Playing games is one of the first known “social” activities of humans. We’ve been playing for thousands of years, using games as a mechanism to learn and share, and at the heart of this has always been community. These “social games” – think bridge, poker, tag, and even dice games from 4,300 years ago – drive camaraderie, community and competition.

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Why social games aren’t social

In comparison with these timeless traditions, today’s social games are hardly social. First and foremost, the people we play games with are typically not our entire social graph as defined by Facebook and other social networks. Sure, you may want to share restaurant preferences or parenting tips with your college classmates, but they probably don’t care about your progress in Farmville. We mostly end up playing social games alone, occasionally (or frequently) pinging others who may or may not care. Compare this to a raid with your WoW guild, or a heated weekly poker game, and you catch my drift.

It’s also about the context. Social gamers play 5-15 minute bursts to kill time. The context of the Facebook platform, which encourages quick play with any of your friends, not specifically those to whom the content matters, has not fostered game-centric communities connected by shared, meaningful experiences.

Making social games more social

So, how do we evolve social games to be more social? Simply put, context plus content will be king (or queen).

One of the first steps will involve using new technology to allow true, meaningful interaction. Social games must evolve to become synchronized game experiences that can be enjoyed across multiple platforms anytime, anywhere. Games will shift away from being asynchronous, solo, isolated affairs, tied to one platform and played in small increments, and instead will become playable in groups and enjoyed on-the-go in public. Just imagine players being able to fight head-to-head on tablets, in real time, with live game-offs in Times Square!

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Additionally, moving forward, social games must deliver more compelling content. Right now, players are able to play games while multi-tasking and on a conference call at the office. People are not fully immersed in the game, which makes it difficult for a true community to form. Facebook games will become more social as they become more story-driven, require actual thought or strategy, and truly engage users.

In the future, social games will foster the establishment of a gaming social graph. Currently players are connected to like-minded peers on Facebook, but the content of social games has not been powerful enough to create a strong sense of community among fellow players. As true game content emerges and gameplay becomes more captivating, social engagement among game buddies will grow.

Why is this good?

One of the most compelling things about games is that they bring us together with people who we may not have been friends with before, and create meaningful engagements. You join a bridge club, and you make new friends. This is good for the player, and in the modern world of social games, it’s good for the advertiser.

For players, the gameplay is richer, and they play alongside those who want to compete, connect and share the experience – meaningful interactions.

Advertisers win, too. As players become more immersed in gameplay and technology erases the boundaries between virtual worlds and real-life experiences, advertisers will see opportunities for more meaningful interactions with players. Deep, real-world ties and integrations, plus ubiquity via cross-platform play will become possible, enabling brands to add more value to the user experience. Imagine a future where players can receive a free Frappuccino from a Starbucks barista after just conquering a coffee bean plantation in level five of Gourmet Ranch!

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Expanded social graphs, made up of people who are sharing the play experience, also benefit advertisers. As game makers provide mechanisms for players to engage more deeply with others in-game, users will be more interested in recommendations from fellow players. This means a user’s influence potentially doubles, giving advertisers the chance to reach a new community. Users are not only sharing opinions and advice about their favorite brands with peers and college buddies, but now have influence over a completely new social graph—their gamer graph—which emerges as relationships among game buddies strengthen during increasingly social gameplay.

What does the future look like?

There will be a shift from time-killing games to full-blown social entertainment experiences. In the future, games will be playable across devices, available 24/7, and the game community we build may reach beyond our current group of friends. New gamer communities will emerge around engaging, story-driven games that foster meaningful interactions. Technology will allow the games to be integrated with real-life experiences and augmented reality will make games more social as gameplay is woven into everyday life. The real world becomes the game as much as the game influences the real world, as brands offer more valuable experience to users and become more seamlessly woven into the fabric of the games and users’ reality. Social games will actually become, well… social!

By Julie Shumaker, SVP/GM of Media at RockYou.

We love social games over at RockYou and we’re continuously thinking of ways to make them even more social. Not only are we looking to create a better experience for players, but we’re also thinking of how an improved social game experience benefits the advertiser and how brands can add value to the user experience. -Julie