Mobile Gaming (digitalmediabuzz)

The story below was posted on DigitalMediaBuzz.com in Jan. 2010. Story is posted here for archiving purposes only since original was lost when the site went down.

When the Facebook platform went live in May 2007, Zynga’s Bing Gordon said it changed everything about the social gaming industry.

“Its developer APIs were as solid as any videogame console development tools, and it achieved mass market penetration much more quickly (Facebook apps are estimated to have reached 40 million users in just 12 months),” he wrote.

Social games, like Zynga’s Farmville and Mafia Wars, burst onto the scene and never looked back in the last two years, which led to the rapid growth of the industry. Zynga alone sees about 230 million monthly active users on Facebook.

But as the realms of social media move away from the computer and onto mobile platforms, more specifically to those of the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices, the young industry must adapt with it.

On the developer’s end, that hasn’t been too much of a problem, especially in terms of Apple’s iPhone.

“The iPhone apps development environment has also proven to be enormously productive,” Gordon said, “and the iTunes Apps store is clearly a new ‘killer app’ for mobile computing.”

However, things begin to get a little trickier when other platforms come into the mix. Translating game play from the web to fit onto numerous devices running either Android, BlackBerry, iPhone or even Windows Mobile takes time. And money.

Foursquare, which recently launched a beta of its BlackBerry app to about 5,000 testers, stated before that it ramped up its BlackBerry development only after it secured more funding. Gowalla, Foursquare’s biggest competitor, has yettoimplement BlackBerry or Android native clients.

“As soon as we felt good about the financing going through, we hired our friend Pete to start working on it,” the company said in a press release.

Even then, it took another four months before the beta released. Meanwhile, iPhone and Android users were already growing well-accustomed to their apps thanks to what many developers consider a better programming experience.

What has slowed down the applications more, though, (other than the opinionated arguments behind the SDK, API and IDEs) is the lack of ability to transition all profitable elements of the gameplay from the web.

Each major social gaming company has admitted that they are tinkering with the elements that make them profitable. But most have found success through virtual currency, which hadn’t fully optimized yet on the mobile platforms.

For instance, Zynga reported that purchases of virtual currency accounted for most of its more than $100 million in revenue in 2009. That says a lot for its necessity to be included in all versions of its games to be successful.

It’s these limitations, or others that may surface as the industry continues to grow, that will only help it flourish, according to Scott Jon Siegel, a former iPhone lead designer for Zynga who now works for Playdom.

Playdom boasts more than 20 million monthly active users and possesses the no. 1 game on MySpace, Mobsters, which recently launched on the iPhone.

Siegel likes to work with a personal slogan: “Constraint is the mother of innovation.”

“As a game designer, I refer to this principle on a daily basis,” he wrote. “Whether working on a brand new title, or making improvements to an existing one, the best ideas are born out of limitations – boundaries which designers must work around to achieve their goals.

“’Easy problems are simply those with too many solutions. It’s when our options are severely limited that we begin to look in new and exciting directions.”

Playdom’s CEO and Co-Founder, Dan Yue takes it one step further, stating that sticking to his company’s values of relying on user feedback and metrics to understand exactly what players want and expect will make social games successful on any platform.

“As long as we continue to respond to our players, we’re confident our games will be successful on new platforms and as player expectations evolve,” he said.