If we have a look at the gaming business nowadays, it is more and more obvious that in the very near future, there is going to be a major shift in trends within the industry. Gaming in the form of personal entertainment at home devices such as PC-s or Consoles have been present for several years, however with the extreme pace of technological innovation on the internet, there is a whole new universe of possible alternatives for such activities. This universe is called online gaming. In order to understand the reasons behind its recent rise, we need to know why wasn’t it possible for the messes to engage themselves with online gaming before.. ? The most general reason is that until recently, the availability of powerful online connection was very limited, this is why most online games (that by the way required extensive speed of connection as well as powerful supporting devices) were not able to attain the required amount of people, hence creating an audience, a critical mass to create a gaming community. Due to the low speed of connectivity and the lack of resources possessed by the user, gamers often faced situations where the games in which they were “just about the fight the final opponent” simply lost the connection for a certain time which was just enough to lose the epic end battle or finish second in a race. The fact that many gamers lost their motivation to play after such events is quite understandable. Who would want to engage himself in online games where reaching the long desired final point was impossible due to connectivity reasons.

Despite all the failures of the system, the online gaming communities grew over time and gained popularity within the gamer society. One good example for such a group is the online community of the World of Warcraft where people literally play hours every single day. If we analyze the pros and cons of online gaming it is easy to conclude that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Although connection problems occur, online gaming is indeed addictive. Several studies were conducted in the matter, trying to identify behavioral patterns and habits of hardcore online gamers. As a matter of fact, there is a significant psychological need behind the urge to play online and to be part of an online gaming community. Games as they are, provides short term successes to the player whereas this might not be the case in the person’s real life. These virtual platforms allow people to take any role they feel comfortable with and gain valuable “experience of success, recognition and sometimes even fame”. This motive is one of the basic routes of the desperation of an online gamer.

Another equally important development in the online gaming field is that, whereas some years ago, online games were mostly available in C2M (Customer to Machine) form, (in which the actions of the opponent were mostly based on AI and predetermined computer processes) nowadays the most common form of online gaming includes the platform of C2C communication. In this case, the gamer plays against a real opponent with real ‘unpredictable’ actions involved. Evidently, this type of gameplay is way more interesting for the players than the regular ‘against the computer’ setups. Not only ‘player against player’ platforms offer real victories over the other, but it also has the capabilities of ex-post activities such as experience sharing, knowledge sharing, after game discussions and re-match arrangements. This way, the whole world of online gaming became more and more interactive over time. Of course, such tempting features don’t come for free. In order to be part of such an online community one has to pay a fee. This fee constitutes to the main revenue stream of the hosting companies as of today. (And I say as of today on purpose because the there could be a whole new set of revenue drivers initiated in the near future. Read the full post to fully understand the story) As an additional feature, nowadays it is even possible to share the results of an actual game on different social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. This phenomenon not only helps the customer increase his/her ‘gamer reputation’ but also serves as a great advertising tool for the game itself or for the website that hosts that particular game. Realizing the potential in the online gaming industry, social networks such as Facebook swiftly started to develop and publicize their own online games on the own network. Since these networks have all the capabilities to advertise one game or another, it was evident that sooner or later a whole new concept of gaming will come to existence.

This concept is called ‘social gaming’. Social gaming is the simple adaptation of online games into social platforms such as Facebook. One of the many popular games over facebook is Farmville. This is the point where I would like to point out the enormous potential in the social gaming industry. Such social games are not only attractive and entertaining, but as opposed to the regular online gaming communities that require membership fees, these games are free of charge. In addition, since they are hosted by a social website, the community and all its capabilities are given by default. To sum it up, these games are addictive, attractive, free of charge and include the so called ‘social network effect’ too. The social network effect is the phenomenon when one sees his/her peer’s results on his wall and being triggered by this information, he/she also starts to play the game. (“If he likes it, I will try it too.. must be fun”) If we consider these attributes and have a decent opinion about the future improvement of the internet (in terms of social networking capabilities as well as e-gaming characteristics) it shouldn’t take much brainstorming to realize that this evolving industry have incredible marketing/advertising opportunities to be explored and make use of. One of the early pioneers of these approaches was Microsoft when it successfully launched an initiative in which all Farmville players were granted money in case they liked their search engine’s (BING) facebook page. As a result of this campaign, Bing gained 400.000 likes in ONE DAY!

This was just one illustrative example that shows how powerful social gaming could become in the very near future. According to eMarketer, social gaming is about to have 68,7 million users engaged by the end of 2012. This number also shows how sweet the pot can become for certain advertisers that are not afraid to take the first step and become early adapters. To visualize the above mentioned issues, let here be a video about the evolution of social gaming. Meanwhile watching, let us think about the peer to peer and advertising implications of these tools

Some very big industry firms such as Disney, Google or EA already started to build their base of social gaming by acquiring the largest firms of the social gaming industry. This area could just be another battlefield for the above mentioned giants. To conclude, all signs indicate that the next big thing is going to be happening in the social gaming sphere. If advertisers are able to use the games’ ‘attractiveness and addictiveness’ along with the pre-established install based of social networks the whole picture of the online advertising setup could change. The only question to be answered stays for the end of the debate : Are people going to be happy to see all the advertisements in their leisure ‘game-time’ ? Arent they going to get upset by the intrusive nature of the in-game ads ? Maybe a possible solution for these concerns could be the offering of a freemium version for every game, where the consumer is able to decide whether he would like to play the game for free (with ads) or pay a small amount and avoid the unwanted in-game ads. This is up to the player’s consideration and I am curious to see what the future will bring…

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