Monday, August 16, 2010

Growing games socially

From ‘FarmVille’ to ‘Mumbai Underworld’, game developers see social networks as the way to drive games in India...

All it took Games2Win co-founder Alok Kejriwal to turn his mother into a regular social gamer was showing her how to send ‘FarmVille’ gifts over the social networking site Facebook. Now, the 60-year-old regularly pays real money to buy “virtual gifts” for her FarmVille buddies.

Available as an application on Facebook, FarmVille is a real-time farm simulation game that allows members to manage a virtual farm by planting, growing and harvesting virtual crops and trees, and raising even livestock. It has become a smash hit in the cyber space.

Indeed, social games — casual games that are played on social networking sites with a group of friends — are fast becoming the most used online apps among the 52 million internet subscribers in India. And, this has brought domestic game companies with their own popular portals, like Zapak, Indiagames and Games2Win, into the social networking scene.

Industry players, in fact, believe social gaming will be one of the key drivers for growth of gaming in India. At present, of the over 12 million Indians on Facebook, about seven million reportedly play social games. Globally, at least half of the 50 million Facebook users (expected to rise) are likely to pick up on social games within two years.

On, a homegrown social networking site, about 200,000 users have played ‘Mumbai Underworld’, a casual online game with Ajay Devgn and Emraan Hashmi. The game allows users to build a criminal empire by buying properties and making cash from it to buy even higher level properties. So far, over 60,000 followers have played Mumbai Underworld with Ajay Devgn, claims the website.

So, whether it’s a brain game like ‘Biggest Brain’, a card game like ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ or a game called ‘Friends for Sale’ where you buy and sell your friends as if they were pets — social networks have hundreds of easy-to-play applications for free, or premium versions for the die-hard fans.

Zapak, which has over seven million registered gamers on its gaming site, could not resist the temptation of social games. It recently joined hands with 6waves, an international publisher and developer of gaming applications on the Facebook platform. In this tie-up, Zapak will be the marketing and payment partner for 6waves’ games in India.

In June this year, Zapak launched its gaming application on Facebook with 30 games. This has grown to 70 games today. At present, there are over 55,000 gamers playing Zapak games on Facebook. “And we see this number growing to 100,000 active users by the end of August,” says Zapak Digital Entertainment CEO Rohit Sharma.

Gamin’ gals, and guys
Games2Win’s Kejriwal and Zapak’s Sharma believe social games have become very popular among female gamers, too. “Women across ages are playing games and are more likely to spend money to buy in-game items,” says Sharma.

Games2Win sharpened its strategy for women gamers after Kejriwal realised they could spend '150-250 buying virtual gifts or game items. The website, which has two such social games on Facebook and will add four more titles this year, is preparing to launch games that will target specific age groups, like young teenagers and housewives.

“As a business model, social games extend our move towards consumer revenue generation that scales massively and has very high profit margins,” underlines Kejriwal.

Madhusmita Roul, a banking professional from Orissa and a regular social gamer, seems to agree with both Kejriwal and Sharma. “Social games are addictive. I have stayed up all night playing games with my friends on social networking sites. One of us would cross levels and collect certain things to buy a gift. And the other would claim it from clicking on my wall (the message board on social networking sites),” she says.

In an attempt to attract male gamers, Games2Win has launched ‘Junkyard Mayhem’ on Facebook and this will soon be available on other social networks (Orkut, Hi5, etc). The game will have its own destination website ( as well.

Meanwhile, Zapak, too, is bringing all 6waves games to Indian users, including global hits like ‘Mall World’ with over five million users. “Zapak will integrate all local payment options like credit cards, net banking, Zapak pins, etc, to facilitate item purchases for their games in India,” informs Sharma.

A promotional push
To help gamers start off, Facebook gives some free credits — a nominal amount like 20 credit points. Gamers can also pocket some free points over games like ‘Interview Me’ and ‘Pick a Friend’ on Facebook. These points can be converted into game credits and used to buy gifts, virtual pets, game weaponry, etc.

One can also buy these through credit cards. But, considering most students in India do not have a credit card, the site has come out with the system to buy credits through mobile phones. “Last month, I had balance left on my phone that I wanted to use up. So, with '50, I bought 200 Facebook credits for ‘Barn Buddy’. All I had to do was send an SMS and they contacted my service provider, Airtel, and I got the credits to buy animals,” highlights Anushree Sharma Kharkia, a homemaker from Kolkata.

There’s no denying that a major chunk of social gamers continues to play without paying, but a sizable minority purchases virtual goods and other in-game content. And that’s a “healthy” margin business for the gaming industry as social games take just about four-eight weeks to develop a minimal investment, compared to other forms of games like console or PC titles.

The fact that social games are making it easy for people to socialise with friends and play against them, all on one page, is what makes them endearing to the masses.

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