Social vs. Serious Gaming: Zynga, EA Strategies Shift Gears

Zynga Inc.Electronic Arts Inc. and Walt Disney Co. have been dominating the social gaming scene ever since Facebook launched gaming in their network.  But most of their games are too broad, not genre-specific, and not that serious for some hard-core gamers.  Smaller gaming companies are now focusing on games that target specific groups which they think will be more likely to spend money on games, since they take their gameplay seriously and not just as a time-wasting habit.

“Zynga and companies like it have focused on games that have a broad reach,” said Justin Smith, founder of Inside Network, a research company.

“Others like Kabam are choosing to build games for specific segments of players who are more engaged and, therefore, more likely to spend money on games. They make a genre of games that I call mid-core. They’re deeper than casual games, but they don’t require as much of an investment of time as hard-core games.”

Kabam Inc., maker of Kingdoms of Camelot, has raised over $125 million in funding since they were founded in 2006.  Kevin Chou, the Chief Executive of Kabam, has been focused on bringing serious console gamers to social gaming by developing games that are focused on this demographic.   Their games differ from other social games, as theirs need real commitment.  You have to defend your kingdom religiously or your kingdom can fall overnight.

“The type of content will determine who plays it,” Chou said. “Hard-core games aren’t just going to be the domain of consoles. We think those types of games will also be on social networks, tablets and smartphones. That will be the trend going into the future.

Kixeye, the company formerly known as Casual Collective, and developer of games such as Backyard Monsters, has also raised some funds, announcing a third round of investment totaling $18 million from Jafco Ventures, Trinity Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners.  Zynga co-founder Andrew Trader will join the developer’s board.  The company has taken a few pages from Kabam’s book, as they are also focused more on specific groups that take their games seriously.  Since the release of Backyard monsters, they have also released Battle Pirates and will soon be releasing War Commander this summer.

According to Will Harbin, the CEO of Kixeye in an interview with the Wall Street journal, “About 10% of Kixeye’s players pay for virtual goods in the company’s games, higher than the rate at which analysts believe Zynga’s players make purchases in that company’s games,”

Joe Horowitz, a venture capitalist with Jafco believes the market for social games like Kixeye’s will ultimately become bigger than the retail games business, long dominated by companies like Electronic Arts Inc. and Activision Blizzard Inc. “That’s why I think Kixeye could become the EA of the future,” Horowitz said.

So if these small companies are focused on specific groups of gamers, what have those big gaming companies been up to?  For one, Zynga is still focused on bringing casual, addictive games, but they are moving more into making their games available in smartphones or tablets first, then releasing on Facebook later.  This move suggests that launching mobile apps first rather than a social networking portal is a way for the company to break from their dependence on Facebook, a trend we’re seeing with ad platforms as well.

As for EA, their battle with former NCAA players doesn’t seem to bother them that much as the only drawback to this, if ever the NCAA palyers won the case, EA has to compensate the players for using their likeness in their games.

“We could lose billions more if a giant meteor hits the earth,” spokesman Jeff Brown told CNBC.

Whatever these gaming companies come up with or focus on, they should always consider the players health, as they don’t want they players dying because of too much game play, much like the dude who died of an embolism due to an Xbox marathon.