'Like it' or not, gaming on Facebook is big, big business. And it's only getting bigger.
Last year, social game companies raised a stunning $1.5 billion in funding. With that kind of money backing them up, most industry types expect 2012 to be an even more lucrative year for Facebook gaming. But will it be a better year for gamers?
That depends of what kinds of experiences you happen to enjoy on the social network. Here's a handful of game types expected to be all the rage -- and a few fit to be unfriended.
Hidden Chronicles (Zynga)Forget the farm and leave the words with your friends -- the most popular Facebook game of 2011 was Gardens of Time, a hidden-object hunt by Playdom, and it could well be the game that broke the dam holding back this immensely popular casual game genre.
It's so big, in fact, that leading Facebook developer Zynga's very first game of 2012 was also their first hidden-object game, Hidden Chronicles. But while the genre is just getting started on Facebook, it's been a huge casual game genre for years now. New hidden-object hunts arrive on sites like Yahoo! Games each week. With an immense backlog, companies need only port these adventures over to Facebook and watch the engagement skyrocket.
Experts like AJ Glasser, editor of Inside Network, are a bit tentative, though, especially when it comes to their earning potential.
"I don't know if it's really going to grow that big. The big game makers might feel obliged because Playdom had such luck with it, but we're not really sure if the monetization figures are that great."
Regardless of the financials, however, game makers are likely to dive in just to keep up with the Joneses.
"We will see more entries from bigger players because they feel that they have to have a hidden-object game in their wheelhouse," Glasser adds.
Console game companions
Dragon Age Legends (EA)While huge video game franchises like Assassin's Creed and Dragon Age will always be at home on your HD TV, expect to play smaller versions even more frequently on Facebook in 2012.
Companion games were a big deal last year. EA saw serious success with Dragon Age Legends, which tied in directly to their console RPG Dragon Age II, and shot a salvo across Zynga's bow with the immensely popular The Sims Social, which is now integrated into The Sims 3. Glasser suspects we'll also see a game related to EA's anticipated RPG Mass Effect 3 prior to that game's March release.
Other players include Ubisoft, who is betting big on Facebook with games related to Assassin's Creed, CSI and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, and THQ, who took the social network to the mat last year with games based on the UFC and WWE franchises.
Competition over cooperation
Tetris Battle (The Tetris Company)Most gamers think of social games as co-operative affairs. We help build farms, tend gardens and feed fish. It's all quite friendly -- and to many, it's all a bit dull, too.
That's bound to change in 2012, as more competitive social games come to the fore. Though lots of games already feature competitive elements, don't be surprised to see your social gaming life get a lot more cutthroat as the year goes on.
"You've got all these games coming out now where it's about combat between real players with real consequences — where there's a winner and a loser," says Glasser. "We're seeing developers want to recreate that massively-multiplayer real-time combat experience."
Even standard puzzle games, long a staple of any Facebook gamer's diet, are getting more competitive with more of a focus on leaderboards. The theory? Competition breeds engagement; players will go all out trying to take down their friends, which could mean big bucks for the providers. Glasser points to the sudden success of Tetris Battle, which lets players stack the famous blocks against one another, as an example.
"Puzzle games want to encourage that competitive nature…people pay for that," she notes.
Taking care of virtual pets
Pet Society (Playfish)As recently as 2010, pet-raising simulations like PetVille and Pet Society were snuggled comfortably in Facebook's monthly top 10 lists. But unlike your love affair with your real Fido, the genre's popularity is on the wane.
"It used to be so popular to have a pet to take care of," Glasser points out. "I'm wondering if that genre is shrinking or if it's in need of a revamp. Pet Society launched on iOS and flopped. I just don't see Pet sims going anywhere."
For those of us weary of getting a million requests to help Aunt Shirley buy Mr. Whiskers a new litterbox, that might be good news.
Civilization World (Firaxis)Can there really be too much of a good thing? If that particular thing happens to be the crowded city-building genre, then yes, there certainly can be.
Led by the ever-popular CityVille, a wealth of city-building sims flooded the social games market last year, including big-name franchises like Civilization World. But Glasser doesn't think that trend will hold up in 2012.
"The city building genre is oversaturated right now," she notes, adding that it's slowed down significantly. And when something is oversaturated, gamers tend to flock elsewhere. The glory days of the empire simulation may well be behind us.
Game Show games
Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (Fox)It seems like a no-brainer: marry Facebook's know-it-all audience with popular game shows, and you've got a trivia-game champ, right?
Not necessarily. Games based on game shows haven't enjoyed anywhere near the success of other Facebook genres, despite some very big names ("Deal or No Deal," "$100,000 Pyramid") taking a crack at it. While games based on "Jeopardy!" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" have fared much better, it's looking like this genre is destined to walk away with a consolation prize.
What kinds of games are you itching to play on Facebook -- and what are you hoping goes the way of the dodo? Let us know in the comments.