Inside Social Apps 2010: Mobile Will Overtake Facebook for Social Gaming

The mobile panel at our Inside Social Apps conference today was confident: mobile is the right bet. These are companies that, in some cases, had a choice of developing Facebook games or going to the iPhone. Today, they’re much smaller than a company like Zynga or Playfish — but growing quickly.

Here’s the panelist list:

Jason Oberfest, VP Social, ngmoco
Keith Lee, CEO, Booyah
Doug Bewsher, CMO, mig33
Shervin Pishevar, Chairman, SGN
Eric Goldberg, Managing Director, Crossover Technologies (Moderator)

One of the keys to succeeding with mobile is native to the platform — Oberfest noted early in the session that mobile apps get eight or more logins per day. Pishever had his own data point: while it was still a paid app, SGN’s F.A.S.T. had an average revenue per user of 99 cents. After going free, the ARPU tripled and retention went up an order of magnitude. Lee said that Booyah’s location-based game, My Town, got about 70 minutes of use per day from its 1.9 million users. All of these numbers beat almost anything on Facebook.

But so far, the total number of smartphone users is still far lower than Facebook’s 400 million people. Goldberg, the moderator, asked Pishever at one point if he regretted not choosing Facebook, which ballooned over just two years.

Not at all, said Pishevar. “We think the future of all our experiences will be mobile. I think five years from now, maybe even three years, the actual apps and gaming space on mobile will be bigger than what’s happening on Facebook today.” His proof is his past accuracy: two years ago, Pishever predicted that social gaming on Facebook would be a billion-dollar market by 2010.

Bewsher, from the game network mig33, also pointed out the well-known fact that many developing countries with large populations have more mobile phones than computers. That’s the market the mig33 taps, and despite a low average income of around $200 per month, Bewsher says that the people who do buy virtual goods on mig33 pay over a dollar a month to the company.

Despite the high level of agreement across the panel that mobile will blossom very soon, there was some disagreement over what it will look like.

Bewsher thinks that there will be many platforms, just as there are in his overseas market. To Pishevar, the market will soon divide into different smartphone camps like iPhone and Android — replaying the Mac and PC split from the 1990s. And the iPhone remains the enabler — Apple’s new Game Center is “the fuel that we’ll all be able to grow on,” he said. “We couldn’t do it until we had all the pieces.”

The last part of the panel went to audience questions, during which several independent developers got up to ask how to advance in their market. The answer: create promotional materials and buzz for your game ahead of time, just like a traditional game. And Pishevar welcomed other companies to contact SGN or Ngmoco for cross-promotion.

Two pieces of advice were more specific to the iPhone. The first is that hitting the charts is critical. An app has to reach the top 50 to succeed at all, and inclusion in the top 25 is the cutoff for really getting traction. Once in that upper echelon, users will tend to flood into an app. And Oberfest, asked whether the social component in iPhone games is really needed, responded that it’s more than helpful: making games social is “critical”.