Mobile Social Gaming?!

I'll be giving a presentation at Casual Connect Europe in a few weeks and have hence been looking a little at the concept of social gaming. In particular with the iPhone success story, this concept has received its fare share of the limelight recently - and rightly so: the unique distinguishing factor of a mobile phone is that it is always with its owner and that it's always on, making it the perfect tool for connecting with people (well, this is what they were invented for in the first place), and the iPhone does that well not only with voice or SMS...

The "social" aspect of mobile gaming has mostly focussed on this connectivity and this is also what has been haunting it, at least in most parts of the world because of the horrendous fragmentation on the carrier and handset side. To make a fully integrated connected mobile game, one needs to integrate with a vast number of carriers (in the US, the situation is a little different - integration in only the 3 or 4 biggest carriers - Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint/Nextel and maybe T-Mobile, and you're in business big time; there is e.g. WPT Texas Hold'Em that scored tremendous commercial success, including full web-to-mobile-to-web play), and they cannot seem to resolve on a common standard; nearly every carrier runs its own little system...

However, do games really have to be fully connected multi-player with in-game chat, buddy lists, alerts, etc, etc, in order to be "social" games? I do not think so. They "merely" have to become a social object, and set in an environment to leverage the social aspect of this (there's more from Jyri Engestrom on object-centered sociality). This does not work for every game in every case but there are plenty of examples out there both in mobile and online: Playfish (founded by mobile games veteran Kristian Segerstrale) runs a number of games on Facebook that are stand-alone single-player games but integrated into Facebook in a way that pushed them all the way up the rankings. Digital Chocolate runs a very successful franchise with TowerBloxx on mobile and online - again a single-player game with hooks into existing social networks (the latter providing the environment that facilitates them becoming a social object). Orange Israel recently created a raft of online destinations around Totomi: a micro-site, a Facebook Group is all you need to create a community around a game.

So whilst I am and will remain a big fan of connected games (phones are to connect with people!), some simple data streams out (high-scores, etc) AND links into existing social networks are actually likely to activate a lot of the potential in there. 

I will be continuing to ponder this, and I would be most grateful for any input!