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Posts Tagged ‘social games’

Last week I lamented the passing of a great iPhone company. No, they didn’t go under, in fact, they are probably rolling in money as I write this, but as much as I want to congratulate ngmoco I just can’t bring myself to. I don’t want to get back into this rant, but its become fairly obvious to me that they are a company that has become more interested in profits than in creating the quality, fun products they use to.

In this same vein, Ian Bogost, has been creating turbulence within the game industry by being rather outspoken on the topic of social games and why he is disturbed by them. Trying to wrap his head around these traits, Bogost has created a satirical Facebook game entitled Cow Clicker which boils down the  social game to its core components, clicking on something every few hours to gain resources. The genesis of the game and more information on what Bogost is learning can be found on his blog.

Of the four ways Bogost cites as the reasons he despises social games the two I agree with the most are his enframing and optimalism arguments. Both of these arguments focus on how these socials games treat their players and the “play” they are participating in. I have often wondered how well a game like FarmVille would do without the social backbone of Facebook to hold it up. Even iPhone copycats like WeRule/Farm use a social network component to “virally” spread about their respective markets. Play is nothing more than clicking on a timer with the goal of the designer to keep the player in the game space for as long as possible. This often results in the starting crop netting the best returns offering no strategy other than trying to guess how long will sleep so they can set their crops accordingly.

This is why I like Echo Bazaar, a a narrative heavy, web-based game by Failbetter Games that utilizes Twitter as it’s social network. The writing alone makes the game worth playing, but amidst all the narrative twists and turns there is actually game play! There are items to collect, stats to raise and numerous ways to get your friends involved instead of just using them as a resource boost.

I’ve heard rumor that companies are starting to try and make social  games like Echo Bazaar; a product with more game in it, but I want to see it before I’ll believe it.

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If you asked me at the start of the summer if I was an ngmoco fan boy I probably would have told you yes. Their level of polish and craftsmanship towards their games fascinated me and getting to meet their president Neil Young at the past GDC was a real treat.

At the start of the summer they had just released WeRule and had announced God Finger would be arriving in a few weeks and I couldn’t have been more excited.

But as the summer comes to and end I find myself respecting them less and less as a company. Why? Well with the release of WeFarm a few weeks ago it has become apparent to me that ngmoco is no longer interested in making fun, compelling, high quality games like they use to. Instead they are content with pumping out re-skins of systems that create traffic to their Plus+ network.

From a business standpoint you have to applaud them. They are making boat loads of money but I miss the early days when they made boat loads of money because they made awesome games.

If anything, this experience has made me more determined to not let money get in the way of me making video games. I wouldn’t mind being successful, but I’d hate to “sell out” and start pumping out clones so I could roll around in piles of money.

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Steam released a new game yesterday called Alien Swarm. If you keep up with my twitter you know I’ve been super excited about it and really enjoy it. The game is great and plays well, but the best part is the price, free.

Over the past year or so I’ve been noticing that Steam views their games as more of a service than a product (which is a weird way to think about things), but there are a number of game structures that allow developers to make money by offering their game as a service rather than a product. When I say games as a service, I mean that the companies are no longer creating a game and then leaving it on a shelf and never touching it again. Instead, companies are finding it viable to offer their players an extended experience by creating and altering content.

There are several ways to do this, and I’ve compiled a list below:

Content Delivery

Steam and flash based game sites like newgrounds.com and kongragate.com use this model. Games drive traffic to their platform, traffic which can then be turned into cash. Steam in particular is good about this, because the games made by Valve are always being worked on (it seems) which attracts new and old players back to their games. The genius thing is that in order to get to the games you have to pass by the store where they advertise new games and sales. So the more players play their games the more they are likely to buy other games.

Subscriptions

Many massive multiplayer online (MMO) games like Word of Warcraft and Eve work this way. Users pay a monthly subscription fee to gain access to an ever changing world where content is being updated and changed. Game companies do this to keep players interested and focused on their game instead of wandering off to play something else. World of Warcraft is easily the king of this arena since they have even gone beyond the digital space and creating boardgames, graphic novels and even toys based off of the online world.


Freemium (Free-to-Play)

Free to Play games are another area where you see games offered as a service rather than a product. This is due to the free-to-play model works off of players paying for premium content versus the masses who simply play the game. Games like Maple Story or one of my favorites Lost Saga keep updating their content like MMO’s to keep people interested and to lure people into buying new things. Lost Saga for example, is an action fighting game where players “rent” heros to use in battle. These heroes can be purchased with in game currency, which is won during matches, or bought permanently using real money.

Mobile

Mobile is an interesting area because it can fall under any of the other areas. I decided to separate it though because there are a number of reasons why a developer would want to think of their game as a service rather than a product on the mobile market.

First, by offering regular updates, developers are (generally) increasing the chances of people noticing their game because the game’s download rate goes up. This also has the added benefit of increasing the perceived value of your product which encourages future purchasers and keeps the current user base happy. Players are more likely to get excited about your game and tell their friends who will in turn buy your game as well. Mobile games also have an advantage the many games don’t; player have come to except advertisements as a part of the game space. This can give developers a reason to keep players interested and coming back to their game which means content updates are a must for games with advertisements in them. Finally, the mobile space is rapidly changing and requires developers to keep their products up to date if they want to stay competitive. Changes to operating systems and new phones being released on a regular basis pushes mobile games into the direction of a service over a product.

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Game journalist Leigh Alexander recently wrote a post on her blog Sexy Viedogameland about her encounter with a gamer on the subway who did not appear to be a gamer. Behind the ginormous baggy pants, askew ball cap and huge diamond stud was a man familiar with Final Fantasy VII (much to Leigh’s surprise). Neither of them expected the other to be a gamer, after all neither of them fit the “gamer” stereotype, but who does these days?

Video games are reaching that age where they have been apart of the lives of the generation about to raise their own families. I was even playing games on my parents old DOS based computer when I was as young as two and I’m on the young end. The kids who grew up playing the Nintendo and Sega have gone off and joined the working world, but they haven’t left those gamer roots behind.

At the same time, the casual and mobile game explosion has expanded the ranks of gamers across a spectrum that I would have never thought possible. My mother, a K-8 school librarian, plays Farkle and Plants Versus Zombies like nobodies business. Now your definition of a gamer might differ from mine, but I would consider her a gamer. She plays fairly regularly, when her schedule permits, and she can hold a conversation with my sister (definitely a gamer) using lingo that can make your head spin. Even if you don’t think that qualifies her as a gamer lets consider how much Solitaire she played before Farkle and PvZ. If I had to guess probably half the time my mother has spent on her home computer has been spent playing one game or another.

As Leigh plainly states, “We are proliferating. We should adjust our expectations of strangers.”

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We all commit design sins while making games. Whether it’s because of producers, time constraints or just plain ignorance, things get put in or removed that should not be. It’s time to take a look at our transgressions so we may cleanse ourselves and become better.

Earlier this week, I wrote about my concern with transferring Fuse to the digital space because it might possibly neuter the social aspects of the game. As an artist and a game designer, I feel that games (especially games with multiple players) are often much more than systems players are interacting with. There is something very special about gathering in a place, real or digital, and interacting with other humans.

As an iPhone developer I’ve seen and heard a number of ideas from colleagues for ports of games onto the device that  shouldn’t be. This often comes from a lack of understanding about how the device cannot support the social aspects that make the game they want to port a well designed game.

I encountered this about a week or so ago when I was approached by a fellow student who want some information about iPhone development. The game he wants to make is an iPhone version of Egyptian Ratscrew (ERS) which is a card game with an interesting system of mechanics. It also has a large amount of social interaction encouraged by the “slapping” mechanic. Regardless of the coding challenges involved in porting ERS to the iPhone, what concerns me most about the idea is how the social aspects of the game will suffer. Even if a player can network to play live with other players the feeling just isn’t the same. The excitement of slapping the pile and taking someone’s jack or misjudging and slapping the pile at the wrong time causing the player to draw cards isn’t the same. There’s no smack talk or interesting alliances/betrayals to be had.

It’s all cold, sterile game mechanics and where’s the fun in that?

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For the past week I have been play testing and refining a game design that I came up with over a weekend for a game I have decided to call Fuse. I want to thank my colleagues for helping me make this into something I am proud of (and plan to do more in the future with). This post will focus on what went right and wrong with the design and will briefly touch on what my future plans for Fuse.

The Good

Despite my initial concerns, Fuse played relatively well as a paper prototype. Taking cues from Entanglement, I drew separations where lines crossed to help player follow their paths easier. While this works, creating the game in a digital space would allow for the paths to be colored so they could be more easily followed. Thoughts of making this a board game have crossed my mind, but I would much rather see it in the digital space first. Plus in the digital space I make the tiles random!

The simplicity of the game also allows for several different game types which is a nice (and unexpected) outcome of the design. Currently, there are two head to head game types and another four player game type. I am in the process of testing a few others to see if they are fun (so far I’ve been enjoying them!).

Finally, this thing is actually fun to play! I’m kind of surprised at how much fun the play test sessions were. Everyone who played it said they enjoyed it and expressed interest in playing it again.

The Bad

Moving Fuse to a digital space does concern me a bit, however. I feel like some of the fun of Fuse lies in the social aspect of the game. Sitting around, shit talking with the opponents and the excitement of pulling off a big move appears to be a big part of Fuse. It has been my experience that social games do not translate well into a digital space where interaction becomes cold and electronic. I fear that the fun of Fuse will suffer in its digital form, but I honestly won’t be able to say until I see it and play it.

The Future

I’ve already talked about moving Fuse into the digital space and my next move will be to do that. I’d like to see it made in Flash or something similar and released on the net. I’m not entirely sure how I want multiplayer to work or whether or not I want the game to be synchronous or asynchronous. Either way, be sure to check back for updates on the status of digital Fuse.

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