The New Rubik’s Cube and Why the Big Boys Love It

Mark Stephens

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?


Have Social Games Become the New Rubik’s Cube?

Remember when Rubik’s Cube first came out? There probably weren’t many houses in Europe or the US without one.

It’s a bit like that with social games. Everyone wants a go. With Rubik’s Cube, word quickly spread by mouth; friends at school all had them and they were cheap and easily accessible enough for all the kids soon to own one. They could be picked up and put down again at whim, though they also had that “X” factor addictive quality; they also had the element of challenge to them, but the goals were incredibly simple – complete a side or complete the whole darned thing if you really wanted to amaze everybody!

Many of these features are similar to social games and help explain their popularity.

But social games have another important element that Robert Zubek, previously of Zynga and now of SomaSim Games, alluded to in a recent interview, when asked about when he first started playing social games on Facebook:

“It reminded me of the awesome experience of playing cards at the kitchen table, and all the chatting and bickering — which we can’t do anymore, because we live thousands of miles apart. But when we play a game of Uno or Risk with family members, the game artifact itself is only a part of the experience. There’s another piece of the experience that you get by sticking that “draw-two” to your mother, or teaming up your armies with your cousin to make sure that your overly confident sibling goes down in flames. Fun in those games comes from these social interactions, and I think the same goes for social games online.”

This is something that Rubik’s Cube obviously didn’t have – that many of the social games certainly exploit.

What If the Rubik’s Cube Had Been Available on Facebook?

Imagine how much quicker Rubik’s Cube would have spread with social recommendations and the ability to invite friends to play it – and if it was available on a freemium model. Even though it was a single-player game, its viral status would have been off the scale.

That’s what we are seeing with many of the most popular social games. A study recently commissioned by GamesGrabr confirms what most of us already knew: that many people discover games through social recommendations rather than traditional word of mouth or physically seeing the game being played (like with Rubik’s Cube).

In fact social media is kind of the new word of mouth – as covered in our recent blog post.

The GamesGrabr study found that 45 percent of players simply ask their friends about new games rather than scrolling through the legions of games on the app stores. They also use social media platforms for recommendations rather than search engines.

Google is actually well aware of the social threat to their search dominance – hence the inclusion of more social features into their SERPs in the past twelve months or so.

Game Developers and the Big Boys

Confirmation of this change in gamer behaviour is not surprising but it does have important ramifications for game developers and the big console makers.
The social element needs to be heavily factored into promotion strategies for games, with the ability to recommend games critical to their success.
GamesGrabr CEO Tony Pearce said:

“We now want content to be delivered to us rather than going to look for it, and we want guidance and recommendations from people we follow and our peers.”

Of course Tony does represent a company with a vested interest in this phenomenon – but he’s right that we value social recommendations highly, and for further proof we only need to look at the big console makers to see that the social and sharing elements are becoming important there.


Nintendo recently announced new social features for many of its games; we all know that Sony’s PS4 has incorporated a “Share” button and many social additions; and the Xbox has long had interaction with the main social networks.

While this is obviously partly to create a better user experience and meet growing demand for these features, there is also a vested interest for the big boys to go social too – and that’s the social recommendations and viral element that can do a large part of the marketing for the games and their consoles, without any promotional spend at all.