I currently don't find any social game appealing enough to capture the free time (and money) I spend on console games. It doesn't mean that I am fundamentally against social network freemium games, but simply that none has been appealing enough to me as a gamer.
I am totally conscious that social games can be profitable from a business standpoint, but I fail to find them appealing as a user because they seem designed to go viral and rip me off rather than entertain me. Furthermore, I do believe that there are quite a few people who share my point of view on this and just don't play social games, feeling that it's not for them.
It means there might be some untapped opportunity for developers to appeal to people who like packaged games and basically dislike the freemium model.
1. Separating game-related activities from other social activities:
There is one area where Google+ shines when compared to Facebook, in my opinion: the handling of game-related contents.
As a person, I use Facebook and Google+ to keep in touch with friends and people I want to "follow", not to mainly play games. This is not XboxLive, where I know people are in for gaming first and might not care about my private life.
In this respect, I feel Google+ is doing things right by separating the gaming-related feeds from the rest of the social network.
To me the advantages are huge for both the game developers and me as a user:
- Benefits for me as a user: I have access to all the game-related info and news feeds in one single place. In addition, I know that if I play a free game that requires me to post something on my profile, it will not appear in other users' main news feeds. For example see below, after I play a game of Bejeweled on Google+, I am proposed to share my score with my contacts. This is similar to the popup users would get in Facebook, except that here, Google tells me "This message will appear in the Games stream". And this is the fundamental difference with Facebook.
- Benefits for the developer: since I know I am not going to spam my non-gamer friends with unwanted game notifications, I will have no problem posting this kind of messages, which I refrain from doing on Facebook.
The reason I have practically quit playing games on Facebook (save for Zuma Blitz), is that most games require me to ask my friends for help to complete specific (and often essential) tasks --that is, if I don't want to spend real cash to have the task completed at once.
If I had a pool of dedicated gamers whom to ask, it wouldn't be a big issue. The problem is that on Facebook, if I want to ask for help from other users, I have to pick from my list of friends, which, depending on people, can be a pretty long list. Besides, I don't know who among my friends might be interested in the game I am playing. So this is the point where I generally give up asking for help, and if no alternative solution at hand apart from spending my cash, give up on the game as well.
2. Offering possibility to "unlock" freemium games:
Freemium games usually suffer many limitations meant to push users to spend cash to get things done more easily. These limitations take many forms: requirement to have a certain number of "neighbors" in the game, energy system (no energy, no action possible), collection systems (where users have to receive gifts from friends to complete a task or construction).
I just said I didn't want to spend cash on the game. Actually it is only partly true. I spend quite a lot of cash on console games every month, purchasing 2 to 3 new titles on average. Obviously it's not a matter of how much I spend, but when quality is there, I am ready to pay. However, one thing I hate to spend cash on is perishable virtual goods, namely ''in-game money". Most social games add a layer, though, separating in-game money (the kind players get from selling crops in FarmVille or collecting rents in CityVille) from Coins or similar concept (the ones players get only in small quantity when leveling up). These Coins are usually the ones that can be spent to complete essential tasks in game without the help of friends. They are also used to purchase specific "coin-only" items in the game. And as you probably guessed, these Coins are the ones users can purchase for real cash.
To developers: I never spent a single cent on game coins in my whole life, and I have no plan to change this habit for a while. But you noticed it is not a problem of money. It's simply that I don't like this unethical "pay-to-win" model, where I either have to bother people or pay cash to complete actions in game, and where the more I pay, the better I perform.
What I like is to pay upfront and get the assurance that I won't have to bother with micro-payments for perishable goods later.
So, here is a thought about how to do things so that I might eventually shell out some bucks on your freemium title: give me the possibility to "unlock" the full experience for a reasonable price (maybe $10 or more or less depending on the production value).
For example, in games like CityVille, after "unlocking" the game, I could purchase the "Coin-only" exclusive buildings with in-game money instead. Same for special buildings that require either enrolling friends or paying Coins: I could complete construction with in-game money. Even in Zuma Blitz, the concept could work for simply getting rid of the life system (where lives replenish over time or can be replenished with cash items) and unlock the game forever for a given fee.
Some could argue that in that case, I would be better off purchasing the original Zuma game client for PC. But I am not interested: I want to have access to my games from anywhere via Facebook, in order to keep advantage of the Facebook-related features (like the friends-leaderboards for example).
There is a vast majority of gamers who don't pay for games on Facebook (paying users usually represent less than 3% of the active users). Among them, I am sure there are people who would gladly pay if offered real value for their money and the guarantee of a more playable, fair, enjoyable and ethical gaming experience.
That's just my thought on this.
[Edit]: there is a great debate on related issues here on Gamasutra's website, initiated by developer Adam Saltsman.