SAN FRANCISCO--While Nintendo's Wii continues to outpace expectations and certain games are making fortunes for their publishers, a strong argument can be made that the hottest segment of the video games industry is one that is still in its infancy: social games.
These titles, which are popping up by the bushelful on platforms like Facebook and MySpace, as well as on Apple's iPhone, are garnering user numbers that would previously have been thought impossible. And in a deep recession, when even the strongest console manufacturers and biggest game publishers are being forced to shut down projects and lay off workers, people have no choice but to sit up and take notice.
At the Game Developers Conference on Thursday, Kristian Segerstrale, the CEO and co-founder of PlayFish, one of the most successful publishers of social games, upped the ante, stating his case for how the mainstream video games industry can learn from his side of the business.
In his talk, "Five lessons from social games that matter to the rest of the games industry," Segerstrale argued that while the nature of the social games business differs significantly from that followed for many years by the more traditional, retail-oriented publishers, times are changing, customers' behaviors and expectations are shifting rapidly, and the winning model may well be the new one.
PlayFish's roster of games, including the mega-hit Who Has the Biggest Brain is illustrative of the popularity games can achieve on services like Facebook. Segerstrale said PlayFish has had 60 million players, averages about 25 million monthly users and 5 million daily players, and currently has 5 of the 10 most popular applications on Facebook. And by itself, Who Has the Biggest Brain has been played a total of 500 million times by 15 million people, he said.
With numbers like that, it's clear why Segerstrale feels he has some lessons to teach the rest of the games industry. And while the traditional retail games model has been relatively unchanged for decades and remains strong today, he said he sees signs that the Electronic Arts, Activisions, and Take-Twos of the world, not to mention the countless other game developers and publishers out there, may need to rethink their methodology.
One harbinger of that need for change is evident even within the traditional games business itself, he pointed out. He said that Nintendo established the Wii as a sleeper hit by exploiting a wide range of people's desire to be social with friends and family. And he explained that Nintendo itself is well aware of this, as evinced by ads for the Wii that show groups of friends playing gleefully. Yet the real estate in the ads devoted to showing the games themselves is minimal; it's the image of the social activity that sells the Wii.
"This is about you and your real-world relationships," Segerstrale said, "which is ultimately much more important than anything that happens between you and your screen...That's why you're playing. You're playing together, not because you're trying to beat the boss in level 10." … Read more