Will social games push users to open data standards?

Social gaming is getting a lot of buzz lately.  Not only is the industry profitable but it’s driving a lot of Facebook usage – the killer-app of social networks. A recent study from PopCap showed that many are using Facebook as a game platform.

Nearly half (49%) of the times when they log into social networks, social gamers do so specifically to play social games.

But no industry likes to be dependent on one company. Zynga has already begun to try and move away from Facebook by launching FarmVille.com. Social game developers love the Facebook firehose but don’t want to be dependent on it, which makes the latest version of BuddyPress interesting. With version 1.2.1 installation is as easy as adding a plugin to a standard WordPress blog.

Now you can use BuddyPress with your single site installation of WordPress, and you can keep your existing theme. Seriously, could BuddyPress have made it any easier for you to add social networking to your site? I know I can’t wait to try it out this weekend, how about you?

Which leads me to ask – will the growth of open independent social networks and protocols become a new platform for social games? And if they do, will social games in turn push users to these open data standards?

The first hurdle is registration

Having to register and setup an account had already kept me from participating in many an online forum and the same is likely with social networks. I can barely keep my Facebook account up to date much less MySpace, Friendster, and Orkut. With Ning I only have one login to access any social network they host. BuddyPress could integrate a similar type of solution using Gravitar or OpenID.

Second hurdle is content over connections

Ning has certainly made a good business out of servicing independent user-generated social networks. They aren’t exactly open but as an example they can be very telling. For one, Ning shows that it is more a content play than connecting with friends like on Facebook. Ning users setup networks around a club, organization, or a fan club. Much of its social networks can be considered niche.

Get a boost from social games

Ning has already proven that independent social networks can work, but like name brand social networks they can probably benefit from an infusion of social games. BuddyPress already supports a plugin framework which can be used to create some types of social games. Knowing that these independent social networks will be about content, imagine a social network about bread having a social recipe game? And if you don’t want to build it how about pulling from the WordPress plugin community or social game companies – who wouldn’t want more distribution.

Push for open data standards

If BuddyPress proves half as succesful as WordPress it will be a huge win for open data standards. It will also lend support for OStatus and other open standards. Combine that with Google Buzz, built on open data standards, and you can see a few cracks forming in Facebook’s walled garden.

But I think the biggest push might come from the social game developers trying to lessen their dependence on the Facebook fire hose. That might explain why Streamy CEO, Don Mosites, recently joined Zynga to work on a special project.

CEO Don Mosites, for one, is heading to Zynga to work on a “new, special project”. He won’t tell me what it is, but he promises it will be “big”. To be continued, I suppose.

If it’s true and social games are the killer-apps of social networks, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see their migration to open data standards migrating users there as well.

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