Monday, June 21, 2010

How games become viral

Lately I have done a lot of research into social gaming and what I have noticed is that many of these games have similar features. Farmville is like Farmtown and surprisingly enough, Mafia Wars and Sorority Life are very similar too. Yet Farmville has 64 million monthly active uniques and Farmtown only has 6 million. So what makes some of these games more popular than others?

The whole gaming environment has changed since the introduction of these social media games. Whereas, just a few years ago, games were popular if they were detailed, realistic and challenging. The introduction of social gaming has opened the market from 15-35 year old males to 15-60 year old males and females. Now the traditional games have become the niche and social media games have become the core.

What social media games did was create games that are easy to understand, engaging and takes very little time. Additionally, it seems the more complex the game is, the less viral it is. EA Sports FIFA should be getting a lot of traction right now, given the world cup and the marketing push by Playfish/EA. Yet their active users have started to level off at 2 million over the past week. It's not a complicated game but I feel you need to know who some of these players are in order to be really good at it. Games like Farmville reach a broader audience because practically everybody knows the basics of farming.

What makes Farmville more viral than Farmtown is that Zynga has been more effective at positioning their product. The games are naturally engaging to an extent but after a few hours it can become boring. Farmville tends to get users to invite friends earlier before the novelty has worn off. This effect engages the user even more because then it becomes a competition amongst friends.

In sum, if you create a game that is fun, easy to use, relatable and engaging, your game is positioned for virality. Now you must figure out how to monetize that....

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