The Social Gaming Summit kicked off in San Francisco today, bringing together developers, investors and bigwigs from social networks like Facebook and MySpace. Below are four of my favorite takeaways gleaned from the first few sessions:
Facebook Social Games Migrating Off Facebook
In the opening talk, Justin Smith, founder and editor of Inside Facebook and Inside Social Games, pointed out that Facebook Connect was making social games increasingly playable outside of Facebook — on the web, via the iPhone, and most recently, via Xbox 360. This trend is so pronounced, Smith predicted that two years from now the majority of Facebook games will be playable outside of the social networking site.
Twitter Gains First Monetized Social Game
Much like Om did in a post earlier today, Smith also noted the emergence of social games played via Twitter messaging, especially quizzes (and the somewhat controversial SpyMaster). Helping solidify this trend, this morning Super Rewards announced it’s partnered with the Twitter-driven roleplaying game 140 Mafia, making it the first title on the microblogging network to be monetized. (Similar to OfferPal, Super Rewards offers virtual currency to social games and MMOs, which customers can purchase with cash, or get as a bonus by signing up with an advertising partner.)
MySpace Social Games’ ARPU Higher Than Facebook Games
Smith said that in speaking with numerous developers, he’s learned that notwithstanding Facebook’s greater popularity in the U.S., MySpace games still earn better average revenue per user (or ARPU) than Facebook games. Smith’s stats: A popular Facebook title earns 30-40 cents in ARPU a month, while popular MySpace games earn 50- 70 cents. (The genre’s very biggest titles earn $1-$2.)
Secrets to Social Gaming Success
But how do these games attract so many players? In a panel discussion, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus outlined the three elements he thinks are necessary in order for titles to become successful: 1) They make players feel like they’re playing with their real friends, 2) They offer ways for players to express their personality, and 3) They reward players for being part of a sustained experience. (Hence his games’ emphasis on collecting virtual items.)
Social games are also successful due to broader societal trends. By way of example, Playfish CEO Sebastien de Halleux noted how in one title, players seemed to spend more money on virtual Christmas trees than on real ones — because, according to the players, with their friends scattered around the world, far more of them would see a virtual tree than they would a real one. Pincus said game-based activity like this was an investment of what he called “social capital,” a means of maintaining contact with our growing network of friends and acquaintances. If the industry further emphasized this advantage in future games, Pincus argued with charming bullishness, social gaming could become as pervasive as social networks themselves.
Disclosure: GigaOM is a media partner of the Summit.