The Biggest Trends in Social Gaming Right Now

Led by the growth of mobile devices, social gaming is one of the most engaging and popular activities across all screens. In fact, according to a report conducted by Newzoo, players around the globe spend one billion hours daily playing games. To put that into perspective, that’s more than five times the amount they spend on YouTube or Facebook.

Another report, this time from Flurry, an apps analytics and ad tools marketplace for developers, shares that the average U.S. consumer spends two hours and 42 minutes a day on mobile devices; 86 percent of that time is spent in apps and 14 percent is spent browsing the Web. Gaming commands roughly 32 percent of consumers’ app time.

Looking ahead, analysts are already predicting that mobile gaming will generate upwards of $100 billion in revenue by 2017. But just how is social and mobile gaming growing at such a swift pace? Below are a few of the biggest trends and tactics being utilized to keep players locked on, and engaged with their social games.

Genres Mash up

Action, Adventure, Role Playing Games (RPG), Massively Multi-Player Online (MMO), Strategy – there’s certainly no lack of genres that can be used to categorize any specified title. However, these definitions of genres are becoming increasingly blurred.

One reason for this is that developers are breaking away from the traditional mold of game development and are increasingly adopting sub-genres within the game’s main genre. For example, adding elements of MMO and RPG strategy into puzzle games (puzzle quests), or alternatively adding casual elements into games that would be considered more hardcore. These newly formed mixed genres mesh together into new and intricate combinations.

When done right, meshing gameplay elements results in increased engagement by the players which in turn leads to a wider range of monetization opportunities for the developers.

Special Events

The last thing you want to have a player feel, regardless of the game they’re playing, is unchallenged, but that doesn’t necessarily mean adding more levels which can take up a lot of design time. Event driven challenges are a perfect way to give players more of what they love — in this case, generally adding more to the main storyline of a game.

Examples of event based challenges include:

1. Tournaments – Where the player who gains the most points, trains the most troops or kills the largest number of enemies is rewarded.

2. Time Pressure – Where the player is bound by time order to complete a set of missions.

In-Game Appointments

By design, social and mobile games are created with the intent to keep players coming back for more. Whether they win or lose, players will log in or play for short gaming breaks as part of their hectic daily schedules. But just in case life’s countless daily chores happen to steal too much attention, developers are implementing in-game appointments to remind players, “Hey, it’s time to come back”.

In-game appointments or push notifications mean that users must log-in or participate in a specific event at a scheduled time. In other words, if you’ve recently seen a push notification reminding you that your troops are ready, that you have an extra life or that it’s time to log in and claim a reward, what you’re seeing are in-game appointments. This tactic is used to help make the game part of the player’s busy daily schedule.

In a sense, push notifications can be a double-edged sword. They can either act as the best thing that smartphones can offer, or overused, they can annoy users into deleting an app without prejudice. One rule of thumb to remember is that players do generally appreciate being notified of important in-game updates and special offers. So watch what you send. Also, notifications are a prime opportunity to connect with players on a human level, with most players connecting with push messages that contain funny, witty messages.

Micro-Transactions for Everything

When it comes to monetizing social games, micro-transactions are the way to go. Free-to-play games accounted for 79% of all revenue on the iOS and Google Play app markets in the U.S. of January 2014, according to a report from app-tracking firm Distimo.

When you get right down to it, micro-transactions put the players in control of their gaming experience by allowing them to decide how much they want to pay, and when.

From a developer’s standpoint, micro-transactions open up a wider range of monetization opportunities, and make it easy to think of clever ways to update games such as adding new items, features, characters, levels, extra lives, surprise items, you name it. On the flip side, from a player’s perspective, a dollar always seems like a reasonable amount to pay if it means unlocking cool stuff that makes the game more enjoyable.

Cross Platform Reach

Reaching gamers on multiple mobile devices is no longer the exception, it’s the rule. However one of the biggest challenges in developing cross-platform mobile games is that each mobile platform has its own native language and software development kits, not to mention different processing powers and screen sizes. Sure, there are solutions that allow code sharing; for example HTML5 can be run on the three main platforms, as can code written in C++. However, using the native language and SDK of each platform usually has significant advantages in supporting the full functionality.

Keep in mind, there are still a lot of older devices in use as well. One strategy that developers are taking when optimizing their games for lower-end devices is designing different menus, UI, and minimizing textures all while trying to maintain the same gameplay. The ultimate goal when porting a mobile game to multiple platforms is to ensure that all types of gamers share a single, great experience regardless of what device they’re on.

So What’s Next?

If we’re going to predict what some of the main trends in social gaming will be in the weeks and months ahead, we’re going to have to take a quick look back at what’s consistently worked over time. One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is that cross promotion works. When launching a new title, the likelihood of piquing the interest of players from previous titles is much higher than marketing to a new audience.

Another lesson learned that will only get more powerful and effective in the near future is tapping into your player’s personal social network. Players are far more likely to play a game when people they trust share or recommend it. Leveraging existing players as ambassadors for your game has traditionally been and will continue to remain an invaluable marketing tactic.

Oren Todoros, the author of this post, is a mobile marketing specialist at Plarium.