Social Games Gold Rush

Here’s a very simple question to anyone who is thinking leaping in the social games (whatever that means) bandwagon:

Would EA/Microsoft/[insert big company name here]/Google/Apple clone my idea and beat me?

Big players have money. If they smell money somewhere, they’ll come there. iFart wasn’t the most popular iphone farting app. There was some other (which name nobody can remember – including me) that was dominating the fart apps, but then iFart came and pretty much cloned the app (changed something to make sure it doesn’t look like a clone) and did better SEO and better marketing – and got the first place. Funder of iFart was actually a marketing guru dude (who isn’t really into gaming at all) and he doesn’t have a big corporation (Apple/Google big) but compared to the other farting app developer, he was a bigger player with bigger marketing.

This same thing happens everywhere.

So, how this thing about “ask the question works”?

Here’s an example. If you would like to do a new innovative social game… you can then ask this question. “If I was to do this new social rpg. Would Zunga clone my Book of Face RPG with better marketing, bigger budget and eventually ruin my biz?”

If the answer is yes, don’t come back later saying I didn’t warn you.

Should you stop… and do nothing?
Sadly, the previous question might lead to a situation where you start thinking “RTS? EA… FPS? EA… 3D Simulation? EA…” and so on.

Which is good.

That means now we are getting closer to what indie dev means.

Nobody has made a zombie MMO, and big corporations didn’t the subject. Well, small indie studio did it (it’s not typical mmo, but tons of players anyway). And now it’s been online for quite a time already. Nobody has created 3D zombie MMO and for some reasons no big corporation is touching the subject. Maybe they thing there’s too little market potential or something. Well, small indie studio started doing it (should be out this summer I believe).

Can you find any big gaming corporation doing any 2D RPGs for hardcore gamers? No, they are busy doing Diablo clones with 3D graphics. Well, one small studio has been doing this type of RPG development in a basement filled with spiders for over a decade, and has been doing pretty darn well.

One guy stopped working at Lionhead and started doing his resource management games, all in 2D. And this guy has been be doing pretty well.

So… should one do “social games” (dunno what that means)?

Well, possibly. If you can find a good angle on things and do something that others might not be able to clone (I don’t know if that means creating a social zombie game that’s so grouse that big corporations won’t touch), or that has something that they cannot clone (people are one thing that are not so hard to clone – just some food for thought). “Working for free” cannot be cloned either by big corporations.

There’s many ways to be unique.

Your thoughts? Are you into this “social gaming” stuff?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Agreed. Unique is what will quickly become lacking on these platforms, IMO.

  2. “But you own the vision and that’s something that’s not easily copied.”
    To me that sounds like a pretty darn good way to be unique.

  3. I remember somebody making the following comparison:

    Indies are like little mammals running between the legs of the big and mighty dinosaurs (EA, MS, etc.). They can life from the food the big ones oversee on the floor or drop out of their mouth while chewing. They just have to be fast and smart enough not to become trodden.

    Sounds right to me. Seems to be all about product placement and dynamic.

  4. I’m of the personal belief that not doing something because it might get ripped by a bigger company is an unfortunate way to think. Sure, what you’re doing today can be copied. Fairly easily. Even by another indie. But you own the vision and that’s something that’s not easily copied. We can take chances that they can’t. We can change suddenly and they can’t.

    Second point – I really wonder if the massive amount of players companies like Zygna draws are really worth much. Same difference between have a million Twitter followers who are mostly passive rather than a small core group of fans.

    In looking over offerings major studios released with lolapps yesterday it really occurred to me that retaining players on a platform like this, that is so formulaic, isn’t going to work for long. At the same time, it’s cheap and easy to throw on a Superhero or Ninja skin and get something out the door. Which is good for a bigger studio because these games are less about play and more about marketing. These are potentially the new game trailers. I can see value in putting up something like this for no other reason than to have a pool of players who have given permission for later marketing efforts.

    All in all, I feel that big studios don’t want to pioneer, at least on these platforms. And that’s good news for all of us who are trying to figure out if social games are useful.

    So, I guess I’m in the camp of “wait and see” for social games. But I’m working on a small title, just to dip my toe in the pool and see how it goes. Which is another angle Big Co. can’t easily clone – my ability to try something, fail, and walk away. Retreat isn’t tolerated by corporations. You could lose your job that way. ;)

  5. @Brian: the statement in the end: “Working for free” cannot be cloned either by big corporations. covers that “low overhead” ;)

    @GamingHorror: Yes, I agree on doing things that are fun… no comments on other points you made :)

  6. You forget the other advantage that indies have: low overhead. We were able to run Meridian 59 for several years with modest profits because we kept overhead low. We worked with our community to help find good deals on what we needed. So, even though other games came along and did the whole MMO thing bigger and better, we were able to survive for years with 3-5 full time employees making enough to get by on.

    The larger companies, on the other hand, have to shoot for big numbers because they have larger overhead. Whereas your game might be fine with 50k purchases (or 10k subscribers), a larger company has to shoot for 100 times those numbers to make it worth their while.

    So let Zynga or EA or whoever come along and clone your small game. Keep your overhead low, retain your customers the best you can, and you’ll do just fine. If they come along and your usebase drops, though, time to change strategies FAST! ;)

  7. I think that you should do whatever you can. Even if you come up with a 99% risk of the game being cloned when it is successful, as Indie once you got there and subsequently get (b)eaten by a big fish – you’re still successful as hell and in relation probably a lot more so than the big player.

    Keep in mind: if you’re successful enough that you’re being cloned, you are pretty darn successful. Probably more so than Spiderweb, Positech, and all the other Indies. So getting beaten is really a non-issue when it comes to deciding what game to do or how to do it.

Comments are closed.