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14 - 16 April 2021

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Publishers will waste money on Facebook games – Edery

But there are big opportunities for those that can tackle short term challenges

As traditional publishers look towards Facebook and other social networking sites for new business opportunities, they face a real danger of wasting significant money on getting games right for a new audience.

That's the warning from David Edery, former XBLA games portfolio manager and now principle of consultancy Fuzbi, who said that there could be rich pickings for companies who can tackle short-term problems associated with development and marketing.

"Facebook is definitely a viable platform for traditional publishers," said Edery. "The short-term problem is that traditional publishers simply aren't geared towards making the kinds of games that succeed on Facebook."

"The traditional publishers will end up wasting quite a lot of money in the process – you can be certain of that – but some of them will ultimately succeed at entering the market."

If a publisher doesn't establish a dedicated team, or as in the case of EA, buy a whole company specialising in social network development, it must change the way it designs games and markets them to the public, said Edery.

"In general, their game designers are trained and prefer to make games that are fun above all else, where a Facebook game designer needs to be as concerned with designing a free-to-play game that is capable of generating real revenue. And in general, their designers are also accustomed to thinking of player acquisition as 'marketing's problem', whereas viral player acquisition is clearly a core design challenge on Facebook."

He added: "Traditional publishers don't have much experience marketing these kinds of games, in this kind of channel, to this broad an audience. They're set up to manage the relationship with Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, to push discs into retail stores, and to blow a wad of cash on TV and magazine advertising."

Take-Two is currently working on a Facebook version of popular franchise Civilization, while Ubisoft said last week that it can be assumed some of its IP will arrive on Facebook in the near future.

Expanding established gaming brands on Facebook is possible, said Edery, so long as care is taken not to cannablise sales on other formats or cheapen the franchise.

"There's no reason not to try bringing established franchises to Facebook; you simply need to be wary of being too literal in the translation. Put another way: as long as The Sims on Facebook is different enough from The Sims on PC and console, EA has an opportunity to broaden the already huge audience for the Sims and make some extra cash in the process.

"On the other hand, if the two experiences are excessively similar, EA might find that it has inadvertently trained its consumers to expect all Sims content for free – assuming the Facebook version is free-to-play, which is likely but not a given," he added.

The early life of a platform is a perfect time for publishers to take advantage of it, offered Edery, noting that although some genres are already saturated on Facebook, there are more opportunities to create new niche experiences.

"The number of gaming opportunities on Facebook dramatically outnumber the genres that one might call saturated. With a few notable exceptions, many of the most popular games on Facebook seem to be cut from the same cloth. They have simple art, they are oftentimes 'social' in only the loosest of ways, and they're generally simple puzzle games or RPGs. Many quickly devolve into unabashed time sinks. There's clearly tremendous demand for these experiences so please don't think I'm denigrating them, but there's also room for many other experiences as well," he said.

"There's been little exploration of potentially lucrative niche audiences on Facebook. This is a platform with hundreds of millions of users – surely there must be some online audiences in the millions (or tens of millions) that would be unreachable in the console space but are reachable on Facebook. What do those audiences want? Religiously-themed games? Something else? Ironically, one might call 'games that appeal particularly to hardcore gamers' an under-explored niche on Facebook."

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Latest comments (5)

I definitely agree with this. We are moving from a boxed type company to pure service and community management. So what would be the cost for traditionnal publishers : cost to get community management expertise (not an overnight 101 crash course here ;-) ) + recurrent localized content creation . And Facebook is not the only SN with >30M users.
Come to think of it, investors tend to dive in right now, with lots of new startups coming from web agencies and telco...

Stéphane Bonazza, Gravity Europe Manager, Paris.
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Chris Wallace Studying Games Design, University of Bolton11 years ago
In my experience, the popular social games that are free to play usually have some sort of 'pay in app' system, or a 'premium' equivalent with more features and are therefore never truly free, instead using peer pressure tactics or nag-screens to push the in-game sales, and I don't think for one second that EA's facebook endeavours will be any different.

Take The Sims expansion packs, the Spore expansions or even the in-game team update subscription service within Fifa. EA have always been good at tagging on those little extras. Something akin to buying a car without mats...
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Andrew Clayton QA Weapons Tester, Electronic Arts11 years ago
There has been way too much stock put into Facebook applications and social networking games. They have popularity within the casual gaming sphere, but casual gamers' habits are much more difficult to predict than hardcore gamers. From a business standpoint, this leads to huge expenses with a large amount of risk for very little payout.

It makes much more sense to stick with the hardcore gamers who pour money into their games and systems than to risk so much on, inevitably, so little.
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Chris Wallace Studying Games Design, University of Bolton11 years ago
@Andrew Clayton: I disagree, the casual games sector has boomed in the past couple of years. partly thanks to the accessibility of Apple's iPhone/iPod platform and the mass-marketing of the Wii and DS as more than just "gamers' consoles". Sure, casual gamers chop and change games as fast as Tiger Woods goes through girlfriends, but companies that specialise in casual games tend to push products out faster than 'hardcore gamer' focused developers.

For a business to have the potential to thrive, they have to identify promise in both casual and core gamers alike and social gaming is just another step towards expanding the market. The low-price, high-volume sales strategy has been seen across the board, not just in the games industry but in other markets from food to clothing and for the most part, if done effectively; it fills the coffers of the enterprising business pretty well.

My 2p
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Obviously, games-for-Social-networks will need to be 'run' quite differently than retail/core-games (in any way). But that's not the point.

It is inevitable - The casual games market will expand to facebook & co and eventually merge with mobile gaming as webphones expand on providing a mobile access point for social networks.

In my opinion, the essence of Mr. Ederys statement reads as: who will succeed in this market? The big players (EA/ActiBlizz/T2/Ubisoft) with strong, trained marketing-muscles or those with already founded, year-long experience in how free-2-play can be monetized (zynga, bigpoint, playfish, gameforge,...). And as i understand it, Mr. Edery mostly sees the greater success in the group of the 'upcomers' ;-)

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