Bebo, hi5, Tagged, And MySpace Turn To Social Games For Survival

gamescoinsIf you’ve scanned the social networking news recently, you’ve probably noticed that many non-Facebook social networks are losing traffic, and a lot of them are shifting direction towards games. hi5 acquired Big Six games last week and Bebo launched a dedicated games section late last year. MySpace has been losing traffic steadily for years, and their June 2009 staff cuts and re-emphasis on music, games and applications failed to entice users back to the site. Tagged.com, measured to be 2.65% of the US social network market, integrated with the ourWorld games portal this week. Can these moves help these social networks turn into social gaming networks and compete against the plethora of social games available on Facebook?

The shift in focus by social networks can likely be attributed to the success of Facebook itself and specifically, gaming on Facebook. Games like Farmville have not only generated a lot of revenue and brought new players to the Facebook social network, but they are also taking away from the social networking and gaming traffic of other sites, as users spend more and more time on Facebook.

This is forcing other networks to focus on retaining and engaging their users, and they are doing that by attempting to ensure that they are providing their key demographics with the entertainment they seek. This explains the recent moves by hi5, Bebo, MySpace and now Tagged, as they attempt to hold on to their audience. But it’s not just about the audience for them: it’s about revenue. One of the earliest criticisms against social networks and applications was that they didn’t make any money as pundits, again showing that famous lack of imagination, couldn’t see how users would end up paying for anything on the networks.

Rupert Murdoch went so far as to call Facebook a “directory”, something like a phone book. Â  Sites like Bebo and hi5 made intelligent moves to get virtual currencies that are used across their sites, but the only way that those make sense are with quality games and applications, and this is how the shift in focus began and will continue.

Social Networks Traffic Down
Tagged.com is losing traffic like many other big networks.

The sites still have legs though, as for instance Hitwise reported that in September 2009, Tagged.com had a 2.38% share of the United States social networking site market, based on monthly visits. However, examining the Alexa graph to the left, we know that Tagged, like the other social networks, are steadily losing traffic just like MySpace. Take a look at the Bebo chart, or hi5’s long term chart.

So what can these networks do to stop the downward decline? Do they continue to focus on quality games and try to entice their users? It is a difficult uphill battle that reminds me of the early days of the Facebook application world, where no matter what MySpace did, it couldn’t help losing its users to Facebook. Anecdotally, every friend I’d ask about the two networks would have a million reasons to connect to Facebook: the real identities, the cleaner interface and the applications. How can Tagged and others compete with this now? People loved Facebook even when it was in its infancy, but these days its an indispensable tool and gamers have great options. The Zynga and Playfish portfolios are incredible, and EA is planning to bring its biggest brands to the network.

There are other factors as well. For instance, looking at Tagged’s recent integration with ourWorld, we must note that ourWorld.com is not exclusively associated with Tagged.com, and the games will still be able to be played at sites like Miniclip.com, for example. So players that love the casual gaming simplicity of sites like miniclip.com, newgrounds.com or omgpop.com are also competitors to the new direction of these gaming social networks. Another big question is about how a site like miniclip.com is going to square off against this Facebook Games revolution. We’ll save that for next time!