Should MS, Sony, Nintendo Fear Facebook?

Should MS, Sony, Nintendo Fear Facebook?

If you’re on Facebook, you’re already familiar with the social network’s ability to connect friends and family through video games and gaming type functions. Surely you’ve endured the torrent of social game invitations and accepted or blocked them accordingly.

Facebook has proven to be a very successful and lucrative game platform, but will its success eventually eat away at the number of third-party publishers that park their titles on home consoles? James Brightman of IndustryGamers believes that Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony indeed have something to fear from Facebook. He points to the recent movie rental/purchase partnership between Warner Bros. and Facebook as a plausible future for game distribution.

“Facebook already has a stranglehold on the social games market and most of the top developers are using Facebook Credits,” he writes. “Although the impact of the Facebook [movie] rentals service won’t be felt immediately on the traditional games business, it’s a sure sign that Facebook is not hesitating to expand its entertainment aspirations. While Microsoft and Sony are clearly battling it out for control of the living room, and Google is getting involved more and more with games, Android and Google TV, it would be foolish to ignore Facebook.”

In the article’s comments thread, Brightman added, “It’s not a ‘social games are taking over’ thing. It’s a technology issue, a platform issue. FB can become the platform for the so called ‘real’ games. As more and more TVs come with web connections and FB integration, you won’t be stuck to your PC or laptop either. FB becomes the platform, and can manage your friends list like Xbox Live or whatever.”

Facebook can technically become a major game platform, but how likely is that outcome? Not very. First, there’s technology. People who have PCs that are powerful enough to run decent games are already on Steam, or have been wooed by one of the many upcoming cloud-based gaming services.

A casual gamer could theoretically be pulled from FarmVille to a more traditional game, but a significant portion of social gaming tends to take place at work. A game in need of better resources would probably require some extra installations that go beyond allowable access for a regular employee.

Moreover, Facebook is pretty huge, to be sure. But is there any guarantee it won’t lose some of its userbase to something newer and prettier in the coming years? The online world is a fickle one. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft tread shaky ground on occasion, but they’re solid, established entities: it’s a good bet they’ll all continue to exist for a while longer.

Finally, and this is a bit narrow-minded, Facebook-based games have, well, a reputation. The gaming community and devs alike consider Facebook a platform for social games. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Many core gamers like to click at Restaurant City when work gets boring. But it’s also no great effort to boot up a dedicated game console and explode a few heads when the workday is done. Consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 bring to mind an image of power; the mental image of a game running off Facebook looks more like cute frontier folk with big eyes and stiff walks. And that’s fine. Facebok-based games and console/PC games offer very different experiences.

Brightman is correct in assuming that Facebook’s automatic userbase of 500 million people is attractive for publishers (though what percentage of that 500 million will even give your game a second glance?), as is the elimination of retail middlemen (but aren’t downloadable console/PC games accomplishing that, anyway?), but otherwise, there’s no outstanding reason why filtering major game releases through Facebook would be an attractive idea for publishers, let alone a threat for Nintendo, Microsoft, or Sony.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

1 Comments

  1. If cloud-gaming turns out a viable mass-gaming tech in the next 5 years, Facebook’s massive user base actually puts it in a much better position than Steam or any other platform. Users won’t need 2,000 dollar PCs, it can be all browser-based, and yes, they can game at work without any installs or setups.

    I think cloud-gaming will eventually take over in the long run. It makes a lot of sense – for users, it’s quality gaming at cheap prices and convenient access. For publishers, no piracy. Only question is if the time needed for the take-off will be compatible with Facebook lifetime.

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