Social gaming is a lot like Marmite. Half of people see them as a waste of time, whilst the other half could happily fill their days playing Word Challenge, Texas Hold-em and Mob Wars. With over 50% of social network users estimated to play them, social gaming is big business, and generating millions every year for its creators.
Between 2008 and 2009 the social gaming market exploded, growing from £49 mill to £412 mill (and £31.6 mill in the UK alone) in just 1 year. Social gaming developers are now being swallowed up by the major players for big bucks. Disney paid nearly £500 million for Playdom, whilst Google paid £64.5 million for a 30% share of FarmVille's creators Zynga (which has 63 mill active players, making it bigger than Twitter).
ITV Corrie Nation
Next month, ITV will be releasing 'Corrie Nation', which will enable players to build, populate and manage their own virtual Coronation St. Rather than merely a fun way of developing the brand, Corrie Nation could be a nice little earner for ITV. Without the product placement restrictions of the TV show, advertisers will be able to run riot and benefit from plugging their products alongside Weatherfield's favourite characters.
Corrie Nation can expect plenty of players too. Social gaming is equally popular with women, and the over 55s is the fastest growing segment.
Why are social games so popular?
Social games cover a range of genres, including RPGs, strategy games, virtual worlds and action. What they all share in common is that they can be played in 5-10 minutes, making them perfect for coffee breaks. Many games can also be played between friends and replicate the camaraderie of sitting around a board game, whilst the quest for top scores plugs into our competitive edge.
FarmVille, in particular, feeds into many psychological drivers. The sense of accomplishment players get from seeing their virtual farms grow and prosper gives them a 'psychological high'. Feeding the animals also plugs into people's nurturing instincts. You'll often hear stories of people watering each other's crops, even if they rarely speak in the real world, whilst a Bulgarian Councillor lost his job after being caught milking his cows in a committee meeting.
Opportunities for brands
From a branding perspective, social games have the potential to be marketing gold.
People are emotionally invested when building their virtual farms, competing for high scores and striving for the sense of reward these games give them. If you can harness these emotions, and the level of engagement people have with social gaming, you have a very powerful platform for building a closer affinity with your brand.
So, along with ITV, watch out for more brands invading the social gaming space very soon.
BDA (Buckingham Design Associates) blog - real people giving real opinions, and a complete lack of agency waffle. Award winners BDA deliver an exciting blend of design and creative marketing for the Oxford, Milton Keynes, Northampton and London region.