Kicking Back in the Online Social Gaming Scene
Social, mobile and fun. These are buzzwords in all segments of the online game market, from Facebook games to online gambling. It's more than simply socializing existing gaming platforms, however. It's about imagining whole new virtual environments and ecosystems for games and their players.
Online gaming is big business. From casual games to massive multiplayer epics, these games keep people busy for minutes, hours and days at a time.
One of the fastest-growing segments of the online game market is casual gaming -- simple games that can be played on websites, through social media sites like Facebook, or on mobile devices.
Art and Science
"The casual games appeal to a broad market because they don't involve an enormous time commitment or uninterrupted attention," Keela Robison, VP of operations for GameHouse, told TechNewsWorld. "You can play for five minutes at a time while you're waiting for a bus or holding on the phone. Casual has been popular for a long time, but it's become even more so with the availability of quality casual games."
GameHouse markets its own games and those of other developers both through its online storefront and in social and mobile spaces. The company has increasingly been focusing on social and mobile games, including titles like Collapse! Blast and Slot-O-Rama.
"People really want social experiences with games," explained Robison. "Part of the reason you play games is to relax, and you can do that more when you play with friends."
These freemium mobile and social games rely more than traditional online games on analytics, he noted, in order to help the developers strengthen the game play and give players the kinds of experiences they want.
"Analytics and business intelligence become a lot more important in the freemium space," said Robison. "Freemium titles and online social and mobile games are never really done. You release them into the market, listen to your customers, and look at the data about how they're played.
"Game development is an art, but there's a fair amount of science to it as well," he explained, "seeing how customers are progressing in your game, trying to optimize the game so people feel safe and comfortable inviting their friends -- and ultimately generating more revenue."
The Multiplayer Universe
For those who want a more traditional immersive game experience, there are dozens of massive multiplayer online games. EVE Online is one of the earliest of these games, and with approximately 400,000 players around the world, it is one of the most popular. The game even has its own annual conference in Iceland.
It's not, by any means, easy.
"It's a pretty complicated game," Ned Coker, a spokesperson for Eve Online's CCP Games, told TechNewsWorld. "It's one of the most complicated games out there. People aren't used to setting their own goals and what they want to do with their characters, and it can be difficult for people to wrap their minds around the freedom. It's a long-term strategy game. These kinds of games are coming into vogue again."
The game uses a sandbox style, which means that players can create their own reality and story line within the game's universe. As starship pilots, players explore this universe, mine planets, and participate in other sci-fi adventures.
"Most video games are an experience that the developers put out for you," explained Coker. "They have a beginning, and you're led down a story path until the end. The sandbox style deposits all the players in sandbox, but the players are doing whatever they want to with the world around them."
Another major part of the online gaming market involves gambling and casino games -- and these, too, are seeing a shift toward social gaming.
"There is a definite trend towards social gaming," Thomas Smallwood, CEO of eGaming Consulting, told TechNewsWorld. "There is a feeling that the worlds of social games and social gambling are natural bedfellows. After all, free versions of gambling games have had huge success on Facebook."
It's more than simply socializing existing gaming platforms, however. It's about imagining whole new virtual environments and ecosystems for these games and their players.
"It has to be more than just seeing social media as new acquisition channels," said Smallwood. "The gamification of existing gambling games is also about how we are all evolving and sharing our experience within virtual environments. We are already seeing games become more and more interactive and more linked to the environments and experiences we share with others."
At the same time, there is a move to connect virtual gambling with real-world gambling, at least in markets and jurisdictions that allow for such cross-over.
"The industry has been rapidly consolidating, and bridges are being built across various areas," explained Smallwood. "I think online and land-based gaming will continue to come closer together."