What Exactly are Social Games?

When the Facebook platform launched over a year ago, many observers of the new platform quickly realized that gaming was quickly becoming one of the most popular category of applications on the site. What appeared to be revolutionary about this new series of games was the turn-based model that was seamlessly integrated into the Facebook experience.

Once other platforms launched, this “new” genre of games quickly followed. At the time, I think many people were simply amazed at the sheer number of users playing extremely simple games like “Scrabulous” (which was recently shut down). What many began to realize was an explosion of casual gaming through which I believe the awareness of each others’ gaming activities was a catalyst for.

More recently I’ve been wondering about the concept of a “social games” segment as part of the general gaming industry. Prior to sharing my personal thoughts on the matter, I thought it would be best to give a general overview of social games and the companies behind them.

What are Social Games?

Within months of the platform there was an explosion of “social gaming” and soon enough, many people (including myself) were convinced that social games were the next big thing on social networks. So what exactly makes a social game different from other games? I believe that there are a few factors which differentiate social games from the others:

  • Turn-based – A social game is not social unless you are playing with another person. As such, social games enable users to take turns. Turn-based games are nothing new but in the current environment, turn-based takes on a new meaning. Keep in mind that turn-based is not a requirement, just a frequent feature found in “social games”.
  • Awareness of others’ actions in games – I honestly believe this was the catalyst for “social gaming.” When you could see in your news feed that your friend just bit another one of your friends to turn them into a vampire, suddenly there was social context, making you more likely to interact with the game.
  • Casual gaming – “Social gaming” is not really for so called “hardcore gamers”. As it is currently referred to, social gaming is for the average user and not for someone who plans on playing 24 hours a day. Then again, that may be an unexpected side effect.
  • Multiplayer – This is a no brainer. You can’t be social without there being other people so whether it’s two or two hundred users, the game has to be multiplayer for it to be social.
  • Based on Social Platforms – The final component that I believe typifies “social games” is that they are based around social platforms. In the context of social gaming, social platforms provide users with an identity and also can provide the backbone for simple forms of communication (such as notifications, etc).

So for the purpose of this article I’ll go ahead and put forth a definition of social games. As you will see toward the end of this article, there is still room for debate over whether or not such forms of classification are justified. So here is my best definition of social games:

Social games are a structured activity which has contextual rules through which users can engage with one another. Social games must be multiplayer and have one or more of the following features: turn-based, are based on social platforms for providing users with an identity and are casual.

What Are the Leading Companies Creating Social Games?

Since the launch of the Facebook platform a little over one year ago, a new set of companies have emerged to tackle the social gaming market. Each different in their approach, a number of companies have begun developing a wide range of games that target a broad audience of users. Below are a few of the leading companies that are involved in social gaming in one form or another. If I miss any, please feel free to let me know.