I find myself alienated these days seeing a whole list of my Facebook buddies involved in playing Mafia-Wars, Farmville and Cafe World which have kind of become a gaming success on the popular social networking portals, but to this date I never have played any of these games in spite of getting numerous invites from my friends; the Indian online gaming market was always limited to majority of the people playing advertisement based online flash games, most of them playing these games at workplace to kill time or take a quick break from hectic break schedules.
I remember how miniclip.com games were popular 3-4 years back, in one of the companies I worked, and I could see most of my colleagues hooked on to these games for hours, trying to climb up the leader board scores of these games online. Now what we see is the emergence of Social Gaming which is developing through social networking sites and it is a very interesting point to observe.
Social Networking sites became popular some 2-3 years back and you would find any Social Networking fan with multiple internet ID’s, however the euphoria of connecting with friends soon started fading away as you would not always keep poking all the buddies or engage in discussions with everyone in your friend list even if you got widgets on your mobile devices that regularly keep you updated about the events that occur on your Social Networking profiles. Zynga is the company behind Farmville and Cafe World and Farmville currently has around 60 million monthly users. A new Café World game for Facebook already boasted ten million players within a week of its launch last month.
Games like Café World, Farmville or Mafia-Wars are no where close to the cutting edge of the current generation games which consoles like Xbox 360 and PS3 boast of, they are infectiously fun. They encourage and reward playing with others, which increases the likelihood players will want to buy stuff to impress or help beat their pals. Apart from Zynga, even Playdom and Playfish are key players on social gaming front, so for a console gaming fan like me, it really makes me wonder of all the effort that goes in creating a visually stunning game like Uncharted 2 for PS3, upcoming project Natal in development and even to the extent of the records set by sales of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, they are never going to the get the number of audience which these simple, no-frills web based, social networking promoted games are currently enjoying. As if you didn’t need furthere reinforcing of this point, the firms who developed these games are set to reap over $300 million in virtual goods revenue this year.
So in a country like India where still majority people access internet from offices, such games are going to find a wider acceptance and fan following compared to the expectations of companies for console gaming development. Online PC gaming is still stuck due to poor penetration of Broadband across India apart from metro cities. Even the social set up in India is such that using a PC for gaming is still not considered that important and with 3G services ready for launch in India, it would propel further rise of mobile gaming development in India, so the picture seems to be clear. The market of console gaming could shrink to just 20% with Social Gaming on the web and games designed to be played on slower PCs and smartphones could occupy 80% of the other chunk.
A noteable point here is that these social platform based games are banking heavily on sale of virtual goods from these games. The worldwide market for virtual goods is expected to approach $5 billion this year; it’s not that Virtual goods are something new to gaming industry, many MMORPG genre games have being offering virtual goods to you or me by earning a magic potion, a sword or a axe in return to hours of fighting, crossing levels, negotiating with fellow gamers or by trading points.
You can call it a shift of buying these virtual goods that has moved on from the barter era of trading points and accumulating points to buy these digital trinklets in hard cash now, for the impatient gen-x which is now helping game companies to develop a robust model of a online marketplace of buying virtual goods. I find it absurd, at the end of day it’s just digital numbers 0 and 1 coded in front of your eyes, you could play around with a virtual pet, buy a 9mm Pistol on Mafia-Wars for $10 rather than waiting to accumulate 42 points to posses one. This model works the best becuase you don’t pay anything to start playing, even Xbox 360 avatars can be dressed to popular outfits from games, and the pricing to me is ridiculous for this stuff, but again there are people out there who are actuall interested in buying this stuff.
So could this trend mark a major shift in gaming industry? The way Apple changed the rules of the game in music industry and got people paying and buying legal music from iTunes for their iPod’s, the same way free-to-play and micropayment revenue from in-game virtual goods is the in-thing for the gaming industry.
So while you are busy finding cows on your farm, companies are alreay milking bucks out of you.