Sebastien de Halleux (photo), co-founder of social gaming firm Playfish – and bizdev VP for EA since his firm’s buyout by the gaming major – says his company’s Pet Society game has more than 20 million active monthly users. That’s more than online gaming golden standard World of Warcraft.

Furthermore, Playfish sells 90 million virtual items per day: items such as birthday cakes to offer your friends in Pet Society. Such is one of the key specificities of social gaming: the initial game is often available for free, with users paying for items and other upgrades.

The demand is so strong, says de Halleux, that “one of the biggest requests we’ve had this year is to increase price points!” For example, users asked for up to $100 prepaid cards, to avoid paying too often, or to gift items to friends. “Once they’re convinced the content is good, they will pay,” he affirmed.

So what’s next? Sport games have only just now become big in social gaming, with EA notably offering its ultra-popular FIFA football title as a free Facebook version. For de Halleux, 3D and first-person shooter games – still inexistant on Facebook – are the logical next step. Bearing in mind technical (Flash)  and behavioural constraints: social gamers tend to play in short bursts, but come back to the game often to check their progress.

The biggest star of mobile gaming right now is Angry Birds, the blockbusting multi-mobile platform puzzle game-app. Mikael Hed, CEO of the game’s Finnish creator, Rovio, reminded us that the game has sold 12 million copies to date, mainly on iPhone, plus 30 million fre downloads. But perhaps its biggest money-spinner is the Android version of the game, which the firm decided to distributed as a free ad-supported app via GetJar. It is currently making no less than $1 million per month. Not surprisingly, then, did Hed comment plainly that “We don’t need more money! We’re very profitable.”

Similarly profitable is the game’s burgeoning merchandising aspect: Angry Birds toys, which can be bought through a dedicated in-game menu, sold out prior to Christmas and are now no longer available until a restock in January! The game will also be coming to home consoles soon, like last year’s iPhone game star, Plants vs Zombies. Apparently the only spin-off Hed has turned down is a major movie adaptation, as that would “take four years to get off the ground.” One can’t have it all…

Last but by no means least, LeWeb welcomed Tomoko Namba, CEO of Japanese mobile social gaming network DeNA. This firm would make even Rovio look unprofitable: it currently turns over $1.2 billion per year with ‘just’ 20 million users. How? Like Playfish, by selling virtual goods, likes swords or avatars, to gamers keen to upgrade or add variety to their gaming experience.

The company’s next big shift will naturally be smartphones: most of its success to date is built on games for standard Japanese mobiles: feature-packed, but not ‘smart’, i.e. with touchscreens. Which explains DeNA’s acquisition of iPhone game company ngmoco two months ago: a partnership which is “going really well,” said Namba, even adding that “we, with Neil (Young, CEO of ngmoco), should come together for a social gaming conference here in Europe.” Word to the wise…

About Author

As Head of Social Media for Reed MIDEM, James Martin oversees social strategy and deployment for B2B events MIPTV and MIPCOM, Midem (music industry) and MIPIM & MAPIC (real estate & retail). He is based in Reed MIDEM's Paris office.

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