Game Development Reference
their business model. Facebook has relied heavily on Zynga's games to tran-
sition into the virtual items business, most of which are sold in the context
of in-game items. MySpace and other social networks generally failed to make
this transition. (And they lacked the vast number of users that Facebook and
Facebook initially monetized entirely from advertising. Companies like
Zynga were able to use viral channels (spamming users with feeds from
Mafia Wars and the like) to gather huge number of users. In 2009, Facebook
recognized that they weren't profiting from these types of applications as
much as they'd like, so they disallowed many of the viral channels that were
currently in place. Zynga and other social game developers were forced to
rely more heavily on advertising, which helped Facebook's revenue (because
Facebook sold them the advertisements on a per-user or per-impression
basis). Next, Facebook introduced Facebook Credits and eventually man-
dated their use, guaranteeing themselves a 30 percent take of all virtual
goods sold. More recently, they even introduced their own Offerwall, a mech-
anism to derive values from users who do not directly pay, in order to make
sure that they are able to take advantage of indirect monetization of users
as well. This combination of mechanics for making money off of users and
the symbiotic relationship between game developers like Zynga and their host
platforms—like Facebook—is characteristic of the modern landscape of social
Social networks organize and connect diverse groups of people. Many of
them profit from the resulting advertising that accompanies collecting users'
eyeballs, but social networks are increasingly finding financial benefit in the
sale of virtual goods. The social networks win as long as users are on their
network, buying something from someone. In this way, they are much like the
owners of a mall in which a food court resides and the mall owner takes a por-
tion of the gross receipts from every food stall. The mall owner wins as long as
shoppers are eating something.
The game designer's job is to offer a product so tantalizing that it will dis-
tract shoppers from their real goal, whatever that may be, long enough to stop
at their food stall and sample one of their dishes instead of buying one from
the stall next door or continuing past without eating. Put a different way, just
because users are on a social network doesn't mean they are going to play a
game, and if they do, there is no guarantee they will play your game. Much of
the rest of this topic deals with ways to ensure that they do.
6.2 Who Is the Average Social Gamer?
Who are these metaphorical shoppers who roam the halls of Facebook and the
other social networks? Which shoppers stop and invest the time to investigate
social games? Who is the prototypical social network player?