Online social gaming - what's all the fuss about?

As well as helping to keep you in touch with your friends and family, social networking sites like Facebook are increasingly offering alternative forms of entertainment in the...
27 June 2010

Interview with 

Steve Shipton, Technical Director of Studios, Playfish


Meera -   This week, I've come along to the offices of Playfish in London who develop social games to see what all the fuss is about, and what goes into creating them.  With me is Steve Shipton, Technical Director of Studios here at Playfish.

Steve -   So a social game is a game that you play with friends.  Friends will be necessary to complete certain aspects of the game.  You'll be sharing features of the game with your friends, just generally moving away from playing alone.

Meera -   What makes these types of games so popular online?

Steve -   Part of that is that you can play the game in very short bursts and what you do, you share with your friends.  So, you know, you're kind of showing off a little bit when you're playing the game and then your friend sees that, and then they want to get in on the action, and so on, and so on.  There's kind of a viral cascade of people playing.

Meera -   How popular would you say this field of gaming is?  So how many players are there worldwide?

Steve -   There's approximately 100 million people playing per day, playing social games.

Meera -   Purely through sites such as Facebook?

Steve -   Yes.  In fact, that's just on Facebook and the Playfish games account for about 10 million of that.

Meera -   So that's a lot of people.  What do we know about the average player?

Steve -   That's quite interesting.  It's very different to traditional gaming and the split is pretty much 50/50, male/female.  The actual age range can go anywhere between 15 to 55, but there is a core group in the 18 to 34 range.

Meera -   Here at Playfish, you've created a variety of games varying from Pet Society where you create and own a pet, to Restaurant City where you manage a restaurant and have players or friends come and eat at the restaurant or work at the restaurant.  What goes into developing these types of games?


Steve -   Each game must factor in some social aspect.  Another thing that we use is to have items in the game that you can only collect with the help of your friends.  Also, we need to allow people to play these games in very short bursts.  A lot of times, people are playing at work or just relaxing at home, and they don't want to be spending half an hour in the solid session with that game.  It's difficult for us to try and get the same sort of rewarding game play into that one minute play which is typical.  We also need to think about how can we monetize the game.  All of our games are free to play, but we need to have a coin economy in there and a cash economy so that if players want to, then they have the option of spending some money, and so keeping the game running.

Meera -   A key point is that these games are free to play.  So that's always an incentive for people to come on and start playing.  But how do you keep them interested and keep your players there?

Steve -   One of the big challenges for us is to keep the game fresh for existing players.  They're very important to us and we want to keep them playing for as long as possible so they can get the maximum value out of the game.  We have this whole philosophy where we run games as a service.  So one of the differences with traditional gaming is that, whereas they will spend years and years making a game, our games are updated every single week.  So each week, there's a new content, new features.

Meera -   A lot of these types of games do seem to be purely for entertainment purposes, but could they be taken advantage of in terms of public awareness, or to create some educational initiatives.

Steve -   We've actually got a game out called Geo Challenge in which you must identify a country's flags, the shapes of countries, locate capitals, things like that.  That one is educational, but then due to the active game play nature of that where it just demands your attention for two or three minutes to do the quiz, it doesn't seem to be as popular as the management based games.  Within games themselves, we always try to have a slight educational theme.  So in Pet Society, you can buy various paintings that look a bit like the famous works and in our new game My Empire, you can build the 7 Wonders of the World.

Meera -   Clearly, this field of gaming, is a big player in the world of gaming as a whole because recently, just a few months ago, Electronic Arts, that's EA games bought Playfish.

Steve -   This is really great for the platform.  Big games companies like EA finally taking notice and investing a significant amount of money.  It means that we can now put game licenses on Facebook, and recently, we launched FIFA Superstars where you can manage your team to train them up to buy new players, and to play against your friends, and try to be number one amongst your friends.

Meera -   And I imagine with the World Cup, this is excellent timing.

Steve -   It'll be out to take part in a unique World Cup challenge within the game, and going forwards, lots of other football contests.  Anything to do with FIFA basically will be in the game.  So as you can see, the future for social gaming is going to be more integration with social platforms and bringing bigger brands to these social platforms that people recognise.

Helen -   So, anyone who wants to can now manage their own football teams to see if they can do better than Fabio Capello, and perhaps England will get their hands on that cup, well, online anyway.  That was Steve Shipton, Technical Director of Studios at Playfish.


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