Online games played on social media platforms, or social games, have been trending in the industry since the early days of Facebook. And while the invite request notifications for some games have slowed over time, the market for social gaming has continued to expand rapidly within the past decade.
In 2016, the global social gaming market’s reported value hit $7.97 billion and is projected to reach $19.1 billion by 2022. Database company Statista estimates that this year, online social gaming will be worth $2.15 billion in the United States alone, with a large percentage of that revenue attributed to app-based games.
Though online gambling has continued to fine-tune its approach since dial-up internet, the new wave of social gaming spans a wider gamut of revenue-generating opportunities. From real-money online casino games to spending real money for a level-up in the virtual world to ad-driven free gaming — the possibilities of social gaming are seemingly endless.
For players, the popularity of social games can be attributed to much more than this versatility.
How our brains become attached to social gaming
We’re a culture attached to our screens. A 2016 Deloitte study reports that 40 percent of Americans check their phones within five minutes of waking up, and on average we check our phones about 47 times each day. People ages 18-24 check it as many as 82 times daily.
Further, the Pew Research Center estimates that 69 percent of Americans use some type of social media and that 76 percent of Facebook users visit the site at least once a day.
These usage trends are likely related to gaming habits as well: Statista reports that over 51 percent of U.S. mobile phone users played games on their devices in 2015, playing an average of 3.6 mobile games per month and 1.3 games daily.
With the advent of the smartphone, we’ve collectively stopped twiddling our thumbs, and started compulsively twiddling our screens.
Various studies have examined the effects of social media on the brain, with results indicating that screen attachment isn’t simply a cultural phenomenon — it may be chemical as well. A 2013 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that the activity in nucleus accumbens, a key part of the pleasure and reward system of the brain, heightens after receiving positive feedback on social media.
Further, a 2011 study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry found that similar areas of the brain are stimulated during internet video game play. Since both social media use and playing online games are able to fill the brain with feel-good chemicals, it’s no wonder why social gaming is so prominent.
Handheld devices, apps and social media platforms have redefined our expectations for instant gratification by allowing for constant connectivity. A high-stakes poker hand or a casual game of bingo were once limited to the casino floor, and required transportation, cash on hand and patience.
Today, you’re able to play any number of table games, and much more, with one tap of your smartphone.
Gaming transactions are no longer restricted to the brick-and-mortar casino — social gaming allows players to cash out while waiting in line for their morning coffee.
Just as gaming can occur instantaneously, so can social interactions — our friends, family and colleagues are all just a simple click away.
This is a key component to the success of social gaming because it allows people to play, share and engage with others online. While the idea of a stereotypical “gamer” may conjure images of a teenage boy playing console games alone in his room, this is not always the reality of the modern gamer.
Multiplayer games are an important fixture on the social gaming circuit because they enable users to play with their friends in real-time. Similarly, turn-based games promote socialization by allowing users to “take turns” while playing against each other.
Even single-player gaming platforms evoke a powerful social component because they encourage players to share their scores, stats and accomplishments on their profiles.
The industry has leveraged social media to create not only an interactive play experience, but a competitive and collaborative one as well.