Last year was definitely heavy for social gaming. News of gaming giant Zynga's woes kept pouring in, while many gamers questioned whether they were still attracted to staples like Farmville. Still, social gaming pulled in millions of dollars and core gaming is on that list. Jobs have been lost, studios shut down, but Facebook gaming is still quite successful. Core gaming still has a strong following, but will that strength be carried through 2013?
It's possible that 2013 could be larger for social gaming than ever for a few reasons. First, there will always be source material for core games coming from Hollywood. Big-budget action flicks or fantasy romps do better when transformed into a core game than a basic social clone. The larger and stronger the nerd and geek movements become--and they will--the more Hollywood takes notice and tries to make a buck. That means more source material for core games that are more advanced than what many would consider typical social games. Players have grown more sophisticated, and will demand games that provide more challenge. Core social games will be there to fill the order.
Mobile gaming will move into the social space, or social gaming will affect mobile more in 2013. As tablets and smartphones continue to grow as a market, core gaming will fit perfectly into the lifestyle of gamers on the go, gamers who play in spurts while riding the train or during breaks at the office. Core gaming offers strategy and depth within game-as-you-can gameplay. Turn-based gameplay and PvP strategy is perfect for mobile gaming. Many of the most successful titles, standalone games like Hero Academy, showed just how popular turn-based gaming could be.
Big budget gaming promises a trickle-down effect to social gaming. We saw it with the Dragon Age and Dungeons and Dragons franchises. Surely, more is due. Could we see a Skyrim social game? If we did, it'd be easy to imagine that it would provide some level of challenge that could not be met by typical Facebook games. Players would want at least the quality of previous big-budget core games, meaning plenty of room for core games to grow. Larger studios like EA and Nexon have had success in core social gaming, so surely their successes will encourage more studios to get in on the action. These studios will look for a genre that is already established as a money-maker, and core social games have already proved themselves.
A maturing social audience will also likely contribute to core social gaming's continuing success in 2013. Again, players will eventually grow bored of the standard Facebook experience and look for something more challenging. Core gaming can provide that challenge in a familiar environment, using familiar UIs, cash-shops and connections with friends. The Facebook audience is growing older, too, and beginning to appreciate more mature gameplay. There will always be a place for whimsical graphics and silly characters, but core gaming will provide that sometimes-needed gripping experience that players look for as they gain more experience in gaming. It won't be all good news, however.
It's likely that smartphone and tablet gaming will be to Facebook gaming what Facebook gaming was to the standard client-based, PC market. Mobile will guarantee that social developers will have to work harder to gain players, but those same developers will take advantage of the instantly social nature of those gadgets. Instead of a PC or browser-based social web, social games will begin to live on a network of smartphone and tablets apps. (It's almost the same thing, minus the chairs.) However it plays out, 2013 will be an exciting year for core social gaming. We'll see grand developments and continuing innovations in the market, but also a lot of the same. The games that cannot change and adapt to a growing, maturing and more mobile market will likely fall by the wayside. Those that innovate and take advantage of a more mature playerbase, Hollywood blockbusters and on-the-go gaming might just survive.
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Beau covers MMORPGs for Massively, enjoys blogging on his personal site and loves social and casual gaming. He has been exploring games since '99 and has no plans to stop. For Games.com News, he explores the world of hardcore Facebook and social games. You can join him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.