Differentiating in the Social Games Space

Its no surprise that the social gaming space is getting very crowded and getting more so every day. The latest social gaming stats shows who are he haves and have nots. http://bit.ly/NbnLM

So if you are competing or looking to compete in this space with a game or two, how do you compete against a Zynga, who is willing to copy what you build (Farmtown –> Farmville), a Playdom (who is crushing it on Myspace and now moving to FB), or Playfish, who makes higher quality games.

If other industries, including cars are any indication, the choices are:

  1. Go better, cheaper games. Think Japan in the car industry in the 1970’s or Hyundai attempting to do the same to the Japanese today.
  2. Develop games with more complexity and style, but with the same technology, creating a higher bar to entry, e.g. more expensive to copy the game.
    In some respects, Playfish has done that by building higher quality games with more pizazz than others have produced. In the car business. BMW or Mercedes might be really good analogs here in the car industry.
  3. Develop games with a differentiating technology
    Some believe there is an opportunity here. Flash games are hard to distinguish from each other and are easy to copy. ON the car front, perhaps Honda is a good example. In the 70’s Honda came out with a very different car engine (CVCC) when they launched the Honda Civic in the US that got really good gas mileage and was the only manufacturer to pass the Clean Air Act without the need for other tech. http://bit.ly/4iPx5.
  4. Conglomerate and become a big publisher with lots of games
    EA and GM come to mind here. Not everything has to be a hit for the company to be wildy successful for a while. But as both are finding, if you don’t have the DNA to build great games or cars, you will suck wind and eventually die
  5. License exclusive IP
    This is an area of exploration as there is a clear barrier to entry if you are using unique, branded IP. They have lawyers to protect their brand and they are not afraid to use them.

    However, for every game company that has successfully licensed a brand (e.g. Madden), many, many have failed. Look at all the successful mob war games on the nets. EA tried to use the Godfather license to come out with a mob-style game but failed because, what really matters, the game play, was not good. If you get the gameplay right, like Scrabble today from EA (+500K monthly actives), then it will work.

    In the car industry, we know about numerous failed attempts for designers to make cars different (remember the Eddy Bauer Ford Expedition?). If the car sucks, no designer can help it.

And perhaps there are more ways to differentiate when building games. The good news is that there are plenty of examples in other industries who have faced the same challenges and have either risen to the occasion to compete successfully (Toyota) or not (GM).

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