Is Zynga the future of gaming?

The gaming industry is going through some serious growing pains.  Console and traditional solo games are stumbling and losing market share.  Massive multiplayers are gaining popularity, but not nearly as quickly as another segment of the industry: casual games.

Facebook and similar casual gaming portals, currently dominated by game developer Zynga – who faces competition from some fast-emerging powerhouses – are the most popular way people play games now.  Just five years ago it was a small, niche market where only a few million people played annually.  Now?  For every gamer who plays an MMO, RPG, and console game, there are more than three casual gamers playing on smart phones, tablets, laptops and PCs through social networks like Facebook, Google, and more.

Here’s a sampling of how big this is, in terms of sheer player numbers.  Since 2011 when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 released, that top-selling title has sold more than 29 million copies.  That’s a lot of gamers buying a box game for anywhere from $15 to $40 a pop.  Now compare it to this: Zynga in only one day on Facebook tracks more than 300 million game players for its small arsenal of popular casual games.

For this reason, many platform-only development houses are turning to other ideas to keep up with the times.  Electronic Arts, for example, has put their popular semi-social game The Sims on Facebook.  Not once, but twice.   Although the attempted The Sims Online a few years ago (ya, I admit, I played it) was a decided flop, social networking has matured to the point where The Sims is one of the more popular titles on Facebook today (no, I don’t play that).

The three major console makers (Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony) enjoy a market dominance that is, frankly, detrimental to its own health.  That is showing as the industry shows year-on-year losses in console games in a continual down trend as flagging innovation, dipping sales, and less and less interest from the gaming world combine to whittle away at the traditional foundations of the gaming industry.  Newcomers like Zynga and new types of gaming, like social and the fast-changing MMO segment, are taking over.

Console games probably won’t die – at least, the solo game style won’t.  But what was once the titan of the industry is going to become the dwarfed cousin of the gaming world as multiplayers and social gaming take over.

Is this a good thing?  Depends, I guess.  I personally am playing several Zynga games right now and will be talking about them in the near future here on The Killer Guides Blog.   Do I enjoy them more than my MMOs and RPGs?  No, but not any less either.  They’re a different animal and bring a much more convenient, fast-escape type of play that you can’t get with a console.  I can load up FarmVille2 in between writing projects to clear my head or I can quickly spend ten minutes in CastleVille completing little quests as I wait for a phone call.  The beauty of casual games is that you can shut them off literally at any point and not lose a thing.  Ten minutes or three hours of play makes no difference.

As it is, casual gaming is obviously the “next big thing that’s already here.”  Your love of CoD or WoW won’t change that.

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