20 April 2016 15:06:43 IST

All the world’s a playfield

As the gaming screens shift from consoles and PCs to mobiles, all bets are on social games

Just imagine, we collectively spend three billion hours a week playing games online! If you look at the games that have been doing well, the social trend is clear. Of late, games with social plug-ins are emerging as clear winners over casual games. It didn’t take long for Angry Birds to be crushed by the Candy Crush Saga series in terms of popularity!

Social games gained popularity in 2009 when Farmville, developed by online gaming company Zynga, made its appearance. Very soon the Facebook community became split into two — those who had a virtual farm and those who didn’t.

New Candy on the block

As Farmville’s popularity declined, along came King Digital with its addictive Facebook game Candy Crush Saga. Typically, a game’s shelf life is barely six months, but powered by a strong social experience, the Candy Crush Franchise has been tasting sweet success for a few years now. In March 2016, Candy Crush Jelly Saga, the third in the series released early this year, had estimated net global sales of $15.4 million.

As the gaming screen shifts from consoles and PCs to mobiles and tablets, the bet is that social games are going to get even more popular. According to consulting firm Digi-Capital, mobile games are already beating online games in terms of value. It forecasts that mobile games’ revenue will grow from $29 billion in 2015 to $45 billion by 2018 at an annual growth rate of 15 per cent.

“Adding social components within a game is as important as designing a fun game,” says Rohith Bhat, CEO of 99 Games, a gaming studio in Udupi, and the publisher behind the superhit iOS game app Starchef. The cooking and restaurant management game developed in 2014 grossed a revenue of $5 million by December 2015.

Catching up

Although India is still an underdog when it comes to gaming, the prediction is that with rising mobile Internet penetration, things will change. In India, smartphone users already spend 48 per cent of their time on games.

There might be more players for gaming apps right now, but as faster internet speed, such as 4G make their way to the Indian market, , games will be played within chat apps or social networks. Just as recently as last month, home-grown chat app Hike Messenger launched a Games section on its platform. Within a month of the launch, Hike claims there have been 100 million game plays, with players spending an average of 20 minutes per day. And mind you, these are casual games such as Solitaire and Sudoku. As broadband speed and network features improve, watch out for games with dynamic social experiences.

Even console and online games are riding on social experiences. In 2010, PC game Minecraft’s wild success was ascribed to its social interaction features. The game, described as a giant sandbox, raked in millions as it allowed users to come together to create and destroy.

Luring in gamers

Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) that enable players to cooperate and compete with each other have spawned a whole new virtual economy. Game developers say that the more addictive and more social the game, the easier it is for companies to monetise through in-game purchases.

Of course, platforms like Microsoft’s Xbox Live, Sony’s Playstation and Nintendo’s Wi-fi that connect console gamers online do have chatting capability, but the future of gaming certainly appears to be moving towards mobile hardware. With virtual reality and augmented reality entering the play zone, the gaming experience is only set to get richer. But, one thing is clear — no matter which platform (consoles, PCs, mobiles, or tablets) scores more hits, the games will need to be highly social.