2011 Will Be The Year Of Social Gaming

Bing promo on FarmVille

2010 was the coming out party for social gaming. 

From Mafia Wars to Wheel Of Fortune®, people of all ages have discovered the thrill of winning and collaborating while playing on Facebook. 

To the delight of many, this trend will continue to grow in 2011, expanding into new fun applications.  Social game fanatics, here are my predictions for what we’ll see in the coming months.

Who is the “Social Gamer?”

Previous data points to women, aged 25-54, as the key casual gaming demographic; but if 2010 taught us anything, it’s that the social gamer is everyone. 

Men, women, teens and grandparents, urban, suburban, working and unemployed; anyone looking to connect on a network has been found to play social games. 

And it really is just that, people looking to connect, play, compete and share with their friends.  With multiple platforms available to users, such as online and mobile, games are readily available to everyone, everywhere.

Branded Content Games Will Drive Numbers

People’s fascination with pop culture has proven to aggregate large groups of people on various social networks.  Leveraging those followings (Lady Gaga has 25,874,986 Facebook fans!) to create a critical mass of players for a game is a logical step for any company looking to increase its reach and exposure.  Celebrity branding, whether from a Golden Globe nominee or the latest reality television star, helps games break through the clutter on Facebook.  The endorsement empowers the celebrity to do their own promotion through a branded Twitter handle, Facebook page, website or talk show stint, leveraging their established fan base to drive traffic to the game. 

Similarly, time-honored media franchises, like Wheel Of Fortune, and beloved icons, like SCRABBLE®, bring a dedicated, familiar user base to branded social games.  While newer IP games such as FrontierVille (5,835,275 daily active users) have begun to expand, traditional brands found on Facebook will continue to thrive in 2011 because they are the games people know and love.  The viral nature of social networks capitalises on this phenomenon by continuously piquing users’ interests.  For example, if a friend is playing Deal or No Deal and it shows up in your mini-feed, the power of the brand may compel you to tryout a game you didn’t even know was available on Facebook.

Making Product Placement Social

Building on the success of branded content, many advertisers are entering the social game arena.  From McDonalds’ plant-watering blimp in Farmville to Honda’s shiny new billboards in Car Town, companies are getting savvy on where their customers are spending more and more of their free time.  There was a similar trend five years ago with the surge of “advergaming.”  While developing a specifically branded game or app is exciting at first blush, corporations will be better served by partnering with an established game through innovative app sponsorships and leveraging an established audience.  2011 will witness a number of integrated consumer brand and gaming partnerships, offering virtual currency, perks and product presence.  I also believe we will see several progressive companies leverage cause-marketing, such as playing a foundation-branded game on a larger network and let players broadcast their donations and good deeds across their friends’ mini-feeds.

Game Mechanics Take Hold of the Internet

Progressive new e-commerce businesses have taken a page from the book of gaming with the latest surge of coupon sites like Groupon and flash sale sites like Gilt.  The team effort concept (“30 people need to sign up for this deal for it to go live!”) and limited time flash sales are a direct result of the various mechanics developed for skill-based social games. “Social e-commerce” leveraging game mechanics will continue to develop in 2011 and we’ll even see new start-ups capitalising on those efforts.

2011 will be an exciting time for the social gaming industry following up on 2010’s coming out party.  New targets, avenues and ventures will keep audiences on the edge of their keyboards, social networks thriving and, the brands that innovate while leveraging consumers’ obsession with Facebook, will be the big winners.

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