Social Gaming has been around for a long time, it’s just that it used to look like Monopoly and now it looks like FarmVille. The broad definition just means any game played as a way to interact socially, but now the term almost exclusively is used to refer to Social Media Gaming.
Most social games are distributing through social networks, Facebook is an industry leader here, and generally are quite different from the traditional idea of social gaming in that they don’t require people to be playing at the same time, and often don’t require any social interaction at all, it’s just an option.
The term “asynchronous gameplay” is used a lot, and all that means is that players don’t have to play at the same time to be playing together. The thing that makes it most different from non-social gaming is that the player automatically is connected to their social network through the game, letting friends who are also players see their results, but also allowing them to advertise the fact that they’re playing to other friends who aren’t playing. This is great word-of-mouth advertising.
Most games also don’t offer the opportunity to “win”. The games are designed not to end, but to continually offer new things for players to do — this is very similar to MMORPG (Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games)like World of Warcraft. The goal, of course, is to keep people playing forever.
Games monetize through in-game advertising and through offering features that are only available through using some sort of “virtual currency” that can either be earned through playing, promoting the game, participating in third-party activities like surveys, or by buying them with real currency.
FarmVille has nearly 50 million people playing a month while CityVille has topped 90 million. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that players spent over $500 million on virtual games in 2010, a number expected to top $750 million in 2012. This is no way exclusive to the US — by percentage of population, many European countries well outpace us in the realm social media gamers. PopCap Games did a survey in 2010 that revealed that the “average” social gamer is a 43 year old woman, very different from the typical gamer image of a 13 year old boy. This means that not only is social gaming an opportunity for advertising to a large number of people, it’s an opportunity to advertise to a lot of different demographics as well.