Social Games Really Are Social — A Majority Play With Friends

Traditionally, players of online games have mingled freely with strangers. On Facebook, users’ real-world social connections have obviously changed this paradigm, mixing game players more with people in their existing social circles — but just how much more? Part of our most recent report, Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Habits of the Social Gaming Audience, addressed this question.

The findings were surprisingly strong in favor of real-world connections. A clear majority of people play with “friends”, while two further real-world categories claim most of the remaining interactions: co-workers and classmates. The exact breakdowns are below:

Both co-workers and classmates, of course, might also be considered friends; taken together, the three categories account for 80.5 percent of the average player’s interactions on Facebook games.

This powerful majority helps explain why the most popular games released this year, even those put out after Facebook’s infamous notification changes, contain numerous features that encourage players to interact with those from their existing Facebook network, but include very few features that encourage or allow interaction with strangers.

Players also seem to favor this state of affairs; as one told us, games serve as “a nice way to stay connected with people.”

There’s a bit more to the picture, though. As part of our research, which was conducted through surveys of Facebook game players, we also asked how players found their favorite games. Some 44.5 percent had arrived via friend invites, a number that correlates strongly with the 55.5 percent who play with friends.

Virality, clearly, is still a powerful mechanism in gaming, but it’s also one that to an extent predetermines a player’s interaction — if invited in by friends, it makes sense that players will report playing with those same friends later.

And the 19.5 percent minority that reports playing with strangers is by no means small or insignificant — especially given the setup of most Facebook games, which gives no direct way to connect with strangers.

Friends and other real-world acquaintances are still clearly the most important group for Facebook gamers, and our findings suggest that developers are justified in continuing to focus on real-world connections. However, given the diversity of Facebook’s players, our stats also suggest that interactions with strangers may be another promising avenue in the future.

In-depth breakdowns of all the data referenced above is available in our full report, Inside Virtual Goods: Spending and Usage Patterns of the Social Gaming Audience. The full report includes over 30 charts and graphs with detailed information on social gamers’ spending and playing habits, demographic differences, and brand recognition.

The full table of contents is below:

I. Methodology and Respondents

1. Introduction
  • About Inside Virtual Goods
  • About the Authors
  • Survey Objectives
2. Research Methodology
  • Target Population
  • Respondent Acquisition Method
  • Survey Structure
  • Potential for Bias
3. Survey Respondents
  • Description of Total Respondent Population

II. Overall Results

4. Favorite Game
  • Distribution of Favorite Game
  • Frequency of Play
  • Favorite Game Discovery
  • With Whom Do You Play?
  • Spending on Favorite Game
5. Payments
  • Frequency of Payment Methods
6. Play Patterns, Spending, and Brand Recall for Top Games
  • Frequency of Play in Top Games
  • Spending in Top Games
  • Aided Brand Recall for Top Games

III. Demographic Differences in Usage Patterns and Monetization

7. Regional Differences

  • Game Discovery and Spending
  • Favorite Game
  • Payment Types
8. Age and Gender Differences
  • Who are the Social Gaming “Whales”?
  • Spend Across Games
  • Analyzing the Top Two Games: FarmVille and Pet Society

Index of Charts and Graphs

  • 1.1 Survey Respondents by Region
  • 1.2 Survey Respondents by Age
  • 1.3 Survey Respondents by Gender
  • 4.1 Distribution of Favorite Game
  • 4.2 Frequency of Play of Favorite Game
  • 4.3 Method of Discovery of Favorite Game
  • 4.4 Who Players Play With
  • 4.5 Monthly Spending on Favorite Game
  • 5.1 Frequency of Payment Methods
  • 6.1 Frequency of Play in Top Games
  • 6.2 Spending in Top Games
  • 6.3 Aided Brand Recall Rates for Top Games
  • 7.1 Method of Discovery of Favorite Game By Region
  • 7.2 Who Players Play With By Region
  • 7.3 Monthly Spending on Favorite Game By Region
  • 7.4 Favorite Game By Region
  • 7.5 Most Popular Payment Types By Region
  • 7.6 Frequency of Offer Use By Region
  • 7.7 Frequency of PayPal Use By Region
  • 7.8 Frequency of Credit Card Use By Region
  • 7.9 Frequency of Mobile Phone Use By Region
  • 8.1 Top Spenders by Age
  • 8.2 Top Spenders By Gender
  • 8.3 Top Spenders By Region
  • 8.4 Number of Games on Which a Player Spends More Than $25
  • 8.5 Frequency of Top Spending By Game and By Gender
  • 8.6 Proportion of Top Spenders Who Report Spending on a Given Gam
  • 8.7 FarmVille Top Spenders by Age
  • 8.8 Pet Society Top Spenders by Age
  • 8.9 FarmVille Top Spenders by Region
  • 8.10 Pet Society Top Spenders by Region
  • 8.11 FarmVille Top Spenders by Gender
  • 8.12 Pet Society Top Spenders by Gender


  • Survey Questions and Response Rates
  • Related Companies