Social network game

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A social network game is a type of online game that is played through social networks, and typically features multiplayer and asynchronous gameplay mechanics.[1][2][3][4] Social network games are most often implemented as browser games, but can also be implemented on other platforms such as mobile devices.[5] The first cross-platform "Facebook-to-Mobile" social network game was developed in 2011 by a Finnish company Star Arcade.[6][7] Social network games are amongst the most popular games played in the world, with several products with tens of millions of players.[8] (Lil) Green Patch, Happy Farm,[9] Farm Town, YoVille and Mob Wars were some of the first successful games of this genre. FarmVille, Mafia Wars, FrontierVille, CityVille, Gardens of Time, Kantai Collection[10][11] and The Sims Social are more recent examples of popular social network games.[citation needed]

While they share many aspects of traditional video games, social network games often employ additional ones that make them distinct. Traditionally they are oriented to be casual games.

Companies that make or publish social network games include market leader Zynga, MegaZebra, Wooga, 5 Minutes, Playfish, Plinga, Playdom, Kabam, Crowdstar, RockYou, Booyah and Row Sham Bow, Inc.

Demographics[edit]

As of 2010, it was reported that 55 percent of the social network gaming demographic in the United States consisted of women while in the United Kingdom, women made up nearly 60 percent of the demographic. In addition, most social gamers were around the 30 to 59 age range, with the average social gamer being 43 years old. It has been suggested that the reason why social games may appeal more to the older demographic is because it is free, easier to grasp and advance through in a short period of time, and does not involve as much violence as traditional video games.[12]

Technology & platforms[edit]

A social network video game can be created with any number of traditional video game technologies, however the majority are implemented in Adobe Flash, PHP or JavaScript. Some games may use a combination of these technologies. In some instances a Gamification aspect has been conjoined to a social networking video game to make technology more engaging by encouraging users to engage in desired behaviors and to solve problems by taking advantage of human's psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.

A social network game is often played via a web browser, though they are distinct from browser based games in the way they leverage the player's social graph and individual user data that is hosted on the social network. With the invention of smartphone devices, social games have now also seen widespread adoption on mobile platforms such as iOS and Android[13] devices. This is enabled through mobile social networks such as OpenFeint and through Oauth implementations by social networking sites like Facebook[14] which allow applications on mobile devices to access a limited amount of protected user data on those sites. Through an in-app connection to these networks, users can be provided with an experience very similar to that of a web based social game. It's been predicted that social gaming will bring over 6 billion dollars in revenue, by 2013.[15]

Distinct features[edit]

A social video game may employ any of the following features: [16]

  • Asynchronous gameplay which allows rules to be resolved without needing players to play at the same time.
  • Community: One of the most distinct features of social video games is in leveraging the player's social network. Quests or game goals may only be possible if a player "shares" his game with friends (connected via the social network hosting the game) or gets them to play as well as "neighbors" or "allies".
  • No victory conditions: Since most developers count on users playing their games often, there are generally no victory conditions. That is, the game never ends and no one is ever declared "winner". Instead, many casual games have "quests" or "missions" for players to complete. This is not true for board game-like social games, such as Scrabble.
  • Virtual currency: Social network games use "virtual currency", which players usually must purchase with real-world money. With the in-game currency players can buy upgrades that would otherwise take much longer to earn through in-game achievements. In many cases, some upgrades are only available via the virtual currency.

The following table outlines common characteristics of social games, mentioned by Björk at the 2010 GCO Games Convention Online:[17]

Characteristic Potential Enablers Consequences Examples
Public Player Statistics

Information regarding players’ game instances are publicly available

  • Static relations
  • Ephemeral events
  • Global high score lists
  • Friend lists
  • Social status
Persistent Game Worlds

Game state is independent from individual players’ game and play sessions

  • Static relations
  • Spontaneity
  • Fiction
  • Tick-based games
Tick-Based Games

Game time progresses according to real time, but in discrete steps

  • Persistent game worlds
  • Asynchronicity
  • Asynchronous games
  • Downtime
  • Encouraged return
Events Timed to Real World

Game play events initiated by specific real time events occurring

  • Tick-based games
  • Ephemeral events
  • Evolving game play design
  • Encouraged return visits
  • Mafia Wars
  • LifeSocialGame
Evolving Game Play Design

Rules of a game instance change as game play takes place

  • Events timed to real world
  • Ephemeral events
  • Encouraged return visits
  • Exploration
  • Red queen dilemma
  • Mafia Wars
  • FarmVille
  • Parking Wars
  • Normic
Encouraged Return Visits

Players are encouraged to return frequently to a certain part of game space

  • Catching ephemeral events
  • Continuous goals
  • Risk/reward
  • Tick-based games
  • Grinding
  • Parking Wars
  • LifeSocialGame
Grinding

The need to perform a certain task considered easy repeatedly

  • Difficulty and punishments
  • Encouraged return visits
  • Pottering
Drop-In/Drop-Out

Designed support to handle players entering and leaving ongoing game sessions

  • Asynchronicity
  • Persistent game worlds
  • Spontaneity
  • Ephemeral events
Private Game Spaces

Parts of the game space that only a single player can manipulate directly

  • Difficulty and punishments
  • Narrativity
  • Persistent Game Worlds
  • Drop-In/Drop-Out
  • Construction
  • Visits
  • Massively single-player games
Massively Single-Player Online Games

Games making use of other players’ game instances to provide input to the game state

  • Asynchronicity
  • Private game spaces
  • Symbolic physicality
  • Mafia Wars
  • Spore
  • LifeSocialGame
Construction

Changing or rearranging game elements to form more complex structures

  • Fiction
  • Narrativity
  • Private game spaces
  • Pottering
  • Mafia Wars
  • FarmVille
  • LifeSocialGame
Pottering

The management of game resources for its own sake

  • Difficulty and punishment
  • Grinding
  • Construction
  • Static relations
  • Juiciness
Visits

Temporary access to other players’ private game spaces

  • Inherent sociability
  • Private game spaces
  • Ephemeral events
  • Massively single-player games
  • FarmVille
  • Puerto Rico
  • LifeSocialGame
Altruistic Actions

Actions that have only explicit benefits for somebody else than is performing the action

  • Inherent sociability
  • Free gift inventories
  • Visits
  • Non-player help
  • Collaboration
  • Expected reciprocity
  • FarmVille
  • D&D Tiny Adventures
Non-Player Help

Players can receive help in games by actions from those not playing

  • Broadcasting ephemeral events
  • Altruistic actions
  • Symbolic physicality
  • Extra-game event broadcasting
Invites

The use of inviting new players to a game as game actions

  • Inherent sociability
  • Static relations
  • Drop-in/drop-out
  • Non-player help
  • Extra-game event broadcasting
  • Mafia Wars
  • FarmVille
  • LifeSocialGame
Extra-Game Event Broadcasting

Game events are broadcast in a medium where others can perceive them

  • Achievements
  • Invites
  • Non-player help
  • Broadcasting ephemeral events
  • Mafia Wars
Collaborative Actions

Compound actions that require several players to perform actions

  • Inherent sociability
  • Altruistic actions
  • Construction
  • Symbolic physicality
  • Cooperation
  • Delayed reciprocity
  • Purchasable game advantages
  • FarmVille
  • Pandemic
  • LifeSocialGame
Delayed Reciprocity

Players perform actions to help others under the assumption that they later will be helped in return

  • Inherent sociability
  • Altruistic actions
  • Collaborative actions
  • Guilting
  • FrontierVille
  • LifeSocialGame
Guilting

Trying to influence another placer’s actions based upon moral grounds

  • Ephemeral events
  • Inherent sociability
  • Delayed reciprocity
  • FrontierVille
  • Intrigue
Purchasable Game Advantages

Players can pay real currency to gain some in-game advantage

  • Difficulty and punishment
  • Collaborative actions
  • Social status
Extra–Game Consequences

Some actions within a game has pre-defined effects outside the game system

  • Inherent sociability
  • Altruistic actions
  • Purchasable game advantages
  • Static relations
  • Social status
  • Lil’ Green Patch
  • ‘sugar beets’ in FarmVille

Engagement strategies[edit]

Since social network games are often less challenging than console games and they have relatively shorter game play, they use different techniques to stretch game play and tools to retain users.[citation needed]

Continuous goals: The games assign specific goals for users to achieve. As they advance in the game, the goals become more challenging and time consuming. They also provide frequent feedback with their performance. Every action will translate towards a certain goal that will be used to attain higher gaming capitals.[citation needed]

Gaming capitals: Players are encouraged to earn different badges, trophies, and accolades that indicate their progress and accomplishments. Some achievements are unlocked just by advancing in the game while others may significantly alter the rationale behind the game and require extensive investment from players. The ways of gaining gaming capital are not limited to playing games but the games-related productive activities that are appreciated in the player’s social circle too. By accumulating gaming capitals, they provide an intrinsic benefit to gamers as they is an avenue to boost their accomplishment and showcase their expertise of the game. The achievements are visible to their network of friends. Gaming capitals are a way for developers to increase replay value provides extended play time, and players get more value from the game.[citation needed]

Motivation for collecting gaming capitals:

1. Legitimization: refers to society’s willingness to approve or condone certain behavior. Collecting is about channeling one’s materialistic desires into more meaningful pursuits. Game achievements serve a similar purpose, allowing players to justify the hours spent playing the game.[citation needed]
2. Self-extension: Gathering and controlling meaningful objects or experiences can work to gain one an improved sense of self. The collector’s goal to complete a collection is symbolically about completing the self too.[18]

Events timed to real world: Popular games such as Dragon City and Wild Ones require users to wait a certain time period before their "energy bars" replenish. Without energy, they are unable to conduct any form of action. Gamers are forced to wait and return after their energy replenishes to continue playing.[citation needed]

Monetization[edit]

Social network games frequently monetize based on virtual good transactions, but other games are emerging that utilize newer economic models. An example of is Empire Avenue, a virtual stock exchange where players buy and sell shares of each other's social network worth. In Empire Avenue, a player's worth is linked to his or her social media influence and activity, as well as that of the other players he or she has invested virtual currency in. This game design promotes social media interaction as a means to attaining higher value in Empire Avenue market rankings.[19][20][21]

Virtual goods[edit]

Gamers will be able to purchase in game items like power-ups, avatar accessories, or decorative items users purchase within the game itself. This is realized by monetize products that don’t technically exist. Virtual goods account for over 90% of all revenue generated by the world’s top social game developers. Designers optimize user experience through additional gameplay, missions, and quests, without having to worry about overhead or unused stock.

Advertising[edit]

The following are common ways of advertising in social network games:[22]

Banner advertisements

As banner ads within social networks tend to be where ad response is low, they tend to be priced at bottom-of-the-barrel CPMs of around $2. However, because social games generate so many page views, they are the biggest part of advertising revenue for the social gaming industry.

Video ads

Videos are the ad format with the most revenue per view. They tend to be higher-priced, either by CPMs ($35+ CPM in social games) or cost-per-completed-view. According to studies, video ads result in highest brand recall thus a good return on investment for advertisers. Video ads are shown either in in-game interstitials (e.g. when the game is loading a new screen) or through incentive-based advertising, i.e. you will get either an in-game reward or Facebook credits for watching an advertisement.

Product placement

A brand or product will be injected in a game in some way. Due to the variety of ways in which product placement can be accomplished in any media, and because the category is nascent, this category is not standardized at all, but some examples include branded in-game goods or even in-game quests. For example, in a game where you run a restaurant, you might be asked to collect ingredients to make a Starbucks Frappuccino, and receive in-game rewards for doing so. As these product placement deals are non-standard, they are largely charged with a production fee, which can be $350,000 to $750,000 depending on the type of placement and the popularity of the game.

Lead generation offers

Another form of advertising that is prevalent in many social games are lead generation offers. In this form of advertising, companies, usually from different industries, aim to convince players to sign up for their goods or services and in exchange, players will receive virtual gifts or advance forward in the game as a reward.[23]

Sponsorship[edit]

White label games

Applications that are built once, then individualized and licensed again and again. Developer can create a quality app focused on fun while leaving the edges of the game open for branding. This allows developers to market their game to companies that can find new and interesting ways to bond with, expand, or sell to their audience.[24]

Social gaming as corporate promotion[edit]

Large established corporations are using social gaming to build brand awareness and engagement. The Walt Disney Company’s Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers was developed to create awareness of Disney’s theme parks and also promote conservation. The gameplay is divided evenly between two main elements, finding hidden object and large assortment of animals, and also includes simulation for players to build their own nature preserve. Players are expected to work with friends to collect the necessary materials to grow their habitat, while the hidden object element set players to compete for the highest score in their social setting.[25]

Some large established video games developers are acquiring small operators to capitalize on the social gaming industry. The Walt Disney Company purchased social game developer Playdom for $763.0 million, and Electronic Arts purchased PopCap Games for $750.0 million in July 2011.[26][27]

Criticism[edit]

Cow Clicker, created by Ian Bogost, was developed to highlight social games’ most exploitative and abusive aspects. The game requires users to click on a picture of a cow every 6 hours to earn points. It also prompts users to encourage friends to join in to help their gain more points. Cow Clicker was clearly designed to ridicule other social media games such as FarmVille, yet fifty-six thousand users played it at its peak. The community also evolved and spawned similar games, garnered critical reviews and even gained a strategy guide.[28]

In a study by Bitdefender, it was shown that social games increase spam and phishing by 50 percent in social media platforms. This is made possible through hackers creating fake profiles and relying on bots to send spam messages to other users via social gaming applications. Many of these users who receive the messages willingly add the spammers' fake profiles into their circle of friends to depend on them for additional gaming support. In doing so, several users have become more prone to being victims of data, identity theft, account hijacking, and other issues. The spammer's action here, however, does not constitute as abuse since it is typically the user who adds the spammer on their end. As such, the spammer's account cannot be suspended by a social network.[29]

Social networking gamers are also susceptible to unwanted charges. For instance, some of these games offer virtual currency if the player fills out a survey. After completing the survey, users are asked to type down their phone number, then wait for a text message that will give them a PIN to enter into a site and will finally give them their results. By entering the PIN into the site, they are subscribed to some service—such as ones that provide horoscope forecasts—are charged for it, and may not be aware of it unless they have carefully read the fine print.[30]

Some critics have also claimed that social networking games have caused the numbers of fake profiles to rise. Creating a fake profile can be advantageous if the game, for example, offers rewards whenever a user introduces the game to their friends. By inviting the fake profile to play the game, the user can trick the games' point-based system into thinking that they are actually helping the game gain popularity and in return, they may receive rewards from the game. Social networking sites such as Facebook eliminates fake profiles if and only if these profiles are reported by other users.[31]

One of the more popular genres to social games are those that imitate gambling activities which are free to play and easily accessible through a social network. However, the similarity these games have with gambling has also created a debate about whether or not social games need to be regulated. Several policymakers from various countries—Australia, Belgium, Spain, and the United Kingdom—have shown concern about the potential and negative impact these games could cause.[32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Social Network Game Boom by Sande Chen from Gamasutra (April 29, 2009)
  2. ^ History of Social Games by Jon Radoff (May 24, 2010)
  3. ^ The Odd Popularity of Mafia Wars by Lev Grossman from TIME (Nov. 16, 2009)
  4. ^ Workshop: Game Design for Social Networks, Proceedings of the 13th International MindTrek Conference: Everyday Life in the Ubiquitous Era by Aki Järvinen from TIME (2009)
  5. ^ Kim, Ryan (12 October 2010). "The Future of Social Games is Mobile". Gigaom. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 
  6. ^ "Star Arcade launches world’s first Facebook-to-Mobile multi player game". WirelessDuniya. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  7. ^ "First Multi-player Game On Facebook". Consumer Lab / McCann Worldgroup. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  8. ^ "Social network games catch the eye of computer giants" by Zoe Kleinman from BBC News (Nov. 2009)
  9. ^ Kohler, Chris (December 24, 2009). "14. Happy Farm (2008)". The 15 Most Influential Games of the Decade (Wired). p. 2. Retrieved 10 September 2011. 
  10. ^ 2013-10-10, 提督100万人突破、そして島田フミカネ氏による航空母艦も実装決定! ─ 『艦これ』秋のイベントも実施準備中, インサイド
  11. ^ 2013-11-14, 艦これをパズドラと並べないでください, ASCII.jp
  12. ^ Ingram, Matthew. "Average Social Gamer Is a 43-Year-Old Woman". Gigaom. Gigaom. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  13. ^ Empson, Rip (22 June 2011). "A New Mobile Social Games King In The U.S.? Former Facebookers Take Storm8 To 210 Million Downloads". TechCrunch. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 
  14. ^ Luke, Shepard. "Bringing Social App Discovery to Mobile". Facebook Developer Blog. Facebook.com. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 
  15. ^ October 14, 2011 by Lauren Drell 13 (2011-10-14). "10-26-11, Drell, Lauren". Mashable.com. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  16. ^ Radoff, Jon (2011). Game On: Energize Your Business with Social Media Games. Wiley. pp. 27–29, 39–40. ISBN 978-0-470-93626-9. 
  17. ^ Björk, S. (2010). Principles and patterns of social games: Where’s the difference compared to other games?. GCO Games Convention Online 2010. Leipzig.
  18. ^ "TamPub". TamPub. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  19. ^ "Empire Avenue, the stockmarket where YOU’RE for sale". Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  20. ^ "Empire Avenue". Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  21. ^ "Empire Avenue creates a stock market to measure your social influence". Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  22. ^ How Zynga Makes Money. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  23. ^ Arrington, Michael. "Social Games: How The Big Three Make Millions". TechCrunch. TechCrunch. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  24. ^ About the Author, Lori Taylor (2010-08-12). "Why Social Media Gaming Is Big Business for Your Business". Social Media Examiner. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  25. ^ Gaudiosi, John (26 March 2012). "Disney Social Games Creates First Facebook Game With Theme Park Tie-In". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  26. ^ Jul 28, 2010 - 1:12AM (2010-07-28). "Disney Buys Playdom For Up To $763.2 Million — paidContent". Paidcontent.org. Retrieved 2012-09-17. 
  27. ^ "Electronic Arts to Buy PopCap Games". The New York Times. 12 July 2011. 
  28. ^ Mattise, Nathan. "Storyboard Podcast: The Curse of Cow Clicker". Wired. 
  29. ^ George, Lucian Petre. "Facebook – Another breach in the wall". Bitdefender. Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  30. ^ Shin, Dong-Hee; Shin, Youn-Joo (March 2011). "Why do people play social network games?". Computers in Human Behavior 27 (2): 852–861. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.11.010. 
  31. ^ Nazir, Atif; Raza, Saqib; Chuah, Chen-Nee; Burkhard, Schipper. "Ghostbusting Facebook: Detecting and Characterizing Phantom Profiles in Online Social Gaming Applications". Retrieved 11 June 2014. 
  32. ^ Gainsbury, Sally; Hing, Nerilee; Delfabbro, Paul; King, Daniel. "A taxonomy of gambling and casino games via social media and online technologies". International Gambling Studies. doi:10.1080/14459795.2014.890634.