We were interested to read comments yesterday from Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, in which he suggests that “figuring out how to make the game experience more fun than any one of a hundred Facebook applications is going to be a challenge”. Not least because they come hot on the heels of views expressed by EA’s Kathy Vrabeck earlier this month on the impact of social networking – “Many of the games we make in 2020 won’t look like games and maybe won’t even be called games”.
These two separate comments show the dilemma faced by the games industry when it looks at the emerging social games market. Is it a threat to ‘traditional’ gaming, or an opportunity? Social games are certainly providing competition for people’s attention, if not a significant part of their monetary spend yet. But It’s surprising that Kotick sees it as a threat rather than a growth opportunity.
Everyone talks about the successes of the Guitar Hero franchise (14M+ units sold) and the Wii (25M+ units sold) as evidence of successfully broadening the appeal of games. But even these still require a substantial investment in game specific hardware. The games industry has so far only paid lip service to the tens of millions of players who may not buy game specific hardware but who do spend a lot of time hanging out on social networks playing games with friends. And many of the games they play have so far been pretty basic in terms of presentation and design – surely a great opportunity for companies who year in year out produce tens of titles of high production values for other platforms.
Of course, as we have experienced ourselves, getting into social games from traditional games is challenging for lots of reasons. You need to code in Flash, which a lot of game developers frown at. You have to think and operate like an MMO publisher, in the way you’re not just creating games, you’re maintaining and optimizing them over time, too. You have to “design backwards” for social interaction rather than solitary enjoyment. And of course, micro-transactions or advertising driven business models are very different from (and potentially incompatible with) getting people to pay upfront for boxed games.
Still, whether they see it as an opportunity or threat, the ‘traditional’ games industry will react to the social games phenomenon sooner or later. It will be interesting to see what form that reaction will take!