This year's Game Developer's Conference Online in Austin brought together 3,000 people, including game developer wannabes and industry insiders from World of Warcraft-maker Blizzard and FarmVille-maker Zynga (among others) with talks on how to make good games and some of the larger trends in online games.
Social gaming (on Facebook and otherwise) played a major role in the conference, with a series of sessions devoted to the topic, which included a standout talk from FrontierVille creator Brian Reynolds (our full interview with him is coming soon), Playdom's Raph Koster and the first-ever Game Developer Choice Online Awards, where Social City was honored as the Best Social Network Game of the Year.
After sitting through a slew of panels, lectures, roundtables (and heated conversations at during a series of evening events), here's a list of five social gaming trends you can expect to see in the coming year.
1. Social gaming is not going away anytime soon
Everyone's buzzing about how FarmVille and the other top games have been losing players faster than a cat sheds its winter coat. And while that is largely true for the top 20 games on Facebook, newer games have still managed to attract players at a respectable rate. Two prime examples of this are Booyah's Nightclub City (a nightclub management sim game with music from real-life artists) and Casual Collective's Backyard Monsters (a tower defense game), and that trend is expected to continue into next year. So instead of Facebook gaming dying, it sounds more like it's changing. People are growing tired of the same old farm and pet games and are ready for the next big thing.
2. Expect social games to look better and offer more original game experiences
FarmVille and the rest of the first-generation social games haven't exactly had the best-looking graphics or most sophisticated game experiences. And that has been OK until recently. Game-wise, FrontierVille set the bar in creating a very playable social game, infusing all of that gift giving and neighbor visiting with popular game elements borrowed from Mario (yes, that Mario), Sonic, Diablo and World of Warcraft. Social games like ngmoco's We Rule and We Farm on iOS devices have set a new standard for high production values, and we expect that social game makers will be upping the ante on their creations in the near future.
3. Social gaming is going mobile (for reals this time)
It's hasn't been easy to transport social games from Facebook to iPhone, but we predict that this will be the year that mobile social gaming will have its coming out party in the US. Whether its social games companies like Zynga and Playfish figuring out how to launch games on iPhone and iOS (as well as making the leap to Android) or some dark horse mobile game maker beating Zynga to the punch -- it's clear that social games will be a must-play on mobile in the near future.
4. The debate on whether FarmVille, et al, is 'evil' or 'really a game' continues
While it seems like a no-brainer that games like FarmVille and Pet Society appeal to mostly women gamers who may also play games like Bejeweled and Mystery Case Files, this doesn't seem to be common knowledge for everyone. This was most evident in a roundtable called 'Do Social Games Suck?" where there were far too many comparisons between FarmVille and Halo or FarmVille and World of Warcraft. There was no final conclusion if these games 'suck,' but there is still a perception that FarmVille and its ilk are 'evil,' 'addictive' and are 'not really games.' The 200+ million Facebook users who play social games might disagree.
5. Big brands will flood Facebook this coming year
A few big video games brands (Madden, FIFA) made the jump to Facebook this year, with marginal success, but big brands (as in, stuff that even your grandma would know) will be headed to Facebook. You can already spin the Big Wheel in a Price is Right Facebook game, and you'll soon be able to Pass Go and Collect $200 in a Facebook Monopoly game from EA/Playfish.
Is FarmVille 'really a game'? Sound off in the comments below. Add comment.