Fear and loathing in Facebook

Fear and loathing in Facebook
Will Luton

By Will Luton

January 30th 2012 at 10:00AM

Has Facebook been taken over by industry giants? Will Luton examines if mobile is the new creative frontier

“So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.

Chelsea football club’s Stamford Bridge Stadium is a castle to a play industry stuffed to the throat with cash.

It hosts self-made ‘High Net Worth Individuals’. But today, in this darkened, black-cloth-lined conference room in its depths, the HNWIs have come from Silicon Valley, not Essex. The tans aren’t fake.

This is Social Gaming Summit 2011.

It’s coloured by confusion. There is a dejected nervousness and a happy optimism split. Facebook’s European head of gaming partnerships Julien Codorniou keynotes the audience to start, telling tales of rags to riches. Some people seem unconvinced or others disinterested.

“There was a lot more positivity last year” says one man, stood beside the buffet. He’s eating tiny sausages from a tiny saucepan.

Speaker after speaker after speaker, like fairground palm readers, predicts the future: It’s Eastern Europe or South America. No, it’s off portal. Maybe it’s still Facebook, but with million dollar TV adverts and glossy magazine adverts. What it certainly isn’t, everyone agrees, is Google+.

“If you don’t have a strong mobile strategy, you’ll become irrelevant” says Geoff Cook, the unceremoniously honest CEO of myYearbook.

The room tweets it. The social graph is expanding, but the web’s acceleration is slowing as the world takes to the smartphone, which continues to boom as Facebook sign-ups plateau.

TO BOLDLY GO

Mobile is the new frontier. If you’ve read my column before you’ll know I believe this to be true. We are Mobile Pie, not Facebook Pie.

Speakers paint a picture of Facebook as an impenetrable, colonised world which favours the very first homesteaders. They’ve gobbled up swathes of the land and now control it.

Today the outlay is now prohibitively expensive for any company in Facebook. You need considerable assets: Cash or players.

And whilst social gaming’s founding fathers prosper, guerrillas identify unoccupied niches and carve it out. If the annex becomes considerable, the guerrillas defect to one of the nations, sharing in its riches.

But they never win. The doors are closing on mobile much more slowly. But they will close. It is a very competitive market, but unlike Facebook, gathering meaningful numbers of users can still happen with less funds.

My Star cost us somewhere in the region of half a new Facebook title. The next title will be more. So will the title after. But we aren’t hitting $1 million yet.

ONE DEITY AT A TIME

If content is king and distribution is god, Apple and Google are benevolent masters, providing a single store front for discovery, routing distribution through it.

They use their editorial independence to thrust new talent – with a significant leaning to the innovative and quality – into the limelight.

This boost would be worth tens of thousands, but it can’t be bought. In doing so the playing field is evened and start-ups can compete with content, not just cash reserves.

Facebook’s situation against mobile has created a spinning tornado of knee-jerk reactions and flim-flam and hyperbole.

Facebook as a web delivery platform may shrink over the next five years, but it is going to remain a meaningful market. This could be social gaming’s first wave beginning to fade.

Undoubtedly, there will be another behind it, because in a market so big if you can’t compete on scale or cost, you compete on quality and innovation.