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Google+ Gives Game Makers Fresh Fields to Sow

Google+ Gives Game Makers Fresh Fields to Sow

Google's new social network has made a gaming platform for itself, launching with 16 casual games Google+ members can play while logged onto the network. Its selection pales in comparison to the multitude of games and apps Facebook's platform offers, but Google's open pastures -- and lower commission rates -- may be an attractive opportunity for social game makers.

By Rachelle Dragani
08/12/11 10:54 AM PT

Google+ challenged its top competitor Facebook on Thursday by adding games to the newly launched social networking site.

Google has begun a gradual roll-out of the games, stating they should be fully available to all users soon. Google+ users will have a selection of 16 games to choose from at first, including the popular "Angry Birds," a top-selling application on several mobile platforms. Other games include "Diamond Dash," "Bejeweled Blitz" and "Sodoku."

Zynga, the game developer that has been a huge part of Facebook's gaming success by creating games such as Farmville, will now also develop for Google+. Months ago, the search engine giant invested an undisclosed amount with the game maker. "Zynga Poker" is one of the options that will be available on Google+.

The games will be available on a separate page within Google+, where social gamers can check updates from game invites, see the games various people in their Google+ Circles have played and broadcast a personal high score if they'd like.

Facebook didn't let the announcement from its competitor slide without recognition. The social networking leader had gaming announcements of its own Thursday, introducing what the company called the biggest set of changes to the Facebook homepage since its initiation. Changes will include more room for gaming apps and a variety of changes with gaming updates, bookmarks and alerts.

Neither company responded to the E-Commerce Times' requests for further comment.

Social Gaming and Social Networking: Two Peas in a Pod

The addition of games to Google+ could draw in more users and motivate them to check the site more often and stay longer. It can also draw advertisers and developers to the platform. Making its site more than just a destination for information about friends was one of the reasons Facebook was able to grow so quickly and steadily.

"Facebook's success was at least partially built on its games content, driving regular, ongoing and wider social interaction between users. It was inevitable that Google+ would add games content, and in doing so the platform has become a more competent, competitive threat to Facebook, even though this is very early days for the platform," Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games at IHS Screen Digest, told the E-Commerce Times.

Gaming's appeal to users across a wide swath of demographics makes it essential for network integration.

"Games are an activity that are enjoyed by all ages, at work, at home. The costs are lower than ever, and the selection is higher than ever. There has been a huge surge in popularity, and you have access to thousands of titles at nothing or next to nothing. It's something you can enjoy in a coffee-break-style context. It's hard to argue the appeal, and the results speak for themselves," Scott Steinberg, CEO and lead analyst for video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, told the E-Commerce Times.

Can Google+ Compete?

The site has a long way to go, though, before it can rival Facebook's 750 million-strong user base, which includes an estimated 700 million active monthly gaming users (a statistic which doesn't necessarily mean unique users -- it can apply to those playing more than one game). Although Google+ is the fastest-growing social network the online world has seen, it's still sitting at around 25 million users.

Facebook also has a walloping lead over Google+ in game selection, with thousands compared to the 16 Google+ is rolling out. The fact that any games are being introduced at all, though, speaks to Google's faith in creating a viable social gaming platform.

"The selection of games being offered isn't going to put a massive dent to Facebook, but the fact that Google is committing to a game strategy speaks volumes about its interest in the space. Overall, the service has a potential to be a serious threat to Facebook's stranglehold on social gaming," said Steinberg.

In fact, the small selection could work to Google+'s advantage.

"The opening up of a new platform gives games operators an opportunity to establish themselves on the platform before it becomes too overcrowded, so it is likely that a lot of developers will be showing interest at this embryonic phase," said Harding-Rolls.

A platform like Facebook, with its thousands of games, can be overwhelming for small content developers who don't have the resources and advertising dollars to distinguish themselves from the crowd. So, the tiny playing field for Google+ can be a huge draw for developers.

"Many developers want to get there early while there is still such a limited base. They can get some good brand recognition and get there before a rival gets there en masse. It's completely fresh horizons and brand-new land to colonize," said Steinberg.

Developers are also drawn by the temporary deal Google+ promised -- the company will only take 5 percent of in-game sales compared to Facebook's 30 percent cut. More important, though, is finding a platform that can provide an outlet to a booming user base and profit. Since it's uncommon that developers have exclusivity with a certain platform or company, game creators will probably dip their toes in both Facebook and Google+.

"It is attractive, but also temporary, and developers will be aware of that when considering their options. For games operators, it is all about the return on the investment. If conversion of gamers to paying players is high, ARPU strong and engagement high, then companies will come to the Google+ platform," said Harding-Rolls.

Whether or not Google+ can be that platform remains to be seen, but the early and solid investment in gaming for Google+ is an aggressive move towards social networking dominance.

"These first 16 games are not going to make a dent in Facebook's bottom line, but Google is drawing a line in the sand and saying, 'We plan on getting into this space, we plan on getting into it aggressively,' and that's a way to shake users free from its rival," said Steinberg.


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