What You Need to Know About Social Games

by francine Hardaway on June 1, 2010

Moving from Seoul to Singapore takes the geeks to a small market that’s quite evolved, and to the most comprehensive Asian tech conference yet, Echelon 2010. Here, i learn that one of the largest web markets, social games, is already controlled by Asia.

After hanging with Joi Ito at Hackerspace Sg and listening to two days of presentations, my respect for the Asian tech community grows. Singapore is a tech hub, so people are here from Malaysia, Thailand, the Phillipines, and Viet Nam as well as China, Russia and Korea. (until this trip I thought of Russia as Euro-centric because of my study of the literature, but now I think of it as straddling Europe and Asia. Russia was mentioned at every one of these conferences.) Asians seem to hop across borders really easily.

One of the presenters today, the second day of the conference, is Bret Terrill, an expert in social games who reminds the audience that social games were invented in Asia,  which has had virtual goods for a decade. indeed, virtual goods were invented in Korea and China.

In the US, social games only became big after May 2007, when Facebook opened its platform and Slide and RockYou came to the attention of the exploding Facebook population.

While for most social games, any game with 100,000 daily users is considered a success,the big names have astronomical numbers of users: 20 million  people a day play  Farmville all over the world. If you don’t know Farmville, it’s Zynga’s reinvention of a Chinese game called Farmtown. An engaging picture of a lonely penguin, which users could send to their Facebook friends, drove its early viral uptake. There is, after all, no real reason to play Farmville; that lonely penguin just captivated people who wanted to help him find a home.

There are now over 80 farm-type games on Facebook alone, with more opportunity in emerging non-western social networks like Renren, mixi, @mail.ru, and Cyworld, all of which are growing faster than FB. (The Chinese network Tencent.com is the biggest online company In the world.)

Part of the reason Asia continues to dominate in social games, according to Terrill, is that it is much cheaper to develop these games in Asia. The average salary for a flash developer in Silicon Valley is now 120,000/year; the Flash developers often make more than the executives at a startup. By contrast, you can hire a Flash developer in China for $4,000 a month or in India for $1000 a month. You do the math:-)

Although Facebook is now the  top platform for social games, Terrill thinks that will not continue. By 2013, he told us, three of the top five social gaming companies will be Asian. And some of them will have grown by buying American game companies.

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