And the Next FarmVille Is...

I spent last week at the Casual Connect Conference in Seattle. I should have known that it would be a show rife with contradictions when a conference panel I spoke on, titled "Self Promotion", had 11 attendees.

Casual games are the easy to learn games that you primarily play online, on Facebook and your smart phone, and Casual Connect is where the makers of those games come to not talk to each other about what their companies aren't doing.

I went in search of what would be this year's Farmville: a game so game-changing that its maker Zynga (only two years old) has earned a valuation between 4 and 5 billion dollars. For those who are looking for the secret sauce of what it takes to make the next hit casual game, here's what the experts have to say (and not say):

  • Virtual Goods are a multibillion dollar industry with almost no buyers -- Online games are expected to make 1.6 billion on virtual good sales in 2010. That's a lot of strawberry seeds! However, only a small percentage of people playing games are purchasing things. Conclusion: the 1 in 100 that buy are buying a lot. Sustainable? Not so sure...
  • You need to be making iPhone and iPad games but don't expect to sell them -- If you create a game that shows any sign of success you must make an iPhone and iPad version in order to monetize it to its fullest extent. The only problem is that with the app store crowded with more than 225,000 apps, the chances your game will actually sell or make its money back is slim.
  • Big Brands are going to dominate Facebook but not as much as big Facebook brands -- The big change in social games over the next 12 months will be the introduction of well known brands. Games branded with popular movies and TV shows will stand out from the pack, but they won't be as popular as the brands that establish themselves on Facebook first - which will then likely be moving off Facebook and into mainstream media.
  • Innovation comes in the form of copying -- Cloning is so Q1. The next innovation in Facebook games will be to clone pieces of popular games and then combine them with cloned aspects of other popular games into something completely new and unique. Well, not really.
  • PC games are dead, but people are still downloading them in the billions -- The main market for casual games used to be downloading them onto the PC. Developers should no longer do that since there are diminishing returns, and hold less caché than Facebook and iPhone. Oh yeah, but Big Fish Games, the largest distributor just announced their 1 billionth download.
And my personal favorite:
  • Social games are going to become social.

Sounds to me like casual games need a good sit down with their shrink to sort out their issues.