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Google’s new social network, Google+, only launched a few weeks ago, but it already is affecting the social media and gaming communities. Whether that effect is temporary or lasting is the real question.

Within six weeks of the launch, Google+ had added 16 games to its lineup, including Angry Birds and Zynga Poker. The goal with this step is to appeal to users who love to play, especially games that let them interact with one another—the people who made such a massive success out of Facebook’s FarmVille game.

If Google+ can attract players effectively, it hopes they never go back Facebook. Social gaming is a lucrative business. Producers earned more than $500 million in revenue selling virtual goods in 2010, and Facebook takes 30 percent of the revenues earned. Google+ instead is asking for only 5 percent of the revenues, hoping that gaming companies will develop great games specifically for its platform.

The model must be working at least to some extent; Google+ attracted more than 20 million unique visitors within weeks of its launch. But Facebook has over 750 million active users. Thus advertisers, users, and gaming companies are watching closely to discover how the Google+ network will fare among the same target market. Are users going to be loyal to Google+, or are they just signing on to check out the newest thing from an Internet giant?

For gaming companies, a viable alternative to Facebook has great appeal. Even if they have contracts with Facebook to produce social games, they remain limited to a single point of distribution—not unlike traditional manufacturers that rely on Walmart as their only retailer. For some producers, a single channel might be enough. But for others, Google+ is promising fewer restrictions on the types of games available, as well as a social gaming landscape that is far more competitive.

Discussion Questions:

1. Why is social gaming so important for social networks? 

2. Can Google+ ever catch up to Facebook?

Catherine Smith, “Google + Adds Games: Angry Birds, Zynga Poker, and Bejeweled,” Huffington Post, August 11, 2011.

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