The Facebook Effect by former Fortune reporter David Kirkpatrick has a great anecdote on the birth of Zynga. Mark Pincus was an early “angel” investor in Facebook, having experienced the power of social virality at the previous company he started, Tribe.net. Facebook, like most software companies harbored ambitions to become a platform and was beginning the hunt to evangelize its virtues to developers. The conference to launch the platform, f8 (“fate”) was around the corner.
A few weeks before f8, [platform manager Dave] Morin had coffee with Mark Pincus…Pincus told Morin excitedly that he intended to build a poker application for the new platform. ”It won’t work,” Morin asserted dourly. ”Games aren’t viral.” Pincus went ahead and launched Texas HoldEm Poker on Facebook, which was headed for huge success.
This wouldn’t be fair to put in the context of other famous, retrospectively comic predictions. Games prior to the personal computing age despite being social weren’t viral: Monopoly played around the living room table. That games (and pictures) became the way the “social graph” was most reinforced is easy to see in retrospect but a gutsy bet at the time. But what’s old perhaps was new again — the most viral game in American history? Arguably poker, spread through a concentrated social graph of soldiers in the American Civil War. Technology-enabled virality changes the game industry forever. It is rare to see new games financed without this as a component today.
However, just as Art moves in cycles from the simple to baroque and back, so too will gaming. With strictures on the posting of news items the top twenty games nearly all fell in monthly average users last month. The Frisky Mongoose may get lonely in the next apogee of single player gaming (fomented by a private backlash?) in, say, 2018. Til then, enjoy helping your neighbor’s sheep find a home!