How free and social games are changing everything

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"Every industry that becomes digital eventually becomes free."

At the Game Developers Conference today, Playfish co-founder and CEO Kristan Segerstrale examined how the final implications of this quote, from Wired editor Chris Anderson, are changing the game industry. Far from being a threat to gaming, Segerstrale sees the move towards free social games as the key to unlocking explosive growth.

This change does require looking at the industry in a different way, though. In the past, Segerstrale said, the industry focused on charging lots of money upfront to a small number of people. In the new free, social games model, developers should focus on creating an ongoing experience and relationship with a broader audience that will pay small amounts of money over time. Where the industry once relied on technological changes to attrct new players, Segerstrale said they must now look to social networks and lower barriers of entry to attract bigger audiences than ever.

The promise of this new free, social model, Segerstrale said, is it allows developers to reach people who don't identify as gamers -- people who may check out a free-to-play game just because their friends told them to."The primary emotional reason people play is to play with friends," he said. "It's about a social experience, cooperation, competition, self expression, and a thousand other more complicated social relationships. That's more more compelling than a solitary journey for most people."

One of the best results of the free-to-play market, Segerstrale said, is ending the days when a mediocre game could be sold on the strength of its marketing. "All these connected consumers will tell friends if they don't like an experience, on any platform," he said. But aqs time goes on, Segerstale said he sees social games resembling the traditional game market, with franchises dominating the market, games released across multiple platforms to maximize the market, "In three to five years time, saying 'I'm developing a social game' will be like saying 'I have an electric television at home.' It's just kind of a given."
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