Broadly, social games are targeted towards all users (“mass market”) of social networking platforms. Moreover, the iterative development nature of social games allows developers to adapt the games to the behavioural trends of their users after their release.
What is social gaming?
We define social games to be web-based games, or applications, that are similar in complexity to casual games and integrate the community-based attributes of social networks.
Social games integrate social features to allow players to track the progress of their friends, or other members of their social graph, and play with those who may be online or offline at that time (synchronous versus asynchronous game play). Since members are aware and affected by the actions of other friends in the game, the social networking or media platform used in social gaming contributes to the game’s virality and generates social camaraderie, often making social games stickier than traditional casual games.
Social games occupy a unique niche within the broader gaming ecosystem. Unlike most traditional console or PC games, social games are driven by social interaction rather than strategy, are graphic light and have no hardware requirements. While more akin to casual games, social games feature stronger community interaction and iterative development processes. As we will discuss, the unique social gaming business model efficiently addresses the advantages and challenges of operating within a social network platform.
The majority of social games today are played through Facebook. Facebook is currently the world’s leading social networking site, with over 400 million active users (70% from outside the US) and growing. Developers today design their games specifically for the Facebook platform, as it is widely regarded as the hub of attention and users. Google plus is also rapidly growing to the same stature as Facebook. They have recently released their API’s for developers too.
Why social games?
Broadly, social games are targeted towards all users (i.e. the “mass market”) of social networking platforms. However, typically social games more specifically are designed with users aged 18 to 35 in mind, as they represent the most active social network users.
Low production costs, relative to other forms of games, allow social game developers to produce a diverse range of games to address users across different demographics. For example, Mobsters appeals to men, while Sorority Life appeals more towards women. Moreover, the iterative development nature of social games allows developers to adapt the games to the behavioural trends of their users after its release.
Social gaming industry
1. Today Facebook is the biggest platform with the highest user base. Facebook is also the most developer friendly platform with various guides and help files for developers. The viral channels available in Facebook helps games spread to a vast number of users in a short span of time. The image below will give you an idea about Facebook as a social gaming platform.
Google + is a new social networking site that is growing at a rapid rate. Industry leaders such as Zynga have already launched their games on Google +. Google will provide access to users unique to their networking site as well as users from other networks as well.
There are a huge number of other existing and upcoming platforms in the market today. Some of the other prominent existing platforms include hi5 and MySpace. Although these networks are on a decline they still have millions of loyal users that provide game developers an opportunity to increase their audience.
Social Games forecast
Parks Associates sees social gaming on track to become $5 billion industry by 2015.
Parks Associates forecasts revenues in the social gaming market will increase by five times from 2010 to 2015, due in large part to advertising revenues and sales of virtual items. These factors already pushed revenues over $1 billion in 2010, according to the international research firm.
“Gaming on social networks has quickly become the most visible category of online games," said Pietro Macchiarella, Research Analyst, Parks Associates. "Right now more than 250 million people play games like Zynga's CityVille and FarmVille on Facebook every month, and both game developers and marketers have taken notice. Big brands such as McDonald’s and 7-Eleven have carried out cross-promotions with existing social games.” (Source: http://www.parksassociates.com/blog/article/parks-pr2011-socialgaming)
The game can be classified as a game that is a simulation of life or a virtual city. The player lives in a city and does things that the average person does, such as get a job, earn money, eat food, buy cars, etc. The game will contain all the social elements that the games in the industry have along with a few innovations. For more details on the project details please refer to the Game design document.
Game development time frame
Game design: This is the planning stage. During this time, various elements of the game such as game flow, UI, characters, items, levels, social elements, viral elements, pop-up’s, etc are finalized with the Art and programming team. This period is very crucial to a smooth execution of the game.
Art design: This stage is where the artists create images, animations, pop-ups and all the other visual elements associated with the game. The art team will create concept art work during the initial period and a final look for the game will be decided based upon the mock ups provided.
Programming: This time will be used by the programmers to develop a game engine, back-end and front-end code. The programming team will consist of both Flash and PHP programmers.
Pre-launch testing: This phase is where the proto-type of the game is delivered to the QA team for testing. All aspects of the game such as progression, functionality, virality etc will be tested. Any bugs/errors found will be fixed.
Department Time Total time
Game Design 2 months
Art Design 3 months
Programming 3 months
Pre-launch Testing 1 month 9 months
The two main marketing strategies that will be employed are
• Platform advertising
• Viral marketing
Platform advertising: Social platforms such as Facebook allow game developers to advertise and promote their games to their vast user base. CPC and CPM models can be used to promote the game to potential players and acquire new users to the game. CPC models are straight forward where there is fixed price that advertisers pay for every users that clicks on the game banners and installs the game. CPM model is priced at 1000 impressions on the game banner irrespective of the number of clicks on the banner. Initial advertising is important since the higher the volume of users the faster and stronger the viral channels will be.
Viral Marketing: This strategy looks to exploit the free viral channels available on social platforms. Channels such as feed, images, links, requests, gifts, messages will help increase the visibility of the game at no extra cost. Users will be encouraged to send out requests, feeds, gifts, etc with prompts in the game via pop-ups and reward their actions. Strong social elements will increase the efficiency of these viral channels which has the potential to double user base.
The responsibility of managing the project will be held by the project lead and the leads of the various departments across the project. Members of the various teams will report to their respective leads with respect to deadlines, requirements, suggestions & ideas. The leads will then hold a meeting and discuss the various plans put forth by everybody on the project to make informed and accurate decisions.
1. Project lead: Suvro/Santosh
2. PHP lead: Gowthaman
3. Flash lead: Ramesh
4. Art lead: Mahesh
5. QA lead: Sandeep
There are 3 major sources of revenue for social games.
1. Virtual goods
3. Lead generation offers
Virtual goods: Virtual goods are those commodities that are sold with in the game. Items such as energy, coins, stamina, special items, seasonal items, etc that is unique to the game. These items are available for purchase either individually or as a package for discount.
Advertising: There are two pricing models in the online advertising market that marketers can use to buy advertising and generate leads. CPM (Cost-per-Thousand) pricing models charge advertisers for impressions i.e. the number of times people view an advertisement. CPC (Cost-per-Click) advertising model charges the advertisers for every user that clicks on the advertising and goes through to their website or blog. The advertisers pay irrespective of if the user performs any action on their website or blog.
Lead generation offers: Banner and direct response advertising that works off a CPL pricing model. In CPL campaigns, advertisers pay for an interested lead i.e. the contact information of a person interested in the advertiser's product or service.
Porting: The games can be ported to other devices such as I-Pad, Android tablet, Blackberry etc. These devices will provide access to large markets with huge potentials.
• High volume of games in market
• Potential users already playing existing games
• Difficulty in motivating players switch from their current game
There are 1000’s of games being released everyday. There is a risk that the game will get buried with the rest of them. Millions of users already spend their spare time playing existing games, so it may be difficult to make them switch from their existing game to a new game as they would have invested a lot of time in their current games.
• Game design errors
• Code & testing errors
• Low virality
• Flawed monetization plans
• Poor graphics
• Lack of appeal
Mistakes in game design, development & testing may occur. Vital features of the game could malfunction. This could make users stop playing the game. Viral elements of the game may not be strong enough to bring in fresh users with out advertising. The game graphics or the overall game may not be as appealing to the users. Poor monetization will fail to convert ‘playing’ users to ‘paying users’.
• Inaccurate financial forecast
• Failure to break even
• Short-age of funds
Financial forecasts can almost never be a hundred percent accurate and the project may vastly under achieve the targets set in the financial projections. Under achieving of set targets will increase the time to break even or may fail to break even in undesired circumstances. There is also a possibility of development expenditures exceeding the budget which in turn will create a short-age of funds midway during the project.
• Unique game play
• Game targeted at both sexes
• Addictive game play mechanics
The game play is based of a very successful game from the early 90’s. The game will contain standard social elements as well as unique social elements that have been tried and tested by other games outside the social gaming industry will also be added to increase the social activity. These elements will add a fun quotient to the game as well as benefit users with more friends. Social activities will encourage users to bring all their friends to play the game with them. Low learning curves and addictive game play will ensure users try and continue playing the game.
• Experienced team
• Sound monetization modules
• Trail & error
The entire team has an average of two years experience in the social gaming industry. During these two years more than five major titles and a dozen small applications have been developed. There is a huge amount of passion for games within the team and strong desire to create unique games. There has been a lot of trail & error in this time. The vast number of iterations has led to a strong and successful game development practice. Monetization modules will be based on economic principles of creating high demand and supply rather than just standard monetization modules that exist in the industry.
• Estimates lower than industry standard
• Focus only on a single platform
• Self reliance in case of short-age of funds
The financial projection for 3 years has been made at a very low rate of $.14 ARPU, while the industry standard is $.22 - $.34. This has been done to give a more realistic forecast rather than a highly ambitious one. Another important factor is that the estimates have been made for only 1 social platform which is Facebook. Incomes from other social platforms such as Google +, Myspace or Hi5 or even incomes from hand held devices such as I-Pad & android tablets have not been considered to avoid highly ambitious targets. In case of a short-age of funds, extra income can be generated from these available options at no extra costs but only investing some time and energy in porting the games to these platforms.
Research and statistics show that the social gaming industry is on the rise and will sustain that growth in the future. The ease of entrance, low cost of game development, mass audience and readily available viral channels makes this a very viable business proposition.
A very experienced team along with a strong passion for social games will ensure success in the under taking. Creating unique games will make us stand out from the crowd with a huge potential to become a global brand in a short duration.
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