Relevant to this subject, there was a recent "lunch" about this, of which the BBC blogged a report about. Thankfully, the "social" game developer in question is Playfish. And now, a bunch of quotes from that article.
If Zynga and the like becomes the new major publishers, I will go to Warren Spector's book shop and buy books from him.
Thank you for this. Quite an interesting read, and it pretty much confirms a lot of the points i keep pounding on.
Mr Segerstrale told the rest of his lunching luminaries that social gaming did so well out of the gate because "it's fundamentally about getting people who are not gamers involved in gaming".
"I don't think anyone knew where it would go. It lowered the barriers of access to gaming, like YouTube did for video. Now playing games is literally a click away, and you don't have to look for them because your friend will tell you where they are. That's been a key driver," Mr Segerstrale told the other panellists...
Nothing new here, that much was pretty obvious.
He also noted that of Facebook's 400m monthly users, around 200m play social games.
That figure astounded fellow lunchers - and none more than Dave Perry, who has been in the business for more than 25 years and who started when he was 15. "The shocking thing for me," he said, "is that some of the social games just aren't that good, yet they still get a lot of play."
What surprise me about this is that they were surprised. I mean, have they been living under a rock? lol
Mr Segerstrale told us that social games are about getting players to build that "value of self" as they invest time, money and friendships in playing the game.
Yeap, friends themselves are a currency in these games. A social developer himself confirmed what our general opinion is, and trashed the illusion of "social interaction" that gets thrown around ludicrously as a good thing going for these games.
Mr Perry saw the value in that and seemed to suggest that, in the future, perhaps Facebook will need social gaming more than social gaming will need Facebook.
It's a symbiotic relationship, Mr. Perry. I remember reading somewhere in this very thread that someone from Zynga said their success in facebook stems from them for some reason not minding spam. My feeling is that he was being a bit falsely naive, if not an outright liar. Of course they don't mind it, having such games is good business for them. And excuse me for not believing that they maintain no contact whatsoever to the point of this guy not knowing why don't mind spam, but it's a bit hard to swallow. How can you not be in contact and discuss and negotiate very closely with third party developers that hold a vice grip on half your user base? And if we convert that into user hours, that percentage is certainly a lot bigger, along with it being a very effective mechanism of "costumer retention".
Mr Spector turned philosopher, asking: "There is lots of talk about audiences, but does art and creativity enter into that? Is it all about reaching an audience, which sounds vaguely evil to me."
And someone gets the ball rolling. Bravo, Mr. Spector!
Mr Segerstrale admitted that metrics about users and how they approach games can be useful but don't take away from the need to have a good compelling game. "More than anything, the cool thing about data is it validates design. You do still need the creative vision as well."
Yeah, right pal. You own company is a prime example of this, isn't it? Your games *do* have better quality and creative vision than Zynga's, for instance, but they're nowhere near as successful, are they? Kinda makes your argument moot.
Gary Whitta, the host for this "luminaries lunch", quipped: "You don't need a game designer, they will only argue with you."
He went on: "You already have the formula. That is why you see so many of the same games - it's a fish game that's doing well, so let's have another fish game. You have to win the analytics war."
Right on the money. This is why we see these companies copying each other with no end. Like i said quite a few times before, this phenomenon has the potential so swallow itself whole. What i mean by this is that the games that hone more accurately their formulaic design will polarize the biggest chunk of the user base, leaving the competition to rot. You just have to look at the ridiculous difference between the amount of Farmville users vs. Farmtown, or any other games, even Zynga's ones, to realize this.
One little thing though: they need game designers, but nor for their creativity, just as workers following a blueprint. Even if they would prefer to go with some sort of creativity and "gut feeling", they're not allowed to, metrics take precedence. And no, this is not just a guess, it's a reliable fact, but i'm bound by an honor agreement not to divulge my source on this. And they *are* sucking in developers. But i will elaborate on this further below.
For Mr Spector, that was anathema. "I will retire before I have to make a game based on analytics or market share. I will go open a bookstore. Sales are not the only thing that matter. If I got data that said one thing and I believed in my heart of hearts in another, I would screw the data and ignore it," declared Mr Spector.
This made my day. It's good to see people still thinking like this in the industry. It gives me a faint glimmer of hope.
Mr Whitta then went on to point out that "gaming is a combination of technology and art. Game design concepts have become more sophisticated - and with social gaming, it seems like we have rebooted everything. We are back to very very remedial game concepts."
Mr Segerstrale generally agreed with that. "These products iterate really quickly. Pet Society today after 100 iterations has fewer buttons than when it started. They are iterating to become more simple."
I love this guy, he does all the work for me. One of the arguments i see repeated over and over again, is how these games can be an introduction to gaming, and a gateway to more complex games. While this may be true for a small portion of users (particularly younger ones), for the majority, it is not. In fact, as Mr. Segerstrale so kindly pointed out, these games are progressively simpler, instead of more complex. Hence, the further they stray away from traditional games, and the simpler their design is, the more users they have. The gap is already big, and they are widening it, instead of narrowing it. And any developer that narrows it, coming closer to bridging it, will have a smaller user base, and be swallowed by the fierce competition.
"I would kill to make a game in only two years," said Mr Spector. "My games and that of other people take longer than that."
He then joked that at the end of the process, he often feels exhausted. "There is a feeling of relief and exhaustion. Hey, maybe after this I will get four guys and do an iPhone game."
Mr Segerstrale seemed to relish that prospect. "We don't have enough game designers working on social games and that is why something like farming games are the biggest category and why they make sense because when you have one that does really well, then you have a ton of people piling into that category."
Relish indeed, i can almost see his eyes glistening. Now, i do think that the industry has the potential to adapt to the changes taking place, but i believe nobody can be blamed for seeing this social revolution as a threat to traditional gaming. They're growing fast, and need more people at a very fast rate. And where do they get them? That's right, traditional developers, because they already have the experience. They are recruiting, and pulling all the stops to do so. I mean, they even recruit during an acceptance speech, for crying out loud! (yes, i'm talking about Bill Mooney's speech). I shall quote a comment i stumbled upon in an indie forum:
Heh, speaking of Zynga, any of y'all hit that party on Monday night? It was like being in hell: 500+ people crammed in a space that should probably hold 200, open bar got cut off after just over an hour, piles of food but no plates or forks, a DJ playing asinine house music while screenshots of Mafia Wars scrolled by on a screen behind him. And you couldn't even enjoy your drink, if you could get one, without being accosted every 15 minutes by one of their recruiters..
This description made me laugh :P (before it, you know, scared the crap out of me).
I think anyone who tries to say that any of the facebook games or "casual" Wii games help people get into gaming is wrong, they just get into "casual games" and have almost no interest in anything besides them, also the point that it is hard to some one who hasn't played games before into gaming is also not try I have done it a few times.
You have a point, but a separation has to be made between social and casual games. When one plays casual games on a Wii, you already went through quite a few entry barriers: you already paid money for the console and the games, and you already got familiarized with the controllers. For a non-gamer, the learning curve between a social game and and the Wii is a very steep one. While the Wii is operating a disruption in the industry, rebooting from bottom and going upwards from there (an article i linked before explains this theory, and i have to say i agree). As they progressively add complexity, they will come closer to the complex market Sony and Microsoft cater more too (Nintendo will probably release a new console somewhere later in the future), and leave them in a tight spot: they can't go "down", because they can't compete with Nintendo in that market, and they can't go "up" towards the hardcore of the hardcore, because that market is too small. So, they'll be stuck there, ready to be pounded senseless. Nintendo saw a gap in the lower tiers of the market, and planned it well long ago. Or at least, it's reasonable to assume so, as far as predictions go, but it's no science. So casual gaming *can* lead people to more complex games, there is a lot of common ground, and depends only on wether people are willing to give it a try or not. Social gaming however, is (like i said way too much already) a totally different beast. The gap is too big, the design focus and process is different, the platform is different, and even the userbase is different (a lot of social gamers don't even like PopCap's games, for instance).
And like it's already been said, being able to learn is one thing, wanting to is another. But we do tend to disregard the difficulty in something when we grew up around it. As an example, i grew up in a small village in the interior of Portugal, that didn't even have electricity when my dad was born (in the 40's). My dad is not dumb in the slightest, he has a college degree, and has been very involved in local politics. But i struggle to teach him simple things like reading text messages in his cell phone, and browsing through the interfaces of his new TV and DVD player. The context in which you grow up matters a lot in terms of both previous experiences that help you adapt to something new, and the motivation required to overcome technological obstacles.