Playdom设计师Scott Jon Siegel曾在MIGS 2010上发表了一次演讲，话题是社交游戏及其与独立游戏社群的关系。我自己也是个社交游戏开发者，经常考虑这个问题。令许多开发者和我感到忧愁的是，外界似乎对该领域稍显不满。
许多独立开发者并不赞成主流社交游戏公司制作游戏和开展业务的方法。社交游戏开发商反倒觉得独立开发者所带的观点与他们完全不同，他们认为后者对游戏持有的观点大错特错。为何会出现这种隔阂呢？为何《Farmville》和《Mafia Wars》的开发商与《Super Meat Boy》和《FlOw》的开发者会变得对立？这是否是必要之举呢？
《Limbo》的原创性在于其使用的轮廓艺术风格，《Crayon Physics》的独特之处是关卡设计，《Blueberry Garden》的原创性在于其双线故事情节和结局。Experimental Gameplay Workshop的游戏每年都在努力做出令人难以置信的原创作品，而且以此来标榜自己。这种做法将游戏推向其从未达到的高度。
Why do Indies Hate Social Games?
Playdom designer Scott Jon Siegel recently gave an interesting talk at MIGS 2010 around the issue of social games and their relationship with the indie games community. As both an indie and also a social game developer myself, this is an issue that I think about often, and it saddens me and many other developers to see that there seems to be some kind of resentment around this area.
If you aren’t familiar with the general sentiment, many indie developers usually do not approve of the way the major social game companies make games and do business. Social game developers on the other hand sometimes feel like indie developers are in a different world, that what’s important to them as games are completely off base. Why does this rift, with Farmville and Mafia Wars on one side, Super Meat Boy and FlOw on the other, exist? Is it really necessary?
I can understand and see both sides of the coin here, and so my goal with this article isn’t to point fingers or blame at either party, but rather to use it as a springboard for discussion about the games created by each group. As far as I can tell, the main reasons for the fissures between indie game developers and social game developers are a dramatic difference in goals and aspirations. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, goal setting in game development is everything; it affects the resources that you use, the game design decisions that you make, how long you’re going to spend on the game, even how you measure success. So with that being said, let’s look at some of the main differences between these two groups and how they so strongly conflict.
Originality is King…or is it?
Originality can be defined as a new idea, trying out something that no one has done before, exploring depths of your craft that have yet to be explored. Most indie games do their best to be original; I would go as far as to say originality is a core value of the indie game community.
Limbo was original because of the silhouette art style that it used. Crayon Physics was original in its level design and Base Mechanic of drawing shapes that have meaning. Blueberry Garden was original in its two-part storyline and ending. The games at Experimental Gameplay Workshop each year strive to be incredibly original, and arguably grade themselves on how different what they are doing is from everyone else in the industry. This is a great endeavor that pushes games to places they have never been.
Contrast this with the most popular social games, however, which often do not make originality a goal. In fact, some companies actually actively copy the Base Mechanics and Punishment and Reward Systems of their competitors. Farmville was a direct copy of Farmtown that was then propelled to success mainly through business practices, not through clever game design. And while this is an extreme example, the idea of borrowing at least some ideas from other social games is well practiced by almost every social game company.
To an indie developer, blatant unoriginality is unacceptable. For someone whose goal is to do what no one has done before, they see exactly zero benefit it making a game that someone has already made. In fact, they see it has having negative benefit, because the copy takes away from the original’s success. It’s the original who should be getting all the credit.
To a social game company, borrowing ideas can be a good business decision. Borrowing or learning from someone else’s game is a great way to stay competitive, in games as it is in other industries. If another game has figured out a great way to pull more players into the game through viral features, then it’s worth considering for their own games. Of course the degree to which games are copied can cause lawsuits, but borrowing successful concepts and ideas is often seen as useful, which is why almost all social games follow similar patterns such as having Neighbors, sending gifts, and so forth.
It should be pointed out that game designs and scenarios in themselves cannot be copyrighted. The video game industry is a lot like the clothing or fashion industry in that regard; success must be found in other ways than coming up with a design and patenting it. And thankfully; the industry is better off for it. Imagine if Prince of Persia had copyrighted the concept of rewinding time; great games like Achron and Braid would have been illegal to make.
Aside from instances where legal action has been needed, both sides are perfectly reasonable. Striving for originality is a worthy goal, and borrowing ideas from other games you’re up against is a worth practice as well.
Games as Art…or Cash Cows?
Indie games strive to be works of art; there is no question about that. But what is a work of art? One definition, that I believe most of us indies operate on, is that a work of art is something that is beautiful to see and experience. It is something that takes your mind places it has never been, that touches your heart and leaves you a different person than when you encountered it. Almost all indie developers want to make a game that can do those things, that can truly Delight players, one of the 5 Degrees of Fun.
High works of art, almost by definition, are exclusive to the people who have a depth of knowledge to understand them. If you’ve never played Donkey Kong, then you won’t see the level in Braid that is made to look like a Donkey Kong stage as “art”. You’ll just see it as another random stage. And while this homage to video game history is well appreciated by the few who can understand it, the truth is that if you grabbed someone off the street and asked them if they recognize it for what it is, 99% would say “No, I don’t see anything interesting.”
Most indie developers also usually have only a light goal of making money or a profit for their game; the artistic integrity drives them rather than the financial gain. For most social game developers, however, the major goal is not artistic integrity, it is revenue and profit. Social game companies, like major AAA console game publishers but unlike indie game developers who work on the side, aren’t working for free. They are working so that their games can pay the bills for them and their investors.
To an indie developer, a game that isn’t artistic is a waste. This is fine for indie games, because they serve a smaller, specialized community. Almost everyone in the indie games community has played Super Mario Bros. Almost everyone has played Portal. It is a fairly homogeneous group. So the best games are those that teach that take that expert group to a new level, even if it means making something that not everyone has the background to understand.
To a social game developer, a game that isn’t artistic is accessible and more profitable. Most social games, however, strive to be accessible. While they do try to make their games fun and enjoyable, they don’t make art a priority, instead they make having as many people as possible enjoy the game a priority. Thus, the games need to be easy to understand by millions of people who may have never played console games before, who may barely use a computer or only have a Facebook account because their daughter signed them up. This is similar to the approach that Nintendo took with the Wii launch games. No one was really amazed by the game design behind Wii Sports, but it was easily understandable by everyone.
Mark Pincus, founder and CEO of Zynga, has said that the rest of the games industry is “making movies. What we’re doing is more like weekly TV programming.” What he means by this is that he understands that the games they are making are not high-brow works of art. People won’t look back at those games years from now and say, “Wow, that game really made me think about my life in a deep and meaningful way.” They will look back and say, “Wow, that game was kind of fun! I spent a couple of bucks on it and had a good time.” And while that would fall short of the goals of many indie developers, it would satisfy many social game companies.
Once again, I argue that neither position is inherently good or bad, they are just different goals. Indie games strive to create works of art that appeal to a small group of several thousand people. Most social games strive to create profitable business ventures that appear to millions of people. These are very different games that can cause serious resentment if judged by one another’s standards, while they actually belong in separate camps defined by their goals.
Games for Yourself…or for Others?
The third issue for the rift is the audience of the games. When making a game, it’s always important to think of the audience and the end player. Is the player someone who loves action and shooting? Is the player someone who can crunch numbers and might enjoy an RPG? Is the player someone who grew up on old-school Nintendo and would appreciate pixel art? Or maybe someone who has never played a game before in their lives?
A deeper question that a developer should ask themselves is, “Is this game for people like me, the developer?”
There are a many great games, and products from all types of companies, that are made to be consumed by people very unlike those who are actually making the product. When I was a developer at EA and working on MySims, then I wasn’t really making games for my demographic; I was making games for a younger audience, the majority of which was female. However we still managed to make a fun product that, though the Metacritic scores coming from hardcore gamer reviewers were in the 70′s, younger kids greatly adored.
Indie gamers look at social games and say, “This game isn’t fun for me”. The easiest game to make, and I may get some backlash from this but I believe it’s true, is a game for yourself. It is easier to make a game that you would enjoy than to make a game that you wouldn’t enjoy, but someone else would. Why? Because you can no longer follow your intuition. What you think is fun might not be fun for your end user, and what you think is not fun at all actually might be really fun for your end user.
Developers at Facebook said in a blog post that in the early days when the site was only open to college, it was very easy to work on the site and make it better because they themselves were college students; they could just build what they liked and be certain that their users would like it too! However when Facebook opened up and started serving many different demographics from all around the world, then they weren’t able to follow their intuition anymore. Instead they had to follow data, surveys, and listen to their customers, who were very different kinds of people than they themselves were.
Social game developers look at social games and say, “This game is fun for our customers”. Many social game developers, at least more than indie game developers, don’t actually play the kinds of games they make for fun themselves. There’s nothing wrong with this, it just means it’s a product for a different demographic. And by going after a demographic other than game developers and their ilk, social game companies have succeeded in getting more people around the world to pay games than every before.
There’s nothing wrong with making a game that you and your peers enjoy. There’s also nothing wrong with making a game that you and you peers wouldn’t enjoy, that you think it boring, but your end users are going to really enjoy. And once again, this isn’t a matter of good or bad between social and indie games, it’s just a difference of goals.
Apples to Oranges Aren’t the Same
While social games are mostly in Flash, like many indie games, my feeling is that the saying that “social game companies are indie too” is the main thing that has upset many indie developers. Social game companies are for-profit ventures, which is very unlike most indie games. Thus, the comparison is unfair and unreasonable, as we’ve uncovered in some differences in the core values.
Instead, a better comparison would be to liken social games to the traditional game industry, such as Microsoft, Activision, or Ubisoft. In the same way these are companies who sometimes are not original or boundary pushing, companies who are operating for profit, and companies who make games that sometimes are made for people like the developers and sometimes not. There is nothing wrong with any of these attributes; they are simply radically different from the dominant attributes of the indie community. They are a part of the game industry, albeit a different part than indie titles.
My impression then is that social and indie games got off on the wrong foot. One appeal that I would make to indie developers is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because social games have been almost entirely capitalist driven up to this point, that doesn’t mean that indie developers should give up on the entire medium. What would it look like for a social game to push the boundaries of games as art? A game where you made a dedication to your real life friends or family? A game where you took your real life siblings on an adventure or a journey?
Those are just some examples, but I implore the indie game community to think of the possibilities that are available from people’s social connections. Truly, there has never been a better opportunity or platform to create moments that are meaningful than by incorporating the people the player most cares about into their real life. As for the goals for a game, none of the ones listed here are right or wrong, they are just different choices. My hope is that developers can grow to better understand these differences and agree to differ in their goals. (Source: The Game Prodigy)