As a writer for a Totally Awesome Gaming Site, you begin to notice patterns in how a community will react to any given news story. For example, whenever we write something about social media, Facebook, Twitter, FarmVille, or anything along those lines – whether its a news post, a column, or coverage of a panel from a conference – there will almost always be someone who responds in one of the following ways:
“This isn’t news.”
“God, I hate Facebook.”
“FarmVille sucks, it isn’t even a game.”
“Why are you writing about this?”
Here’s the thing, guys: You may hate social media, Facebook games, and their entire wretched ilk. You are perfectly within your rights to dislike these games and the communities around them – but you hating them doesn’t mean for a moment that they aren’t relevant to society or the gaming industry. Like it or not, games like FarmVille are incredibly relevant to the future of the industry, and they are here to stay.
The world we live in today is increasingly defined by its connectivity. Thanks to micro-blogging like Twitter or Facebook’s status updates – and the popularity of smart devices like the iPhone that can update and check your friends’ updates on the fly – the Internet is being shaped and changed by the meteoric rise of social platforms. The world we live in today, and the world we’ll be living in tomorrow, is a world where Facebook can dethrone even mighty Google as the most-visited site on the web. Naturally, games are following that audience.
It’s easy to see why core gamers don’t care for FarmVille and the like. Our sense of value is a very specific one, and we’re going to want to spend our leisure time and money on something reflecting that. We know that we’d rather spend our time on an action-packed thrill ride like Uncharted 2 instead of planting virtual crops.
But even as gaming becomes more and more popular, there are hundreds of millions in the world who don’t game because there’s such a huge barrier to entry. There’s a financial hurdle – dropping a few hundred on a console plus games and accessories is a bit more than an impulse buy for many people – and then there’s a matter of complexity. Not only is the controller horrendously complicated for a non-gamer, but the games themselves aren’t much better. How many times have you seen a non-gaming friend get into a multiplayer match in Halo and then completely lose focus, running around firing wildly up into the air?
Nintendo has made inroads into reducing any barriers this console generation, and it’s paid off tremendously. But let’s get a matter of perspective: Look at the estimated 67 million Wii units Nintendo has shipped since 2006, and then realize that 67 million people play Zynga-developed Facebook games like FarmVille every single day.
The difference in scale is so staggering that it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around it. We gamers proudly tout the triumph of Modern Warfare 2 as the biggest entertainment launch in human history, selling roughly 10 million copies in the US, but that number is dwarfed next to the hundreds of millions that regularly play Zynga games every month. How can any rational person look at those numbers and somehow think that they are irrelevant? Is there nothing to learn from Facebook?
And that’s the thing, too: Game developers are looking at Zynga and its games for tips. The Facebook developer was the talk of the town at this year’s GDC (as the Wii had been years before), and its Vice President Bill Mooney was invited to give the keynote at the upcoming GDC Canada in May. With the size of their audience, is it any wonder? Developers of traditional games would probably kill to have the success in reaching out to non-core gamers, because it’s a market that remains almost completely untapped (other than, you know, Zynga). Plus, there’s probably something attractive in marketing games to a segment of the population that hears “piracy” and thinks of Johnny Depp instead of stealing games.
FarmVille won’t be king forever. Facebook won’t be, either – remember how MySpace was the social networking king half a decade ago? But even if these individual platforms and games die out, the idea of social media is here to stay. Not only that, but it will be most likely become more ubiquitous, as our society grows ever more connected. Even if it’s something so simple as maintaining a presence on Twitter and Facebook – or whatever site comes next – there are plenty of lessons that game companies are trying to learn from the rise of social media.
Yes, we know that Zynga has done some shady things, but this isn’t about its ethical practices (or lack thereof) – they don’t even enter into the picture here. Nor is anybody saying that you have to play FarmVille, or even that you have to like it – hell, you couldn’t get me to play it unless you paid me! But to loudly proclaim that there’s nothing relevant or important or newsworthy about what’s going on in the social media space just because it isn’t of interest to you just comes off like somebody sticking his fingers in his ears and loudly crowing: “LA LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAAAAAR YOU!”
If you saw somebody doing that in public in real life, you’d think that they were mind-blowingly juvenile. Singing “LA LA LA” on internet forums is no different.
John Funk does like Twitter, but keeps forgetting to log into Facebook.