Online games connected to social networking sites like Facebook are relatively new, but they are going viral. For example, FarmVille, a game in which players cultivate a virtual farm, has grown to more than 80 million users since its launch last year.
It's part of an exploding industry, and it may be a surprise who is playing these games.
Kerry Ann King, 41, is a mother of four and a part-time fitness instructor. She unwinds during a rare break between work and family responsibilities inside her Manhattan apartment. But she is not reading or watching TV. She's playing an online game called Bejeweled.
"You have a grid of jewels, and the goal is to get rows of a minimum of three or a maximum of five together," King says of the game. "And that's how you get points."
Kind of like Tetris, Bejeweled is a puzzle game of blinking jewels arranged in a grid. The game is found on Facebook, which already links players to their friends. King can compete against her friends for the highest score. She says there's a lot of trash-talking going on.
"The people who play are serious," she says. King says she plays with people she went to high school and college with and her mother.
"We've still barely hit the tip of the iceberg for people who could play [the] games but don't think they can," says David Roberts, the CEO of PopCap, the company that created Bejeweled.
"With Bejeweled, 70 percent of our customers are women, and that astounds almost everybody," he says.
Though not new, the game is discovering a whole new market by finding players where they are now: on mobile phones, iPods and Facebook. The games are free, but its creators make money off advertising and added features. A hundred million sessions of Bejeweled are played each day.
Roberts says people were wrong in assuming that games on Facebook would appeal to a more traditional audience of younger males.
"What you find is a lot of women who are both working and raising children just have no time for relationships," says Misiek Piskorski, who teaches about online social networking at the Harvard Business School. "But it's not like they wouldn't want to spend more time having these relationships. It's just really, really hard. And this allows them to basically sustain these relationships."
Piskorski says the games aren't taking away from face-to-face interactions. They're just replacing time these women would've spent watching TV or some other media. And for busy King, that's good enough.