The World Cup on Facebook: Among Many Competitors, Quality Social Games Win the Users
The World Cup is over, and for the first time, Spain takes home the trophy. Even after the spectacle, however, its events can still be felt; from Donovan’s 91st minute goal to favorite Argentina’s devastating loss to Germany. But how has it faired in the social world? Beyond a wave of virtual goods tailored around the tournament, a torrent of social games and applications saturated the market for the past few months. From chart topping games to simple venue finders, there has been an app for every type of World Cup fever.
Typically speaking, whenever a major event (Super Bowl) or holiday (Christmas) has come about, there have been a handful of games associated with them, but namely they focus around special, limited edition virtual goods. Never before have we seen such an influx of social games oriented around a specific sporting event. The general reasons, of course, are the global popularity of the soccer and the World Cup tournament and the rise of social gaming. But as we see below, it was an individual game’s quality that helped it win audiences, with soccer games from Playdom and Playfish coming out with the most users.
It may or may not be considered the first “World Cup inspired,” game as we had come across it back in early May, but Playdom-owned Three Melons‘ Facebook title, Bola, was one of the first soccer titles to really go all out. At the time, the game didn’t function too well, and was a marriage between team management and an actual, though awkward, user-controlled soccer match. Nevertheless, the Argentinean developer set the stage for soccer games. Moreover, with a steady growth up to, now, 4.6 million monthly active users (MAU), it showed how the theme could work.
Electronic Arts/Playfish brought in the the biggest EA title to date on Facebook. FIFA. EA Sports FIFA Superstars is a highly stylized, manager simulation, featuring a professional soccer team of the player’s choosing. It is simple in nature, but it manages to truly grab hold of its intended audience, and has now climbed north of 4.5 million MAUs. Additionally, it has even appeared, multiple times, on our Fastest-Gaining Facebook Games (#4) charts as well. The game was well done, and it even made our list of the Best Facebook Games of 2010, coming in at #9.
As a matter of fact, another soccer app, Epic Goal from Watercooler, in tandem with Fox Soccer Channel, also made that list, at #3. While the game has slowly grown, its MAU total is only just over 300,000. Regardless, it is certainly one of the better games out there, with a highly stylized, cartoon aesthetic and an action element to playing the soccer games – with its contextual, point and click interface – that is beautifully fluid and entertaining.
Getting into June saw the first major brands get involved in the World Cup social gaming hype in the form of CBS Sports.com with Galacticos South Africa from Fantasy Moguls. Virtually identical to its predecessor, Galacticos Football, the new soccer app took on a simple, text-based form that allowed players to manage teams that were specifically oriented around the South Africa-hosted tournament. Unfortunately for CBS, the text-based elements just weren’t quite cutting it, as the app has been dropping steadily lately, with around 159,000 monthly active users.
Seeing as how the World Cup is, well, international, it wasn’t surprising to see more international game developers pounce on the event. Beyond Three Melons, Shanghai-based company The9 tried its hand as well releasing its Facebook title, Winning Goal.
Though not as simple looking as Galacticos, the Chinese title was a bit overwhelming interface-wise, and most of the management aspects fairly standard. The only thing it really brought new to the table was set of earnable skills – reminiscent of talents in World of Warcraft – that would be used randomly in matches. According to the numbers, however, it wasn’t interesting enough, as the past few days have led to a staggering decline in MAU numbers for Winning Goal, dropping it to below 17,000.
For good measure, it is also worth pointing out Gamevil’s iPhone app, Soccer Superstars. The franchise successor of the Korean developer’s successful Baseball Superstars 2010, this role-playing and action-sports combo made for a truly addicting and aesthetically pleasing mobile experience. With its anime-style and modes ranging from exhibition matches to full-on seasons where the user customizes a single player, it’s a game that is worth the $5 price tag. The only downside, is that the social elements we loved in Baseball Superstars got left, at least for the time being, on the cutting room floor.
Along with Gamevil, Slovakian developer InLogic Software also updated their iPhone app, Footballz with what they called the “Africa Update.” In truth, it’s not like any of the other soccer games we saw, but this OpenFeint enabled title was more of an overly cute, arcade-style game, prompting players to collect yellow balls, while avoiding enemy (red) ones. Unfortunately, the update didn’t provide much in regards to the South Africa-hosted Cup. All it really did was play on the environment, creating three new levels and a savannah background. Nevertheless, it is still a pretty fun soccer game.
Even though soccer games were a highly popular development choice, not everything we came across could be considered one. A very common trend that was noted, though not entirely unexpected, was the simple apps intended to, in one way or another, help or enhance the World Cup experience itself.
The biggest one of note was from official sponsor Visa, on Facebook, with the Visa Match Planner, developed by AKQA. It is basically like it sounds, allowing (well, “allowed”) users to actually plan out, on a calendar when their teams would play, set up reminders, and even view match results.
Of course, such apps and pages are oriented around staying home and one of the joys of such a large international event is finding a place of like-minded people to cheer with. Though we never got deeply involved in location-based apps, a London-based application called Vauxhall Corsa Venue Finder did cross our table. It was nothing terribly extravagant, but it did allow users to search real world locations and find brick and mortar venues to cheer on their favorite teams.
Taking a page from a gambler’s point of view, a number of smaller devs also focused on creating apps that made use of some of social gaming’s oldest mechanics: Leaderboards. These were the prediction games, which, in a nutshell tasked users with predicting the outcome of games (and more specifically, the final score) and ranking friends based on their accuracy. The first of these that comes to mind is an app we heard about back in early June.
The game is called Goal World from Replayful, and while it looked crisp and clean, its innovation was a bit lacking. All the same, and considering its lifespan was likely only oriented around the duration of the World Cup, it did get to about 9,000 monthly active users towards the climax of the event. Unsurprisingly, it has dropped drastically since its conclusion.
A similar app stemmed all the way from Berlin. Developed by Quoobs, Fans2010 is also a clean looking prediction app for Facebook. Clean or not, however, the market for prediction apps just doesn’t seem in the cards for social apps these days, as the game never passed 1,600 monthly active users.
Perhaps, though, these apps aren’t completely about numbers. A lot just appear to be fun means to support one’s team. Such is the case with another curious game called CrazyFoosball from iThink Labs. The concept is simple enough, asking players to choose the international team of their preference to support. From there, they play a simple game of foosball (although the controls are a bit slow and clunky), and score goals to support their team. Moreover, as users play, they will garner further support for their team, recording it in a set of leaderboards based on players who chose that team, goals, and daily top scores. The app peaked around 10,000 MAUs, but since July 4th, has dropped drastically to just over 5,600.
In the end, the World Cup has generated more international, social, developments for the various social networks than just about any other event in times past. Ranging from high quality titles, to simple applications springboarding off the tournament’s popularity, these concepts have run the gamut as far as variety and style is concerned. While the simple concepts (e.g. prediction games) did marginally well for a time (one must take in the considerably lower development costs in these cases), they are not timeless. Well-crafted designs, on the other hand, were the ones that got big and may even continue to grow.
[Top photo via Getty Images.]