Commentary

Will Spore Spread On Facebook?

Electronic Arts yesterday launched a social extension of one of its hit properties of 2009, Spore, with the Facebook game "Spore Island," which allows players to create and evolve a creature on their own personal island, and then send their creature to their friends' islands for a Darwinian competition where the most efficient creature ends up on top.

It's a great time to be making games on Facebook -- most of the top applications on the platform now are games, including Zynga's trifecta of addictive, newsfeed-clogging titles -- "Farmville," "Cafeworld" and "Mafia Wars," which sit at #1, #3, and #4 respectively.

Now that major game development studios are getting into the Facebook gaming market, and the social gaming market more broadly, it will be extremely interesting to see how the landscape changes. It's clear that developers like Zynga have a lot of experience mixing the secret sauce for a game that's extremely addictive, and viral without being too annoying -- though it seems that there are many people out there who are getting close to pruning their friends list to avoid more notifications about lonely pink cows being found on farms.

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EA, on the other hand, has the advantage of premium brands. While "Spore Island" may not be the most refined Facebook game out there, there are no other apps that have brands supported by multi-million dollar ad campaigns.

To date, having a strong brand doesn't really seem to matter to Facebook app users. On the AppData Leaderboard, the big brands that we're used to seeing in the video game space are nowhere to be seen. Will EA be able to change that? It's hard to say, but it seems unlikely unless they're willing to really invest in building their user base. The social game companies on Facebook have built their enormous user base both by building viral spread into their games through notifications and rewards for bringing in friends, but also by millions upon millions of dollars of Facebook ads. That's why you can't log on without seeing an ad for "Mafia Wars."

Since these games are social, building up the user base has a multipliciative effect on the value to the player and to the viral spread -- when you see all your friends are playing something, you're far more likely to check it out, and once you do, you're more likely to have a good time interacting with your friends in the game.

Of course, it's great to see players like EA getting involved in the social gaming space. But making a great game is only the first step, and unlike in the console and PC gaming world, people aren't going to check it out en masse just because it's got the EA logo and the Spore brand name.

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