The Social Gaming Boom

Social media have transformed the gaming industry, making social gaming addicts of us all.

Social Gaming, Farmville
Social gaming – like Farmville, pictured above – are leaking into other industries, and businesses are forming around smart-phone and browser-based casual gaming.

Social media have transformed the gaming industry, making social gaming addicts of us all.

I read a review of the immersive video game Second Life a couple of years ago by a reporter who didn’t understand the attraction of playing a game about, uh, life. He gave it a try for a weekend, and the light bulb went on when he realized that he was a middle-aged man, sitting in his kitchen at a computer in the middle of the night, wearing boxers, watching a middle-aged avatar sitting in his kitchen wearing boxers, playing a video game.

In case you have missed it, the world is under­going a transformation, or rather a gamification. We old wheezers who grew up in the ’70s were the last generation not to suffer repetitive stress injury in our thumbs. Yes, I had Pong, but it wouldn’t captivate you to the point of finding yourself sitting at the kitchen table in your boxers at four in the morning.

The emergence of social gaming

I’ll skip through the history of video games, but it’s safe to say that the video-game business is massive and pervasive – and is quickly becoming even more so. The Xboxes, Playstations and Wiis of the ’90s and 2000s were merely the appetizer: they failed to attract massive chunks of the demographic. Girls, women and old people did not participate. A convergence of social networking and smart phones over the past three years has changed all of that.

Games are pastimes. They are also social. When Facebook entered the collective consciousness, it became fun and socially engaging to play simple games because you could play them with friends. Much as bridge led to college failure rates in the early ’60s, Farmville made widowers out of husbands and boyfriends. The afternoon television soap opera has died because women are more engrossed in social networking and games than they are in life in Pine Valley.

Have you looked around on Canada Line lately? If people aren’t texting or BBMing, they’re playing games on their smart phones. The idea of collecting more points than your friend or having status on a leader board is driving weird behaviour, like “checking in” at Starbucks so that you can be mayor. (Disclosure: I am the mayor at the Starbucks on the corner of Dunsmuir and Hornby and I get free coffee!)


Gaming in other industries

Gamification is leaking into other industries. Market research has undergone a huge change since caller ID stopped the audience sample from answering the phone. Local firm Vision Critical is ahead of the curve in online research, but how does it keep a sample audience engaged and responding to surveys? It makes it fun and interactive – like a game. Look at education and the impact games are having there. On the edge of formal education you have safe websites for kids like Vancouver’s and games such as School26 from Vancouver’s Silicon Sisters.

What is most interesting for local businesses, though, is the incredible change sweeping over the video-game industry. Gone are the days of a large publisher paying up front for development of a game for the Xbox. More and more veteran teams of incredibly talented gamers are forming new 
businesses around smart-phone social games, browser-based social games and other forms of casual social games.

Why the boom in social gaming? Because the need for me to be mayor is the same drive that powers social engagement. I want to get ahead in the game, so I will buy things to make me go faster. These virtual goods are paid for with real money. Rather than pay $60 for a game at Gamestop, I download a free game and pay to get better and lead my group of friends. 

Games are becoming pervasive. We will all participate in the evolution, not just the pale-faced teenage boys, because social networks and always-on smart phones have made it easier to participate in the gamification trend. B.C.’s game development community is well positioned to participate as well.