FEATURE: The rise of social games

There are more UK consumers playing social games online than ever before, but how are they spending their money? With the help of PopCap Games and other industry experts, MCV investigates…

The number of social gamers who purchased in-game currency with real-life money doubled year-on-year. This is partly due to free-to-play social games which charge for in-game items – such as Zynga’s CityVille and Capcom’s Smurfs’ Village – booming in the past 12 months.

Five per cent more players earnt or spent virtual currency in 2010 compared to 2011, while six per cent more spent money on virtual gifts (see below).

Desktop PCs and laptops are the most popular formats of choice for social gamers (see below), with over 90 per cent opting for those.

Smartphones such as the iPhone are the second most popular devices for playing games, as almost a third of social gamers use them. Last year consoles were used to play social games more than tablets, though we assume this takes into account a broader definition of ‘social games’.

Based on weekly gameplay, Zynga’s FarmVille was the most popular social game of 2011 (see below). PopCap Games’ Bejeweled Blitz and Zynga’s Mafia Wars were also heavily favoured, with 47 per cent of those surveyed saying they regularly play Bejeweled and 28 per cent Mafia Wars.

FarmTown doubled in popularity year-on-year in the UK, while Caf World and FishVille also rose in admiration in 2011 compared to 2010. The most popular new games are CityVille and The Sims Social.

Three quarters of social gamers in the UK tend to play mainly with people their own age (see below). This includes those who are within ten years’ difference of the social gamer’s age.

The number of players who take part in multiplayer with users as old as their parents rose from 15 per cent to 22 per cent. This is likely due to a higher percentage of younger players that emerged in 2011.


MCV asks three industry experts for their views on the popular market:

David Bishop – Senior game designer, PopCap
Everyone likes to play games. A wonderful thing about social gaming is the space it has created for video games – helping non-gamers realise playing games is fun and they don’t have to be a ‘gamer’. Social games have all the benefits of casual games, with additional bonding with friends and family. Boxed games used to be the beginning and end of the story. That doesn’t work so well anymore. Firms must think outside the box or run the risk of losing out to those that do.”

Henrique Olifiers – Co-founder, Bossa Studios
As the production and gameplay values of social games rise, so does their appeal to a wider audience. It’s a mistake to think social games as completely separated from their ‘traditional’ counterparts.One should instead look at social networks as a platform where all your friends are currently on, and that pretty much any type of game can be created for with the technology currently available. Boxed game sales won’t suffer. No. They will disappear altogether, and soon.”

Nicholas Lovell – Founder, GamesBrief
Broadly defined, social games, including those on Facebook, the web and many smartphone titles, are accessible, require little initial outlay if you already have a PC or a smartphone and are played by people you know.They don’t require you to spend 40 upfront, to research what game you might like or even to go through the deeply intimidating experience of walking into a games store. They offer accessible, easy-to-learn gaming with no barriers to entry.”


Data comes from a Social Gaming Research survey consisting of 38 questions, prepared by Information Solutions Group, which PopCap provided to MCV. The survey received 1,201 qualified responses from people who play social games for more than 15 minutes per week. 801 responses were from gamers in the US and 400 from the UK. MCV focused on the UK-specific data in this report.

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