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3/25/2013
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GDC: Aging Facebook Loses Gaming Luster

Social gaming companies might find it hard to succeed on today's Facebook, says Game Developers Conference panel.

 Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour
Facebook's Futuristic Data Center: Inside Tour
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Game developers looking to break into the online social gaming market might want to focus on projects that look beyond Facebook toward mobile platforms.

In a review of the past year in free-to-play games presented at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday, a panel of game industry veterans -- Dave Rohrl, VP of game production at Goko, Steve Meretsky, VP of game design at Playdom, and Juan Gril, CEO of Joju Games -- likened Facebook to Donald Trump: a source of money but over the hill and out of fashion.

Rohrl acknowledged that Facebook still provides about half the world's social gaming revenue, but he insisted the ecosystem is changing. He characterized Facebook as a big business with a strongly declining growth rate.

The problem with Facebook for social game developers is that there's not much turnover among top game makers on the Facebook platform. The game companies responsible for most of the top Facebook game titles have remained mostly unchanged over the past year, with one or two exceptions, said Rohrl. The list of companies responsible for top mobile apps shows far more variation, he said, when compared to a year earlier.

[ Has anger toward Google for killing beloved services reached a tipping point? Read Google Backlash: For Real This Time? ]

"This shift in the ecosystem has led to a lot of the shift on the part of developers to abandon Facebook," Rohrl said. "…This is finally the year where we say it's very, very hard to break in on Facebook."

It might be easier to break into the mobile gaming market, but Rohrl expects incumbents to become more dominant within a few years. "If mobile is a place you want to play," he said, "I advocate you get in there now."

But if you're doing so with dreams of riches, don't bother. Speaking in a subsequent GDC session, Eli Hodapp, editor-in-chief of TouchArcade.com, insisted that the app gold rush is over and that standard promotional tactics such as press releases don't work.

"The real problem is the get-rich-quick mentality is toxic," he said.

Hodapp argued that game developers need to build a community of potential players at the same time they are building their games. In other words, it's not enough to build social games and hope the audience comes. Game developers have to be social as they implement social features; they have to engage potential players.

In so doing, developers are planting seeds that might flower into future recognition in the press, which generally focuses on demonstrated success of some sort rather than a product that doesn't yet have any support in the market.

However, the conclusion of the free-to-play presentation called all of these answers into question. Quoting screenwriter William Goldman's famous dictum about Hollywood, Meretsky insisted, "Nobody knows anything."

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