Liveblogging from Inside Social Apps, New York: Social and Mobile Game Product Design and Development

We’re liveblogging our Inside Social Apps New York conference. What follows is a paraphrased account of the panel “Social and Mobile Game Product Design and Development,” moderated by Inside Social Games Lead Writer Mike Thompson.

Panelists include Mike Sego of Gaia Online, Mathieu Nouzareth of FreshPlanet, Doug Scott from ngmoco and Robert Winkler from 5th Planet Games.

The panelists begin by discussing the opportunities presented by the rise of mobile games.

Mike Sego: The audience playing mobile games is more diverse. Our premise has been to develop games for gamers and for those that want to play high quality game on social and mobile platforms. This opens up a whole new opportunity on mobile where new apps and new game types are emerging all the time compared to social, where two of the top three grossing games on Facebook are FarmVille and FarmVille 2 whereas mobile is more titled toward hardcore and games for gamers.

Mike Thompson: Do you find fast follows or original development works better?

Doug Scott: All games are a mix of both. If you look in free to play, it’s a mix of what they love – what they know – and new things. If you don’t bring your creative process into the mix, you’ll always fall flat. I don’t think a straight clone of a game will ever really find true success in the market. It’s always about being inspired from things that exist in the market.

Rob Winkler: What’s always driven us is creating games we want to play. [Card strategy games] weren’t as prevalent on Facebook and mobile a few years ago.

Sego: Fast following has never been as rewarded on mobile as it was on social, but over the last year with the changing landscape for how games are discovered and how much higher the competition, the strategy of looking at what the current top grossing games are and then rapidly iterating on a near identical clone will almost certainly fall flat on mobile. The way that audience discovers games, they’ve already seen the leader — there’s a lot more attention focused in the same place for app discovery, so they’ve seen it already. The arbitrage game trying to acquire users for slightly less than you can make has been crowded out with increased cost of acquisition. If you’re not bringing something users are going to have an emotional connection with, something they’ll want to share… [it’s not possible.]

Thompson: What would work on other platforms that wouldn’t work on Facebook?

Winkler: I think the things that really pushed social are set up to be more successful on things like Kongregate, where there are core gamers that aren’t there to post pictures or something. We built our games for Facebook, but we were pushing social features like building a clan system — a hybrid of realtime interaction in your social groups and games and rewarding players for being heavily connected. That really served us well when we pivoted off of Facebook. We put our games [on Kongregate] and they had this realtime chat feature and that [had] and instant effect on us and we had this direct feedback loop. It’s good and bad for sales, we’ve learned, but it’s good for the guild and clan features and the raids. That’s something we felt was lacking on Facebook. We have the number one game on Kongregate and we really felt the platform, the type of gamer on it, really connected with us.

Sego: A game that wouldn’t work on Facebook would be a paid app. That concept does not exist. I think ultimately if you’re looking for a game to have longer term retention and higher monetization, you want in-app purchases and social features. That’s the most dominant style of games successful on all platforms. Browser based games in general as opposed to mobile platforms — mobile has ubiquitous access, but odds are even with great connections, it’s tough to have a great synchronous experience on mobile. With a browser-based game, you see companies making it more realtime. I don’t think it’s just possible, I think it will be an emerging category of game in the coming year.

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