Facebook has made no secret of the fact that it views 2014 as the year when harder core gaming hits its platform in a big way. Along with mobile, it is a key focus of the social network in the New Year. But hardcore gaming is traditionally associated with dedicated servers accessed from powerful PCs and gaming consoles; it doesn’t immediately lend itself to the world of free gaming on social media sites, using iPads or Android smartphones. What are the main challenges to creating games that can cross the divide? Here are five of the main ones….

Facebook remains a pretty good barometer for where gaming is heading, generally, and especially when it comes to social games. So when the huge social network announces its top games for the year and the game genres that are growing in popularity, most developers and game lovers want to listen. What’s hot and what’s yesterday’s news? And what are we likely to see more of as we venture into the New Year?

Gaming means many things to many people: dexterity, brain power, strategy, fun, downtime, relieving the boredom, competition…the list goes on. But there is a growing category of social games aimed firmly at something larger: improving the world. Social games designed to promote specific positive change in the world are appearing more in the game charts, again demonstrating what a powerful medium gaming is these days and how the perception of it has gone through a “makeover” in recent years.

We now know that gaming is good for you again, but what specifically can social gaming bring to planet YOU? How does it improve you? What skills does it bring? Does it make you a better person? Will it mean you do the washing up more often? Below are seven of the personal benefits you can receive from tapping away at that screen, working that joystick or plain old keyboard banging

Fat, spotty teenagers peering over a discarded heap of pizza boxes as they clutch their controllers - a common image that is traditionally conjured up when gaming is mentioned. All that’s changing. People are being forced to revise their mental image of gamers as the social revolution of the past few years takes gaming to the masses. The fact is - your mum is just as likely to be playing as your son. That’s just one of five myths about social gaming and gamers well and truly dispelled below….

Nov

16

You may not care what people say…you’re going to make sure your farm gets tended, your candies get crushed, your autos get thieved, your tombs get raided and your birds are made angry. But you might also be pleased to know that it’s all okay again. It’s not a waste of time or money anymore. Gaming is good for you again – officially!

With more bandwidth and increasingly powerful mobile devices, we are seeing more complex and graphic-intensive social games in the app stores; and a new genre of “midcore” gaming is attempting to bridge the gap between hardcore and casual gaming. But another entirely different category of games has captivated people presumably since they first started communicating…

It could be argued that the freemium model has been the single most important factor behind the rise of social gaming; well, that and the multitiude of social networking sites and the rate at which mobile devices are being churned out of Chinese factories, of course. But how did it come about that all these great (and not so great) games became available completely free of charge? And where is the freemium gaming model going?

Being able to measure levels of engagement amongst players has long been the Holy Grail for game developers. Technological advancements mean that it is now possible to do that more scientifically using biometrics. The ability to “read” the signs of engagement in one’s eyes or on one’s fingertips is not without concerns of Big Brother playing the game with you; but that’s unlikely to prevent this technology being used more widely in gaming in the future. In fact it’s already started.

Oct

21

There are three different types of answer to this question. Some people will answer “on my iPad”; others will say “on Facebook” and yet others again will answer “on the toilet”! It’s OK – we are flexible and will accept all three as valid! Below we take a quick look at the key devices, platforms and locations of social game play at present. Remember that the industry is changing so quickly that so are the stats – so keep in mind that this represents a good snapshot for now, but it could all change next week!

The "growth" of social gaming is often referred to - but how much is it growing and who is growing it? The following infographic from Go-Gulf.com gives an interesting snapshot of the worldwide state of play of social gaming from April 2013. The stats on the demographics of the social game player show that gaming these days is the realm of the middle-aged lady as much as teenage boys....

A captive audience of dedicated potential buyers who return again and again to see your ad; perfect opportunities to target ads to your audience; people who have time and money to view and buy your products; the possibility of your ad going viral and being seen by millions…. It sure sounds like an ad man’s dream and it perfectly describes social gaming for an advertiser. But there’s one problem: social media has traditionally frowned upon blatant in-your-face advertising. This means that advertisers have to be more creative to get away with pushing their products.

Popular social games tend to breed a bit like Rubik’s Cubes did. They are self-propagating and can quickly hit huge download numbers. But the attraction of the social component to gamers takes them beyond the sense of personal challenge we felt from the famous cube. We take a quick look at what that big attraction is and then we ask what the game developers, publishers and console manufacturers get out of the deal?

The “shelf life” of many social games is pretty short. A game takes off and gets significant downloads for a few weeks before the next one comes along and knocks it out of the picture. It’s the nature of the beast in social gaming. But love ‘em or hate ‘em, games like Zynga Poker, Farmville , Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, Bejeweled and so on have longevity and endurance. What is the key to lasting the distance and designing games that hang around a little longer in people’s heads and on their devices? We have boiled it down to a few key elements.

Gone are the days when, having paid fifty or sixty bucks for a game, the first thing you did when you got the disk out of the box and loaded it was to check the manual or tutorial to make sure you understood it fully. Just protecting your investment, right? You’d shelled out your hard-earned money on a game, so you should at least know exactly how it works and how to get the most enjoyment out of it. The freemium model of social gaming has changed all that.…

Us game developers have a tough life trying to make games compatible for so many different devices and software platforms. I can hear the violins of sympathy being played from here…thank you kindly! Anyway, occasionally our life is made a little easier when the big platforms make changes to their Software Development Kits (SDKs), as Facebook did last week.

As a gamer you probably have a couple of types of games you enjoy more than others; developers also often specialise in one or two genres of games. With devices becoming more sophisticated and 3G becoming 4G, social and mobile gaming is expanding from its technologically-imposed limits and is starting to cross over into video game territory, making more categories of games available. One look at the AppStore, Google Play or Facebook and it’s obvious that there are many additions to the social gaming “pantheon” of puzzle, casino and word games. What are the main categories and niches available today, and how are they changing?

Social gaming and the advance of technology has blurred the lines between hardcore gamer and casual gamer and introduced a new term, “midcore”, into our dictionary. No longer can the “hardcore gamer” simply be defined as the geek queuing overnight in the snow to buy the new version of Call of Duty and playing it all day locked in his room; and the “casual gamer” is not just the mum who spends her spare time playing Freecell or Solitaire on the family computer. So what’s happening in the shifting sands of gaming? And what would you classify yourself as?

One of the hardest questions for social game developers is how to maintain the integrity of their game, while also making money from it. As any gamer who has become infuriated with pop up ads will tell you – it’s a delicate balancing act. Get it wrong and people simply stop playing. The economics of gaming are important – as any one of the small developers out there trying to get their games promoted, downloaded, played and making money will tell you. Alternatively, just ask Zynga! Anyway, as new developments and challenges come to the fore and new strategies to monetize games are tried and tested, it’s time to take another look at the options available.

Playing against the computer, or the “bot”, has been part of electronic gaming since the early days. Back then gaming was often a solitary experience, not only because technology didn’t allow the interactive communication it does today, but few people had the equipment or the desire to play electronic games then. So the bot was a key figure. Nowadays, with social and mobile gaming a dominant part of the modern life, does the bot still hold an important place in gamers’ hearts?

Monkeybin posts earlier this year covered how chat networks and social gaming have been joining forces under the same roof and how Asian platforms are leading the way in the spread of gaming trends. In the past month we have seen more indications of this with news about prominent Japanese Korean and Chinese chat networks moving higher on the radar of the social gaming world; and one of their American cousins is following suit.

More evidence this week of the blurring of the lines between the gaming communities: the traditional “heavyweights” of the console world have basically quit trying to smack their “middleweight” social gaming challengers out of the ring. Everyone seems resigned to the fact that they all need each other, and the two worlds are merging into one….

Today it’s time to vent! Admit it, there have been times when you wanted to smash your iPhone or S3 to bits with a claw hammer? It was only the fact that it’s so beautiful (and expensive) that you spared its life. Yep, despite our endless love and devotion to these little darling devices, there are plenty of little annoyances with them and the apps that we run on them. It’s bad enough when we can’t work because email isn’t synching properly. The last thing we need is, while relaxing and kicking back playing a social game or two, a whole new set of grievances bug us. So what are the biggest annoyances for social gamers and what should game developers ensure they DON’T do?

Are you worried at all about the state of the social and mobile gaming industry? Think the doom and gloom caused by Zynga’s plummeting share price is cause for concern for the rest of us? Don’t be…the stats from Facebook and elsewhere show that all is healthy and we can look forward to many more years of innovation and gaming pleasure; the social gaming industry is just flexing its muscles and looking where to turn next. Enjoy the ride!

Being able to predict what’s coming in gaming is not easy. It’s such a rapidly-changing environment that it’s like driving through a town you’ve never been to before and predicting what’s around the next corner; you don’t even know where the next corner is! Increasingly eyes are turning towards Asia for upcoming trends in mobile and social gaming. It’s not that surprising considering over 60 percent of the world’s population live there and five of the seven most populous countries are there – how much more social can you get? Technology-wise it’s also unsurprising considering the phone you’re holding in your hand was probably made there.

There was more evidence this week of the increasing focus on the mobile side of social gaming. Not exactly huge news as we already knew the days of waiting to get home to sit at a PC to either work or play are over and people increasingly do everything on the fly. Core gamers apart, the large numbers of people playing games on the social networks are doing so on tablets and phones. It seems that tablets are coming in for special attention. It was recently reported by Juniper Research that tablet owners download more than twice as many games as smartphone owners and that the global tablet games market would be worth $3.1bn by 2014. Here we look at why this trend is creating changes in the social gaming market as a whole.

It’s fair to say the rapid adoption of social tools has changed the gaming landscape over recent years and even more so as more gaming goes mobile. We all know these social features are important for player engagement and interaction. But what about developers and game distributors? Aren’t they also benefitting from the social side of social gaming? How effective are these tools in actually marketing the games?

From the ancient card and board games, through the creations of big board game companies in the twentieth century, to the masses of electronic games we have now - people seem to have always loved social games. It’s worth thinking about what the big attraction is – and do people still play games for the same reasons as before?

Last week, at their sixth annual developers' meeting, Google announced the creation of its answer to Apple’s Game Centre and Microsoft’s Xbox Live. It was no big surprise as it was leaked by Android Police before the event. It’s called Google Play Game Services and it’s already been included in some game updates out there. What opportunities is this going to provide for developers and how will it affect the social gaming community as a whole?

I imagine the social gaming revolution has claimed a few traditional board game companies around the world as its victims. But one pretty ancient Dutch company refused to lie down and let the social gaming juggernaut run over it and splat it into a million and one jigsaw pieces. Its logo is an elephant but the company was rapidly becoming a dinosaur of the gaming world, until it embraced new technology and started using it as the creative tool it was always meant to be.

The more I look around the more it seems that Monopoly money just doesn’t get people excited anymore. If you’ve noticed how Facebook is becoming more like a casino every day you will understand what I’m talking about. How has social gambling come to play such a large role in social gaming (talk about "monetising games"!) and is it creating any problems?

Electronic Arts (EA) is big news; it is currently the fifth most successful social game developer on the planet, with approximately 33 million monthly active users.

So when it announces that it will drop three of its social games from Facebook, there tends to be a few shudders through the industry. Shares in Zynga, Facebook, and Electronic Arts all took a hit after the announcement.

Why is the developer taking this step and what does it mean in a wider sense?

If you like your social games pure and unadulterated then look away now.

Get ready for the inevitable invasion. When the printed word was king, the marketers didn’t take long in getting their ads in print; when radio came along, the ad men were suddenly in our ears selling us stuff; then TV came – and we all know what happened there; when the Internet came along it threw the advertisers a little – it was a new world, where people were in control of the content they read and watched – but soon banner ads and Pay Per Click came along.

Wherever people go, the marketing men follow and that’s why we shouldn't be surprised at what’s happening to social and mobile gaming.

A recent article in Forbes magazine asked “What Makes a Good Social Game?”

It's definitely worth considering, given that the games market is so competitive and is now worth around $15 billion.

The social gaming experts they spoke to were from Popcap and Gramble and they identified seven main characteristics, one of which we focus on below.

Sony’s recent announcement that the next generation PS4, to be unveiled later this year, will allow sharing of the game experience on social networks, is another sign that the “social” part of gaming is becoming king.

Until now, the experience of playing social games on Facebook on your PC, or via apps for the iphone, iPad or Android devices, has been considered quite separate from the console experience offered by the likes of Sony and Nintendo.

Is that about to change, with Sony’s long-awaited announcement?

In such a fast-paced sector as social gaming, on such a rapidly-changing platform as Facebook, it’s often hard to know where everything is heading.

Success in social gaming is nearly always fleeting; there is no resting on laurels for game developers if they strike gold, as there is always a competitor waiting in the wings, ready to shoot them down, declare "game over" and step in to take their place at the next opportunity.

Despite many challenges, Facebook’s social gaming platform remains the best barometer of the sector as a whole, and we take a look at where it’s going as 2013 unfolds.

Social gaming and instant messaging development companies have generally ploughed separate paths since the explosion of social media and mobile Internet-ready devices created a boom in both these areas.

Though they are obviously close bosom buddies, with the “social” component of gaming lying in the ability to chat while playing, people use messaging outside of gaming – and so the line has generally been clear between mobile messaging app companies and game development companies.

In Asia that’s changing… the “line” has already been crossed and we may see more of it in the future.

I am not a “gamer” and have never classed myself as one. Never owned a Playstation, Xbox or Wii; only ever purchased one PC game in my lifetime (Championship Manager!) and would rather watch angry birds scrapping on a bird table than play the game.

Yet I know the addictive power of social board games. In fact, I took counseling at one stage – well, not quite, but my wife booked me in!

When we say that social board games combine the past and the future, it usually means that another old board game you used to play with your family, as a kid, just had its electronic version released (assuming there are any left that haven’t had the “treatment” already.)

However that trend has recently been reversed!