Massively Casual

Massively Casual
How Social Games Ate Our Lunch

Erin Hoffman | 27 Jul 2010 12:41
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Slavin' for the Man

I'm annoyed at the gaming community for crapping on social gamers after having been crapped on by the mainstream entertainment formats for years - and I'm annoyed with my industry because we were too squeamish and tunnel-visioned to grow a new market. We let a bunch of Amazon execs blow open a huge new sector of game development that could have been our ticket out of third party hell. With all of our ceaseless complaints about game publishers - with all of the hopes lavished on indie games and systems that allow us to deliver direct to players - shouldn't we at least have been willing to consider a vector that delivers games - real games - direct to an entirely new market of players?

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More disappointing still has been the reaction of the game community to social gamers - not just developers, but their players as well. In spite of all our activism, all our proclaimed enlightenment, all our fury at a public that has feared and despised gaming for decades, the gaming community reverted to the exact same thinking: we don't like it, so there must be something wrong with people who do. An assumption made with zero curiosity into what these new players are actually experiencing.

Now, of course, developers are pouring onto Facebook, and the tune is changing. We shouldn't be chasing social games for the money, though sweet, sweet cash is indeed a perfectly valid route to our coveted unlimited independence and corresponding creative utopia. We should be chasing social games because of the frontiers that they've opened up in front of us, the utterly new data they allow us to gather about the behaviors and desires of our players. We should be paying close attention to the new metrics that these games have disclosed, and thinking about how they can enhance, expand, and intertwine our "core" gamers' experiences.

Most importantly, we should be acknowledging and welcoming this new kind of gamer, and listening to what they have to say. From Senet to Settlers of Catan to Counter-Strike to FarmVille, we are all gamers, connected through the electric muse of interactivity, chasing the same brain state. And that, especially when it unnerves us, is a beautiful thing.

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Erin Hoffman is a professional game designer, freelance writer, and hobbyist troublemaker. Her debut fantasy novel Sword of Fire and Sea is forthcoming with Pyr Books in 2011.

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