You don’t need us to tell you that Facebook games are big. Really big. In fact, this week it emerged that the company responsible for FarmVille, Zynga, currently has more than 100 million unique visitors playing its games every month and was named one of Business Week’s most intriguing start ups.
And it’s not alone. Pet Society has the best part of 22 million users, YoVille has around 20 million. MindJolt Games 15 million. The list goes on and on.
But what does any of this have to do with pocket gaming? Well, the cornerstone of the puzzle is Adobe Flash. Up until now, most mobile phone web browsers have been lacking full Flash compatibility (in spite of the relatively commonplace Flash Lite), which is a fundamental component for viewing rich video and multimedia content.
This includes the likes of YouTube, certain animated web pages and, importantly, browser-based games. All of these types of rich web content have largely been impossible on the majority of mobile handsets, but with the recent release of Adobe Flash 10 for smartphones all that is about to change.
There has been much talk about server-streamed games one day dominating the games industry. Services such as OnLive, GarageGames’s InstantAction, and even id’s Quake Live have certainly given console manufacturers a lot to think about.
Meanwhile, the reality in the handheld space is that we could be mere months away from an explosion in handset-based social gaming, where gamers log-in to Facebook and similar services to clock up extra thumb time on titles such as FarmVille. The key evolution here is the cross-platform potential of social games. These are games that people already habitually play on their desktop PC when their boss isn’t looking. We’ve come a long way since Minesweeper.
This phenomenon has already been ably demonstrated by Nokia. Despite falling behind on the gaming front by failing to make an impact with its second attempt at the N-Gage, the Finnish giant proved at this year’s Nokia World event that it’s ahead of the curve with browser-based gaming on mobile handsets.
The hotly anticipated N900 handset will be able to play Facebook games straight out of the box, giving it the opportunity to net a potentially colossal userbase of already active social gamers. Other handsets, notably those running the Android operating system, are sure to follow in the coming months.
This leaves the DS, PSP and the iPhone out of a potentially huge growth area for handheld gaming. Neither the DS nor the PSP have Flash compatible web browsers. So far it seems that among a host of technical issues, the main reason for this has been a lack of necessity for advanced web browsing functionality, which suggests that were the demand for browser-based gaming to become apparent, Sony and Nintendo would not necessarily be resistant to the idea.
Apple, on the other hand, may have painted itself into a corner by taking a hardline stance against Adobe Flash for the iPhone, largely due to the fact that it’s a direct competitor to its own QuickTime technology.
Without wanting to succumb to histrionics and doom mongering, perhaps Apple is finally about to reap what it has sown. Maybe Steve Jobs should get some practice in on FarmVille before he plants his next gaming seed.
Pocket Gamer is Europe’s leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.