When I tell people I work in the online-gaming industry for Spil Games, I come across many misconceptions. Online games have changed a lot in recent years, and many of the views that people have about them are no longer correct. I would like to give my view on some of these misconceptions, based on publicly available figures and internal facts and figures from Spil Games.
1. Gaming is a waste of time and is bad for kids.
This is something I hear often but totally disagree with. I believe there is a creative and educational layer in many games, but of course this doesn’t mean that kids should play all the time. I have two kids myself and find that online games help their development. It’s important that children also play outside and do sports. They can also play online games, but they should only play for short periods of time. Research shows that kids aged 3 should play for a maximum of 10 minutes per day and 6-year-olds should not be online for more than 30 minutes a day. If children stick within these parameters, games can be very beneficial. Kids can gain a lot from games, such as learning about teamwork—and their in-game achievements can help to build up self-confidence.
2. Online casual gaming is addictive.
Yes, gaming can be very addictive. This is evident when looking at hardcore games like World of Warcraft. Online casual games, however, are a different ballgame. When people play for 15 minutes a day on our sites, can you say that our games are addictive? The games on our platforms are designed to offer a fun, relaxing experience.
3. Only housewives and unemployed people play online social games.
Everybody plays games. It’s become a mainstream activity. Just look at the number of people playing Cityville on Facebook—it has tens of millions of monthly active users—or the volume of players visiting the many gaming platforms across the web. One of Spil Games’ core audiences is actually young girls aged 8 to 12. We also see a lot of families playing together and an even an increasing number of grandparents who play games. Of Spil’s 130 million unique monthly users, there are of course lots of housewives and unemployed people, but they certainly don’t account for the majority of our users.
4. Online social gaming = World of Warcraft.
For several years the most played game in the world was World of Warcraft, a ‘hardcore’ MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game). I personally love the game. It’s still very profitable but it takes a lot of time to play. An MMORPG is a form of social gaming, but social gaming is much more than a multiplayer game. Social games can be played for a much shorter period of time, without swords or other weapons and in a less violent setting. We often compare online casual gaming to the perfect snack: it’s free, fun, and entertaining. People play most of our social games during their lunch breaks (between 12 and 2pm), after work or school (4pm), and at night after 9pm. People don’t play social games for hours like World of Warcraft players do—the average time that girls spend on our platforms is about 11 minutes per session. Very different to the hours of gameplay that many MMORPG players put in every day!
5. You can only play real games on consoles.
There’s nothing wrong with consoles; I have an Xbox 360 and love to play games on it with my kids. But gaming is much more than console games. According to ComScore (Dec 2010), 1.3 billion people are online, and 510 million of them play online games. That’s considerably higher than the number of consoles being sold, so most people never play games on consoles. The quality of online games has improved tremendously over the years, and many of the traditional console games are now available online as well. You don’t need consoles anymore for a great gaming experience.
6. Girls are not real gamers.
In the games industry girls are often a neglected target group; it’s a misconception that boys play online games but girls prefer to play with dolls. On Spil Games’ social-gaming platform for girls (including GirlsgoGames.com), we have 30 million unique visitors every month. They may be playing in a pink environment and many of their favourite games are about horses or dress up, but if we look at our statistics we can see that they are very competitive and engaged. They’ve created millions of avatars and saved millions of their in-game creations on their personal profiles. And believe it or not, girls actually love racing games!
7. People don’t want to pay for virtual items.
I hear this argument a lot less since games offering virtual goods, like Farmville, became so popular, but some people still seem to think that only a few people actually pay in games. The world of virtual items is booming, and we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of daily transactions in our games. And not only that, but game developer Playfish also announced that its games generate 90 million virtual goods transactions every single day. That’s nine times the 10 million items for sale on eBay at any given time on any given day.
8. Online gaming is not the right choice for advertisers.
Online gaming has become one of the biggest sources of entertainment in media over the past couple of years. Not only do lots of people play games, but they are also highly engaged. Our research shows that 83% of our users are open to online advertising, and the more relevant the ads the better. Ads should not be intrusive, but should enhance the gaming experience rather than disrupt it.
Mobile start-up Kiip just launched a successful HTML5 platform for advertisers, enhancing user experience and successfully showing that advertisers also see the potential of relevant ads The possibilities extend far beyond traditional banners: think about branded games for example, or sponsored items inside games. I think online gaming is one of the best choices out there for advertisers, especially if they are willing to try new ways of advertising.
9. Online games are only big in the Western world.
Online games are big everywhere and are growing fastest outside the Western world, especially because you don’t need a fast broadband connection to play online games. As proof of this, China is likely to be the biggest market for online games by 2014. In order to get big in non-Western countries, you have to localise your sites. Spil Games’ platforms are localised in up to 19 different languages, many of which are non-Western languages. But localizing goes way beyond simply translating the game text. Rather, it offers users an experience that is tailored to their culture. Spil’s India sites, for example, have more cricket games than their US counterparts, and our success there shows online gaming is global and works in all cultures.
10. Mobile games are best played through apps.
I Initially believed that apps would be the future of mobile gaming because of their superior user experience. However, if developers decide to make apps they have to make different apps for all kinds of phones. For a long time there was no real alternative to native apps, especially because browser-based Flash games don’t run on the iPhone.
But then HTML5 started to grow and many game developers made their first games using that programming language. The big advantage is that HTML5 games run on every smartphone in a browser. No need for different versions of one game anymore. And because HTML5 engines are getting a lot better, games also improve. Many HTML5 games are not as good as apps yet, but for an increasing number of games (especially social games) you get the same quality in HTML5 as in an app. And these games even look like apps, but you don’t need to download them and can just play them in your browser. We believe, just like the people at Facebook, that HTML5 is the future of mobile gaming—not apps.