A few recent personal experiences prompted me to realize that the effects of tablets on social gaming may be understated. You cannot go far without reading the projections/hype for the tablet computing market and most people consider it a given that it will be a very significant platform in the near future. I definitely would not disagree with these projections and also think that the emergence of tablets will have a much more profound effect on social gaming than just adding another platform.
A Real Threat to Facebook Gaming
I think tablets are the biggest threat to Facebook gaming. I took two trips recently, one for business, one for a family vacation and did not take my laptop on either. I wanted to see if my iPad and wireless keyboard could replace my laptop, at least for relatively short trips. I never regretted taking only the tablet, I used it seamlessly for meeting notes, email and playing games during down time. With Dropbox and Pages on the iPad, I could edit documents people sent to me and even review a contract.
For me, the biggest challenge was that I would not be able to play the three Facebook games that I play regularly, thus missing out on some daily bonuses and in one case causing distress to my fish (yes, I still play Fishville). But the tradeoff of not playing these games versus getting through security so much easier (boy, was it a pleasure) and cutting the weight of my carry-on in half made the tablet the clear winner and in the future I will probably travel sans laptop.
This anecdote would not be a big deal if I came back and just picked up the Facebook games where I left off. I found, however, that by not playing for a few days my engagement with the games fell and I am less compelled to play them regularly (in fact, I have not gone back to one of the games). I am, however, playing more iPad games than I had before. Given the importance of retention and engagement to the LTV of a Facebook game, as more people have experiences similar to mine, I think it could have a significantly negative impact on the long-term profitability of Facebook gaming (maybe the world changes if these games move to HTML5 soon and are playable on tablets, but I am not holding my breath).
An Even Greater Threat to iPhone Games
The other thing I have noticed is that I rarely play games on my smartphones anymore as I always have my iPad with me and the gaming experience is so much better. Maybe I am somewhat atypical as I am older than the core smartphone gaming demographic and may not have the same quality eye sight, but I do not know anyone who would prefer a phone’s screen to a tablet’s. I have not seen data yet on whether tablet gaming is replacing iPhone gaming but I feel it has to at some point. As there are more tablet options at different price points, they will become ubiquitous soon. At that point, people will begin reverting to using their phones as phones primarily.
Unlike my observation about tablet gaming displacing Facebook gaming, the evolution of playing “mobile” games on your phone versus tablet will not have as deep an impact on the social gaming industry. Most (though not all) new games are optimized for both iPhones and iPads, so it is just a shift of where the consumer plays . It may impact the market share of the various mobile operating systems, people may want to use a tablet and phone with different operating systems to increase the variety of apps available or may even go to less complex phones since the “smart” features are already on their tablets.
This paragraph is a little off topic, but since we are talking about tablets I just wanted to comment on the Nook Tablet. I recently picked up one to evaluate as I expect it to become the #3 tablet in the US this year (if it isn’t already). I have not had extensive time with it yet but I have so far been very impressed with the form factor and look-and-feel. Unlike the other 7-inch tablets I have tried (the Kindle Fire and 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab), the Nook Tablet is thinner and feels lighter. Before trying any of them, I expected them to be significantly smaller than the iPad and was disappointed (after all, it is a smaller screen). If the Nook Tablet performs at least as well as the Fire (which according to most reviews it does), I think it will have a major impact and thus be a big opportunity for social game companies.
Good For Us
Overall, though, for the social gaming industry the shift to tablets is great. With good portability, beautiful screens and an intuitive interface, tablets greatly enhance the game playing experience. As users will have them everywhere, it gives us the opportunity to become closer to our customers than ever before and will make it increasingly difficult for other forms of entertainment to get in between that bond.