A week ahead of the World Cup, "FIFA Superstars" launches on Facebook, where more than 200 million people play games every month.
Today's launch and this massive market is precisely why Electronic Arts bought social games-maker Playfish for $300 million last year. Electronic Arts makes the FIFA video games that retail for $60 or so. Playfish, which makes social games like "Pet Society," "Poker Rivals," and "Gangster City," is using its expertise in the social space to introduce this familiar name in a new format, with a new revenue model.
Unlike traditional video games, which demand an upfront investment, this game will be free. Players will spend money on credits for extra games, and to buy an advantage for their team — better players or promotion in their league. This is the soccer equivalent of the 'virtual goods' that are bought in popular games like Zynga's Farmville and Mafia Wars. And virtual goods mean real dough: U.S. virtual good sales topped $1 billion in revenue last year.
This is a notable turning point for the traditional video game industry — not just Electronic Arts, but also Activision/Blizzard, Take Two Interactive, Ubisoft and THQ. Back in November when EA bought Playfish the company discussed how the acquisition enables them to move Playfish's popular games to traditional consoles. The real potential may be in moving big game franchises to the social platform.
Targeting social gamers opens up a whole new market for the likes of Electronic Arts. These are casual gamers, playing in fits and starts, often at work. Social games appeal to a broad range of demographics — not just the "hard core" gamers who tend to turn up at Best Buy and Game Stop to pick up the latest title. They'll spend on credits for the game over an extended period of time if they feel they're getting their money's worth.
The introduction of premium video game brands is also great for Facebook — it will keep users on the social site for longer, and get them to return more often. There are still some questions as to how Facebook's credit system will shake out, but there's no question this is a vibrant platform.
This is just the first of many announcements I expect to hear about video game brands moving onto social platforms. The annual video game convention, E3, is coming up in a few weeks, and I expect gaming's social component to be in the spotlight.
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