EA & Disney Bullish on the Rise of Social Gaming

EA and Disney shared optimistic outlooks in The Rise of Social Gaming panel at f8, while panelists from Kabam and Zynga appeared more hesitant.

Moderated by Facebook’s Sean Ryan, the panel addressed issues like the increasing importance of branded intellectual property, new business models, advertising revenues, multiplatform development, genres and distribution. Zynga’s Owen Van Natta, Disney Interactive’s John Pleasants, EA’s Barry Cottle and Kabam’s Kevin Chou responded based on personal experience with their own titles along with consistent references to The Sims Social’s current progress on the Facebook platform.

For branded IP, the panelists agreed that it was becoming a larger part of the market. In EA’s case, it was about finding the right IP to bring to social networks. Zynga and Kabam saw it as an opportunistic experience where if the developer has the right game for a brand already in the works, a partnership makes sense (e.g. Adventure World’s Indiana Jones branding, Kabam’s upcoming Godfather game).

Disney, meanwhile, had some interesting points to share on a branding experiment conducted in Gnome Town and ESPN Sports Bar & Grill. The publisher found that by adding the Disney logo to the former, the cost of user acquisition dropped by a third. By running commercials for ESPN Sports Bar & Grill on the TV network, Disney attracted a group of users whose lifetime value was far higher than the users attracted to the game through ads on Facebook. The findings, says Pleasants, are encouraging enough for Disney to launch two to four recognizable Disney properties as social games in 2012.

Business models was a topic where Disney and EA showed optimism compared to Zynga and Kabam. Chou did say that Kabam had experimented with subscription models and, in general, didn’t want to monetize their games the same way over and over again because they’d become predictable. Van Natta said very little, citing Zynga’s current quiet period pre-IPO. Cottle was a bit more vocal, saying that audiences could be better monetized with a mix of microtransaction, subscription, and advertising. Pleasants came out with actual numbers, each estimating that in-game advertising accounted for 5% of Disney Playdom’s social game revenues and stating that he’d like to see it grow to 10%.

Another point of interest that was briefly touched on by the panelists and in the Q&A segment was the concept of casual players merging with core players that come from the traditional video games space. This move has been occurring in social games gradually over time as more core game developers migrate to the space, but with upcoming tweaks in console technology, it will be possible to see more integration between social games and console titles.

The last bit that came as almost a parting shot had to do with Google+ not a single developer on the panel said they were working on anything for the rival social network. It might’ve had something to do with the fact that today is all about Facebook. But Chou’s lack of detailed response was interesting given that Kabam announced Edgeworld simultaneously for Facebook and Google+.

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