Originally posted at VentureBeat
ChinaJoy, China’s equivalent of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), is famous for its thousands of show girls, new title releases, and the flashy sports cars of the top executives behind it all. This glitz not only attracts droves of young men—potential gamers—like moths to a light, but also reflects the rich fortunes of hardcore online games in China.
China’s social games industry—the players, games, rules, and business models—is evolving at a blistering pace. China’s Top 10 Social Games and Top Social Networks, a new report by BloggerInsight, analyzes the latest changes.
Only a year ago, social games in China were developed by individuals or a small team on a shoestring budget, destined for RenRen (then Xiaonei) or other Chinese networks. Today, buoyed (and pressured) by investment (primarily foreign), developers have formed serious teams and launch their games in more lucrative markets.
Farm games are a craze on social networks worldwide, but its origins are mistaken. The story of farm games is a reflection of the young social games industry: rife with copycats, riches, and misunderstandings.
Most social games are far from revolutionary: farm games pre-date their social network successors by 15 years. SimFarm, released by Maxis in 1993, is the earliest to this author’s knowledge. Harvest Moon, released by Victor Interactive Software in 1996, further popularized the genre. To date, the spread of social games is all about distribution, not original gameplay.
The Chinese social game market is still in its infancy, but growing up fast. The first smash hits, Friends for Sale! Parking Wars, and Happy Farm are just over a year old in China. Here are 5 predictions for 2010:
1. Social Games Displace Web Games
Social games have a superior distribution model for reaching unprecedented demographics, including females and middle-aged users. These users are open to casual gaming, but unlikely to seek it out on 3rd party websites, as required by web games. Social games go viral by using existing services (social networks) and trusted references (friends). Social games are more than a fad.
Moreover, in-game social interaction has only scraped the surface. At the moment, it’s very limited: players can visit a friend’s game and leave a footprint (steal crops, play with pets, decorate a room). Once more games offer synchronous gameplay and allow friends to chat, expect social games to become more popular still. Casual web games don't connect friends in the same way.
As a result, social games enjoy unprecedented numbers of users. In China, Happy Farm has an estimated 23m daily active users across all platforms. On Facebook, FarmVille has blasted past 27m daily active users in only 6 months. Explosive growth will continue in 2010 and web games will be left in the dust.
2. Consolidation of Game Developers
The days of a few friends developing a hit from the dorm room are over. The Facebook market has already seen consolidation on a colossal scale, with huge paydays: Playfish (300m USD merger with EA), Zynga (180m USD funding), RockYou! (70m USD funding), and Playdom (43m USD funding). Production values are rising in China too, with RenRen Restaurants (copy of Playfish’s Restaurant City) and Happy Pet (copy of Playfish’s Pet Society). Developers will need more resources, serious teams and finances, to develop the next hit game.
China’s consolidation will be on a miniature scale compared to Facebook though. In fact, it has already begun: Five Minutes, developers of Happy Farm, scored 3.5m USD from Draper Fisher Jurvetson on Dec. 1. And Rekoo, developers of Sunshine Farm, received 1.5m USD from Infinity Venture Partners. China will follow Facebook developers here: expect more consolidation in 2010.
The Chinese government seeks a harmonious society. But it’s Facebook’s social games that are cooperative, while China’s closer resemble the Ultimate Fighting Championships.
9x as Competitive as Facebook?
Of China’s top 10 social games, 9 feature competitive actions that hurt other players (see graphic); the one exception is Renren Restaurant, an exact copy of Playfish’s Restaurant City on Facebook. Of Facebook’s top 10 games, only 1 features competitive actions. Chinese players cherish intense competition.
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