Social Games Plant the Seeds for Growing Online Communities

A few month ago, we first wrote about the trend of fan blogs appearing for Facebook games like FarmVille and Pet Society. Avid gamers have been creating professional-looking sites that both provide a community for supposedly “casual” gamers, and share news on in-game changes and fresh strategies.

As a new trend, fan blogs still have an uncertain future; some have grown fairly quickly, while others, including most that we mentioned back in October, haven’t grown at all. We spent some time looking for the more successful blogs. Four are shown below on a Compete graph:

Keep in mind that Compete isn’t always accurate — it quite often underestimates traffic to small sites. Worse, it only counts traffic in the United States, whereas Facebook games are an international trend. Traffic to these English-language sites is probably significantly higher than reported, and there are also quite a few foreign-language blogs around.

One simple way to track this larger audience is to head over to Google Trends and search for terms like FarmVille and Facebook cheats.  In many cases, the United States isn’t even in the top five for search term growth, being outweighed by countries like the Phillipines and Turkey.

Another thing to note is that the number of blogs following any given game isn’t proportional to the number of players it has. Café World, for instance, is the second-largest game on Facebook, but doesn’t have a large blog following. Generally speaking, the games most successful in creating vocal fan followings are those that are highly competitive, like Mobsters, or that involve difficult to obtain in-game virtual goods, like FarmVille.

You can see FarmVille’s outsized influence above, through the growth of FarmVille Freak. This blog is definitely an outlier in terms of growth. It’s also at the forefront in its design. The top banner shows off the blog’s visual chops, while the stories are short and to the point, with a good mix of news, feature reviews and hints on how to get ahead.

That’s not all there is to the site, either. There’s also a chat room, FAQ, forum and gallery — the site is actually quite large. In some ways, FV Freak is beginning to resemble the much larger dedicated sites that MMORPGs like World of Warcraft have inspired.

This growth of gaming blogs into multi-faceted communities, with different activities for a range of players, may be the direct result of the growing complexity of games like FarmVille. Web gaming has always had large sites like Kongregate and MSN Games that double as gaming portals and community sites, but websites following particular games are rare.

For Facebook’s games, that’s changing. Check out Pablo Paniagua’s blog for an example of how; Panaguia has written two posts in a row breaking down the economics of planting different trees and raising various animals on FarmVille.

The question is whether Facebook game blogs can catch up with the huge user communities spun out by MMORPGs. On the one hand, the idea sounds ridiculous; WoW’s players are clearly far more engaged than the average social game player, and the game world is much larger.

But when WoW got started, it wasn’t taken for granted that huge, independent player communities would spin out of the game. Three years ago I interviewed Hubert Thieblot, the young French founder of a WoW community site called Curse.com.

At the time, Curse was still settling into its swanky new San Francisco offices. Employees lined a long table in the main room, while Thieblot sat in an office, looking vaguely uncomfortable. He had good reason to feel out of place; another two years before, in 2005, Thieblot had just been another addicted teenage WoW player. The explosion of users on his site, a side project, brought revenue, employees and soon, venture capitalists.