Game designer Jon Radoff has created a wonderful flow chart that traces the “brief” history of social games all the way back to 3100BC. The chart begins with ancient pastimes like Senet, Go and Backgammon and connects them to everything from football and billiards to poker and Magic the Gathering, eventually culminating in four distinct branches of social games: Social strategy (such as the infamous Evony), social sims (Farmtown), social experiences (Music Pets), and social role-playing games (Mafia Wars).
Radoff has more to say about the evolution of social games on his blog, along with some predictions for the future:
“The current social network game market is the confluence of several big trends: social gameplay, along with asynchronous play patterns and a virtual-goods business model that has been shaped by market forces. We’re only at the beginning of seeing how far we can take the genre. It’s my belief that the next wave of games will draw upon many of the elements we’ve seen work in the past: great storytelling, challenging decision-making and a sense of tribal belongingness that surrounds popular games.”
The term “social games” has become a buzzword for videogames that are played on social networks like Facebook, and this flow chart is a nice reminder that social games are nothing new: people have actually been playing games together for thousands of years.