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The Frustrating Success of Facebook Games

December 29, 2007

“There are still a few kinks Facebook and the makers of Parking Wars are trying to iron out. We appreciate your patience as we try to fix these issues. Your problem has been logged – if it persists, please come back in a few days. Thanks!”

The message above is the first indication of a game’s success in Facebook.

Players of Facebook games know this message well, too. Of course, it wouldn’t say “Parking Wars.” Instead, it would say “Scrabulous” as it did for what seemed like weeks.

As I write this message, I’m trying to park my cars painfully as the server denies me entry every other click. The people in California are awake, and are bombing the server trying to repark their cars, too. This happened to me in Scrabulous and other games, but it didn’t matter to the gameplay since time was not a factor in the game’s mechanics. If I fail to log in on time and move my cars (I know this must sound dumb to those of you who haven’t played Parking Wars), I will lose significant money and my competitor could gain that same amount. So, this lag is actually screwing up people’s games, and creating more than normal frustration.

It presents an interesting issue for developers of facebook applications that have a time component. Having been behind the lines at many of developer when people postulated stuff like this online, I remember that there was always a seriously good reason for what the player was experiencing which may not have been obvious to the player. At the same time, it should have been obvious or it shouldn’t have been there at all. The player’s job isn’t about guessing the functionality of the game. It’s my job to make that seemless. It’s also my job to make sure the game runs. Server lag is nothing new, and it certainly affected FPS games and MMOs. Facebook is growing up and expanding and its developer, likely much less well-capitalized than the average game development studio.

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