Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Friday, 25 April 2008 11:55 UK

The power of play on the internet

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

Mytopia logo
New sites combine the idea of gaming and social networks

Game design and social networks are merging into one of the most persuasive forces on the net.

That assertion was made by a string of speakers at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

"Social networking is a game in and of itself," explained Jennifer Pahlka, co-chair of the conference.

She highlighted networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn that make public the number of friends a person has, posts how well a user does on certain applications and displays what level they are at.

"There are all these game dynamics built into the social web," said Ms Pahlka.

"So the idea that there is a game market here and a web market here isn't true. The two are influencing each other."

Perhaps the greatest effect of that interplay can be seen in the rise and rise of the social gamer.

Recent figures by research firm Park Associates estimates that 34% of US adult internet users play online games weekly.

The moment you make the gaming more personal and meaningful, the better the experience for the user
Guy Ben-Artzi

Those figures present opportunities to developers and social networking sites alike.

For example MySpace has just announced the public launch of its "applications gallery" at Web 2.0. Central to those applications will be games.

Steve Pearman of the firm told BBC News: "This will take what you can do inside a social network to a new level. If you can provide something cool for my users I will be happy."

Meaningful play

One duo who believe they have a cool application that will appeal to the growing social gaming community are Galia and Guy Ben-Artzi.

The Ben-Artzi's are a brother and sister behind a start up called Mytopia, which they describe as a social gaming community where everyone can play together.

It offers everything from chess to Sudoku and hearts to poker which you can play directly from their site or via Facebook, MySpace, Hi5 and Bebo.

Lyle Fong
By applying these gaming principles it helps build these thriving successful communities
Lyle Fong

"Social networks offer a revolutionary way for people to play with friends and communities that have meaningful value to them in their real life," said Guy Ben-Artzi, who confesses he used to be a gamer who would do anything to win.

"The moment you make the gaming more personal and meaningful, the better the experience for the user," he added.

"The ability to play with the people I care about and connect with them is what is appealing to me," explained Galia, who is a fan of Suduko and plays online with her mother.

"Logging in and playing with strangers was exciting when the internet was new but the modern web is personal and social and it is clear that the internet is being used for social purposes to connect people rather than isolate them."

Gaming principles

One hardcore gamer said the shift to social gaming was inevitable as Web 2.0 flourished.

Lyle Fong and his brother Denis, who once won a Ferrari in a gaming competition, were serious players who also set up Gamers.com as an online community for like-minded people.

He is now the CEO of Lithium Technologies, which makes software for companies such as Dell, AT&T, Sony PlayStation and Nokia using gaming principles.

"We build up these reputation systems with levels and rankings just as you would if it was a game and by applying these gaming principles it helps build these thriving successful communities."

As he eschews his hardcore background, Mr Fong admits that social gaming is here to stay and will only continue to grow for obvious reasons.

"If you look at these sites like Facebook and LinkedIn you can post notes and chat and swap photos but that's not very engaging. Social gaming makes it fun and that's really very neat."




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