All work and no play have a tendency to create the kind of tedium which kills social networks. Facebook understood this quite early on and its introduction of a games’ platform which was open to developers played a significant role in the jump in membership numbers. More than that, however, it made Facebook the world’s favourite online hangout, where you could spend upwards of 45 minutes hanging out with your friends from across the globe without feeling the need to discuss the latest development on tachyonic research.
While games to hardened online enthusiasts are an anathema (the Facebook game notifications and app requests was a nightmare for many), they are a boon to developers, businesses and social media marketers alike. Games have the ability to attract people. A lot of people. And they have the ability to engage them. A lot of people in engagement mode can be marketed to through a game and this raises the stakes in terms of quality and sophistication, for everyone.
Google+ has broken all social network records in terms of growth, amassing in just over a month the kind of numbers Facebook took a couple of years to reach. In what must be another record breaking first, it has also developed a game platform for its social network.
In a blog post announced by Vic Gundotra, Google’s Senior Vice President of Engineering, on Thursday, Google announced that its games platform was now open and was being rolled out to the world of Google+ adopters.
Learning from Facebook’s woes where the news stream was often tainted with a raft of announcements of someone’s game score, or activities in Farmville and where members felt harassed by application requests (on my Facebook profile, at one time, I had no fewer than 217 application requests on a single day) Google is giving its members a lot more control over what they see and what they show, plus it links like-for-like so that any games-related news appearing on its News Stream are seen only by those of your Google+ connections who already are involved in the same game as you.
What makes the announcement of the games platform for Google’s social network important however is not the functionality which is great as you might expect, but the fact that it is now on offer. Without having said as much this has to signal Google’s phase two for its social network. A games platform means that it is slowly being opened to the public at large (it is already pretty easy to get an invitation to join it) and this means that as critical mass grows business pages cannot be far behind.
Social media marketers love games because:
1. They increase engagement – create a game app and you have a viral vehicle for promoting your brand and any marketing message you may want to promote.
2. They increase stickiness for the social media platform – Facebook has power not just because it has 750 million people but because those who are on Facebook spend a large chunk of their online time there. Given the fact that there is a finite length of time Joe Public spends online, if a large chunk of it is on a specific social media platform this reduces the amount of time available to visit other websites and, generally, interact online with brands. Social media marketing through Facebook became a must because of that.
3. They blur the line between marketing and fun – clever games, apps which create online promotions and apps which promote brand engagement are a lot easier to stomach, accept, share and play with than ‘We are great, buy brand X from us’ message.
Google+ has unsettled Facebook and fuelled online debates as to whether it was really going to succeed in unseating the incumbent social network. The opening up of a games platform is the first step towards conclusively proving that, yes, it can.