The argument whether social games can be considered equal to orthodox video games may continue for years, but at least one thing is now certain: These social games make a lot of money now. As the maker of click fests such as “FarmVille,” “Cafe World,” and “Mafia Wars,” Zynga is now reportedly worth $5.51 billion compared to the $5.22 billion that the second largest selling video game publisher Electronic Arts is worth.
This news does reflect the state of gaming in relation to the economy. Video games are expensive with prices at $20, $30, and sometimes up to $65. Not only do the games have a high price tag, video games also require the purchase of a video game platform whether it is a PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, portable gaming system, or a high speed gaming computer just to play the darn thing. Because people nowadays have to juggle between video games and other luxuries like indoor heating and food, there is now declining sales of video game hardware and software. Electronic Arts has felt the blow as they cut jobs, which then cut the price of its stock shares.
Putting aside Zynga’s allegedly sleazy marketing strategies and plagiarism, social gaming in general has become the cheap alternative to mainstream gaming. All it needs is Internet access and a social networking site like Facebook. At this rate literally everybody and his or her dog will have a Facebook page and Internet is something easily obtained via work, a home computer, leeching off the neighbor’s wi-fi, a library or a coffee shop. Social games do not need high-powered video game consoles or computers to play and most people have computers anyway.
The social games themselves are free to play. This combined with the readily available computers allow a plethora of people to get into the game without ponying up a lot of money. For the price of a maybe a cup of coffee or two, players purchase in-game currency to buy virtual items or refill their energy bars to enhance their playing experience. The smaller price points allow the player to get more play for the buck. Also, the addiction factor in playing social games combined with the nickel and dime pricing can cause a player to not realize how many 10s of dollars he or she is throwing into the game over the months.
Given the ease of entry, ease of playing, and ease of paying, social games attract a greater audience who can play as little or as much as they want. Perhaps the mainstream gaming will have to adapt its business model to catch their profits up to social gaming networks like Zynga. Perhaps they may soon sell their games piecemeal by the level and charge for each additional patch. That would be a scary development.