Social games have only been around for a few years, yet social networks like Facebook and MySpace have had some exponential growth with their user base in that time.

With over 200 million monthly users playing the top 10 Facebook games, and gaining millions more every month, to say that social games are booming is an understatement.

So what is a social game?

Social games do not entirely differ from video games we’ve been playing for years. The term ‘social’ does not necessarily mean ‘multiplayer’ either or that there is a large persistent world to play in, so what does it mean?

Well, the difference with social games is in the platform. Social networks like Facebook are delivering games into a completely new environment. Where normally the user was obliged to find the game themselves, now the game is able to find the user. This new power from social games brings us some exciting creative potential.

Where is social gaming headed?

It’s not hard to see from the trends of the internet over the years that companies and developers are consistently pushing the boundaries of web browsers to do things better & more efficiently; breaking through constraints.

Consider the growth of Ajax and Reverse Ajax application protocols and Flash games over the years. These are becoming the set standard for web sites and browsers these days. Look at what putting a real browser like Safari on the iPhone did for mobile devices. It’s obvious to us that the future of social gaming and networking lies in the web browser.

What’s the next step for browsers?

For the past few months, I’ve been trying out the new 3D technologies for browsers,
O3D by Google and WebGL by Mozilla and the Khronos Group. These technologies are amazing. O3D is a standalone plugin for the browser, whereas WebGL makes use of the HTML5 Canvas element.

These technologies open up huge possibilities to web developers and game developers alike. Utilising tools such as these, it’s not hard to imagine the amazing things we can expect to see over the next few years.

We have yet to see websites or games really take advantage of the web technologies currently at the forefront. Social gaming is getting us closer through technologies such as flash, but we still have a long way to go.

Using 3D technologies and Ajax or Comet driven front-ends with a persistent database backend could provide some amazing environments for social gaming and for social networks as-well.

Will these new technologies pave the way for virtual worlds 2.0, a new platform for massively multiplayer online games, or a new gaming genre or mashup we’re yet to discover?
We will have to wait and see.

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