Consumers have discovered social gaming in a big way during the past couple of years. Some specific applications, like FarmVille, are reaching a significant portion of the online audience. Over 24% of online users are now playing social games. The growing interest in this format spells opportunity for marketers in a number of ways.

According to eMarketer, the numbers of consumers playing social games look like this:

  • 2010: 24% (53 million people)
  • 2011: 27% (61.9 million people)
  • 2012: 29% (68.7 million people)

The revenue generated from this activity shouldn’t be overlooked, either. About $1 billion will be derived through social gaming. For the most part, the money is linked to the virtual goods consumers buy as they play these games. Further, eMarketer analysts predict that social gaming revenues could be as high as $1.32 billion in 2012.

Looking forward to 2012, Paul Verna, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report, “Social Gaming: Marketers Make Their Move”  says “Next year’s growth will be modest compared with the meteoric rise of this form of gaming in its first two years, but the projected increase will be healthy enough to sustain multiple opportunities for game developers, publishers, investors and marketers.”

All of this activity has the attention of large entertainment companies as well as venture capitalists. For example, late last year, Disney purchased Playdom for $763 million.

Meanwhile, some analysts wonder whether social gaming could be another bubble . Worldwide, data shows that the top 15 games on Facebook garnered 364.2 million users in December 2009. That number dropped to 257 million in December 2010. A rebound occurred in January 2011 when the number rose to 337.3 million so traffic changes may be the result of the excitement surrounding newly introduced games.

Regardless of the wide variability in use levels, analysts believe marketers can benefit by investing in social gaming. Possible strategies include integrating a brand into an existing game, using display ads or sponsorships in games or developing their own games.  Verna remarks, ““As long as a game is thematically consistent with the product or brand and the target audience is appropriate, there is no reason marketers should avoid getting involved.”

[Sources: Morrison, Chris. What Disney Got in the Playdom Acquisition. InsideSocialGames.com. 25 Oct. 2010. Web. 8 Mar. 2011; Social Gaming: Marketers Make their Move. Emarketer.com. Jan. 2011. Web. 8 Mar. 2011;  Social Gaming: Marketers Make Their Move. IAB.net. February 2011. Web. 8 Mar. 2011]