The social networking game is all about scale. There are so many apps now on Facebook alone, nearly 16,000, that it is nearly impossible to get noticed unless you are already part of one of the bigger app companies. Cross promotion between apps is the key. Some of the largest app companies like Slide or RockYou, for instance, typically charge 50 cents per install to distribute apps from smaller developers across their users. But now we are beginning to see networks starting to form across specific application genres.
In the social gaming category alone, a battle is brewing between the Social Gaming Network (SGN) and Zynga. Tomorrow, both will launch separate developer platforms for other gaming applications. (Info here for SGN developers, here for Zynga developers). The appeal to smaller social game developers is similar: join one of the gaming networks and see your game promoted on the toolbar or gaming page when people are playing other games in the network. Fred Wilson, the partner at Union Square Ventures, who invested in Zynga, explains to me:
It is the exact same value proposition why you would want to build your app on Facebook as opposed to the Web. You can rapidly develop an audience. It is access to audience and monetization.
Both companies have varying claims as to how large their audiences actually are. SGN CEO Shervin Pishevar says, “We are able to promote the developers’ games across millions of users and 700 million pageviews a month.” SGN’s most popular games on Facebook and its own site are Warbook, Street Race, and Fight Club. Zynga, for its part claims 1.3 million daily active users across Facebook, Bebo, Meebo, and Friendster. It’s most popular game is Texas Hold’Em poker (with 609,000 daily active users in Facebook alone), followed by Blackjack, Attack!, Scramble, and Sea Wars. At least on Facebook, it appears that Zynga has more daily active users. (See Zynga Facebook stats here and SGN Facebook stats here).
Zynga, I have learned, has also recently acquired two smaller gaming developers: one is behind the CLZ group of apps, which have 365,000 daily active users, and the developers behind the Superheros app (34,000 daily active users). The company is also trying to avoid the as-yet-unresolved fate of Scrabulous, a Facebook game that is being threatened to be shut down because it is a copy of Scrabble. Zynga recently renamed one of its games Sea Wars from Battleship. (Guess what game it is based on?). Attack! is similar to Risk, and Scramble is a digital version of Boggle. So there still might be some issues there.
Later tonight, SGN will launch a set of APIs for developers and its Gaming Hub application on Facebook, which will attempt to create a “gaming graph” that connects you to other games in the hub, particularly the ones your friends are playing. Joining the hub will let Facebook members keep track of what their friends are playing, their high scores, and will move all game-related feeds from their profile pages to the hub. Explains Pishevar:
What is annoying is there is a lot of noise on people’s profiles. That gaming graph belongs inside the gaming hub. It is a portal to all your games.
The gaming hub will also eventually become a mini ad network for games, although not at launch. Zynga, on the other hand, will have advertising baked into its hub, splitting any ad revenues with game developers. But the ads will be secondary to the cross-promotion.
So game developers will have to decide whether to go it alone, join one of the gaming hubs, or join both. May the best hub win.