little gameplay innovation. Unfortunately UO’s ganking, EQ’s success and then WoW’s success killed more innovation in the AAA MMO market than it helped. Now, if that complex and deep game you describe could be built for $500K to $1M total, launch to revenue, it’s easy to fund. I could raise that money tomorrow. In recent years Facebook and the iPhone have done more damage to raising AAA game funding than anything else. There’s too many stories of investing $30K – $100K in a game and making millions which makes the idea of investing $30M in a game to make $100’s of millions a far stretch. Investors forget that the Facebook market is saturated with wannabes and the iPhone market has a price ceiling of $.99 – $1.99 per copy. Investors forget that the vast majority of these endeavors are chasing the same market so building a WoW like game and adding piles of social features to it isn’t something they understand or more likely isn’t something they’re willing to throw $30 – $50M at just to see if it works. At least not while there are still far cheaper alternatives coming out of the iPhone and Facebook worlds.

    UO in 3D, unless it’s Garriot or Koster or Molyneux or Wright asking for the money is probably never going to happen before the WoW model is driven into the ground and no longer profitable.

  10. Let me put it this way. When the new, mass market players introduced to MMO games through WoW and through Farmville eventually grok the pattern of gameplay in those games, where will they go? If you’ve read and believe what Raph’s book says, then you’ll see there’s not a real chess game in the market to WoW’s checkers. There’s only more checkers clones. The same is true for Facebook games. Once you’ve figured out Farmville, there’s no real evolved game to progress to, just alternate Farmville clones.

    Both leave a huge gap in the market that noone is addressing with an announced product because everyone’s too busy copying what came before or building a sequel to what they’ve already done.

  11. I see the same thing. The game players of FB are isolated from the mainstream conversation as fast as people learn how to hide those posts. I see regular requests to learn how to hide them. I see lots of complaints about them.

    One wonders if there is a tipping point where the housewife players begin to realize they’ve been shut out and it the game has more stickiness than the conversation.

  12. The great thing about being a mere player is that you can sit back and dictate to designers what they ought to do, without worrying about little matters like how to pay for it.

    That said, I’m surprised that a fusion of the tried-and-true AAA MMO model with the fast-growing and profitable social game model is such a hard sell (except to the extent that EVERYTHING is a hard sell in the current economy). It seems to me that it would be a strong pitch.

    And the nature of social games ought to make them easy to integrate into existing titles. There’s no reason you couldn’t buy an instanced farm in a fantasy MMO and play a Farmville clone for fun or profit (LotRO already has a simple farming system). What happens if you link that game system into Facebook so it can be played either from the MMO or the (simplified) Facebook interface? Could you leverage a Facebook minigame in such a way as to invigorate the player economy, provide a communication channel between Facebook users and the MMO players, and market the game itself?

    Or take something like Cafe World, give it a medieval makeover, and align the 2D Flash architecture to a 3D building in the MMO so it’s two different views of the same virtual space. Now you’ve got a tavern owned and operated by somebody who’s totally into the tavern minigame and not fretting that she’s tending bar while the rest of the guild is off raiding.

    I’m just brainstorming, and I’m sure these aren’t breathtakingly original storms either. I just don’t buy that you have to always design to the lowest common denominator — I think you can have simplicity and accessibility at the top layer of a deep, sophisticated and complex design… and that players who are so inclined (like social gamers) can particpate in just that top layer without feeling unduly marginalized.

  13. That stuff is what has motivated the huge changes that Facebook is making to their interface. Basically, the games are getting hidden away, and no one will see those messages without seeking them out.

  14. Farmville in an MMORPG would be great. And so also with any other of the same sort of thing.

    Social participation is the next huge step, in my opinion. But not by forcing it, it needs to be done so it’s desirable to players of that mind set. And it needs to be done so that it meshes with the rest of the game, not as a separate mini game, so that it has purpose and is a part of the big picture.

    I’ve followed Derek Licciardi’s game for years. In talking on the forums, there’s been many times that they said something in a response that opened my eyes to a new possibility. Possibilities that answer the problems that UO and other MMOs had and still have. All those things that many have said over the years can’t be done, they can be. There are answers.

    At least, I think I’m on the same page as they are, can’t ever be certain since they won’t reveal all their secrets. But all those times I said to myself, “wow, if they do that it solves that problem, and then they can also do this, and this, and this, and it solves these other problems they talked about too.”

    And Derek, you don’t know how many times over the years I’ve had to bite my tongue while arguing with other gamers (developers too) about the possibilities, because I don’t want to betray your goals. (Assuming I’ve guessed your ideas correctly.)

    If anyone out there has an interest and a means to help Derek get funding, please, do us all a favor and give him an ear. I think his game would be the next big revolution. It’s literally got it all. It’s UO extrapolated into something that actually works, then enhanced into something that hasn’t been done before, and in ways that are proven to be wanted by many gamers from different arenas. But it’s not something that can be done cheaply.

    And sorry, Raph, I don’t know if you want someone on here promoting a specific game idea like this. This should be long enough of a post to await an ok, giving you a chance to not allow it if you choose.

  15. @ Yukon

    I’m just brainstorming, and I’m sure these aren’t breathtakingly original storms either. I just don’t buy that you have to always design to the lowest common denominator — I think you can have simplicity and accessibility at the top layer of a deep, sophisticated and complex design… and that players who are so inclined (like social gamers) can particpate in just that top layer without feeling unduly marginalized.

    I totally agree. A game can be extremely complex. But that doesn’t mean that a player’s participation needs to be also.

  16. How do you convince the current 60 million Farmville players that having a real time MMO shell around their farm would make it “more fun”? A hardcore gamer will jump at that proposition in a heartbeat ’cause they like MMOs, but I’m not convinced the “random average people” wouldn’t stay away in droves and just keep playing Farmville (and clones). If you wanted to pitch me, you’d need a lot more details of what the value proposition is for the average farmville player – what else they’d be doing besides what they do now, and why I should be convinced they’d love it. *I* love it but I don’t think they would, unless you designed something very innovative that most MMORPGs simply don’t have yet.

  17. I’d also say that if something has innovative enough gaming/social mechanics to bring in Big New Money, as opposed to selling based on having $10 million to $50 million worth of art and animation… Build the $500K to $1 million version of that gameplay, then build it up from there. If you have so many mechanics you can’t make a functional version on $1 million, you haven’t focused your thinking enough on what’s your real core value proposition to the player, and what’s “non-essential additional stuff in my design”. Especially in this market.

  18. Dr. Cat, you are not going to convince the majority of that 60 million to jump into an MMORPG.

    Would 1% (600,000) be an interesting start? I have no idea what percent, but some of those people are going to desire a richer, fuller, more compete world.

  19. […] Koster posted What social gamers look like, which reports on a study that PopCap sponsored to identify the profile of the typical player of […]

  20. I suppose technically my wife is a social gamer as she plays some sort of farming game on the Japanese Mixi. She’s addicted!

  21. There’s still room for more hardcore games, and I hope there always will be as I’m a hardcore gamer. And I’m sure they don’t have to be WoW style MMORPGs and that other new styles of MMOs will still arrive and succeed in the future.

    But if you’re looking for 600K players who want something more involving than Farmville – is 1% of Facebook the right place to look? Or should you be seeking 10-20% of the people in some more hardcore gaming group/location/site? I don’t know for sure, but I think that’s worth asking.

  22. Dr. Cat…well yeah. I would think the idea would be to attract players from the existing MMO gamers as well as new gamers from sources like Farmville.

    From everything I can see, there is a very large player base out there who are tired of the current meaningless grind. That grind is tailored to heavy powergamers, who coincidentally have been also the primary avid posters on gaming message boards until the last year or so.

    This group of gamers are ripe for the picking. They’re open to something new as long as it’s not the same thing. They keep going back to WoW because the latest releases have been the same thing.

    I think that a game that changes game play from “the grind” of levelling in a meaningless world to a world where you can do things in the world, like farming, like brewing and running a tavern, like building a social or economic foundation, this kind of game will attract a very good number from both the existing MMO gamers as well as the newer Facebook crowd.

    Add in warfare and politics and city building and assets in a system that’s really robust, and do it right, and you can also attract a number of the “Civilization” type gamers.

    It would be a large effort, and cost a load. But it’s possible to draw gamers from a wide range of existing games that are new to the MMO scene, on top of existing MMOers.

  23. And while we were debating, Big Fish Games linked Faunasphere to Facebook. The Flash-based game is not the most expansive MMO out there, but it has all the elements of an MMO (though some are rudimentary). And it’s an MMO whose base demographic aligns more with social gamers than with the typical MMO player profile.

    If one were inclined to reinvent the wheel, I’m betting you could recreate UO (or something very close to it) in that same little Flash window. And with the numbers of Facebook behind it… mmmmmmm, revenge is a dish best served fros-teeee.

  24. I’ll tell you right now, if UO type game was recreated circa 97-99 timeline on Facebook the results would be enormous. The game touched on aspects of mmorpgs that no other company has touched.

    These popular facebook games show graphics isn’t everything. Content, community and mechanics rule supreme.

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