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Social media’s playful side

In sharp contrast to the stereotypical social misfit in the basement playing video games, is the new breed of online gamer, socializing with a network of friends while simultaneously interacting with a myriad of playable gaming platforms. While the two areas converge, it’s interesting to think where they’ll meet. Social networks become more game-oriented likeFoursquare and Farmville, while traditional console and PC games become more social with features like the Xbox dashboard and Playstation network.

Social media gaming has come of age, bursting out of its awkward adolescence into a full-grown multi-platform, integrated beast with apps for FacebookTwitter and Microsoft’s Last.fm, an online streaming service that allows users to create customized music stations.  Social media gaming gives players the opportunity to consume content as a shared experience, using social leaderboards and messages to feed the fire and keep players engaged.

Consuming digital content together is not an epiphany – people have been gaming as teams online since the multiplayer platform was popularized by Quake in 1996. In 2010 Microsoft took shared gaming to the next level by streaming live TV on Xbox Live, allowing viewers to throw impromptu virtual parties and talk to each other via voice, instant message, and on-screen avatar gestures while watching the show together. Facebook boasts the largest online social network with 600 million users, but Microsoft owns the largest TV social network with over 20 million subscribers.

Social gaming is big business

Virtual goods are driving the monetization of digital gaming platforms. These virtual products exist only online — think avatar accessories and in-game power boosts that optimize the game experience — but players spend real money to acquire them. This downloadable content (DLC) includes everything from new maps in Call of Duty: Black Ops, to new character costumes in Street Fighter IV, to a Lionheart sword in World of Warcraft. In fact, according to PlaySpan, virtual goods account for over 90% of all revenue generated by the world’s top social game developers.

Sponsorships via in-game advertising are gaining traction with premium brands. The Tombras Group has designed game-placement ads for national clients such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Click It or Ticket” seatbelt campaign. The name of the game is engagement. Sponsored content via strategically placed in-game ads creates a more realistic gaming experience – no Acme anvils like in the old Roadrunner cartoons. That means when tearing up the streets in Need For Speed: Shift, gamers see real billboards for real companies, which not only gets a message to a target audience, but helps to legitimize the game by offering robust, real-world content.

Another example of branding the gaming experience is the fresh promotion for the upcoming Green Lantern movie that incorporates an augmented reality motion-capture video game to promote the “got milk” campaign. Mashable reports that the game interface uses a standard webcam to ask prospective Green Lanterns to perform three feats to see if they’ve got what it takes to be superhero beacons of justice.  The app went live Tuesday at lanternworthy.com.

It’s not just for kids anymore

Social gaming spans demographics from teenagers playing Call of Duty on gaming consoles to grandparents playing Mafia Wars and Farmville on Facebook feeds. 50% of Facebook gamers are over 25, with women outnumbering men, 56% to 44%, reports Social Game Summit. According to MGM Games, 40% of casual gamers are college grads, 25% are professionals and 55% have a household income of $50,000 or more.

The continued success of social media gaming is linked to the symbiotic partnerships between developers and platforms like Facebook, that provide a pre-qualified, eager audience of players. Because social media is about building community and fostering relationships, social media gaming has evolved from an anti-social behavior to a, well, social behavior. And brands are taking notice. The only question left is where will social gamification meet gaming socialization?

This post is used with permission. The original blog can be viewed at talkstreetsmart.com

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