Layton Hawkes - Game Designer

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Exploring Social Games

Originally published on March 21, 2011.

Introduction

The face of the games industry over the the past five years has changed significantly. Platforms such as the iPhone and Facebook have provi

ded unprecidented areas of growth for games. Due to the nature and popularity of these two platforms casual games have been the main avenue of expansion, the grand ‘notion’ of games is no longer constrained to the PC and consoles. What constitutes a ‘gamer’ is now broad, encompassing all genders, ages and nationalities, including whole family participation.

Social games are the most popular sector of the casual games industry. The company that is arguably synonymous with social game is Zynga. Zynga was formed in 2007 and focuses on the development of social games, and now in 2011 could be valued as high as $10 billion according to a recent article by the The Wall Street Journal[1]. In as little as four years Zynga have shown the amazing potential of the sector. Their latest game CityVille has over 90 million average monthly users, or in a more steady figure over 20 million people play CityVille every day[2]. It is currently the most popular game ever on Facebook. Social games have captivated a wide international audience.

With such huge numbers of players being attracted to social games, it’s hard to ignore that this sector will be a big part of the future of not only the games industry but the entertainment industry as a whole. This paper will explore social games, and what design principles are used to create them, including the mechanics and psychology at play behind them, what a social game is and to whom they appeal.  Specifically focusing on the social games of Facebook. What makes popular social games captivate wide international audiences, what are some of the keys to their success?

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