The World Cup on Facebook: Among Many Competitors, Quality Social Games Win the Users

The World Cup is over, and for the first time, Spain takes home the trophy. Even after the spectacle, however, its events can still be felt; from Donovan’s 91st minute goal to favorite Argentina’s devastating loss to Germany. But how has it faired in the social world? Beyond a wave of virtual goods tailored around the tournament, a torrent of social games and applications saturated the market for the past few months. From chart topping games to simple venue finders, there has been an app for every type of World Cup fever.

Typically speaking, whenever a major event (Super Bowl) or holiday (Christmas) has come about, there have been a handful of games associated with them, but namely they focus around special, limited edition virtual goods. Never before have we seen such an influx of social games oriented around a specific sporting event. The general reasons, of course, are the global popularity of the soccer and the World Cup tournament and the rise of social gaming. But as we see below, it was an individual game’s quality that helped it win audiences, with soccer games from Playdom and Playfish coming out with the most users.

BolaThe First

It may or may not be considered the first “World Cup inspired,” game as we had come across it back in early May, but Playdom-owned Three Melons‘ Facebook title, Bola, was one of the first soccer titles to really go all out. At the time, the game didn’t function too well, and was a marriage between team management and an actual, though awkward, user-controlled soccer match. Nevertheless, the Argentinean developer set the stage for soccer games. Moreover, with a steady growth up to, now, 4.6 million monthly active users (MAU), it showed how the theme could work.

Epic GoalTraditional Media, New Games

Electronic Arts/Playfish brought in the the biggest EA title to date on Facebook. FIFA. EA Sports FIFA Superstars is a highly stylized, manager simulation, featuring a professional soccer team of the player’s choosing. It is simple in nature, but it manages to truly grab hold of its intended audience, and has now climbed north of 4.5 million MAUs. Additionally, it has even appeared, multiple times, on our Fastest-Gaining Facebook Games (#4) charts as well. The game was well done, and it even made our list of the Best Facebook Games of 2010, coming in at #9.

As a matter of fact, another soccer app, Epic Goal from Watercooler, in tandem with Fox Soccer Channel, also made that list, at #3. While the game has slowly grown, its MAU total is only just over 300,000. Regardless, it is certainly one of the better games out there, with a highly stylized, cartoon aesthetic and an action element to playing the soccer games – with its contextual, point and click interface – that is beautifully fluid and entertaining.

Galacticos South Africa

Getting into June saw the first major brands get involved in the World Cup social gaming hype in the form of CBS Sports.com with Galacticos South Africa from Fantasy Moguls. Virtually identical to its predecessor, Galacticos Football, the new soccer app took on a simple, text-based form that allowed players to manage teams that were specifically oriented around the South Africa-hosted tournament. Unfortunately for CBS, the text-based elements just weren’t quite cutting it, as the app has been dropping steadily lately, with around 159,000 monthly active users.

Worldwide Development

Seeing as how the World Cup is, well, international, it wasn’t surprising to see more international game developers pounce on the event. Beyond Three Melons, Shanghai-based company The9 tried its hand as well releasing its Facebook title, Winning Goal.

Though not as simple looking as Galacticos, the Chinese title was a bit overwhelming interface-wise, and most of the management aspects fairly standard. The only thing it really brought new to the table was set of earnable skills – reminiscent of talents in World of Warcraft – that would be used randomly in matches. According to the numbers, however, it wasn’t interesting enough, as the past few days have led to a staggering decline in MAU numbers for Winning Goal, dropping it to below 17,000.