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Facebook Games: The Rise of a New Genre and Destination

January 21, 2008

As a game developer, the rise of new genres is a wonderful thing to watch, particularly since it doesn’t happen all that often. In the space of six months, several exciting things have happened that give me significant reason to think that Facebook itself can be declared a new gaming platform of sorts, and some of its games a new game genre, different from all the existing platforms and genres, in terms of its core game design and technology requirements.

What happened:

  • Game developers migrated to Facebook, en masse, in July and August 2007. Over 100 of us, and probably more, migrated at that time.
  • The network opened up to everyone, not just students, at some prior point.
  • Technology evolved, as technology will. Facebook itself is predominantly a PC app, but it’s also growing increasingly accessible by applications outside of the PC. I don’t know whether to call this a new platform or platform-independent. In considering how to structure the game interface and player interaction, the designer is really in a position of designing for a multitude of possibilities, for everything, wherever and however the player wants to access it – iPhone, Wii, cell phone, computer, whatever. It’s a distinctly different design mindset than existing MMOs. Metaplace is only thing that comes close, right now (and the potential for Metaplace is really just amazing).
  • Hasbro and Mattel sued the makers of Scrabulous pointing out to one and all that in this particular space, knock offs would not be allowed. If anyone in the game space – digital or otherwise – hadn’t been alerted to a game’s potential on Facebook, this lawsuit certainly turned them on to it, numbers and all.

What do all these points lead to?

They amount to a built in massively multiplayer audience with lots of opportunity and the world’s best game design minds as participants. So, I don’t believe it’s a question of if, but rather when Facebook will become a destination for gamers much like Popcap and Gametap have. In some respects, it has to happen. If you know designers like I know designers, a set of constraints and a window of possibility sets the mind wondering, and there are hundreds of us there. While we could also say the same thing about other applications – there are hundreds of game developers using Linked In, too – none of these other sites have the potential that Facebook does. MySpace, while having its own massive built in audience, is missing the interaction and connectivity native to Facebook, and understood by all its participants. I’ve seen it mentioned several times that MySpace is developing its own virtual world… but so is everyone else. Having a virtual world isn’t enough anymore, though. People want a hook. They want something to do. (This is not to say that I discount MySpace. They have tons of money and a huge network. They can do anything.)

Presently, there are developers looking beyond the current game offerings. Games like Warbook offer a deeper, traditional experience for gamers, and in the months to come, I expect Facebook will see a rush of indie turn-based remakes of video game classics. Meanwhile, larger game developers will explore the space, even if the monetization isn’t totally clear (do you charge for play? use microtransactions? use advertisting?). What developers see, and by extention their VC also see, is the potential… the enormous potential.

It has a few excellent ingredients that make it exceptionally appealing on a number of levels.

For the developer and publisher:

  • There is a built in free distribution network. The mechanics are funky, and you have to play the propagation rules, but at least there’s no EB Games taking a slice of your pie.
  • It has low asset requirements. It’s exceptionally low cost compared to traditional game development.
  • The field is not so crowded, right now. The great majority of “games” on Facebook aren’t even games.

For the player:

  • Free games.
  • Free games with friends.
  • Free games with friends accessed from everywhere.

The caveat: I could be wrong about all of this. Maybe Facebook will be hot this year and not so hot the next, but I don’t think so. To parallel another genre, I believe we’re in the days between MUD and Ultima Online. The big players are looking, and we will see what we will see.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. James Caskey permalink
    January 22, 2008 4:45 am

    I think you’re right. The developers are there, the audience is there, the networks are there. It’s just a matter of time before it all explodes.

  2. January 23, 2008 1:09 pm

    How do you reconcile these two statements:

    1) “Hasbro and Mattel sued the makers of Scrabulous pointing out to one and all that in this particular space, knock offs would not be allowed.”

    2) “[…] in the months to come, I expect Facebook will see a rush of indie turn-based remakes of video game classics”

  3. January 23, 2008 4:34 pm

    @Adrian – good catch. By remakes, I should have been more specific – clones would have been a better word. For instance, Jetman is really nothing more than the old Helicopter reskinned. There are a lot of old turn based games that were particularly popular, even as play-by-email games. Facebook is an ideal medium for that.


  4. January 24, 2008 10:48 pm

    I definitely agree that some old turn based games are coming back.

    It doesn’t feel like that horde of game designers descending on Facebook has really had time to release anything yet. So far none of the Facebook games have really taken advantage of the social graph AND deep game mechanics. When people start doing that we’re going to see levels of popularity and attachment that make the current crop of games look small time. Most of the current games are either very shallow, but well integrated with Facebook or deep and just using Facebook as a way to drive traffic to the game. That can’t last forever.

  5. January 25, 2008 6:57 am

    @Joe – precisely. It will take time for the whole process to evolve. I think the closest thing that we have that acknowledges the tremendous potential of social networking and games is Raph’s upcoming Metaplace.

  6. January 25, 2008 9:06 am

    Its pretty curious subtle yet profound shift Facebook is making on MMO gaming still goes relatively unnoticed. I think its first time ever the player social graph is immutable core he is in full control of; games are optional, non-exclusive & concurrent add-ons. Just contrast the traditional experience of moving any social graph (friends, guild) from EQ to WoW.

    I think most significant changes we going to see in FB gaming will be direct derivatives of that. Players are no longer “hostages” of MMO they play. Somebody playing 50 MMOs *at once* will be more of norm rather then exception. And speed of “discovery” of new titles in friends clusters (we are friends because we do like simular things)

    If anything, current perceivable predictions about FB gaming err on conservative side in my opinion.

  7. mich109 permalink
    October 28, 2008 7:35 am

    @adrain – I totally agree with Adrian on this issue. There are thousands of facebook applications these days that I don’t find entertaining or worth playing yet facebook allows them just like that. Social networking games are sometimes giving me headaches. I get invited to several of them and I tell you it irritates me. How about Realm of Empires? How would you consider this game?

  8. Michael permalink
    January 24, 2010 1:56 pm

    Sid mier the creater of civilization franchise is creating a new Civ for facebook i guess hoping it attracts alot more ppl to turn based startegy games. i still play Civilization Conquest al his new ones suck. But id like to see how he connects it to facebook.


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