Image: Fanglies
Playdom has just launched its latest Facebook game "Fanglies." Game makers say that games on social networks have proven that people really do like playing games with each other.
By InGame reporter
NBC News
updated 7/22/2010 3:17:23 PM ET 2010-07-22T19:17:23

The days of playing games alone are over.

Or at least, that's what a whole lot of folks in the business of making games are saying.

"In the future, all games are going to be social," Matt Hulett, the chief revenue officer for GameHouse, said earlier this week. GameHouse is a company that develops and publishes casual, mobile and social network games. "I think that the fact that gaming has been a solitary experience has been a very weird outlier in the history of gaming. For centuries gaming has always been social."

Hulett is hardly alone in his opinion. Finding ways to make more games more social has been a hot topic at Casual Connect, a conference in Seattle this week for those in the business of creating casual, mobile and social network games .

The thing is, in the last couple of years what appeared at first to be a gaming fad has proven to be an important gaming trend — that is, playing games on social networks like Facebook. There's "Mob Wars," "Texas Hold Em' Poker," "PetVille" and perhaps most importantly of all, "FarmVille."

Despite struggles with Facebook itself , Zynga's virtual agriculture game — which launched just a little over a year ago — has counted upwards of 80 million users at its peak. Roll your eyes if you like, but game makers say the important takeaway here is not just that people really do like to play games on social networks , but that people like to play games with other people.

Of course that means social network game developers and publishers are rolling out all kinds of new Facebook games. Zynga recently launched "FrontierVille" (a Wild West-themed game that already has more than 20 million users) and Playdom has just launched "Fanglies" (a cross between "The Sims" and "Animal Crossing.")

"I would posit that social gaming is dead," said John Pleasants, CEO of Playdom, during a Casual Connect presentation this week. He was, of course, speaking with tongue firmly planted in cheek. His point being, "We will die as a niche but what we’re going to do is spread much more widely."

Image: FrontierVille
Zynga appears to have another social gaming hit on its hands. The company's new Facebook game "FrontierVille" already has 20 million users.

Indeed, even companies that have traditionally created games that you played all by your lonesome, are bringing their games to social networks. Casual games maker PlayFirst made its first foray into the world of social gaming this week when it took its popular "Chocolatier" series to Facebook with the game "Chocolatier: Sweet Society."

Meanwhile, PopCap, the company that basically kicked off the casual gaming boom with its megahit "Bejeweled," launched its "Bejeweled Blitz" game on Facebook and, later this summer, will be launching another of its hits — "Zuma" — on Facebook as well.

"The concept of playing this solitary game is going away for us," said PopCap co-founder John Vechey, explaining that finding ways to make the company's games more social is a top priority for PopCap.

But it's not just casual game makers that are looking to leverage the connective powers found in Facebook gaming. Recently Microsoft began connecting its Xbox 360 games with related Facebook games. ( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

For example, when Microsoft launched "Crackdown 2" for the Xbox 360 last month, it also launched "Chuck's Ducks 2" on Facebook. By playing the carnival-style balloon-popping game on Facebook, players can earn points to unlock special ducky grenades to use in the multiplayer modes of the Xbox 360 game. The Facebook players can not only earn those grenades for themselves but for any of their Facebook friends who have linked Xbox Live accounts.

But PopCap's Vechey said that making games more social doesn't mean "every game is going to look like FarmVille." It means finding new and different ways to connect people who are playing games.

PopCap has announced that it's going to bring its hit tower-defense game "Plants vs. Zombies" to Xbox Live this fall. And when it does, the company plans to give the game a multiplayer mode for the first time. PopCap will also use the network to come up with fun ways to let players check in on the progress their friends are making in their own "Plants vs. Zombies" games.

"We believe games on all platforms and for all audiences will eventually leverage social components," said Tony Leamer, VP of Marketing for I-play. His company recently announced it would be focusing on making its casual games far more communal.

Image: GodFinger
Executives from game company ngmoco say making iPhone and iPad games social is key to success. Its iPad game, "GodFinger," lets players build a virtual world full of followers — a world that their real-world friends can visit if they also play the game.

Indeed, a number of game companies have begun launching platforms designed to connect players with their game-playing pals well beyond the boundaries of Facebook. Earlier this week Oberon Media launched the Blaze platform and GameHouse recently launched GameHouse Fusion, both of which are designed to bring together gamers playing games in different places — on social networks, mobile phones, PCs, etc. — and give them a variety of ways to interact with each other.

Game makers say that making games more social is both good for players and good for them. That is, it makes games more fun to play for gamers. Meanwhile, when gamers are able to connect with their friends, it makes it that much easier for them to spread the word about a company's game. Hello free marketing!

At Casual Connect Tuesday, Jason Oberfest, vice president of social applications at ngmoco (a company responsible for iPad and iPhone games like "GodFinger" and "We Rule") said making game apps social is critical to making them successful in the crowded App Store.

He said making an iPhone game social has a drastic impact on how often gamers play it. He cited research the company has done on the number of sessions per day people played one of their games compared to the number of friends they had in that game. Those who had zero friends playing the game played it less than five sessions a day. But those who had just two friends played it eight times a day and those with four friends played 10 times a day.

However, during a Casual Connect panel discussion looking at the hype and realities of various gaming trends, two big players in the biz were at odds when it came to the topic of making more games social.

Erik Bethke, a senior product director at Zynga (the company that made "FarmVille") said, "I think games should always be social. I think we have a really rich history of decades of people playing games with each other."

But Paul Thelen, founder of Big Fish Games, disagreed. "I would take issue with the comment that all games should be social," he said. "That’s like saying all women want to be Paris Hilton. There are different needs and wants."

He makes a good point. After all, for many people, playing games is a form of escapism — and sometimes what you most want to escape is other people.

You can find Winda Benedetti being all kinds of social right here on Twitter.

© 2013  Reprints

Explainer: Games that make the most of the iPad

  • Image: Plants vs. Zombies

    Once you start playing games on an iPad you may never want to go back to playing games on your iPhone or iPod Touch. That's because the iPad’s gorgeous, spacious screen finally gives many games the room they've been begging for. And yet, I'm still waiting to be truly wowed by an iPad game. After all, the vast majority of iPad games are simply larger, prettier iPhone games with heftier price tags.

    Of course, the iPad has only been around for two months and wowing seems like something that's sure to start happening after developers have had more time to wrap their heads around this, er, magical machine.

    Until then, here's a look at some of the games that are making the most of the iPad's unique features.

    Tell us:Has iPad gaming wowed you?

  • Scrabble for iPad - $9.99

    Image: Scrabble for iPad
    Electronic Arts

    Yeah, it's priced at $9.99, but “Scrabble” fans will find a lot to love about the iPad version of this famed word game. Sure, you can play it on your iPhone for a third of the price, but the iPad is where this crossword puzzle is most at home with the HD game board sprawling across the bright, spacious screen.

    There are several play modes, giving you the opportunity to pit your wordsmithery against either friends or the computer. But the mode that most impressed us was Party Play. You and up to three friends can all share one iPad in this mode. Simply download the free “Scrabble Tile Rack” app from the App Store to your iPhone or iPod Touch. Then use your phone or pod to manage your own private tile rack while sharing the game on the iPad.

    If you want a less-expensive and yet still absorbing Scrabble-like gaming experience, don’t miss “Words With Friends HD.” For a mere $2.99, this fabulous version of the crossword game will let you connect with friends or random players online and play each other at your turn-based leisure.

  • Flight Control HD - $4.99

    Image: Flight Control HD

    Thanks to the sprawling iPad screen, this uber addictive iPhone game can finally stretch its gorgeous wings. The basics are this: You’re an air traffic controller and you have to guide incoming aircraft to their landing strips without letting them crash into one another. You do this by drawing a guidance line for each aircraft to follow using the touch screen.

    The iPad version of the game delivers the same increasingly frenetic gameplay but with a pretty hefty package of additions. There are updated graphics and new airfields to conquer. Meanwhile, you can share your iPad with a friend and play the game together either cooperatively or competitively.  You can also play a networked game with friends via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — connecting your iPad to another iPad or even to an iPhone or iPod Touch.

  • Plants vs. Zombies HD - $9.99

    Image: Plants vs. Zombies

    Zombies are shlumping their way toward your home and the only way to survive is to strategically deploy a yard full of undead-battling flora. This award-winning game came to life on the PC and Mac then shuffled its way onto the iPhone and iPod Touch. But it really sinks its teeth into our collective gaming brains on the iPad.

    The spacious screen and multi-touch controls really feel like the very best way to play "Plants vs. Zombies." In addition to the gorgeous HD graphics, the iPad version also offers the exclusive “Buttered Popcorn” mini-game and it includes Survival Mode (which you won't find on the iPhone version though you will find it on the PC/Mac version).  Be prepared...this game will eat you alive.

  • Angry Birds HD - $4.99

    Image: Angry Birds HD

    “Angry Birds” is a study in slingshot physics — that is, you’re tasked with using said slingshot to fling a flock of vengeful avian at the pigs who have wronged them, trying to knock the squealers down from their various fortifications.

    This super cute, super polished game of demolition has received a lovely high-def update for the iPad. The twisted yet adorable graphics have been prettied up and the game has the room it needs to breathe on the big screen. That said, if you already own the iPhone/iPod Touch version of the game, you may not feel the need to buy the iPad version since nothing but the graphics have been updated. However, if you’ve never purchased this game before — this one is a must buy and the iPad version is worth all 499 pennies.

  • Zen Bound 2 - $7.99

    Image: Zen Bound 2
    Secret Exit

    "Zen Bound" was a deliciously original puzzle game when it arrived on the iPhone, winning all sorts of accolades for being a truly unique blend of art and gaming. The game's goal was deceptively simple: Wrap rope around various wooden figures by using the multi-touch screen and tilt sensitivity. As you wrapped the rope around the wood, the wood it touched was then splashed in paint. The goal was to cover as much of the object in paint as possible.

    With "Zen Bound 2," this oddly absorbing gameplay mechanic returns and remains the same, but this time around the beautiful wooden artwork gets the show it really deserves. As you twist and turn these objects, the beauty of the imagery suckers you in just as the rope puzzles twist your brain in knots. All the original levels are here plus many more and a new "paint bomb" mode adds an interesting twist. Meanwhile a new soundtrack from Ghost Monkey makes this game a treat for the ears as well as the eyes.

  • Charadium for iPad - $4.99

    Image: Charadium

    "Charadium" is basically "Pictionary"…with total strangers, which is a whole lot more fun than it may sound. A fast-paced online word guessing game, it works like this: You're given a word and a time limit and by drawing pictures on the touch screen you must do your doodly best to clue in a virtual room full of people as to what that word is. When you're not drawing, you're trying to guess what words other players are drawing.

    "Charadium" will quickly match you up with other random online players or you can create an online game of your own and invite friends to join. Though there is a version for the iPhone, the drawing mechanic is best suited to the iPad's spacious touch screen. After all, you're going to need all the room you can get to try and draw a picture that describes the word "wilderness."

  • 1112 Episode 02 HD - $7.99

    Image: 1112 Episode 02 HD
    Agharta Studios

    The atmospheric adventure game known as "1112" gets a second installment both on the iPhone and the iPad. But the place to truly enjoy the game's lovely hand-drawn art and moody environments is on the iPad.

    "Lost" fans looking to fill the void in their life will find a strange and twisty tale to wrap their heads around here. "1112 Episode 02" follows the story of Louis Everett, an antiques dealer who suffers from bad headaches and strange dreams and has suddenly found himself in a strange hotel room. The iPad is the perfect place to delve into this game, with its mix of "point and click" adventuring, hidden object sleuthing and puzzle gaming.

  • Mirror’s Edge for iPad - $12.99

    Image: Mirror's Edge for iPad
    Electronic Arts

    "Mirror's Edge" was well received when it got its start as a full blown first-person action adventure game on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And this 2D, side-scrolling version of the game for the iPad is really hitting its paces too.

    Players control Faith Connors, an outlaw "runner" in a not-so-perfect future society. With swipes and flicks of your finger on the touch screen, you'll send her running, jumping, climbing, sliding and rolling her way across the rooftops of a gleaming metropolis. The parkour-based gameplay flows so smoothly it sucks you right in. Meanwhile, the iPad's sharp HD graphics are simply dazzling. And the iPad's spacious screen offers room enough for head-to-head multiplayer matches with two players each using half the screen as they try to outrun and outmaneuver each other.

    Certainly there's lots of great gameplay to be had here. Of course, there better be: Coming in at $12.99, "Mirror's Edge for iPad" is one of the most expensive iPad games you'll find in the App Store.

  • GodFinger HD - Free

    Image: GodFinger HD

    For those of you who’ve depleted your bank accounts buying your iPad, there are a number of enjoyable games out there for the low-low price of free. "GodFinger HD" is one of them.
    In this simulation game you play...why god, of course. And you use your almighty finger to interact with your very own planet that you shape and tend to. Your finger will bring sunshine and rain to grow things, it will work miracles to awe little mortals into following you, and it will push your converted followers to do your bidding.

    The art and graphics are bright and adorable and the iPad's generous screen real-estate makes managing your entire planet feel comfortable rather than cramped. Something to note: This game is a "freemium" game, which means that you don't have to pay a dime ... unless you want to buy little extras to make yourself more powerful more quickly. And yes, more power is oh-so-tempting.

    Also read: Is iPad gaming living up to the hype?

    Tell us:Has iPad gaming wowed you?


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