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Friday, February 4, 2011

Monetizing Social Games Conference Summary (London January 2011)

The conference  revealed some interesting surprises even for the more educated social gaming attendees. The conference attendees and speakers represented a good cross section of casual games, online gambling, social gaming, social media and advertising, legal and payment processing representatives. US and European entrepreneurs, business owners, legal experts and investors provided a good mix of opinions providing a global feel to the conference.  The following are some of the more provocative revelations that were uncovered during the conference.

Traditional Online Gambling Companies Are Investing In Social Gaming Companies - 888 and Bwin have decided that social gaming is the place to invest in  for the future. Both Mytopia and United Games have received funding from the big online gambling companies. The interesting thing about this investment is it is not designed to feed gambling leads to the major gambling brands. Instead these social and casual game publishers/developers are looked upon as a separate business unit with the objective of penetrating the social gaming market and growing that part of the online gaming market.

This says something about the emergence of social games as a legitimate "revenue" generating segment of the online gaming market. Not too long ago conventional wisdom considered social gaming as a small and insignificant revenue generator. Most attention was placed on spending big marketing and acquisition numbers on acquiring "real" gamblers. This has obviously changed with the realization that social gaming is a legitimate contender for the wallets of online gamers.

Do Virtual Currency/Goods Transactions Categorize Social Games As "Gambling" ? The speakers and panelists were pressed very hard on this question and would not concede that virtual currency/goods transactions with gambling style social games constituted "real" gambling. The legal experts indicated that virtual transactions were not even on the radar of European regulators. This indicates that it will be clear sailing for social gaming companies using this form of revenue generation to monetize their games.

Virtual Currency Inflation - There was some acknowledgment that the flooding of the  games economy with Facebook credits could be a future problem. However, most social games companies using Facebook credits were more concerned about the 30% of revenue that have to give up to Facebook to use their credits.

Facebook Threat As Payment Processor For All Facebook Transactions - The audience acknowledged that Facebook was moving into PayPal territory by becoming a payment processor for all forms of monetization within Facebook. The representative payment processors also conceded this with the caveat that the current processors would be processing all virtual currencies and not just Facebook credits giving them a competitive edge with publishers and merchants.

Getting Recognized In Facebook Is Getting Harder And Harder - With the Facebook pull back on notification based  virality it is harder to achieve massive player acquisition without resorting to Facebook advertising as a primary source of lead generation.  The days of  exclusively depending on virality are over. It is time to pay up and get the word out through conventional Facebook advertising.

More sophisticated development of Fan pages, cultivation of groups, co-marketing relationships with other Facebook application aggregaters all need to be used in tandem to achieve critical mass for a game promotion and continual player growth.

Does The Little Guy Have A Chance Anymore? - Yes and no. The budgets for game promotion are going stratospheric with big box companies like Zynga spending tens of million on game promotion and game development. Game development and advertising is now taking the same track as Hollywood movie development and promotion leaving the smaller developer and publisher in the shadows.

With this said the little guy can have a successful social/casual game business within social media platforms. A game does not have to be in the top tier to make money or to be popular. In many was this niche market  approach may be the best place to be. Under the radar and making money does not attract competitors and allows a company to sustain a realistic business model.

Portfolio's Of Games Helps To Increase Revenue Per Player - If you have a game that is reasonably successful monetize the players of that game over a wider array of games. Essentially, more game content matters. Having a bunch of games helps raise revenue per player and player retention.

Opportunistic Game Demographic Targeting - Currently the demographic of a frequent casual or social gaming player is female between 32 and 40 years of age.  They are spending the most money. Yes make sure you make games for them. However, this also leaves a big hole in the market. Facebook and big box game publishers ares clearly starting to lose the per-teen. teenage and early 20's segment of the marketplace because the majority of the game content is not geared to them. This may be the biggest opportunity for new game companies or new games.

Big Brands Want In - It is no secret that big consumer brands want in on the social and casual game party. They do not have the game development chops or advertising know how of seasoned game developers and publishers. Look to the big brands as a major source of revenue. This is tricky because you do have to build and promote a popular game no matter the brand. However, if this can be sorted there will certainly be good money in it.

Mobile Casual/Social Games - Mobile games have been a big disappointment primarily because it is difficult if not impossible to get the viral effect going. With this said everyone believes that there is gold to be found in mobile gaming if cost effective virality can be achieved. There were two companies presenting that had abandoned model game development all together and moved to conventional social game platforms because of their frustration with poor revenue generation from mobile gaming. However, they both indicated that they woulds dive back in if virality could be achieved in the mobile gaming environment.

Conclusion - Now that everyone realizes that games are the key to monetizing social network participants the competition amongst game publishers and developers is intensifying. Companies that considered social gaming as a fun yet insignificant segment of the online game space have now decided things have changed and they want part of the action. This means that the competition for social gamers is going to intensify. It also means that success breeds success. If a title goes viral and generates big numbers then revenue will be plowed into yet other big budget titles. There is room for new games developed and promoted with low budgets to succeed in generating enough players and revenue to support a sustainable business model. This may be the best place to fish for success in the casual/social gaming space.

Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane, Inc. Kevin writes extensively about online games and their impact and integration into iGaming and E-commerce environments. Kevin is a frequent speaker at online game events and conferences in Asia, Europe and the US. Kevin and his Gameinlane team are currently working with online gambling, social gaming and e-commerce companies integrating social gaming with online gaming operations and integrate game mechanics into e-commerce applications.

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