Mar 182010
 

The culture clash between social games and core gamers was on full display at GDC. I have been called a traitor to the cause of core gamers, even. :) At the awards show, when a Zynga rep claimed the social games award for Farmville and did a little bit of recruiting from the stage, he was not only booed, but someone shouted out, “But you don’t make games!” This is a common sentiment out there in the usual gamer haunts.

I have many many thoughts on all this — and I have been posting some of them in various places when discussions arise.

Yes, Farmville is a game. It just requires fairly little skill compared to games for “advanced” gamers. But by any reasonable definition of game, it fits perfectly.

You have to make choices (they are strategic choices rather than real-time, but so what? Games have a long tradition of slower play). The choices require knowledge and skill (the skill is what gets derisively called “spreadsheet gaming” by the cognoscenti, but that’s a brush that EVE Online and other MMOs have been tarred with too). You have to prepare for the challenge. You can screw up. You get rewarded for doing well, etc.

It may seem elementary to those who can juggle complicated business sims, but think of it as the training wheels version for novices to that genre, and you won’t be far off. I think people who didn’t play games in the early days forget that the level of complexity they enjoy today is a phenomenon of the last ten years, a symptom of typical genre development. Social games are more advanced than most of the games made from 1970 to 1988.

Yes, social games truly are social. They just work on somewhat different modes than real-time synchronous games do. Instead of rewarding real-time teamwork the way that group combat in an MMO, playing on a soccer team, or being a member of a chorus line does, they reward asynchronous behaviors.

Most specifically, there is a lot of exactly the sort of weak-tie social design that was intrinsic to Star Wars Galaxies and Asheron’s Call: stuff around gifts, networks of mutual benefit, etc. More, they are exploring some of these things in a deeper way than MMOs do (because MMOs fall back on the synchronous crutch). Which is more indicative of social ties, a user who logs in once a week for a raid, or a user who logs in every day to send every friend a gift? The answer is not straightforward, if you dig into social networking data.

Yes, it is arguably even an MMO. The core activity is single-player, but the features around gifting, fertilizing, helping build structures collaboratively, etc, are all massively multiplayer techniques. Oh, they are not yet truly virtual worlds, though some of them do feature real-time chat, and more will over time, because in many many cases it is a value-add of a feature.

Long ago, I posed the question of whether American Idol was an MMO. And in that post, I said

It’s surprising, in a way, how little collective action matters in most MMOs. Here’s a medium that allows it better than any other game type, and yet we still see fairly little collective action — and when we do, it’s raids — arguably, exactly the wrong sort of collective action to really play to the strengths of what virtual spaces can do, precisely because what MMOs offer is spaces with thousands in them, not spaces with a few dozen.

Well, here we are. Collective action is starting to matter in the social games, and it’s going to matter more, not less precisely because it is an assumed core premise of the genre.

No, social games are not what we think of as a virtual world. But as I said the other day, that definition is evolving.

Yes, social games make money. Do some Googling, people! And no, it’s not all from scams.Yes, there are shady practices. But not all games use them, and if they do, it is less every day as the market gets cleaned up. And even when they do, they are not the bulk of the money.

Social games are not just a fad. There have been a lot of comparisons to things like motion control, 3d imaging, and so on. But back in 2008 there were Gamasutra articles about whether retro-looking gaming was a fad; before 3d graphics got good enough, there were questions about whether it was a fad… the key thing to look at here is whether there are underlying technical and social factors that are pushing development in a particular direction.

In the case of retro looks (which are now a firmly established aesthetic), the answer lay in the somewhat complicated fact that a younger gamer sees all previous aesthetics side-by-side and does not judge their quality based on technology, the way that older gamers do. A push towards innovation and artistic intent in game design called forth the ghost of the 8-bit era, and the pixelated look became an identity badge. Tech helped this along — the rise of Flash as a common game development platform resulted in a “Flash aesthetic” driven by the display limitations that today we see in console games such as PixelJunk Eden and Patapon.

In the case of 3d, the march of technology simply made it work over time, and it evolved from gimmick to tool. This may yet happen with 3d displays as well, or motion control.

In the case of social games, you have to look at the overall context too. As I have been saying for quite some time, all games are becoming connected experiences. And it turns out that social networks are becoming the glue. They are sweeping away all the “gamer-only” networks that so many companies started.

The value in these networks lies in the connectivity to friends, the easy distribution of content across the social graph, the web accessibility, and so on. These are things that we now take for granted. The genie is not going to go back into the bottle.

Now, is the investment level going to change? Absolutely. The white-hot heat around the segment will definitely subside as everyone gets used to the fact that the market is here to stay.

No, social games won’t turn into core games. This is one of the misconceptions that AAA developers often have as they try to establish themselves in the market. It is absolutely true that social games are going to grow more sophisticated over time. But they will do so by growing further along the direction they have already been going.

If you look at the AAA game world today, you can trace just about everything in it to the early core gamer market. Video games got going with sports, dragons, robots, guns, jumping & climbing, and cars. Those were the first big ideas. And here we are now, decades in, and they are still the big ideas. Many other ideas have come along since, but somehow they have always been quirky, “outside the mainstream” — like, say, when Rollercoaster Tycoon, or Guitar Hero, or The Sims came along. The only way something like “playing house” can possibly be “outside the mainstream” is if there’s a subculture in charge.

Well, social games are here and they managed to get themselves established largely without reference to those tropes. As a result, they have a different set of starting premises. Many of the things that were “quirky” are “normal” and vice versa. Central design tropes  include cooperation rather than competition; asynchronous rather than synchronous play; social dynamics; and a very different set of core cultural references. There’s more.

What will happen over time is that this new audience will grow in sophistication. They already take for granted all of the elements of a farming game, for example. You can think of the farming game as equivalent to any other genre, and replete with design tropes that are exactly equivalent to conventions like WASD, hit points, skill point allocation, rocket jumping, and tank-nuker-healer, if you like.

All that is going to happen is a recapitulation of design history, only with a new of new assumptions embedded in the games:

  • a far broader set of cultural references.
  • a new and different set of core artistic choices driven by different rendering technology
  • a fresh and exciting set of design paradigms built around asynchronous sociability and large-scale weak-tie “guild” structures — hoo, is there a design essay lurking in the difference between a guild and a neighbor ring…!
  • a whole new set of business models and practices

What this boils down to is that social games will grow along those axes, and not magically turn into what core gamers today consider to be core games. It’s a mistake to think that the game development industry is going to manage to magically make this audience fall in love with sports, dragons, robots, guns, jumping & climbing, and cars.

But there’s hope for core gamers nonetheless: These games are the new home of “worldy” games, in some ways. And they are bringing neglected genres back to life.

Social games are going to push boundaries in design areas that are currently neglected. A renaissance in simulation and strategy games is likely, and I don’t think it is an accident that so many prominent AAA strategy game developers are in social games now.

If what you have craved is greater user agency and impact on a persistent world, a greater sense of community and economic interdependence — those are features that are intrinsic to this new market. As an example, I would point out that there was a core MMO game that many of the readers of this blog loved that had a farming game where you had to check in every few days to collect your stuff and decide what to try to harvest next. And it’s wasn’t Farmville. It was Star Wars Galaxies. In many ways, the features that were seen as oddest or least “gamer-like” in the worldy MMOs are going to be among core features in the social games: housebuilding, shopkeeping, farming, dancing, dress-up, even hairdressing. Right now, these are one-to-a-game. But one possible direction of development is that they not be.

I have thoughts on what all this means for the core games we know and love, but I’ll leave those for another day.

  112 Responses to “What core gamers should know about social games”

  1. Dude who got booed at the awards was on the offensive in a big way. He came off as rude and confrontational. i heard later that a group of game devs were clustered around the table near the stage, and when Farmville was called as the winner, they booed and hissed a bit … and then the Zynga guy got up from their table to go accept the award. Under those circumstances, i can see why he’d have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

    Zynga got KICKED at this GDC. Some of it was deserved, but most of it was was completely unreasonable Zynga-bashing, possibly out of fear. i have my own take on it (which i borrowed from someone else, because i’m easily influenced like that) that i’ll share over at my blog in a few days.

    – Ryan

  2. Dude who got booed at the awards was on the offensive in a big way. He came off as rude and confrontational.

    Not really. The recruiting pitch was certainly misplaced, but the “we’re just like you” call was reasonable and accurate. Bill Mooney was playing defense, asserting himself, his company, and social games as having a place at the industry’s main trade convention [and not merely at a special “kids’ table” online games conference.]

    Regrettably, the industry’s “insiders club” tradition persists. Just the other day, a friend of mine who worked as a designer on many landmark RTS titles was checking out a social game as part of his job search. I talked to him and he remarked, “I’m not sure I want to work in social games. Most of the people at [this company] have little experience creating real games and many of them have business degrees.”

    This tradition, or rather subculture, is what murdered creativity in Hollywood. Diversity suffers: insiders prefer to develop games for themselves and people they know, not consumers; they prefer proven models over new, presumably risky ventures because change is scary and threatens their worldview; and anyone not like them, in their opinion, does not belong within their ideosphere.

    There are many reasons why this attitude is alive and literally kicking. Unfortunately, there are few ways to counter. Mooney’s way is one: head-on and in public. We need more people to stand up and challenge the current order. Our way (see link) is another: rebuild the foundation while positioning diversity and inclusiveness as gainful strategies.

    And they are bringing neglected genres back to life.

    Some neglected genres were neglected with good reason. Many social games are obvious Excel spreadsheets (e.g., Castle Age, Mafia Wars.) There are no skills involved. Players are essentially on rails; all they need to do is click repeatedly, wait, and repeat. UI design tends to be awful as well. (I designed awful UIs for social games 10 years ago. They haven’t changed.) [And, yes, I realize that same criticism has been lobbed at MMOGs.] But then there are games like FarmVille and Pox Nora with high production values. Are social games evolving? Perhaps there is hope.

    The business of social games worries me more though. I know Metaplace is refocused on Facebook for distribution, but the idols out there may not last. Zynga has achieved substantial growth in only three years, but the company appears to be growing at an unsustainable rate. Mooney said they have 200 more positions available, in addition to the 1,000 or so already filled. There’s a great deal of investment in social games now, but VCs don’t seem to be thinking critically. The hype and controversy aren’t encouraging. Personally, I’m getting flashbacks of the dot-com bubble. Social-games developers would be wise to continue exploring the frontier instead of prematurely settling on a new, unstable status quo.

  3. Don’t get me wrong, I think there will be a continued place for these types of games, I just think developers are going to eventually have to put more effort into these games in the future. The skinner box design will only hold up for so long without new layers of mechanics and flavor. The current craze for social games will eventually ease up and level out, and without something more meaningful to keep people coming back, the market will stagnate. Yes, Zynga is doing very well and that has captured the attention of an industry looking to get a piece of that pie. But then again, a lot of companies have done very well in the past, and a lot of them have gone bankrupt.

    The open social platform of Facebook (and whatever eventually replaces Facebook in the social-network cycle) has great potential for very cool, innovative game design. I just hope we actually see an example of that someday.

  4. I think you need to look at the latest games that have come out, instead of just Farmville.

  5. @Raph,

    Tell that to the ivnestors. Fortunately, I think I might have found a couple that can see beyond Farmville and the rest of Zynga. There’s so much me-too in this industry, partly born from where the money comes from, that it pained me to see Metaplace close down in it’s previous incarnation. I was secretly hoping you’ld show the world that being innovative could pay off. Perhaps that was too much hope but regardless, I’ve literally been fighting the “So how are you a Facebook game?” mantra for the past year and a half. I’m not interested in making a Flash based video game nor am I interested in making yet another theme park world. I don’t believe 200M users is required to make great money in the MMO industry or the social games industry. Zynga has become the new 800 pound gorilla in the room. They are the new WoW.

    We forget that there was a time where games with a few hundred thousand players made companies piles of money on smaller investments. I kept seeing twitter comments about how Zynga has more employees than Facebook and kept thinking to myself, great, what’s their revenue like? Is it bigger than Facebook? All those employees only act to increase customer acquisition costs. Eventually, Zynga becomes so big, that the sheer volume of requests to Facebook developers cannot be handled by Facebook’s smaller staff. I’ll echo Morgan’s statement in that I think there’s a decided lack of critical thinking from a business standpoint happening here and I’ll add that it probably has to do with an overeager desire for VC money to get an exit worth talking about. That’s how the tech bubble started.

  6. Raph, good comments. But what about the developers who acknowledge that Farmville and its ilk are games, who know all too well that they make money, who see a promising (if different and more sane) future in these games, but who nevertheless *fucking despise* them in their current incarnation?

  7. Farmville is the Tamagotchi of the online game world. Tamagotchi is a single player game, and very much in the same vein of Farmville and it’s related entries. Tamagotchi’s were also social in many similar ways: they were all over schools, and in many kids hands. They were a kind of social water marker. Similar to Pokemon. I think that’s one reason why people think Farmville is a fad. Tamagotchi faded eventually. Pokemon is still very much around. The Pokemon brand is not what it used to be..but it’s evolutionary brothers still come and go.

    I wonder, if you took a survey of Halo or World of Warcraft players, and asked them how many of them owned or played a Tamagotchi…

    I honestly wonder what the numbers would be. Food for thought.

  8. Ian, they can either help change them, or… well, do nothing? And railing against them is helping change them, I do think — as long as it is done with understanding, not with just bile.

    I am not at all saying that they do not invite critique. They most certainly do.

  9. If “gamers” and “game developers” will insist on talking about “gaming” and “game development” as if thay are discussing a genre not a class then disputes like this are inevitable.

    Games will continue to exhibit the same variety as any other mass popular entertainment medium. Blockbuster movies have not pushed out romcoms, horror, animation, arthouse or any other genre or subgenre you care to name. A decade and a half of hiphop and rap hasn’t put an end to country or metal or any of the ten million tribes of music.

    Social games a la Farmville may or may not be a new thing. They may or may not be a big thing. What they certainly aren’t is the final thing, or the end of other things. A decade from now we will still have most of the same genres. One or two may have faded but even those will return. Popular culture can be created but not destroyed.

    Neither is there a limited pool of developers to make games or investors to fund games. If social games are wildly successful they won’t sop up all the talent and money like a big sponge leaving no-one to develop the “AAA” titles. All that will happen is more people will choose games development as a career and more investors will throw money at it and the whole shebang will snowball.

    The sky is not falling; the paradigm is not shifting. It’s just more stuff like the old stuff and it always will be.

  10. There’s something about this culture war that reminds me of several tech shifts that occurred during my career.

    The first was when computers went from being the domain of the pure geek (pre-PC), and moved out of the machine room. Computer geeks were contemptuous of desktops in the hands of mere humans.

    The second is when the Internet opened up from the government contractors and government and higher ed to…anyone… or when the AOL folks got set loose on the open Internet. Or heck, all the way back to the year I got on (1982) when internet population went up by a factor of ten (something like 500 to 5000…:) when DEC decided to use ARPAnet as their enterprise network, and flooded email, ftp, and USENET.

    Or, then again, every subculture (punk, hip-hop, hippies, pick whatever music or social tribe) who has their tight community’s cultural assets commercialized by “outsiders” and marketed as fashion.

    Gamers generally act like an in-crowd and a subculture — sometimes from group pride, sometimes from seige mentality! Therefore the commercialization of social games must be full of posers and people who have it too easy, and people who are making easy money off of our hard work and suffering, yada-yada…

  11. I’m always a bit confused by people who say something-or-other isn’t a game or isn’t “good” music or is a bad book or movie, without providing some clear context. First of all, some large percent of the judgment is going to be based on taste, and you can’t argue taste. I like certain kinds of music; others, not so much. For me to deride your taste is the worst kind of pride.

    I enjoy some kinds of core (we aren’t saying “hardcore” anymore?) games — strategy RTS, 3PS, god games, action RPG, 1pRPG — and not others — sports, racing, 1PS, action puzzlers, MMOs. Same with casual games. I like tower defense games, certain puzzlers, Peggle (god knows why), card games, strategy card games (MTG) and word games. I don’t like anything that even smells like math (sudoku), gem blasters, farming games, minesweepers, seek-and-find, adventures.

    What does that make me? A gamer.

    Everyone has probably already seen: http://tinyurl.com/ycwxfpx

    Carnegie Mellon Professor, Jesse Schell on the future of games everywhere. His point is that FB games are attractive because they’re closer to reality; you’re playing with (and trying to stiff) your friends. That’s a world-y game-y thing, even if the game is a spreadsheet. Hah! My spreadsheet kicked your spreadsheet’s ass!

    Nice post, Raph. I think it will be interesting to see if people can do more complex, more “old school” games on FB.

  12. Yes, social games truly are social. They just work on somewhat different modes than real-time synchronous games do. Instead of rewarding real-time teamwork the way that group combat in an MMO, playing on a soccer team, or being a member of a chorus line does, they reward asynchronous behaviors.
    Most specifically, there is a lot of exactly the sort of weak-tie social design that was intrinsic to Star Wars Galaxies and Asheron’s Call: stuff around gifts, networks of mutual benefit, etc. More, they are exploring some of these things in a deeper way than MMOs do (because MMOs fall back on the synchronous crutch). Which is more indicative of social ties, a user who logs in once a week for a raid, or a user who logs in every day to send every friend a gift? The answer is not straightforward, if you dig into social networking data.

    This is the one thing I don’t get, Raph. Why are asynchronous games called “social games” at all? I’m not certain that sending every friend a gift is necessarily a social event…and if it is, I can certainly do so with most in-game mail features in MMOs today. In game mail is, by definition, an asynchronous element within a synchronous gaming environment.

    Also remember, most synchronous MMOs, multiplay games and PBEM require a higher degree of co-ordination between players that, these days, go waaaay outside the gamespace provided. Skype, Vivox…all provide a social aspect that is not available in a Farmville scenario.

    I don’t know….color me boggled…but I just don’t see why “the industry” has just grabbed onto this. Mobile gaming dude…mobile gaming….more potential and bigger than Facebook will ever be. Seriously ;)

  13. […] there! If you are new here, you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.Raph Koster is correct. Farmville is a game. In the same vein that Tamagotchi’s are a game. In many ways, Farmville is the Tamagotchi of […]

  14. Raph, I find that a quite fair response.

  15. I think the main problem here is that a lot of social games succeeded for reasons well beyond game design. A lot of the current social gaming companies made it big because they were able to full (ab)use the Facebook platform to get a rapid influx of players. The “spam your friends!” systems that were heavily used in the past are now very restricted as there was a huge backlash by people who saw dozens of requests related to games every day on Facebook and were just tired of it. We could also go into depth (again) on the “scam” issue where some companies made a lot of money from dubious practices; maybe it wasn’t a lot, but at least one CEO has said that was what it took to get the company going.

    Now, admittedly, you can say that most big games succeed in a large part because of issues beyond game design or the quality of the game. World of Warcraft obviously got a huge boost from the Blizzard and Warcraft brand names and the benefit of having a huge budget for things like extensive marketing. But, I think most people will admit that there was still a good game underneath the brands and the marketing. DOOM took advantage of the rise of networked PCs and shareware at just the right time, but it was also a quality game, as another example. I think the only game that might even be closely related would be The Sims, but I have to believe that Will Wright put a lot of thought into the game and the system and what was fun, not just what would get the most people to play it.

    So, ultimately, I think that’s the sticking point here for many developers. Maybe we can call Farmville a game, but is it a good game? (And note that being popular game doesn’t make it good.) I think some good game designers judge it and find it wanting, not just because it doesn’t fit the core gamer profile (and I agree some game designers will do that, but not the good ones), but because it is pretty nakedly designed to be a “Skinner Box” and encourage obsessive playing, moreso than any MMO was.

    My perspective.

  16. I disagree with Ryan; but there’s no reason to take my word for it. The video is right here: http://gdc.gamespot.com/video/6253472/

    Fast-forward to 27:50.

    Here’s what he said:

    First of all I want to thank everyone who voted for FarmVille. We really appreciate it.

    It’s funny, however, that we’re in this part of the show, because we probably seem like a really big company. It feels like we’ve been established over a lot of you folks for a while, but two years ago there were 20 people sitting together in a crappy little room.

    One thing I really want to call out to folks here, especially you indie game developers, is you may not think of us as the kind of place you’d want to be involved in, but I was in AAA games for eight years, and it’s really nice to work at a place where you can just get it out. You don’t have to count on someone; no one can block you. You can try stuff. It’s a really good space. You should try it. Especially you indie folks: come show us what you can do. We want this space to grow; we want people to have fun.

    I want to thank a bunch of folks. I want to first of all thank Facebook and the other partners we’ve worked with. I want to thank the FarmVille team–over 75 people have worked on the game since its conception–we want to thank them and many other people at Zynga; all the folks who helped.

    And in particular I wanted to call out one last thing. I want to thank our People Ops group, and I want people to know that, whether you go into the space alone, or whether you want to join us — there’s something like 200 openings at Zynga, and many more opportunities across other places — seriously, think of Facebook and the social games space as the last big realm for indies. If you’re interested in making your own mark, please come join us.

    Thank you so much.

  17. I have been called a traitor to the cause of core gamers, even.

    Though I’ve referred to you as “going over to the other side” I think that referring to you as a traitor to the cause may be going a bit far. Rather, I respect that you’ve chosen to develop a type of game for an audience other than my own.

    Will Facebook resurrect Ultima Online? Perhaps. Facebook is connected to a lot of people, by virtue of being perhaps the foremost social network. However, thus far, all I’ve seen demonstrated is that its users are easily manipulated by pyramid schemes.

  18. Everywhere I look on the web these days, I see the Amarna heresy writ large and wide.

    It’s an interesting side topic: what is role of elites in society and technical systems development? For too many years there was too much talk of consensus, grass roots, bottom up and so on yet undeniably the phenomenon of Internet Time is not one of community but of the successes of elites and soon to be elites pummeling each other for position to be the one true intercessor to the User God. If there is a place that exemplifies this, it is Lost Angeles and the little suburb called Hollywood.

  19. Facebook games are the spawn of Satan. No I’m not a game developer, I’m just someone who plays them and overwhelmingly they suck. People play them because they’re bored and have nothing better to do and because they’re stuck with a browser open at work they can’t log into WoW without fear of the boss yelling. Otherwise noone would play them. They’re like “we can’t give our total concentration to this right now, so might as well play Mafia Wars”.

  20. This is the one thing I don’t get, Raph. Why are asynchronous games called “social games” at all?

    Probably because they live on social networks.

    I just don’t see why “the industry” has just grabbed onto this. Mobile gaming dude…mobile gaming….more potential and bigger than Facebook will ever be. Seriously

    In theory yes, but not while carriers and closed distribution models rule the roost. Many of the worst aspects of retail have been replicated in mobile, alas.

  21. Asynchronous interactions; a wider range of cultural references–these sound like they could be good. Even the change from pseudonymity to real-world identity might be OK. But … when I look at the actual games that have been built so far, they all seem a bit lame.

  22. Nice post. If you get around to that design essay on guilds and neighbour-rings I’d love to read it :-)

  23. I fully understand that Farmville is a game. I get that. It’s also the game industry’s new golden child. What doesn’t sit well with me is that this thinly disguised marketing campaign of a game that used questionable tactics to gain new customers is held up in the highest regard as an example of the games industry’s future. I don’t agree but I don’t agree for different reasons than many “Gamers”. I take part in many of the venture capital communities that back Zynga and other online tech ventures and many of these guys are so anxious to see their portfolio companies succeed that there’s not a care in the world about someone like Zynga’s revenues at all costs business culture.

    It’s even been turned into this mantra of “Fail Fast, Fail Often!” which often forgets about employees and customers in it’s cut throat method of determining if a business will work or not. That’s not the company I want to run yet that’s the company that plenty of wannabe VCs that linger from the better times want to see. If Zynga would have went about their business in a professional manner, like Blizzard for instance, then I don’t think there would be half the problems you see today. They didn’t; and to hold them up as the standard bearers for the coming wave of social games is irresponsible at best; reckless and destructive at worst.

    The problem is that their success keeps their culture at the forefront of the me-too attitude that is so pervasive in the games industry. I fear not what social games will bring to the industry. I fear what a company like Zynga will bring to the game industry.

  24. Speaking as a game designer who works at Zynga, it seems that our company and social gaming as a whole is largely misunderstood by the traditional game design community.

    We’re not here to supplant “core” gaming with the games we release. Our games are intended to be very quick experiences, something you can play for a few minutes between tasks at work or school, or before you begin your daily routine. While we certainly have room to social games more engaging and fun, “core” games will always be able to provide a deeper experience than “social” games, by the very nature of the experience they are designed to provide.

    I see a lot of experienced gamers complain that our games aren’t something they enjoy playing; I had a very similar attitude when I first moved to the social gaming industry a year and a half ago. However, I’d like to make 2 points:

    A) Most experienced gamers tend to give social games only a cursory examination and then declare them “too simple”. I would maintain that the social games that are most successful over the long term are very easy to pick up but have underlying mechanics that keep the player engaged after the newness of the game has worn off. If you aren’t willing to give a social game a week or two of casual play, you’re probably never going to see those additional mechanics.

    B) The games we make aren’t really made for experienced gamers. I had a little trouble with this at first, because I entered the space thinking ‘How can I make something that I’ll really enjoy playing?’ The fact is that most of the social gaming audience isn’t interested in a complex, highly-engaging experience…yet. Core gamers, as Raph mentioned, have an accumulated store of experiences and expectations that have been culled from years of gameplay. Most players on social networks are nascent gamers; they generally don’t have the larger context in which to frame their game experience and would be lost trying to play a “core” game. I think this is likely to change over time, however, and leads me to my final point.

    Social game companies are growing the population of game players by re-introducing the idea of playing a game to people who often haven’t played much of anything since their childhood and who generally wouldn’t identify themselves as “gamers”. Anecdotally, many of my coworkers are starting to find that their mothers are some of the most enthusiastic fans of their games – genuinely enthusiastic, because often they’d rather their mom stop asking them to send parts for a stable or ingredients for a spice rack.

    Some of these newly-created gamers will always be content to play light, simple games. However, a growing segment of this audience is going to begin to look for (and hopefully find) the sort of experiences that can only be provided by “core” games. This is going to require some adaptation and innovation on the part of game designers to accommodate these new players, though. Playing FarmVille for a few weeks may not be as enjoyable as playing through the latest RTS or FPS, but understanding how social games work on a fundamental level can, I think, lead to better game design, no matter what space you are designing for.

  25. Been there, done that. When I worked in the paper game industry 20 years ago, loads of my compatriots there felt that computer games were inferior to “real” roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons (because computer games lacked face-to-face interaction). When the paper industry dried up I moved to computer games, where in a few years the same thing was said about video console games and later online games: each was deemed inferior for one reason or another. Now I hear the same stuff about social games and cell phone games.
    As a gaming geezer, lemme give you some advice. If you want to have a long career in this industry, you’d better learn to be comfortable with all sorts of different styles of games on all sorts of different platforms, because the only constant here is change.
    Will FB “social” gaming survive? I dunno. But the more I hear industry folks condemn it, the better chance I give it of success.

  26. Hello, I followed the link from Broken Toys and thought it would be more appropriate to post a response here than there.

    First of all, I want to underline that I am not a “core gamer”. I don’t really have the pedigree for it, having come into computer gaming rather late. For instance, your list of traditional game subjects, “sports, dragons, robots, guns, jumping & climbing, and cars”, leaves me utterly cold. I haven’t owned a gaming console after the SuperNES because of my prejudice against console games, which I always suspected were full of that. As for MMORPG’s, full PvP games, the genre with which I have always associated said “core gamers”, aren’t exactly favourites of mine.

    So, you speak of social games, and I for one enjoy the debate and to some extent agree with you, even if it’s just on the general outline. But it’s when you get to specifics that I disagree, as I think you are chasing a pipe dream with your current outlook on Facebook gaming.

    First, you’re locking up such games behind a system that makes it impossible to play it if you’re not connected to Facebook. If you just want to play the game, without bothering to get into all that social networking, you can’t. In other words, the game is relegated to the backseat, as one more feature of a social networking tool rather than an end in itself. You might as well be designing an electronic agenda or calculator application for Facebook.

    Second, from that point, you seem to be working backward to extol virtues of social games based on the features offered/imposed by Facebook. The death of pseudonymity, for instance. There is nothing in the history of games that comes to my mind to justify this trend, except for Facebook imposing it. I can’t deny that some of your older posts, written long before Facebook, described trends that are now happening; and there is much by you that I can’t say I have read (including your book). But ever since the closure of Metaplace, and the announcement that you’re going Facebook, I tend to see an attempt on your part to frame the conditions of a game’s success precisely to what Facebook offers.

    Third, and this might explain the second paragraph, why do you see the need to uphold Farmville as an ideal example of social gaming? There is, to begin with, Zynga’s track record to explain away, as well as that GDC report that shows it wasn’t particularly well received by other developers. Then you have some of its flaws (based on others’ accounts, since I can’t play it, as I’m not on Facebook), that you try to explain away as “features”, like that whole asynchronous argument. When I strip all those concerns away from Farmville, all I’m getting at the end is that it’s an ideal example to you because it sells, not because it has good design. I hope I’m not being unfair, as you don’t appear to be the type of person to equate sales with quality. That’s what I meant by “loftier” on Broken Toys. And also, I couldn’t make sense of Metaplace when I played it, which I now can’t avoid having in mind when reading your posts.

    I hope you didn’t have me in mind when you wrote of people accusing you of being a “traitor” to “core gamers”, because I’m not one. However, what I want to avoid is being pigeonholed into a great mass of “casuals” to be tapped into; it’s already bad enough that I’m being held back by technology, preventing me from trying out new games in the first place. But I want nothing to do with Farmville, or any other games aimed at “casuals” that just exist on charts in a boardroom.

    Surely there’s a vast gray area in the middle between AAA games and Farmville-type social games. It’s mostly where I want to dwell; but with World of Warcraft’s dominance (with a speck of niche games for the “hardcore”) on one end, and your profession of faith on the other, I’m afraid this gray area might be going the way of the middle class.

  27. Shouldn’t “core” developers be thanking “social” games for expanding the market? These simple games ultimately open the door to more complicated games to players who weren’t previously gamers.

    And, yes, social games are already in an arms race to becoming more complicated and having higher production values.

    Zynga has some business practices that I don’t admire, but the nature of the games (simplicity) is what makes cloning and then out-marketing competitors possible. Games that reach a complexity bar and/or cater to a niche won’t be cloned as readily.

    What we have now is just the first wave of social games.

  28. Shouldn’t “core” developers be thanking “social” games for expanding the market? These simple games ultimately open the door to more complicated games to players who weren’t previously gamers. […] What we have now is just the first wave of social games.

    Social games emerged from the browser-game category, which has been fairly strong for at least a decade. CashWars grew from 0 to 340K players, logging 3.5M moves per day, in a year. Today, browser games continue to be popular, relative to development costs. Urban Dead has nearly 20K active players. Social games are neither new nor the first wave; they’re browser games distributed via social networks. That, the entry of established developers, and the increased availability of funding are perhaps the only new things about social games.

  29. I go into more detail here:


    http://www.frogdice.com/muckbeast/arrogance/are-zyngafarmville-types-games-damaging-the-market.html

    But in short:

    Zynga is a wildly successful juggernaut that uses a variety of questionable business practices to succeed in the market with products of dubious quality. Right now, many (if not most) people think they are an unassailable titan that will continue to dominate its sector of the industry and perhaps crowd out others. Their own staff are becoming increasingly arrogant about it (perhaps as a defensive mechanism).

    I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot like AOL to me.

    Either the Zyngas in the world will improve their quality over time, or they’ll go the way of AOL. I’m sure TMZ could use a little competition.

  30. Great article Raph, the folks that made FarmVille are hardcore gamers with prior industry experience (Epic/EA/Westwood/Etc.), and have been relying on the lessons we learned from those experiences and from being life-long gamers to make farm more fun but in a way that was re-skinned to include more people

  31. […] Raph’s Website » What core gamers should know about social games. […]

  32. The debate about whether these are actually games or not is silly and esoteric. And the debate about whether the new games folks respect or supplant the old-school gamer folks is equally silly and meaningless. The real issue with these so-called “social games” (Farmville, Mafia Wars, et al) is that they provide little value to their users or to society at large. The folks that make these games know that and we all know that. Of course, they will tell you while they don’t really enjoy these games personally (since they prefer more hard core games), but that there are plenty of nice stories about Mom’s with their children on their laps (i.e. the new demographic that we don’t really understand). Yeah, right. These games are not social at all. They don’t require any skill, just time. They don’t create anything new or creative. They don’t even exercise the player’s mind that way that crossword puzzles and sudoku do, (i.e. combating the “well sometimes I like to play mindless games” argument). The facts are clear: they have found a great arbitrage opportunity (addictive, shallow gameplay that pulls the user into either one of two things: giving real money or inviting other players. At some point, these games will either fizzle out or morph into something more interesting, but selling the current crap (and we all know its crap) can’t last…

  33. Booing the “social games” or claiming they’re “not games at all” is, essentially, crying out “But I want the public to like the kinds of hardcore games *I* like! Waaaaah!”

    A real game-design professional doesn’t, in most cases, just repeatedly churn out the kind of games they and their friends like best. They constantly seek to learn “What does the general public want”, and “What new thing could be invented that they would want even more?” What the average game designer/programmer wants to play most is, by its nature, a somewhat different animal.

    In the 1980s, I remember elitist home computer game developers railing on the inferiority of the 8 bit consoles and how they’d never want to work on games for them. I wanted to make games for those too, and I did. I almost wish I could say I’m surprised or dissapointed that modern game developers have this same “attitude problem” when/if the masses have different tastes than they do… But I long ago realized, even amongst the “insiders” in an industry – people who possess “cluefulness” are often the minority, rather than the majority.

  34. This is the one thing I don’t get, Raph. Why are asynchronous games called “social games” at all?

    Probably because they live on social networks.

    MMOs live in “social networks” that are provided by a client-server paradigm, so I see no reason why one is is called “social” and the other is not. Whether you’re in Facebook spamming your friends with Mafia hits or raiding a mob in EQ2, you’re still being “social”. Terminology is all wrong, too generalized to have any meaning. I don’t think this will ever move forward in the way you want until you actually define what a social game is beyond “hey, yeah, it’s in a social network”.

    I just don’t see why “the industry” has just grabbed onto this. Mobile gaming dude…mobile gaming….more potential and bigger than Facebook will ever be. Seriously
    In theory yes, but not while carriers and closed distribution models rule the roost. Many of the worst aspects of retail have been replicated in mobile, alas.

    So that means you guys don’t try to influence the course of distribution? Me thinks you underestimate the power that gaming has…look what it did for the PC over the course of 20-30 years. Again, I think the influencers in this industry (…including yourself…) are not looking long term. But yeah, it would be a tough fight. I truly believe though, that with the introduction of the iPhone (…Nexus One…etc), the telcos have now lost control of how the distribution model will evolve. So..in walks you guys to help it along just from the pure momentum it can have.

  35. Also, the game metaphor seems forced in many of these “social” games.

    In a traditional MMO, the game mechanics that encouraged social interaction made sense within the fiction: you can defeat the monster more easily if other people help you fight it; if you don’t have the skill to craft something you need (weapons etc), you can get it from another player who does have the craft skill; etc.

    Compare Island Life: I can “fertilize” my neighbour’s plants, but not my own. Sure, I can see that this is a game mechanic intended to promote social interaction. But, within the fiction, it doesn’t make any sense that I can’t water my own plants. (However, back in Real Life, I do ask my neighbours to water my plants when I’m going to be away on holiday)

  36. Did you see the Panel done by Free Realms where she went into depth about what didn’t work in Free Realms when the did MMO Lite?

    Very englighting.

  37. MMOs live in “social networks” that are provided by a client-server paradigm, so I see no reason why one is is called “social” and the other is not. Whether you’re in Facebook spamming your friends with Mafia hits or raiding a mob in EQ2, you’re still being “social”. Terminology is all wrong, too generalized to have any meaning. I don’t think this will ever move forward in the way you want until you actually define what a social game is beyond “hey, yeah, it’s in a social network”.

    It’s that there’s nothing beyond the social network, either. Most initial labels for categories tend to be imprecise, but if they work and they get used, they’ll stick. See MMO(RPG). :P

  38. I think much of the social games backlash from “real developers” is perhaps more related to the understanding that this is an even worse place for developers than consoles are.

    Who knew such a place even existed?

    This is due mostly to social gamings reliance on scale as something that fixes everything.

    For developers, Scale is fail.

  39. The real issue with these so-called “social games” (Farmville, Mafia Wars, et al) is that they provide little value to their users or to society at large.

    See, this is exactly the sort of wrongheaded thinking that made me write the article. You are just plain wrong. These users DO find as much value in these games as you do in your games.

    MMOs live in “social networks” that are provided by a client-server paradigm, so I see no reason why one is is called “social” and the other is not.

    I think it is too late to fight the terminology battle for the phrase “social network.” You are correct in a formal sense, but the fact is that the term for the sort of services provided by Facebook, MySpace, hi5, Orkut, etc, is “social network.” Hence, social network games, or social games. The games DO rely on infrastructure that only social networks provide.

    that means you guys don’t try to influence the course of distribution? Me thinks you underestimate the power that gaming has

    Alas, the handset owner (Apple) or the telco carrier have the final say o nwhat goes on their platform, and enough volume in users and enough developers to pick from that they feel no need to bend overbackwards for games, generally. Ask anyone who has been in mobile — Apple definitely changed things for the better in that at least you can actually develop now — used to be that even getting on the handset and getting the game sold was crazy hard! — but the distribution models are only somewhat better, not great.

    the game metaphor seems forced in many of these “social” games.

    Yup… symptom of early days, i think.

    this is an even worse place for developers than consoles are… This is due mostly to social gamings reliance on scale as something that fixes everything.

    I think this misunderstands the market…. but maybe I am not getting what axis you are referencing “scale” on. Can you explain?

  40. Terminology is all wrong, too generalized to have any meaning.

    Social in “social games” comes from “social networks” which, in common parlance, refers to the specific technologies that facilitate social networking, such as Facebook and MySpace. The term is accurate.

  41. Darren, there’s no reason my mobile and social have to be mutually exclusive, see Aurora Feint.

  42. The current use of the word “social” reminds me a little of what “RPG” came to mean. To be an “RPG” you need to provide

    A: Grind away at killing monsters (or maybe also crafting)
    B: Go up in gold, levels, power, collection of magic goodies, etc.
    C: Never ever RolePlay while doing A and B. (Except for 1% of your players who will anyway, and be mocked by the other 99%).

    “Social Game” hasn’t been hijacked as badly, since it’s at least hijacked by a subset of social games where people actually do socialize. But it is a subset, and many other games where people socialize aren’t lumped in with the games that got this nickname.

    As for “scale” – my impression as a developer moving from Apple ][ (maybe a few million) to Commodore 64 (wow 20 million sold) to PCs (currently over a BILLION) was that this “scale” thing is very good for developers. If you’re targeting a platform with more people on it, you get more players and you make more money. Developers like to make money. Same thing applies to shifting to a bigger distribution channel (like Facebook), a style of game or gameplay that’s vastly more popular, etc. Those represent “platforms” too as far as I’m concerned.

    Scale = win. Unless you’re talking about developers who can’t handle the technology design and/or implementation to handle millions of users (or the game design, even) in which case scale can equal fail. But it’s worth learning how to scale. Very worth it right now. Glad I started learning in the 90s. :D (Well, actually the 80s, but mostly in the 90s.)

  43. Games are games. Social games, computer games, board games, role-playing games, word games, wargames – if you like games, it doesn’t matter what the platform is, just that you like the game. This is the motive; you also need the means and opportunity, and this could well be platform-specific. As it happens, massively multiplayer online games are good at providing people with the means, motive and opportunity to play. MMOs give MMO…

    However, virtual worlds are not games: they’re places. Some have games embedded within them, but they’re still fundamentally places, not games. Achievers will treat them as games, but that doesn’t mean they are games. In my view, part of the deal with playing them is coming to the eventual realisation that they’re not games.

    I love games, and I love virtual worlds. If you only see virtual worlds as games, then you miss what they are; if you only see large-scale games as being massively-multiplayer, you miss what they are. Yes, games and places can share what makes them fun, but at root they are distinct. They deliver different things. You can’t have something that’s both a virtual world and a game any more than you can have Beijing that is the Olympics or Disneyland that is Space Mountain.

    Most of this argument we’re seeing in this thread seems to be dancing around this category error. What Raph seems to be saying is that it’s neither the games nor the place that’s important, but the players. I concur, but I don’t yet see how to reconcile their conflicting desires in a single overarching system that doesn’t ultimately come down on one side or the other. Whatever else Farmville may be, it’s not an identity workshop.

    Richard

  44. Great points made here. A large portion of the flak against social games is based on the assumptions made by the audience. If the audience assumes “synchronous team-based challenge entirely contained in the virtual world” and gets “asynchronous planning tasks that are simple to complete, but require real world interaction and networking to finish” the cognitive dissonance caused will activate their psychological defense mechanisms and cause them to do things like “rage against”, “assume sour grapes” or “make caustic jokes” to reduce the dissonance.

    I failed on my last project for this reason. Our game LOOKED like the identical twin of the former, but PLAYED as the latter. Players who looked at screenshots and hated the former never gave it a chance. Players who looked at the screenshots and expected the former discovered it didn’t do what they wanted and raged against it. Players who had never played or disliked the former loved it and became rabid fans, but they were too small a minority. Often, managed expectations can be far more important to a game’s success than fun.

    I think we all see that there is value in them PLAYING more like traditional online games, but perhaps there is also value in LOOKING less like traditional games? Some of the popular ones seem to do that, thus creating the “these aren’t games” comments. Maybe it’s _good_ for social games that core gamers are up in arms. Maybe it helps them be more successful by managing expectations. I don’t know, but it’s fun to think about.

  45. It’s about (in)tolerance. I don’t really enjoy most games out there. That doesn’t mean it’s right to bash them if others do. This is silly and childish really.

    The real issue is that some people seem to demand that all shoes fit them. And if they do not fit them but someone else there is rationalisation or just plain envious cooing about how that’s wrong. That doesn’t make sense and the solution is to simply reject that demand. Not every game needs to be core, not every game needs to be social, not every game needs to be clearly a game. In the end it doesn’t matter. This isn’t about categories at all, it’s about a lack of tolerance and perspective.

    We don’t have to choose sides at all. I enjoy some core games and some casual games. I enjoy some social worlds and some blends work well. The game for everybody very likely doesn’t exist just as much as the movie, the book or the song for everybody doesn’t. It’s taste, preference and all that and the right answer is to give a place for a range of tastes and preferences and to reject silly territorialism and “must be good for me”-mentality. And if something is successful, in the sense that it tickled a crowd (even if I don’t feel it was my tickle) we should applaud not boo.

    As for Richard’s dichotomy, I’d say MMOs/MUDs/IRC games are the perfect example of how game and place are not separable. People are in MMOs not just to play, it’s a social hangout place. But they are also not just there to hang out, but to play. People play casual games like Yahoo Bridge not just to play but to socialize. And the place makes meeting possible.
    I think taxonomies can get a little in the way at times. Certainly we cannot have Olympics without a place (say Beijing), so this categorical separation doesn’t actually gain us much. If we need both and people come there for different reasons (some mostly to watch the Olympics, some mostly to see sights, but most doing both!) we don’t do justice to describing the situation. How should we respond if Winter Olymics attendance booed the curling game because “it’s too casual”. That is interesting and something to actually counter. I’m actually grateful that Raph raises the issue. I was rather critical in the past for how he pushed against casual gaming. I think his perspective here is actually really helpful. I still disagree that core players are endangered, something that is still implied. If I go to the local GameStop I don’t see core games disappearing from the shelves. Recent PC titles such as Mass Effect 2 or BioShock 2 perfectly good at catering to a core mentality. There is a healthy stream of core console games (God of War 3 and an unending chain of war FPS) out there too.

    Lots of AAA titles are still core and probably will stay core. But a new market is emerging that discovers new customers and new business models. WoW didn’t kill PC AAA titles, it grew the market. That this is threatening to core playing styles is, I think, just misreading what happens. Noone is taking anybody’s cookies here, but new cookies with different flavors are being cooked and they sell, to new and different customers. So no, the fact that there are pony books in a book store doesn’t mean that adult SciFi is in trouble at all. And if the SciFi nerds hold disdain for the pony books it’s plainly a sign of being blinded by a lack of perspective.

  46. Games or not, Zynga and other, smaller companies developing these types of applications use very questionable tactics to basically build up a userbase in hopes of tricking some small percentage of them to give them real money for getting their “fix”.
    I’ve played many of these so-called “Social” games and it seems to me that they are all, pretty much the same game with different graphics. Click, wait, spam friends. Click, wait, spam friends… Gather more friends (even if they aren’t actually your friends) so that you can click more, wait more and spam more.
    Many of these games even use underhanded tactics to get you to spam your friends even more! I think Mafia Wars has over 15 different ways to “send gifts” or “request help” from your “friends”, most of which are nothing more than random “add-me” people who found you on an “add-me” group!
    Take for example the recent, very tiny change in Mafia Wars.
    The navigator between worlds… (drop down listing the four cities) has been located at the top right in one spot for many, many months.
    Suddenly and without warning this link was moved to the left and the original link was replaced with a very similar button initiates the VERY INTRUSIVE install of a “mafia wars” toolbar that is universally hated and avoided at all costs by those who know what kind of crap it is.
    FishVille (another Zynga game). Its coinage that you can buy with real money is called a “sand dollar”. They give you a token number of these to get you going. Then, they make offers to you which specifically do not mention that they cost sand dollars (instead of the more easily gained, “coins”) so that they can take those paid for sand dollars from you without you calculating the actual value. (value is much different when it’s real money than when it’s in game “coins”)

    Social games operate on the same principal as drugs. You load the game, you spend a few minutes in it to make sure you didn’t miss anything and then are REQUIRED to go back into the game periodically to “keep up with the jonses”. If you do not you will fall behind and you will lose.
    In other words, the basis of the game is you playing it. THAT is the game. There is no real skill needed at all. Simply play the game often enough to get your fix and you are “winning”.
    It doesn’t even matter if you enjoy playing the game. It’s a DRUG you HAVE to have.
    Farmtown/Farmville whichever: That game involves so much clicking that people make their hands sore playing it and yet, there they are, planting and watering and harvesting! Why? Because if you don’t your plants will die! You can’t let your plants die, can you?

    To me it is these very questionable practices which make me not call them games. They are activities that can occupy you for short (or sometimes very long) times but nothing more.

    And also, there is very VERY little social interaction in these games. The only thing that makes them “social” is that they leverage the social platform.

  47. Good for you, Raph. It’s hard to make an accurate report like this in the face of the hate and rage at those hardcore gamers that can’t believe that the money, the attention, the culture is moving away from them, when they think it should go the other way (Jane McGonigal in fact is the last gasp of all this insanity, as she thinks hideous MMORPG culture should be overlaid on RL, like Ed Castronova. Ugh).

    The reason the Farmville games, which are essentially girls’ games, succeed and grow and make money is because:

    o you can’t get killed in them
    o you cannot be a ganked newb in them
    o you don’t have to go on a dumb complicated needlessly complex quest in them
    o you don’t have to skill grind in them
    o you don’t have to fight or beat bosses in them

    Instead, you can do things that people enjoy doing:

    o grow stuff
    o cultivate stuff
    o build stuff
    o collect stuff
    o display stuff
    o socialize and show more stuff

    etc.

    Not the stuff of gaming legends, but the stuff of enjoyment for more millions, and more profits for companies.

    I wouldn’t be too quick to put The Sims in a niche. The offline game is social, too, and involves trading stuff and the characters and game settings. The Sims Online has a lot of potential and I think it will be back someday with better graphics and games and user-generated content when EA.com is ready to be like Sony Home.

  48. <who nevertheless *fucking despise* them in their current incarnation?

    I'll tell you what people *fucking despise*. They *fucking despise* politically-correct didactic "serious games".

  49. *hate and rage OF those gamers

    Yes, it’s a culture war. Shava is right.

  50. Big-budget fantasy virtual worlds are “dead” because almost everyone making them is a bunch of retarded fuckups who fail at the basic tenets of software development. The market is too mature for people to put up with the sort of incompetent bullshit shoveled by the likes of Mythic or Funcom.

    There’s exactly one MMO developer that puts out serious professional-quality product, and surprise, their name is Blizzard and they’re drowning in money. Meanwhile the “old guard” throws away tens of millions of dollars on high-budget garbage like Warhammer and Tabula Rasa.

    It ain’t just Blizzard’s budget. The old guard has wasted too many mega-million dollar budgets making crap games for that to be the only factor. Blizzard is just the only major MMO developer that’s actually good at their jobs.

    The rest of them are incompetent boobs left shuffling around having their asses kicked by WoW, and Farmville, and anything else that comes along because that’s just the natural place of incompetent boobs.

  51. @Prok:

    I mostly agree, except that there is level grind in these “social” games. Take Island Life (to pick on Raph’s game again–sorry!). You go through the plough/plant/harvest cycle over and over again to gain enough XP to be able to buy the higher-level items. Looks like level grind to me.

  52. WindupAtheist>There’s exactly one MMO developer that puts out serious professional-quality product, and surprise, their name is Blizzard

    Isn’t this a little unfair on the likes of CCP and Bioware?

    Richard

  53. @Richard Bartle

    I think WindupAtheist’s rant was unfair to CCP but I have to ask, if CCP is so successful, why haven’t others tried to copy their business model? Where’s the Eve Online set in sword and sorcery? Where’s the competing Eve Online in the space genre? As for Bioware, I think the jury is still out until they launch their new MMO but grouping them into the retard group is unfair.

    The sad thing is, he has a point. TSO, WoW, EQ, EQ2, WAR, DAoC, LotRO, AC, AQ, AoC, SWG, CoH, CoV… are all essentially the same game with a different setting. It’s the same thing that happened in the MUD days when a stock Diku arrived on the scene. Everyone grabbed the same basic premise and iterated a small portion of it to make it different. When I look across the landscape, only Eve Online stands in stark contrast to the theme park games mentioned above.

    So, when Farmville comes along and shows success from a different angle, MMO developers get scared. They only know how to make the above games. Wait, that’s not fair. Designers have long since known about the simulation, gameplay and community design triangle. Hell, the laws of online game design are littered with references to social gameplay. Yet, for some reason all we get from AAA MMO titles are small iterations on the same basic EQ theme.

    What I fear the most from the emergence of Farmville is that the business side of the world will not continue to see the value in large budget AAA games. It’s as if the indie film is killing the blockbuster. When VCs are at GDC saying, why invest millions in a game when we can invest much less than that and iterate the game after launch, I’m worried. The money to explore alternative designs for AAA MMO seems to be drying up and I don’t know if it is possible to launch a MMO and iterate it to success. There’s far too many examples of failure telling me this isn’t possible. So Farmville represents a battle for the investment money. It represents a battle against the VC herd mentality. (89.7% of all VCs are lemmings) Zynga’s questionable user acquisition strategies only feeds this battle. It convinces the lemmings that there’s money to be made. Unfortunately, that could mean that ten years from now we’re railing against the landscape of Farmville clones instead of EQ clones. *shrug*

  54. Ten years from now? I think we already are?

    That said, i think your list of “same game with different setting” is way way off. Sims Online, SWG, and EQ2 the same game? Really?

  55. i meant STO. You’re right that TSO is a fundamentally different game. I’d put that one in there alongside Eve Online. SWG after the redesign is essentially the same game as the others. Prior to the redesign, it was so much more. Both SWG and TSO suffered the same fate of not being like WoW which is a matter of playerbase size. They could have been quite profitable games for their time but because they didn’t get WoW numbers, they were seen as less than successful. Now we hear people saying that not even the mighty WoW can get Farmvilles numbers and somehow that means WoW’s business model is fundamentally flawed. You and I both know that’s not true but it does stop the VC money from believing as much. Hence my point.

  56. why haven’t others tried to copy their business model?

    That’s hardly a measure of success, Derek.

  57. I think WindupAtheist’s rant was unfair to CCP but I have to ask, if CCP is so successful, why haven’t others tried to copy their business model?

    Missing the point. WindupAtheist was complaining about lack of test coverage, not lack of innovation.

  58. “The real issue is that some people seem to demand that all shoes fit them

    some becomes more as a culture of instant virtualized gratification continues to grow. What examples of time consumption can be any more guilty of this cultures needs, then the ever growing investement of monetary resources on “games” and “virtualized singular acheivement activators”. which can describe all “games” and place them outside of real life actions and consequences whos cause and effect dont stop at GO. and rarely collect a free 200 dollars..

  59. […] Ralph Koster informs us what core gamers should know about social games. […]

  60. Derek Licciardi>I think WindupAtheist’s rant was unfair to CCP but I have to ask, if CCP is so successful, why haven’t others tried to copy their business model?

    He wasn’t complaining about success or business models, he said that there was exactly one MMO developer that puts out serious professional-quality product. CCP does put out serious professional-quality product, and so does Bioware (which hasn’t launched its MMO yet, but it certainly puts out serious professional-quality product).

    That said, CCP is successful. 300,000 subscribers is very respectable. As to why other people haven’t copied its business model, I’m not sure what you meanL: surely their business model isn’t a lot different from any other subscription-based MMO? Do you mean their gameplay?

    >Where’s the Eve Online set in sword and sorcery?

    This is like asking where The Lord of the Rings set in outer space is. EVE as an MMO is a product of its subject matter. The kind of people who like the kind of thing that EVE does are the kind of people who like the kind of fiction EVE has on offer. Club Penguin and Habbo have millions of users more than WoW: where’s the sword and sorcery version of either of them?

    >Where’s the competing Eve Online in the space genre?

    There’s been AO, Earth and Beyond, Tabula Rasa and SW:G, but they haven’t had EVE‘s success. Some of this may be to do with mistaking technical expertise for design expertise, or with launching far too prematurely, though.

    >The sad thing is, he has a point. TSO, WoW, EQ, EQ2, WAR, DAoC, LotRO, AC, AQ, AoC, SWG, CoH, CoV… are all essentially the same game with a different setting.

    A lot of the gameplay is similar, but some do have (or, did have) quirks. The changes are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, though, I agree.

    >So, when Farmville comes along and shows success from a different angle, MMO developers get scared.

    Yes, but this is misplaced. It’s like a restaurant chain being worried because there’s a new kind of chocolate bar come out that everyone loves.

    >They only know how to make the above games.

    In terms of technology, they could make many more games; what’s holding them back is, as you say, their lack of vision in design. This is probably down to lack of vision in business: I don’t think all MMO designers are incapable of doing something new, but I do think that publishers are extremely conservative when it comes to weighing up “100% chance of giving you a 10% return on investment versus 75% chance of giving you a 1,000% return and a 25% chance of losing the lot”.

    >What I fear the most from the emergence of Farmville is that the business side of the world will not continue to see the value in large budget AAA games.

    They’ll see a new goldrush and go for that, yes. Why put your money in MMOs when you can put it in Facebook games? In theory, though, this should open the door for indie developers who don’t have the budget but do have the gameplay. We should be seeing more innovation as a result.

    >The money to explore alternative designs for AAA MMO seems to be drying up

    Too much has been spent to no avail.

    The future of MMOs isn’t in the AAA titles, though – they merely stifle the chances of new titles. I’m starting to see investors looking to launch a portfolio of games using MMO-ready new IP, with the idea that the first one that gets traction they will then parlay into funding for a full-blown MMO. This allows for some experimentation without the “you say there’s a 25% chance I’ll lose THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS?” obstacle. So iteration to success is definitely in the pipeline. I hope it will work, but we haven’t really seen it in action yet except for free-to-play titles like Puzzle Pirates and Earth Eternal, which have yet to take the final step (if, indeed, they intend ever to do so anyway).

    >So Farmville represents a battle for the investment money.

    This is where the problem is for MMOs, yes, at least until the second wave comes crashing in and there are so many floods of Facebook games that getting yours played becomes a marketing exercise.

    Richard

  61. @Richard: I typed out a nice formatted response to your reply three times this morning. Each time the javascript on the preview window crashed my browser.

    The short of my reply is that point taken on misreading WindupAtheist’s post. We seem to agree in more than a few places so it’s easy enough to not rehash those. Couple of misunderstandings:

    1) I was talking about CCP’s vision for Eve gameplay which also happens to be their vision for the business side of the house. I think the two are synonymous in that the way CCP believes it can make money is intrinsically tied to the way they design Eve. I’d be very surprised if CCP released a theme park static world MMO and I’d have to eat my words here if they did.

    2) I don’t believe that developers only know how to make EQ clones. That’s mostly what’s been released to date but as you say, it’s probably a function of business more than anything else. I agree.

    The biggest question I have after reading your response has to do with terminology. We’re tossing around indie, AAA and niche all in the same thread. What makes a niche MMO? Budget? Subscriber base? genre? Conversely, what makes a MMO, AAA? Finally, how does an indie developer create a professional-quality MMO? Can it be done on a shoestring budget? I think we need to clarify the terminology we’re using to better make our points.

    Until we’re talking about the same kind of MMO, we can’t discuss how the entry of Farmville as a close alternative to MMOs impacts funding for a given MMO or type of MMO.

  62. Lessions of ‘social’ gaming:

    * Free is popular – if you want to inflate your numbers beyond any reasonable comparison to subscription-based games, offer limited gameplay for free. Without the free component, Farmville’s numbers would look like Shadowbane on a bad day.

    * ‘Free’ is profitable – If the best stuff is only available through spending real cash on the game, then the minority of players that give you money may end up giving you a LOT of money to have the best, latest, hottest gear or other content.

    * The client is bad – Going to the store to buy a box or suffering through a four-hour download before you can even start to play is an obstacle. True, you almost inevitably get a MUCH better game for the trouble, but you won’t get the numbers you can get with some cheesy piece of fluff that loads in 15 seconds through the browser. For free. Did I mention ‘free’?

    * Players will market your game for free – Well, you do have to pay them in a sense, but you can pay them in virtual goods in exchange for posting countless advertising blurbs on their Facebook pages.

    * Update frequently – This is the one I wish core developers would take to heart. Many of the top ‘social’ games are on a weekly or biweekly update cycle. Compare and contrast to a typical MMO schedule of monthly, quarterly or even annual updates. Players are voracious. Feed us.

    Not to invalidate the other points, but I honestly believe they are minor factors at best. If Farmville were not free and readily accessible, it would have flopped like a 200 lb halibut. Trying to draw parallels between the ‘social’ games and MMOs is like trying to compare MMOs to MS Solitaire. Sure, it’s popular (free and accessible), but that doesn’t mean we need to emulate it.

  63. […] the social virus, not the game. Raph has a length post up on his site talking about social games being considered by some as ‘second class’ citizens of […]

  64. […] at Hardcore Casual posted a response to Raph’s post about social gaming.  In it, he asked this question: On the one hand the allstar of social gaming […]

  65. […] Note: This is a guest post by Metaplace.com founder Raph Koster. It originally ran on his personal site, and we're reprinting it here with his […]

  66. Derek Licciardi>I typed out a nice formatted response to your reply three times this morning. Each time the javascript on the preview window crashed my browser.

    Yeah, I’ve taken to copying text when I’ve typed a lot into a box, I’ve wound up gnawing my keyboard from crashes too many times…

    >I was talking about CCP’s vision for Eve gameplay which also happens to be their vision for the business side of the house. I think the two are synonymous in that the way CCP believes it can make money is intrinsically tied to the way they design Eve.

    They make money primarily from subscriptions, don’t they? Their gameplay is different to most MMOs, so people with different attitudes will (and do) subscribe to it, but their basic business model is the same. The business model for a burger stand is the same as for a popcorn stand, but they’re selling different things.

    I don’t think we’re in disagreement here, we’re just using “business model” differently. I think I’m maybe thinking more in terms of the revenue model.

    >We’re tossing around indie, AAA and niche all in the same thread. What makes a niche MMO? Budget? Subscriber base? genre?

    I’d say it was an MMO that was targeting a particular interest group, rather than a broad range of interest groups.

    >Conversely, what makes a MMO, AAA?

    It’s had a gazillion dollars spent developing it, and looks as if it has had at least half that amount spent on it.

    >Finally, how does an indie developer create a professional-quality MMO? Can it be done on a shoestring budget?

    Well the vibes I got from last year’s IMGDC were that you can try it either by using the right middleware or by choosing a platform for which “professional quality” has a lower threshold (eg. flash/browsers).

    >Until we’re talking about the same kind of MMO, we can’t discuss how the entry of Farmville as a close alternative to MMOs impacts funding for a given MMO or type of MMO.

    Indies don’t have to worry about funding because they know they’re not going to get any. Niche MMOs can be indie or second tier, or even AAA (although I doubt the developers consider AAA titles as being niche MMOs). AAA titles could need funding if they’re being developed by an indie-made-good that has shown it can do it on a smaller scale, or by a name designer/producer building a start-up; this is on the grounds that they can be trusted not to throw investment money down the pan as fast as regular indies or start-ups.

    Richard

  67. We’re tossing around indie, AAA and niche all in the same thread.

    Indie (or independent) usually refers to the relationship of one company to another. Zynga is an independent company, for example, because the firm’s management structure is largely self-contained (i.e., they do not work for an Activision or an EA.) When that’s not the case, indie refers to an angsty developer subculture, a subculture that primarily pits “suits” against “creatives” and everything that entails.

    AAA usually refers to the supply of money. The AAA title has a multimillion-dollar budget. The AAA developer has millions to spend. The AAA publisher has even more to spend on publishing AAA titles. Of course, merely having is not enough—using the supply is the qualifying factor. Also, sometimes AAA really should be AAA-like, typically meaning that a title appears, evident by its nature and production, to have received a significant investment.

    Niche is almost exclusively a reference to market segmentation. Niche products appeal to specific market segments. Niche markets are pieces of a whole. “Small” is a common interpretation, but with a big enough pie, the pieces can be fairly sizeable.

  68. Given that companies like Playdom are starting to act kind of like publishers, I think there is a case to be made at some point for Zynga & others of their size not being indie anymore, but the establishment. :)

  69. And WoW has suddenly become a “niche” game, as they all should be called now. It all depends on where you are standing.

  70. It all depends on where you are standing.

    Sure, but where you are standing can be the wrong place.

  71. Or maybe it would be better to say that you might misread where you are standing. Lost and trying to sell Farmville as a full scale MMO would be an example.

  72. Hey if you really want to append “Oh yeah and CCP too, they’re okay!” to my little rant, that’s cool. But Bioware needs to make an MMO before anyone can speak to their level of quality in that department. Because this ain’t exactly the same Bioware that made KOTOR. It’s Bioware Austin, it’s filled with the usual suspects, and it belongs to EA.

    Like I said on f13, most of these MMO companies just don’t have the chops. Can you imagine if Nintendo came in and announced they were making an MMO? Would a company like… say… Funcom or EA-Mythic ever be able to compete with them? Even if you gave Funcom/Mythic/whatever all the money in the world? Hell no.

  73. Thanks Raph for making another good article. I think these social games are neat. They’re like the old school Newgrounds games but with working internet functions that you can see your friends’ progress.

    Additionally you mentioned SWG which is awesome. SWG was a neat game with a bunch of subgames. You really could make anything your style of playing.

    Also playing SWG I realized that it was much like “real life.” There’s goals you want to accomplish and then you put in the time to do that.

    Lastly, Someone should game-a-fy real life like what you mentioned in your other article. Who ever can figure out a virtual system of giving achievement marks to accompany people’s goals will be a rich man.

  74. Pharmville is the Carrie Underwood of gaming… which is a step down and sideways from Brittney, which would be HoodVille (GTA for FB).

    But yeah, FB, F2P, Virtual Money… all here to stay, a great throwback to small, local social circle gaming and a gateway for noob players and developers.

    I may never play anything but subscription gankfest open world cpu frying pvp games but I’d tell you you were crazy if you were trying to build on that model or any model that doesn’t include FB, F2P, Virtual Money.

  75. </strongAlso, the game metaphor seems forced in many of these “social” games.

    As a consumer, I can say from my own experience, the game metaphor is very forced in most recent MMO releases too.

    ‘social gaming’ is gaining because the games being made by ‘real’ developers are, on the whole, utter crap.

    And that’s from someone who has spent his hard earned money on many of them.You know, one of the people you are trying to sell to when you code the ‘real’ games.

    The list of utter dross marketed as MMO’s grows longer by the week.

    if I am going to play crap, I’ll play the free one thanks. That’s the attitude that should worry you, not some developer that’s simply giving people an alternative to the traditional ‘real’ game.

    Make your games worth the cash. people will then play it. Put out dross, they wont.

    Look at that as the industries problem, not what some guys are making out of facebook.

  76. […] game designer and VW expert, Raph Koster said recently, VWs aren’t dying, they’re metamorphosing into something new.  Right now we’ve […]

  77. The misconception that social / Flash games etc… aren’t real games is a sticky issue. It’s not something that’s just going to go away. It’s going to take time for people to realize, and by that I mean mainly core gamers and many core developers, to accept that this school of games as “valid” video games. And, as you’ve said, the new generation of gamers are growing up with retro games and 3D games simultaneously now. Which is a pure win for developers.

    Certainly for the most part, I’m equally guilty, as I’ve thought the same way for a while. But, at the same time, I still do have those feelings on a per-game basis. There are some games *cough evony* that are just scams, incredibly poor in execution, or have hardly any “game” in them, that it wouldn’t really be accurate to call them games. Also, a lot of these games online are just crap. Let’s face it. Even if these crap games are financially successful, it’s going to be a point of contention for developers making hard efforts in producing good stuff but getting little reward. A product being good and a fan base being large can be mutually exclusive. We see this everywhere.

    The fact that this new area of the market is saturated with these faux games, unfortunately paints an ugly picture for the legitimate ones.

    On the whole Zynga rep thing, I do think, even though I’m technically not “in-the-industry” (yet), the whole recruiting thing was in poor taste. Being an indie award ceremony and saying come work at my giant company would of course not go down well. It kinda goes against the spirit of the community there.

  78. On the whole Zynga rep thing, I do think, even though I’m technically not “in-the-industry” (yet), the whole recruiting thing was in poor taste. Being an indie award ceremony and saying come work at my giant company would of course not go down well. It kinda goes against the spirit of the community there.

    Bill Mooney spoke at the GDC Awards, not the IGF. Also, if you read the transcript of his speech, Mooney was not recruiting for Zynga; he was recruiting for the whole social games space. He could have delivered his point more clearly though.

  79. Even if these crap games are financially successful, it’s going to be a point of contention for developers making hard efforts in producing good stuff but getting little reward. A product being good and a fan base being large can be mutually exclusive. We see this everywhere.

    Time to revive the Art versus Entertainment argument? Yeah? Yeah? :)

  80. Ah, right you are Morgan. My memory probably blurred the two ceremonies together, as I watched them back-to-back.

    He could have delivered his point more clearly though.

    This would be my primary point Morgan. His statements sounded somewhat ambiguous.

    Hahaha Michael, please no.

    Can’t they be both?

    Dammit no! What have I done. Just walk away :P

  81. WindupAtheist>Hey if you really want to append “Oh yeah and CCP too, they’re okay!” to my little rant, that’s cool.

    OK, fair enough.

    >But Bioware needs to make an MMO before anyone can speak to their level of quality in that department.

    Well, strictly speaking your little rant didn’t say that the company had to create quality MMO content, just quality content. I agree, though, that the quality of their MMO output has yet to be proven.

    >Because this ain’t exactly the same Bioware that made KOTOR. It’s Bioware Austin, it’s filled with the usual suspects, and it belongs to EA.

    It’s been in development for many years, though, so doesn’t entirely bear the stamp of EA.

    >Can you imagine if Nintendo came in and announced they were making an MMO? Would a company like… say… Funcom or EA-Mythic ever be able to compete with them? Even if you gave Funcom/Mythic/whatever all the money in the world? Hell no.

    And Nintendo’s expertise in designing this game would come from where, exactly?

    Nintendo could make yachts or moon buggies or robot trout if it wanted to, but that doesn’t mean they’d be any good. It’s a big mistake to think that just because a company is good at making computer hardware and computer games it would be good at making MMOs.

    Of course, it’s also a mistake to believe that a company that has made one MMO is good at making them, which I think is what you’re basically complaining about here.

    Richard

  82. While I agree with most points of this very stimulating article, there is a point I strongly disagree with: the fact that FB games are “social”.
    To me, they are about as social as a hotel room is social. Many people get there “asynchronously” but they have no social interactions. They communicate through automated messages and very often, they have zero actual interactions: in Cafe World, your customers have the faces of your friends, but they are just robots. In Farmville, sending gifts and receiving them is devoid of any actual communication or, most of the time, even of any person-to-person relationship.
    Social gaming is actually almost not social at all. Most FB games are just using viral techniques disguised as social interactions to increase their population without bothering to offer any actual social interactions.
    I believe the next generations of social games should be actually social, with personality-to-personality interactions (synchronous or asynchronous), and that’s what I’m working on.
    Fabrice

  83. I think Zynga’s flavor is losing favor among social gamers because of limited or no synchronicity. There are newer Facebook titles that are MMOs – primitive, but recognizable as such – and offer real-time interaction with other players. They’re small at the moment, but I think as the target audience becomes more accustomed to gaming, and their options become more numerous and sophisticated, growing numbers of people are going to happily abandon their farms and move on to games with more interaction and more crunch.

  84. I’ve been beating this drum for the past week or so, and i think i finally figured out the best way to explain the whole facebook games issue.

    i’m going to post this comment on various forums and blogs i’ve been following where this topic has come up. so don’t be suprised if you see this exact comment somewhere else on the web… this is a fairly long post so bear with me.

    the key issue that a lot of pro-facebook individuals are overlooking is the fact that facebook games are INFERIOR goods, therefor the common thinking that an increase in quality leads to an increased demand is simply not true. inferior goods behave the exact opposite.

    In consumer theory, an inferior good is “a good that decreases in demand when consumer income rises, unlike normal goods, for which the opposite is observed. Normal goods are those for which consumers’ demand increases when their income increases.”

    lets use an inferior good that most people can relate to, Ramen Noodles. i love Ramen Noodles, as a college student i can’t tell you how awesome Ramen Noodles are… but, as soon as i start making enough money to afford something better, i’ll gladly never taste another Ramen Noodle again.

    Like Ramen Noodles, facebook games are only going to be consumed when we can’t afford anything better (in this case the cost is time and energy). so we’re only going to play facebook games when we don’t have enough time or energy to do something better… as soon as we have more time and energy available to us, we will stop playing facebook games and move on to other “better” games. (just like how we only purchase Ramen when we can’t afford something better, and as soon as we can afford something better, we stop buying Ramen.)

    it’s the same as if you went to a store and there was the regular old Ramen, and sitting next to it on the shelf was a New and Improved Ramen… regular Ramen is 15 cents a package, while the New Ramen is 25 cents a package… which one are you going to buy?

    well the fact that you’re in the market for Ramen means that the most important thing to you is COST (lowest time and energy investment).. so you’re going to buy the cheapest product, quality doesn’t matter to you. (otherwise you would have headed for the steaks instead of the ramen)

    quality games require a time and energy investment not found in facebook games… and it’s this lack of investment that makes facebook games appealing… as soon as you cross that threshold into a “good” game, then the cost (time and energy) required to participate in the “good” game becomes too high, and the demand for that game will drop off… because once a game becomes “good” then it is a NORMAL good, and facebook users cannot afford normal goods… they don’t have enough time or energy.

    facebook games are inferior goods… “good” games are normal goods. facebook users WANT inferior goods because it suits their playstyle and it’s all they can afford… normal goods will not perform as well because facebook users simply cannot afford them… it’s like trying to sell a steak to a poor person who only makes $1 a week, he can either buy an extremely tiny steak that would last him less than a day, and he’d go hungry the other 6… or he can buy a week’s supply of ramen… which would you choose?

    i’m not saying you won’t see good games on facebook, but good games won’t benefit anything by being on facebook.

    besides, would you really rather log into facebook to play civilization? and deal with all the extra crap that facebook brings? or would you rather play the game like normal, but have an app that connects the game and facebook?

    personally i’d rather have the regular game, and then an app that automatically searches my facebook for friends that also have the game, and then adds them to my in-game friends list. then i can easily interact with my friends in-game, but i don’t have to deal with all the ads, spam, random messages, that i’d have to put up with if the whole game was played through facebook. also an app could be like the PSN app that shows what you download from PSN in your facebook feed.. so in this way you could easily share your accomplishments in-game with your facebook friends, without all the intrusive facebook stuff… i see more benefits in keeping the game and facebook at arm’s length, than you could get by tightly integrating them.

    do you really want your civilization gaming to be interrupted by random friends telling you about the awesome party they went to last night? do you really want pop ups notifying you of all the farmville gifts you just got intruding on your gameplay? do you really want ads in the sidebar distracting you from your gaming? or even worse, ads IN the game itself?

    all of the above things are what make facebook games successful. these things are fine when you’re playing something with little to no gameplay, like Farmville, but when the gameplay becomes more engaging and more interesting, and requires more of your attention, like Civilization, are you really going to put up with all this extra crap distracting you from the “good” gameplay.

    basically what i’m trying to say is that facebook is a platform for inferior goods, not normal goods… so the thinking that higher quality leads to higher demand, which is generally true for normal goods.. is not true for inferior goods and therefor facebook.

    i hope this makes sense, it’s the best explanation i could come up with.

    – Logan

  85. Logan, I think that’s actually a pretty good analysis, but there’s some additional wrinkles.

    One is that you are perceiving some things that are considered virtues by the Facebook gamer to be negatives. The best example is this quote:

    would you really rather log into facebook to play civilization? and deal with all the extra crap that facebook brings? or would you rather play the game like normal, but have an app that connects the game and facebook?

    To the average Facebook user, the install/download/requirements/etc of the “like normal” are the “extra crap.” They are on Facebook all the time, and consider that to be normal. An app download and install is a huge huge barrier. So to them, the answer is “yes, we’d rather play it on Facebook.”

    Similarly, there’s a false analogy in thinking of ramen vs steak. Think instead of canned tuna vs escargot. You work your way UP to escargot. It’s more of a specialist’s food. Games are the same way. There is a very large amount of presumed knowledge needed to be able to play a typical core gamer game.

  86. besides, would you really rather log into facebook to play civilization? and deal with all the extra crap that facebook brings? or would you rather play the game like normal, but have an app that connects the game and facebook?

    By the way, this looks like it’s happening already. The Settlers 7 was released yesterday and one of the features is Facebook/Twitter integration for announcing your achievements.

    I’m not familiar with The Settlers series, but I’m pretty sure this is a core gamer game… and it’s pretty much just one step away from what you’re describing. I might actually get it, as long as I feel certain I can keep it away from my Facebook credentials.

  87. To the average Facebook user, the install/download/requirements/etc of the “like normal” are the “extra crap.” They are on Facebook all the time, and consider that to be normal. An app download and install is a huge huge barrier. So to them, the answer is “yes, we’d rather play it on Facebook.”

    you’re right Raph, i’m definitely coming at this from a core gamer’s perspective… but keep in mind that any BROWSER game can do away with the install/download/requirements/etc:…. and doesn’t need to have all the “extra crap”…. those properties you mention aren’t something that only facebook games can provide… so they really can’t be considered a solid selling point when there are other platforms that offer the same features.

    facebook’s selling point is the fact that it contains a large number of users that are interested in inferior games… smart developers will tap into that… not so smart developers will go and try to build awesome games.. and then wonder why they don’t do very well.

    smart developers will feed the masses canned tuna, not so smart developers will try and force escargot down their throats and wonder why the masses would rather have the inferior tuna.

    basically the point i’m trying to get at is that facebook games are NOT the future of “real” gaming… they’re the future of “casual” gaming… but when i hear people, especially people in the industry talking like facebook is the savior of gaming and is going to “bring gaming to the masses”… it irks me… instead they should be saying that facebook will “bring inferior gaming to whoever wants it.”

    i guess the whole idea that facebook will somehow save gaming just rubs me the wrong way… if it does “save” gaming, then it’s certainly not going to save it with “quality” games.

    you even mention in your OP that facebook games are going to continue down the path they’ve been heading, and your description of what types of games wer’re going to be playing in the future “housebuilding, shopkeeping, farming, dancing, dress-up, even hairdressing.”… are not exactly the activities i envision as the “saviors” of gaming.

    facebook games are barely games.. if you are really intent on calling them games then you must at least admit that they are absolutely terrible games… yet somehow people in high places have managed to put a spin on it and say that these “terrible” games are the future… that future scares me.

    also, this isn’t aimed directly at you Raph, you seem to be one of the more levelheaded, realistic people in this debate.. and i don’t recall you claiming that facebook is going to be the “savior” of gaming or anything like that… but the people that do make wild claims like that need a solid dose of reality right about now.

  88. When we talk about Facebook being a savior of gaming, it’s meant in the context of “saving the gaming business from eating itself with high production costs for generally poor ROI and a dwindling audience share.” And in that sense, it’s absolutely valid.

    If the sense of “saving gaming culture,” the answer is heck no. And your section on what rubs you the wrong way reveals which side of the debate you’re actually on. :) You seem pretty comfortable using “inferior” in both the economic sense and the value judgement sense.

    Here’s the way I would put it. We’ve always said games would be mass market. It turns out that meant THIS kind of game, not the kind of games we had been making. But we dreamt of mainstream legitimacy — this is what it looks like. Be careful what you ask for, basically.

    To me, “housebuilding, shopkeeping, farming, dancing, dress-up, even hairdressing”… are exactly the activities I envision as the “saviors” of gaming. But I have been pushing that particular agenda for a long long time…!

  89. “saving the gaming business from eating itself with high production costs for generally poor ROI and a dwindling audience share.” And in that sense, it’s absolutely valid.

    Et tu, Brute?

  90. ahhhhh…. that makes a lot more sense now…. why the heck haven’t i heard it put that way before!

    i know the gaming industry is in a bad place right now, and things just seem to be getting worse and worse… i guess it just doesn’t seem right that the games that could “save” the industry are just plain bad games… if they can be considered games at all.

    it just seems counter-intuitive that something that is barely a game at all can be the savior of the gaming industry..

    on a slightly related note… we’ve all heard the horror stories of the gaming industry, and we all know that these stories are only the tip of the iceberg… maybe this is the businessman in me, but i can’t help but think that the problem with the industry is just plain poor management… it seems to me like good management could solve damn near every problem with the industry right now… i know it’s more complicated than that, and i haven’t worked in the industry personally, but i think that poor management is a bigger problem than the size of the market.

    then again, if the new upstart companies and facebook game developers can find good managers and rise to the top because of it, then i guess that could work out doubly well.

    i’ve never really been against facebook games, i just didn’t like how they were thought to be some sort of “holy grail” for gaming…

    i still don’t like how simple and mindless they are… but i guess as long as the people making and playing them understand that being simple and mindless is what makes them successful, then more power to them… just don’t make them out to be something they’re not.

  91. i still don’t like how simple and mindless they are…

    They’re gambling games without the gambling. But saviors? Doubtful.

    Social networks are marketing and distribution channels; they provide opportunities for growth and increased market segmentation. High production costs, generally poor ROI, and dwindling audience share are difficult obstacles with many complex reasons for being. A wave of the magic Facebook wand will not simply disappear them. In all likelihood, social-network games will have to confront the same challenges.

  92. I was wondering when someone would draw the conclusion that Farmville is much closer to a gambling video game than it is to a MMO or any other traditional game. Interestingly enough, the mainstream game industry has the same aversion to gambling games that it does towards these new Facebook games. Perhaps that’s because both are completely up front about the money making motive, a motive that tends to hide the “Art” aspect of games which doesn’t sit well with people that build games for the love of building games. Hell, that might even explain the general backlash against RMT in MMOs, but I digress.

    Zynga comes out and says we built a game for one purpose, to maximize ARPPU; doesn’t apologize for it and in fact develops metrics based game design with the sole purpose of achieving this goal. VCs love the idea because it makes wads of cash just like they loved the idea of gambling back before the days of regulations. Hmm… The public lashes back at Facebook over the spam. Facebook begins to regulate how the games are distributed/advertised. Ok, now I’m surprising myself with the analogy. There’s alot that is similar between Facebook social games and gambling games and that’s without getting into the design of the Skinner box premise they are built upon.

  93. To me, “housebuilding, shopkeeping, farming, dancing, dress-up, even hairdressing”… are exactly the activities I envision as the “saviors” of gaming. But I have been pushing that particular agenda for a long long time…!

    That’s another reason I’ve abandoned the latest MMOs and returned to Sosaria. Ultima Online is a deep, rich, complex game with twelve years of content and systems. But… it’s only as deep as you want it to be. If you want to log on once a day and check your plants, you can do that. If you want to park yourself in a player tavern and chat idly for hours on end, you can do that too.

    I think the “ramen noodles or steak” illustration of the “inferior goods” concept is valid, but it overlooks the fact that an MMO has the potential to be both noodles AND steak.

    I can enivision an MMO that starts with something like UO’s gardening system – a simple matter of logging in, checking your plants, watering them, applying potions as needed, cross-pollinating, buying and selling the supplies you need on a designated public gardening vendor. Want to save some money on those supplies? Here’s the alchemy system. Oh wait, there’s a character skill required – here, let’s show you a little something about how skills work…

    You don’t need to go into alchemy if you don’t want to… you can enjoy the gardening game indefinitely without it. And alchemy could be a stand-alone game that interfaces with gardening. The “grind” we all love to hate is meat and potatoes for the Facebook crowd.

    String together enough of these stand-alone games with interesting interdependencies, and you could end up with a virtual world that’s as rich as WoW or UO or SWG, but with multiple points of entry from systems that might have previously been considered throw-away minigames.

  94. […] take heart, core gamers.  (that’s what you’re called if you A) like MMO’s and B) don’t like […]

  95. […] What core gamers should know about social games […]

  96. […] success of social networking games like Farmville and are scratching our collective heads and wondering what it all means for both game designers and […]

  97. Pardon the late response Raph….

    I think one thing is missing in your analysis, if you will pardon me. And to understand it you need to understand the operating procedures of its leading player.

    They are not a game company in a traditional sense, they are a social engineering company, and sociology in the 21st C. is all about statistics. The gameplay simplicity of these games masques a stat tracking system of a sophistication to make any TV network (or even NASA) drool. They day by day knwo exactly what their game playing population, in aggregate, is doing and that day by day drives changes to the games to fine tune and drive the behaviors they care about; those being acquisition, retention and monetization.

    They are, in all likely hood, the most scientifically sophisticated game developers of all time and it all comes down to measurement and response. No one can argue with their success or the degree to which it has allowed them to wring the few drops of blood that exist from the stone that is Free-2-Play gaming.

    But, are they a game company? really? Most of us, I think, got into this space because we wanted to create Fun. (Seems to me you wrote a whole book on that subject.) But Fun can’t be measured. Attachment can be, but thats not the same thing as fun… heroine addiction has a pretty phenomenal attachment rate.

    So, while I salute their success, I do pause at calling them a very successful *game* company. Someone I knew once who ran sales for a panelized home company once said to me, “We’re a sales and marketing company. Home kits are just our ‘widget.’ ”

    I’d say the same things about these folks… where the widget is something that looks vaguely like a game.

  98. But Fun can’t be measured.

    Fun can be measured. Did you read Raph’s book? Basically: fun happens when players learn; when they stop learning, fun ceases. You can measure whether players are learning, what they are learning, and how they are learning. You can then design systems that keep players learning, but such systems can be prohibitively expensive to both developers and consumers.

  99. Sorry I totally disagree… there are a few things wrong with your assertion.

    (1) Raph’s book is called “A *THEORY* of Fun”.
    Not a definition of Fun. Th most applicable definition of theory in websters is: “: a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena ”

    Which is to say, its a hypothesis, not a fact.

    (2) If learning was all it took to create fun then kids would be jumping over themselves to get to school. A small *subset* of us (nerds) find some forms of learning fun. The truant officers serve as an existence proof that this is neither universal to all situations nor all people.

    (3) You cannot measure learning. Educational theorists have been trying to do that since the 50s and failing dismally. At most you can measure ability at certain specific tasks and attempt to correlate it to learning, but this no more a direct connection as the attachment to fun one.

  100. Oh and (4) I think, given his argument above, even Raph would question such an exclusive definition of fun these days. People learn very little from social games, and what they do learn generally stops very early. they keep playing because of social involvement.

    Now you can argue as to whether social involvement equals fun. I think its not a 1:1 correspondence myself.

  101. heroine addiction has a pretty phenomenal attachment rate

    Yeah, me and Claudia Black forever.

  102. :) Ask anyone about my spelling and typing… its the stuff of internet legends.

  103. Social involvement has a lot of learning in it.

    You can measure fun by measuring physiological responses. It’s expensive and hard. :)

    Jeff, I think your point is more about company culture than about whether Zynga is a game company. In one sense, they create and market games, therefore (dot dot dot). In the other sense, sure, a company can self-identify with any number of goals.

    I think it is dangerous to say that these sorts of games are not fun. They most definitely are for plenty of people. Just go ask them. I think we tend to make judgments like that based on what *we* think is fun.

  104. Not a definition of Fun.

    Theory requires definition.

    If learning was all it took to create fun then kids would be jumping over themselves to get to school.

    Education and learning are not synonymous.

    The truant officers serve as an existence proof that this is neither universal to all situations nor all people.

    People have fun learning different things.

    You cannot measure learning.

    Whether players are learning, what they are learning, and how they are learning can all be measured.

  105. […] comments did not go over well in the room. According to a blog post by Raph Koster, the former chief creative officer for Sony Online Entertainment and now the founder […]

  106. […] Choice Awards 2010. You can find some interesting musings on it on ZDNet, as well as by Raph Koster and by Josh […]

  107. […] guru Koster teases out the impact of social games as: ” The value in these networks lies in the connectivity to friends, the easy distribution […]

  108. […] off, Koster has been a rare traditional-gaming advocate of the form. Here’s what he said in a long blog post from earlier this year: Social games are going to push boundaries in design areas that are currently neglected. A […]

  109. […] What is more social: primarily single-player, asynchronous, asymmetric (but primarily collaborative) games like Nightclub City or multi-player, […]

  110. Why are there so many social games on Facebook that are concerned with farming?…

    Part of it is the huge success of Farmville, but we still need to remember that there were farming sims on Facebook before Zynga. So while Farmville’s success leads to imitators, saying that’s the whole reason is like saying people made “Doom clones…

  111. […] indépendants à rejoindre Zynga. « Mais vous ne faîtes pas de jeux !« , lui aurait crié un développeur en guise de […]

  112. 2013 20:27…

    Raph’s Website » What core gamers should know about social games…

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