TechCrunch Drags Social Gaming Into The Trenches

Social gaming is exploding, though currently that turn of phrase has a slightly different connotation than it normally does.  Yes, there have been some major successes in the space, most notably EA's recent acquisition of Playfish.  But over the past week, TechCrunch has been fighting pretty hard against the affiliate programs that make up a portion of the revenues for many social game sites.


It started with Michael Arrington's post, "Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem of Hell" -- which essentially laid bare accusations that behind the Mafia wars, the farms, and the Texas-styled poker lie affiliate marketing scams that sign users up for expensive things they don't need (which appear free at first glance) in exchange for in-game currency.  The piece has since drawn a number of press releases, confessions of past misdeeds, and claims of having turned over new leaves.  Execs were replaced.  It's also created a bad taste in the mouth for larger advertisers considering the social games space.



There's an underlying issue of scale.  Currently, ad inventory exceeds demand by credible advertisers in most of these markets.  Excess inventory drives down CPMs, and publishers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  If they don't allow the more unsavory advertisers, it'll be much harder to turn a profit and remain competitive, and they'll just burn through their VC money.  If they do allow the unsavory scams, it's going to turn off legitimate advertisers who might be interested in reaching the game's audience.  It's the AdSense problem.  No self-respecting brand wants to appear in the same spot as a "punch the monkey" ad.

It will be very interesting to see how EA monetizes Playfish.  Playfish was one of the major players using fewer scams than competitors, and if EA can embrace advertising solutions and innovation as heavily as they've done in the core market, it could prove to be a shining example of best practices for the publishers. 

Yet even big companies in gaming are succumbing to these types of scams.  I recently placed a pre-order for a game at GameStop's site, and lo and behold, at the bottom of the page I was offered a "deal" of $20 off to sign up for a "free" month of what looked to be utter spam (which was $12 a month thereafter).  Perhaps it's going to be a while until the space truly cleans up its act.

1 comment about "TechCrunch Drags Social Gaming Into The Trenches".
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  1. Bruce Christensen from PartyWeDo, November 13, 2009 at 5:20 p.m.

    This is a real concern for applications that are similar to social games. We don't want the bad reputation of these offer scams to tarnish our legitimate monetizing models.
    I wrote about this issue on my blog:

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