People gripe about social games being hyper-optimized Skinner boxes. I want to bring us back to the reality of a long-term perspective on game design by skimming through the history of cheap design practices that made people pay. If anyone can think of a Disingenuous Design Practice(tm) that I missed, please note it in the comments.
Submitted by the99th on Thu, 04/22/2010 - 04:25.
Submitted by costik on Tue, 04/20/2010 - 17:19.
This started as a comment on this post on Farmville, but I realized I needed to expand it and expose it more.
No professional ever ignores money. The very definition of "professional" is that you do it for money. I have at time done non-commercial work, either for my own amusement or at the request of friends, but the vast bulk of my design work is indeed aimed at earning me some money. There's no question, however, that I would have earned a great deal more money over my lifetime by choosing a career path other than "game designer." This is also true of every other game designer I know. In other words: the pursuit of money is certainly part of what we do, but it is not everything that we do.
To be an artist is to pursue an aesthetic vision. To be a professional artist, you must balance the two; that is, you must work for a market, whether that be gallery owners, patrons, social network users, or some other source of income; yet you must always keep the aesthetic characteristics of the work uppermost in your mind, and at times you may feel it necessary to make decisions that ameliorate the marketability of your work for the sake of the work itself. This is a contradiction to some degree, but the two objectives -- aesthetics and money -- are not opposites; they are orthogonal to each other. As a professional artist, you seek to do work that occupies the upper quadrant: both aesthetically pleasing and monetarily rewarding.
The problem with social network games -- rather, one of the problems with social network games -- is that they give the suits, if you will, the whip hand. Have a design idea? Try it out! If the metrics say it increases our ARPU, then it's good! Keep it! If not, kill it. (ARPU is "average revenue per user", a telephone-industry term that's been creeping into the discussion of online games recently.)
In other words:
- Social network games produce easily trackable metrics.
- It is thus possible to expose a portion of your audience to a new feature and determine, with no possibility of argument, whether or not that new feature increases your revenues or not.
- It is, however, impossible to use the same metrics to determine whether or not, say, your players now feel they are having more or less fun, or whether they feel they are having a more or less emotionally impactful experience, or, indeed, to track any aesthetically meaningful criteria.
- Consequently, the design of social network games is driven entirely by business rather than aesthetic criteria.
From the perspective of, say, an aggressive Internet entrepreneur, this is heaven; you don't have to cater to those annoying game design dweebs and their abstruse theories, you just try shit out and if it works you keep it.
From the perspective of those of us who love games, however, this is far from ideal; it means that development is not driven by "what makes for a good game" but "what makes for increased ARPU", which are not by any means the same thing.
I will mention that I have designed one released social network game, provided a preliminary design for a second that may or may not every see the light of day, and am in fact working on a third at present, which again may or may not see the light of day. I am not arguing that the nature of social network games is problematic because I utterly despair of the form; indeed every form of business has its problems and constraints. But there are aspects of the business I find troubling.
Submitted by the99th on Tue, 04/20/2010 - 16:56.
I play social games largely because it's part of my job to be up on the competition, though there are a few that I've felt compelled to play regularly. Social City was one, Hotel City's slot-machine clicks on customers was another, Treasure Isle is the one right now. I also played Country Story, Gangster City, Tiny Town, Restaurant City, Cafe World and Farmville - which I'm still mired in only to get a sense of the co-op feature they just launched. I've since discontinued most of the games and only play Tresure Isle and Hotel City anymore. This experience taught me something that may be insightful for indies wanting to cut a piece of this market.
I don't link to any of these games because they're not worth it.
Submitted by costik on Mon, 04/19/2010 - 17:09.
That's A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz's description of Farmville in a screed taking the game to task. It's worth a read, albeit his claim that Farmville does not meet Callois's definition of "the game" is highly debatable.
Things are actually, however, worse than Liszkiewicz realizes; social games are in fact refined, user-tested mechanisms for extracting money from players for nothing. The combination of SQL-derived metrics over a large player-base and the ability to test minor variations in gameplay quickly make these games examples not of the ars ludorum, but of financial engineering.
(I'm working on another social network game at the moment, btw.)
Submitted by costik on Sun, 04/18/2010 - 01:59.
I took the subway out to McCarren Park in Brooklyn today to help test a game Eric Zimmerman is designing for the Come out and Play Festival. The game involved three teams of people wandering a maze, some of them with "walls" they could use to block off doorways, and others trying to find and tag others in the maze. Since this was a test, the walls of the maze were represented by bamboo sticks laid on the ground of the park, and the portable "walls" by more bamboo sticks -- you'd find a doorway you wanted to block and plant your stick in the ground, "no pasaran"-style.
Naturally, we had to try to pretend that we couldn't see through the "walls," so were wandering around keeping our heads down and looking at the ground and trying to ignore our peripheral vision.
While we were doing this -- 8 men and 1 woman either of or approaching middle age -- a young woman comes up and starts filming us. Eric asks what she's doing, and she says, "I'm a dance student, and I'm interested in how you are moving."
I'm sure it looked odd, but this struck me as very Williamsburg.
(Well, technically we were in Greenpoint, but close enough.)
Submitted by the99th on Tue, 04/06/2010 - 22:01.
Here's my story produced by my play session with Jason. It's kind of goofy; the tug-of-war and breakings of character are evident, and it ends weakly as a result. It still manages to have, in my opinion, a few poignant moments unequaled in any scripted game narrative.
Submitted by the99th on Sun, 04/04/2010 - 18:18.
So Tommy of Team Meat did a rant at GDC about the iPhone which, needless to say, I quite enjoyed, though not as much as the gameriffic comment thread. That thread comes complete with Paul Eres trying to be the voice of reason amidst the mammalian impulse to "be right" about something which no party has any stake or influence over. Reminds me of politics, maybe we should just replace presidential voting with Android vs. iPhone. Tommy made a game in a day, racheted up the price each time people bought it, sold a few for north of $200, and in the process seemed to demonstrate the the iPhone market isn't such a deep market, then Apple took that game down, now they've made a Meat Boy version in a day. The plot thickens.
Submitted by the99th on Wed, 03/31/2010 - 03:08.
Playdom has recently bougt a 5MM USD equity stake (and board seat) in social game developer Metrogames, which happens to be located in Argentina. If you aren't a fan of Madonna's acting career or a regular reader of this blog, this may be the first time you even heard of Argentina. But what you definitely haven't heard is that Playdom also bought long-time adver-game/Bola! developer Three Melons, and is the second biggest client of Globant (after EA's AAA division, ironically). Globant, in case you haven't heard of their readiness already, is the second largest employer of game developers in Argentina, after Gameloft. It seems like at least a third if not half of employment opportunities in Argentine game-dev are related to social games.
Submitted by the99th on Sat, 03/27/2010 - 20:04.
A long-time honorary reviewer, Ulillillia represents all this is pure in our hearts, and he has embodied that energy in his first published book, The Legend of the 10 Elemental Masters.
I haven't read it, but I have a feeling it might just change your life.
Submitted by the99th on Thu, 03/25/2010 - 14:59.
Below is a video that will shock you into a stunned sense of impending doom, like a somnambulistic man dreaming he is a deer caught in the headlights of imminent future shock. Are you prepared to click through?