Liveblogging Inside Social Apps: Trends in Social Gaming

We’re at the San Francisco Design center, blogging Inside Network’s third annual Inside Social Apps conference.

The second panel of the day is “Trends in Social Gaming”. Joining moderator AJ Glasser on stage is Loot Drop’s COO and game designer Brenda Garno Brathwaite, Zynga Dallas’ creative director Bill Jackson, Gaia Interactive’s CEO Mike Sego and’s co-founder and chief creative officer Sebastian Knutsson. The following is a paraphrased transcript of the discussion.

AJ: I wanted to talk about the evolution of social games. Are they going to mimic the path of traditional games?

Bill: I come from that sector — for me it’s not a separate path, it’s the same path and one continuum. Atari, Nintendo and PCs all brought in larger audiences. I think the mission in my mind is to make the audience larger and make room for play.

Mike: I think the evolution of social games has been in an interesting path. It’s been very different from the evolution of console games. Games that evolve with better graphics are missing the point, I think the point of social and mobile is to expand the audience and bring in new players. I think it there is room for a wider variety of games. Three developers working out of a garage can open up a new segment on social and mobile and invent a new genre of game.

Brenda: I do see a trend that the social space is actually following the development path of the traditional games industry. The traditional games industry got very “genre-fied” and the social game space is following that. We’re getting a culture of fast-follow where we take things and copy it and there’s a lack of innovation.

AJ: has been very good at innovating on older games like Snood and Puzzle Bobble and making it into a totally different game. Can you tell us about your development process?

Sebastian: Our focus as has been to stay with our core demographic and make games that are easy to play and get into. Even though people are asking for more advanced graphics, the strength is social. People want to play with their friends.

AJ: What do you see as the future use of friends in social games? Will it just be leader boards?

Sebastian: I think the focus will be on cooperative and collaborative gaming, allowing people to hook up with other players, not just their friends.

Brenda: I think playing with your friends is just a bribery function right now. In the game I’m working on I very deliberately didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make sure that having it there felt like a natural and intrinsic part of gameplay for both casual and hardcore players. That was probably one of the most important features in the design.

AJ: One of the trends that we’ve seen is combat – what impact do you think real-time competitive play will have on social games?

Bill: I think that’s a tool and the game needs to demand that tool to use it well. I think there’s an opportunity in the space for synchronous play. So far we haven’t had a giant hit but I don’t think there’s a reason there couldn’t be. I’m excited to expand on asynchronous play because I think that’s one space where social games have innovated.

Mike: I think Facebook and the web is very successful as an asynchronous platform. It’s a platform where I can update what I did three hours ago and get feedback on it. I think the success of Words With Friends is based off how well it fits with Facebook’s usage habits. That said there’s a lot of people playing games on Facebook and people are interested in playing synchronous combat games. Facebook does compete with other platforms, and when you play a game on Facebook you’re not playing on another a platform. For synchronous play to be a hit, there needs to be a game were you can bring in players that wouldn’t play a real-time combat game and bring them into that experience, even if they’re not the type to play a game for two hours on a console.