How much do you know about China’s online social gaming industry? I’m sure the name “Happy Farm” will have more than a few heads nodding.
In a nutshell, the heart of this type of gaming lies in interacting and playing with people you know, and who belong to your online social network. They are usually hosted not on a third party website, but on social networking sites (SNS).
Globally, online social gaming has been around for several years and in China, this concept holds an enormous amount of untapped potential. Today, social gaming does not conjure up the image of a teenage boy playing WoW at a local internet café til the wee morning hours. Instead, these games appeal to everyone – from China’s youth to moms (as seen in our Digital Moms research) to corporate white collar workers.
They have emerged as a convenient activity for netizens of all walks of life, providing a sense of release, relaxation and fun. Its immense popularity in China can be attributed to the mixing of China’s relationship-oriented society with their love of the online world. Gamers take breaks to tend to their crops on Chinese developer 5 Minutes’ Happy Farm, or steal their friend’s car parking space on Kaixin001′s Qiang Chewei.
RenRen’s new approach
Looking at this trend more closely, we can see the weight social networking sites are placing upon social gaming and how it has become an integral part of their business model. This new RenRen TVC is most telling – take a look:
(Click here to be taken directly to the Youku site if the above is inaccessible)
RenRen appears to have shifted their marketing focus from last year’s theme of ‘real-life stories of people using RenRen to connect’, to placing their messaging squarely in social gaming. As you can see from the TVC, the animated vegetables, animals and furniture may look familiar to you – they are references to China’s leading social games.
The future of social gaming
Expect great growth. Social networking companies are slowly beginning to open their sites to 3rd party programmers (instead of designing games in-house, as was the norm with many major social networking sites such as Kaixin001 and Qzone). This model is already available on RenRen, which has seen a proliferation of external developers bringing in highly popular and innovative games and in turn, higher traffic to the site. It is also allowing Western developers, like Zynga, a powerful market in their international expansion plans. Zynga will be launching their first internationally localized game, Zynga Texas Poker, in Chinese to the Greater China market this year.
In China, Happy Farm has an estimated 23 million active users per day. Social games boast a superior distribution model across a variety of platforms – mobile social gaming being a hot one.
Chinese social gamers are becoming increasingly discerning about game quality, and as the variety, social components and innovation improve, it is a certainly that this industry will continue experiencing unprecedented popularity.
What this means to you as marketers
Social networking is the top activity netizens engage in, and it’s not only the starting point of their daily online journey, but a constant throughout the day. One source stated that many sites are now reporting that SNS are sending them more traffic than traditional search engines. The next few years will see a convergence between social gaming and mobile gaming – especially in China, where almost 40% of the 755 million mobile subscribers use mobile internet.
The potential for brands to reach consumers through these platforms are enormous, given the right partnerships and integrations. Virtual goods, often linked to social gaming, are a prime opportunity as well. It is estimated that the sale of online virtual goods in China amounts to USD$5 billion. Click here for the reasons why this works in China.
Disney’s recent acquisition of social gaming company Playdom (for USD$763 million) shows how seriously companies are taking social gaming and with the international love-fest for them – especially in the most populous nation in the world – it’s a safe bet that this trend is here to stay.