Photo: Sean Do @everywheresean
How much gaming have you been doing?

Quarantine has taught us so many things this past year, but one thing that we essentially learned is how much power lies in relaxation. Stress, tension, and anxiety are hitting all-time highs, which has only highlighted the importance of having fun and unwinding and reconnecting with our loved ones as we are forced to socially distance ourselves.

One thing that ties both aspects is social gaming. Designed as a fun activity that you can do with your friends, social gaming allows players to relax and stay in contact with friends and family. But quarantine did not produce social gaming – it only strengthened the need for it.

Pre-COVID Social Gaming

Social gaming refers to online games that encourage social interaction. The players chat and communicate with fellow players via live chats while playing the games. The concept came from social media, as most of these games are played on social networks.

The social gaming industry might be a rising term in everyday life, but it is far from being a new concept. Its roots go all the way to the 1970s and 1980s, the golden era of arcade games. The more recent expansion of social media such as Facebook has significantly boosted it. For years, the social gaming industry has been steadily growing, migrating from browser-based multiplayer games to mobile apps that are more accessible thanks to new smart technologies.

Social networks are not the only platforms that allow this type of activity. New and modern gaming platforms are being invented and perfected each year to accommodate a wider audience and offer a wider range of services. For example, live chat, the core feature of a social game, went from being a defining characteristic to a foregone conclusion. Today, social games include a variety of perks, including avatars, in-game events, storyline personalization, and 3D content that brings the players even closer.

Many have been boning over the quarantine over types of games that keep them happy all while comfortable from home. Photo: Afif Kusuma

Popular Forms of Social Gaming

The social gaming industry is a big one – globally, it was estimated to be worth 162.32 billion USD in 2020. However, the term is actually an umbrella term that covers various genres linked by their element of social interaction.

Tabletop games, video games, and face-to-face games, can all be considered social because their primary goal is to connect the players.

However, social gaming narrowly includes video games played on (primarily) mobile phones, tablets, and desktops. Casual games such as FarmVille, Mafia Wars, and The Sims Social were among the first charmers that reached international fame as social network games.

A big part of social network gaming is the social casino industry, estimated at 6.2 billion USD last year. Social casinos are not real casinos – they do not involve real money – but instead, they replicate actual casino games and allow players casual play. This is important as not all players want to invest real money into gambling games. Those that do can do so at some of the best casinos to gamble at, and even then, the option to play for fun is on the table. Social casino games are mainly replicas or imitations of games of luck as they do not involve real money investments.

Mobile social games have taken over the industry in the past few years, as smartphones have become the primary source of fun and information for most users. Hence, it is no wonder the social games migrated from Facebook and similar media to app stores, with an increased number of mobile games that include social gaming features. Coin Master, Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite are the best examples of this switch to mobile gaming with social interaction.

Many across the globe love the ability to be mobile with gaming systems like the Nintendo Switch. Photo: Erik Mclean

The Pandemic & The Importance of Fun

What’s the relationship between social gaming and quarantine?

Well, for starters, it is clear that the pandemic did not create this industry. On the contrary, the industry has been flourishing for years, and thanks to the increased use of social media, apps and social platform-based games became a favourite pastime for many users.

On the other hand, the COVID outbreak forced us all to separate and withdraw to our homes, where we are to sit patiently and isolated from the rest of the (physical) world. This meant we could not interact with our loved ones in real life, but the internet stepped in and saved the day – digitalised social interaction became the new black. Not only that, but it stressed how interaction is crucial for all of us – being alone and interaction-deprived was taking a toll on all humanity.

Hence, we can say that the quarantine did boost the social gaming industry – but social games saved many of us from deeper anguish and gave us at least a speck of interaction when we needed it the most.

What Does the Future Hold for Social Games?

No one knows what the future holds, but we know one thing – technology is not going away. If anything, these past two years have shown us that tech is something we must rely on and use if we want to maintain at least a modicum of stability – as well as normalcy.

And how will the future look with social network games? Well, if Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert is any indication, we are looking at more metaverse, in-game events that transcend realities and blur the lines between real and virtual. But at least we’ll stay in touch.