We're seeing the birth of a new game genre, something that doesn't happen all that often; it's already acquired the monicker of "social game," which is a terrible name, in a way. "Social games" live on social networks, hence the name, but at least to date use the social connections those networks provide in very primitive ways. And after all, all multiplayer games are social, albeit some more so than others; a game like Elven Blood is actually far less social than, say, Spades or Diplomacy or Hundred Years War, since there are few ways for players to either help or hinder each other -- and no support for 'table talk.'
Virtually all the social games to date -- and all, as far as I know, of the RPG-ish ones -- have a common set of systems. Stats are money, attack, defense, energy, health, and stamina -- the specific names assigned to these vary from game to game, but their function is the same. Energy is used to accomplish missions, and regenerates slowly, typically one point every few minutes. Attack, defense, and stamina affect combat, generally against other players but in the case of Elven Blood also against NPC enemies. Health is lost in combat and also regenerates slowly; Elven Blood (unlike most others) also sells the equivalent of healing potions. Accomplishing missions provides experience points and money; levelling up allows you to increase your stats.
Money is also used to buy equipment, and most missions require you to own one or more equipment items; equipment also often provides stat bonuses (e.g., better weapons providing an increasing boost to attack). Most social games (but not Elven Blood) also allow you to purchase what we might call generically "territories," which provide an ongoing revenue stream -- in the Vampire-themed games, these are typically "minions" you "dominate" for an income of "blood," the currency in such.
All such games provide a strong incentive to invite your "friends" (that is, those whom you have 'friended' in the social network) to join; each person who does so becomes a member of your (in this game) "party" -- or mob, or clan, or whatever, depending upon theme. Many missions and some equipment becomes available only when your group is of some size --- higher numbers required at higher mission difficulties. This is why these games are viral, and spend virtually nothing on marketing; they spread quickly across the network, and some have millions of active players as a consequence.
These games are free to play, but there's a kicker; you can instantly regenerate health or energy, or gain a boost to party size, by spending "favor points." Typically, you begin with a limited number of favor points, but the only way to gain more is to do something that benefits the developer financially. That is, you can buy them via credit card or Paypal, or you can click through some damn offer and, e.g., sign up for Netflix or allow some ethically dubious spam service to send you email you don't want in exchange for points.
What's somewhat amazing about this is that it's actually a pretty lucrative business model -- some of these games earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a day for their developers.
The reason I'm writing about Elven Blood rather than, say Mobsters or Vampires, is because it has one innovative aspect that differentiates it from most social games and, at least to my mind, makes playing it more appealing: a story element, albeit one that's a fairly minor appendage to the game.
At any given time, you are in one 'location' in the game world, with missions tied to the nature of that location. There are also secondary missions that allow you to move to a different game world location -- these usually require you to own a riding beast (increasingly expensive ones for higher level areas). Thus, there is a sense of change, and of exploring and learning more about the world as the game goes on.
What is the appeal of these games? Well, for one thing, I, at least, enjoy games that I can play for short periods once a day or so. There have been others that allow this, but relatively few, previously -- but none have been remotely as popular as "social games," and it's interesting to see a genre that finally succeeds with the model. For another, it's interesting to see that the dopmanine drip of grind-and-level works even in an environment when "fulfilling a quest" simply means clicking on an icon. And of course, there's the pull of rising in level simply to unlock the next tranche of content.
These are, when you come down to it, pure PHP games, carried entirely in conventional HTML on the front end. Most do have a little Ajax counter to tell you when your next energy regeneration occurs, but that's about it -- everything else is static text and images. In short, these are really very primitive games from a technical standpoint -- but their popularity implies that future evolutions of the form may become more sophisticated and interesting. Not merely, one hopes, in a technical sense, however; what's surprising is how little actual player interaction is permitted, and therefore how crudely these games take advantage of the social nature of the environments in which they live.
Player interaction is, in fact, limited to two things: inviting your friends to play, and attacking other players. You don't get to attack just anyone, either; when you wish to attack, you are served a random list of characters of approximately your power. Combat is a matter of comparing your stats, along with those of your friends (other members of your 'group') against those of the defender and his or her friends. That's it; you can't maintain a vendetta against one particular player or group, you can't ally, you can't negotiate, you can't provide money or items. Even the term "group" is fundamentally meaningless; it's just a number, the number of people who have added me to their group with my permission. I'm in Karen's group, and she's in mine, but most of the people in her group are not in mine, and vice versa; there is no fixed group, no collective identity to which we belong, no team. It's just a number. Thus, there's no facility to take advantage of team competitiveness.
And yet even with these crude beginnings, you can see that this style of game can conceivably evolve into something more fascinating. So yes, play this thing -- and add me.