Live Notes from #SGS09 – Building Social Games at Scale

sgs-2009Good morning from Social Gaming Summit 2009, a one day conference on games and the social web. This year’s focus is on “helping social games developers build, monetize, and grow their social games.” Check out the day’s agenda here, and we’ll be live blogging on select panels throughout the day beginning with the 10:00 am panel session on Building Social Games at Scale. On the panel are:

Jeremy: How do you deal with new successful games (like Farm Town) and gaming companies that come out of the blue and are a hit?

Mark: While it’s true that some games have come out of the blue, this is a new market that’s expanding. In social gaming, where it’s free, people can play many games. We welcome the Farm Town’s of the world because they introduce new people to social gaming.

Sebastien: A new trend in the world of social gaming is that users are responsible for distribution. On Facebook, quality drives distribution. A newcomer in a crowded field can come in and create a #1 hit. Users win in the social gaming proposition. From a business perspective, you need to create a business, not just one game and work hard to create and put together creative studios that generate multiple hits.

John: What’s cool about social gaming is that it’s not just about the IP or the game itself, but about the way users interact with games and the ability of companies to nail virality, engagement, and monetization.

Jeremy: Do companies that have scale have an added advantage of launching new games because of cross promotion?

Sebastian: Not necessarily. Five weeks ago, we launched Restaurant City with no cross promotion and grew to five million users. In the long-term, it’s not about how quickly you acquire users, but if you can capture their imagination and provide value to them and their friends.

Mark: Before launching a new game, we test our games and look for success metrics around virality and retention. Fortunately, we killed a few games that most have never heard of. We’ve invested $2 million in a game before, but didn’t see the metrics come through. When they do, we’ll promote the game heavily.

Jeremy: What are metrics do you use as a gauge before pulling promotional muscle?

Sebastien: At Playfish, we focus on fun. When the majority of our company can’t do anything but play the game and is so engrossed in the game, that’s the litmus test. We design games as objects of social interaction.

Jeremy: To what extent are games truly social versus being accessed on a social network for distribution purposes?

Sebastien: The reason why we’re focused on bringing friends into games is because creating games is about generating emotions. Social games allow emotions to be maximized (e.g., when your sister beats your high score), so engagement is naturally higher.

Mark: Successful social games need to build three legs: 1) feeling that playing with real friends; 2) a way to express yourself; 3) give players the opportunity to invest in the game over time – social capital.

John: I agree with the idea of social gaming becoming something where friends and family can interact with each other. In my personal life, connection points with my children are much higher because I can do something with them besides email when I’m traveling. The industry is at an interesting part of the curve.

Question from the audience: How are games developed in the context of evolving human relationships?

Sebastien: As an example, around Christmas time, we sold 20 million virtual trees. People are spending more money on virtual currency than in real life because only a few of your friends can see your real tree, but all your Facebook friends can see virtual ones.

John: In playing social games with my colleagues, my relationships with them have changed, and I’ve been able to develop entirely different relationships this way. It’s like a parallel universe that expands my understanding of the people I work closely with.

Up next, expert talks from Siqi Chen (Serious Business) on “Viral Metrics In Action – Building a Killer Testing and Metrics Infrastructure” and David King, (Lil Green Patch) on “Getting the Most Out of Your IP: Extend or Prepare to be Cloned.” Stay tuned!