There’s been speculation in recent weeks that RealNetworks would buy the Scrabulous Facebook application, but the company has actually taken a different approach, launching an official Scrabble by Mattel game on the social network. Due to tangled licensing issues, it’s only available outside the US and Canada, and for the moment it’s in beta.
From our perspective as a social game publisher, this is really interesting, as it’ll provide a good data point on how important brands are for social network games, as opposed to product design and quality.
Brands have always been important in the console and mobile games industries, as they allow consumers to choose something they recognise and trust when faced with a number of titles in the same category. And of course, brands provide more marketing channels for a game when it launches.
This is why some second-rate branded games have managed to be financially successful, especially on new platforms. In fact, the importance of brands has actually helped entrench the market share of large publishers on console and mobile.
We think this might be different on social networks.
Our first game, Who Has The Biggest Brain?, is currently the sixth most popular on Facebook, with more than 250,000 daily unique players. But more than 90% of its distribution is viral, since our new players don’t choose the game from a list – it’s sent to them by their friends. So, assuming they trust those friends, it’s unclear whether a brand or related marketing will have any impact.
In other words: your friend decides to invite you to play a game or not, and you either trust that invitation or not. It shouldn’t really matter if the game is branded – only whether it’s fun enough for you to invite friends.
At least, that’s the argument. But the launch of Scrabble is the first time we’ll be able to make a direct comparison between similar branded and unbranded games, and so get some clues on what kind of companies will be successful in the social games market. The Scrabble by Mattel game currently has more than 2,400 daily active users, compared to nearly 630,000 for Scrabulous – but of course, it’s early days.
We’ll be following the competition with interest!