Social Gaming Is Not the “Next Big Thing” – It’s Been Here For Decades

Some developers think that the social gaming will be the big thing. They say how Farmville or World of Warcraft gets so many players. Little Big Planet is marketed with the “social aspect” of games. I’ve discussed with some people who praise the social media and explain how twitter is like the next big thing after Jesus. Luckily I’m hear to shout from my tower and correct these hopeless stupidities.

There’s two things why social gaming is the next big thing.

  • Single player gaming is going to be there forever
  • Social games have been here like decades

I don’t think social gaming is that big thing. Or at least a new thing. Sure… you might see more online highscores in new games and more ways to “share” your stuff with others, but in the end people who wanna play solo wanna play solo.

Which brings me to my first point:

People who wanna play solo wanna play solo

Here’s some news you might not want to hear:

  • Farmville might have social aspect but my hunch says that 98% of the time you play it alone.
  • Sure, World of Warcraft is played online… but did you realize that there’s tons of people who play solo. These guys don’t want to belong to any clan or meet other people. They play WoW as a single-player game. And developers have catered for this as well. It’s actually massively single-player game to be accurate.

Most players probably don’t want to have social aspects or other human players to play with them. Many people want to experience a fine story that evolves. They want to be in charge.

Players want single-player. Sure, there’s more and more multiplayer games and options (which is good for me) but majority will still stick with single player gaming. Or they play multiplayer games alone.

Have you ever heard of a book that was “read co-op”? Same will be with many, many games.

Social games have been here for ages

Now, to the second point. Little Big Planet – the PS3 hit “social” game – has player made levels. Like 98% of those levels are crap*. It’s also played solo (or home with friends). Sharing tracks sure is easier when you have internet, but think of the following.

About 15 years ago I played some car game where you could create tracks. We created tracks and used floppy disks to bring those levels to our friends. That was social gaming.

* Based on a reliable figure that I just pulled out of thin air.

We player some football manager game. It was supposed to be 1-player game but we played it with my brothers. And same happened for Bruce Lee (C64) and many other games. That was social gaming too.

I have been playing stuff like MUDs, online multiplayer shooters for decade or so. We shared things with our friends and asked people to join. Some people modded. I even drew maps and shared other stuff. It was social gaming, but we didn’t call it that. It was simply called “fun”. We didn’t need to call it “fun 2.0”.

Now, somebody invented stuff like “share” and “2.0” and “social web” and soon this new fad is embraced by the game development community.

Famous Quote by Abraham Lincoln: “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? Five? No, calling a tail a leg don’t make it a leg.”

Social aspect in games is important, but it has been here like forever.

(Will be really interested to read this article in the end of 2010 and see how wrong I was. Oh well. Your thoughts? We can check those too in the end of 2010…)

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. games launched on social platforms… heh. I don’t even bother to mention anything about the crappiness of that definition.

    Maybe I need to define social games. I have a blog and all.



  2. [quote]Games launched on social platforms? ;) [/quote]I agree, that is the current industry definition. Taken in a wider context, yes “social” can mean a whole bunch of different things. It’s a bit like “casual” to someone in the casual game industry means games like you get on Big Fish Games, but outside of the industry people call flash games with zombies in casual just because they can be played for 5 mins with the mouse.

  3. Games launched on social platforms? ;)

    I don’t know if they’re the ‘next big thing’, but definatly are a big deal. I agree with Jake that the ‘next big thing’ is not necessarily a new thing. I mean, you really think the Wii/Motion control wasn’t there before for example? :) But they kinda made it the ‘next big thing’.

    In terms of revenue I think its comparable with iPhone: Only a small portion will actually make profit, let alone good profit. Simply because the entry barrier is very low and making crap games is also easy.

    I currently work at a social website, and try to follow the progressions/developments (even though its not my main responsibility there). And there is a lot of potential in these games :)

  4. Yeh… these are interesting figures.

    I still think the definition of “social game” is bit of a buzzword… since how you define them? Browser based games have been here for long… Oh well.

  5. @Chad: I ended up updating the about page – that might help you to draw some conclusions.

    By the way, you might find this article about authority pretty interesting.

    By the way, by saying rat’s bottocks I didn’t mean that it wouldn’t be a legitimate question. I assume people should automatically question whatever I say… to some extent. My misunderstanding.

    As for “is author a game producer”, I would like to give this link: click clik

  6. @Chad: Very legitimate question. In fact. I think I’ll blog about this in a minute.

    @Jake: 200M – that’s nice. :) Would be nice to know more figures behind Zunga. like what sort of fundign they had, since the company is so new and has got great success. Where did this figure come from?

    It’s left to see how much room there is for other facebook apps. (If it’s in facebook, it’s social – right? ;)

    I’ll cancel that “moneywise” argument of mine :)

  7. “moneywise” Farmville is on track to make $200,000,000. I’d appreciate even 1%, or even 0.1% of that. I’d say it’s a “big thing” when compared with any casual game or iphone game and compared with plenty of AAA titles.

  8. It’s good that you don’t give a rat’s ass. I’m just wondering if a blog with the title of gameproducer.net is written by someone who has had the real experience of producing a successful game.

    I think it’s a legitimate point (I can’t be the only one asking this).

    It’s kind of like if there’s a moviedirector.net blog and the author has only done youtube videos.

  9. @Chad: money making: yes. successful: no (in my scale, dunno what scale you guys use).

    “weight behind”: like I’d give a rat’s a*** of what people think of me or my opinions. :)

    @Brian: checked that timeline, it was pretty interesting actually. Good catch on 3D. I’d suppose the game world was close to 3D, but in the presentation it was using 2D sprites. Same thinking probably goes for Duke Nukem.

    @hermitC: agree on that last bit ;) They sure require extra effort…

    @Reverend: That’s kind of my thinking as well.

  10. IMHO social gaming is simply the marketing buzzword for what gamers already did 10 or 20 years ago. Internet is only the “new” distribution channel where content and thoughts can be shared easily. Web 2.0 (if such a thing even exists – where is Web 1.0?)
    Maybe the “new” social aspect with all its online glory will attract the big players away from the single player area so that the little game producer guy has a better chance to make living from his games. Multiplayer games are a pain to develop, especially for indies.

  11. Juuso wrote:
    [W]hat was the first MMO in your opinion?

    Based on my opinion of the facts….

    I consider MUDs to be MMOs so I would consider Bartle’s MUD1 to be the first MMO. It may not be the absolute first multiplayer networked game, but it influenced a lot of other games down the line. Most of our games can be traced back to that one.

    If you specify graphical game, that’s probably technically Islands of Kesmai, but that used ASCII (like Nethack or other roguelikes). Habitat was graphical, but mostly a social/chat space with a few games within the world. Shadows of Yserbius was one of the first games not part of a third-party network, it was run as part of Sierra’s network.

    What about first 3D MMO?

    Again, that depends on what you define as “3D”. Meridian 59 had a 3D world but used 2D sprites for items in the game, like DOOM. Some people consider that to be “2.5D”, not true 3D. In that case, the person would probably consider EverQuest to be the first. Most people can probably guess where my loyalties lie in that argument. ;)

    Anyway, if you want to know more check out Raph’s MUD Timeline which has a pretty detailed list of events that happened from multiple sources.

  12. Personally, I believe that all games (minus the completely enclosed, single-player games) could be considered social games.

    I view our browser game, StarPirates.net, to be primarily a social outlet for those at home/work/etc., that happens to have a game attached. Most of our features are designed around promoting communication, interaction, and teamwork/competition with other players.

    While that kind of model may not appeal to or work for everyone, we have built a pretty solid player base by following that philosophy.

  13. Has this “game producer” ever released any successful (money making) commercial game?

    If not, his humble opinion doesn’t have much (if any) weight behind it.

  14. Moneywise.

    “Social”wise: you play Farmville, how much time you spend on “social activity” with that game?

    And “more people playingwise” – I don’t believe that people are spending more time playing Farmville compared to what the WoW players are doing. And besides, it’s not Farmville against WoW.

    It’s “social gaming” versus “other type of gaming”. Other type of gaming is a big thing. Like casual games for example. Social game is just a fad that dies sooner than plant in my garden.

    My humble opinion. :)

  15. My point is that… just because “social web” stuff like “2.0” and “sharing” are IN right now it doesn’t mean that they would be a big deal in games.

    And I kind of think that “social games” are a not a big thing. :)

  16. Saying something is “the next big thing” does not in fact mean that it’s new. Something can be old but due to the right circumstances (e.g. popularity of facebook) it can become the next big thing. Mobile phone games were not new but they certainly became “the next big thing” on iphone. I would also argue that social games are now in fact “the current big thing” and that you need to hurry if you want to get in on the gold rush before it gets saturated by the big players. The real quest is “what is the next big thing”, watch the trends and get in early, or fast follow, or even start the next big thing yourself!

  17. Brian: question for you – what was the first MMO in your opinion? What about first 3D MMO?

  18. Sargon: hehee, indeed it was! pic – I didn’t remember the name.

    Sturgeon’s law… I bet he didn’t invent that. There must have been somebody before him. (but at least he got his name into that quote ;)

  19. Unfortunately, it’s always the nature of people to believe they are first. I get annoyed when people try to curtail MMO history by claiming that some specific graphical game was “the first real game.” Even I don’t claim the game I own, Meridian 59 is the first MMO. It has a place in history, but you can split hairs for eternity trying to find it. (First “modern” MMO? First 3D MMO? First to use monthly subscription? First MMO published by a major publisher?)

    The other problem we have is that people like to throw around big numbers. Bigger is always better, right? After all, McDonald’s is the ultimate form of cuisine since they serve the most people. Personally, I don’t think you can’t accurately compare Farmville with WoW because the business models are very different. You can’t often compare WoW to other MMOs since WoW got into China before the government decided to clamp down hard on “foreign” games. (Not to say that either game isn’t impressive, but the numbers alone aren’t good comparisons.)

    Sadly, the game industry seems intent on not being informed on history. I suspect it’s partially because people want to pretend they’re smarter than previous developers, so if they develop a concept “independently” they don’t have to acknowledge someone from the past. Sadly, no matter what the cause, this attitude keeps us re-inventing the wheel on a regular basis.

    But, hey, at least you’ll get coverage in a magazine by claiming to be the first!

    P.S. the quote you want to prove that most stuff is garbage is Sturgeon’s Law: “90% of everything is crap.” From SF writer Theodore Sturgeon’s quote, “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That’s because 90% of everything is crud.”

  20. Yea, I also agree that real social gaming is when people sit in the same room and play.
    By the way juuso, was that car game called stunts? :P

  21. Totally agree on this one. Just because a game uses Facebook Connect doesn’t make it more “social” than any others that have been on for years.
    I’m a real enthusiast when it come to web based games, been doing it (as amateur) for almost 10years, even when i started around 99/00 there was already tons of games with a real social aspect, i see you talk about MUDs, this is a great example, forums role playing games have been around for a while know too.
    I like the quote from Lincoln, very true, but i think we cannot do much, when Techrunch is saying about City of Eternal, that it’s a revolution in social gaming and flash gaming, i can just laugh, Dofus have been around since 2002, and is far more close to a revolution than CoE is, Dofus now account for more than 2 Millions active players, with clans, war, tons of websites, forums, for players to interact with each other, since last year, they even have there own convention in France.

    My problem is really those blogs, tech papers, and other, surfing on the buzz of “social gaming”, in really gives me allergy…

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