Zynga前首席执行官Mark Skaggs曾在2010年说过，“如果玩家重复做某事，那就说明它很有趣。”在去年的DICE大会上，Jesse Schell曾发表关于玩家每个行为都想得到奖励的言论，称这个现象催生了斯金纳箱机制式的设计倾向，即玩家获得满足感之后就要再等待一定的时间才能再次执行操作。
在2010年游戏开发者（GDC）大会期间，行业对社交游戏的精神焦虑甚为明显。Ian Bogost甚至推出了《Cow Clicker》这款恶搞作品来讥讽社交游戏机制，出乎意料的是该游戏居然成了他最受欢迎的作品。
Sopren Johnson曾在“Fear and loathing in FarmVille”中描述了人们对社交游戏的不安：元老级设计师纷纷进行现身说法，称这一新兴游戏领域令人兴奋，并先后加入了Zynga和Playdom等社交游戏公司。与此同时，游戏界各个角落却弥漫着对Zynga及其Facebook游戏模式深深的道德鄙视。
我们很难想象，仅在两年之后，这场一度甚嚣尘上的战争就悄无声息地拉下了序幕。多数设计师离开传统游戏公司投身社交游戏工作室——例如Frank Lantz、Brian Reynolds、Raph Koster、Brenda Brathwaite、Soren Johnson等人现在却已经不再是Facebook游戏圈中人士了。人们欢呼这个自由开发游戏的机遇，摆脱传统AAA游戏开发桎梏仿佛才刚发生在昨天，Zynga的逐渐式微及其他社交机遇的大幅缩水着实令人唏嘘不已。
Scott Jon Siegel整个职业生涯几乎都投入了社交游戏，于2008年加入Zynga，当时该公司仅有80名员工。2009年，他就职于Playdom（该公司当时被迪士尼收购），说服独立游戏设计师以真正好玩的作品打破社交游戏严格的商业逻辑。
前Area/Code游戏开发主管Kevin Cancienne回忆称，“我们制作自己的首款游戏《Parking Wars》时，这个平台看起来真是一个制作游戏的有趣渠道。我们一向对游戏这种社交互动方式很感兴趣——如果有其他真人用户参与，游戏总会更有意思。”
Area/Code联合创始人之一是Frank Lantz（他是Ian Bogost的密友）。该公司于2011年被Zynga收购，当时正值《Cow Clicker》盛极一时。Bogost经常引发一些让大众质疑社交游戏设计师究竟是忠于自己的职业操守还是为了商业机遇而投身这一领域的争论。
游戏设计元老Raph Koster（游戏邦注：代表作包括《Star Wars Galaxies》以及《Ultima Online》，并著有《A Theory of Fun》一书）自2007年创立Metaplace平台以来就开始投身于用户导向型社交游戏设计的目标。Metaplace的宗旨是支持玩家制作和管理自己的虚拟空间，通过MySpace和Facebook等社交网站分享自己的作品。
他的部分使命就是传达这一领域的真正乐趣和获取全新用户的潜在机遇。许多游戏设计师，例如Infocom元老、前Playdom副总裁Steve Meretzky也曾向人们讲述游戏之美（“退休在家的人可以玩Wii Sports，家长和祖父母也可以拿着DS玩《Brain Age》”）。而Bogost等另一派别的人士，则担忧行业仅仅因为“妈妈们喜欢这类游戏”就丧失道德操守。
Facebook是实现这种愿景的优秀平台吗？Scott Jon Siegel认为作为游戏平台，Facebook已因其与平台上最强大的开发商的需求而受害。Zynga重复式、参数导向型设计不但让用户产生审美疲劳，毁灭了这一行原本应有的机会，而且还将永久影响Facebook的适用性。
Ian Cummings离开EA Tiburon工作室及其热作《Madden NFL》，帮助成立了Row Sham Bow（代表作是Facebook热门游戏《Woodland Heroes》），Ian Bogost曾有一段时间担任该公司董事会顾问。
With the luster of social games gone, what now?
by Leigh Alexander
It all started with some fairly harmless logic: As a form of play, digital games should be shared with as many people as possible. They should live on the platforms where users already work and socialize, and should have something to add to interactions in those places. They should take every opportunity to reach entirely-new audiences, maybe even those who would never have thought games could be for them.
In the age of metrics, game designers suddenly came into an unprecedented opportunity to gather reams of information about users — the users they had, as well as the users they wanted. It still sounds like harmless logic, the concept of an organic product that grows and responds to what players do there, designed and tuned for optimal engagement. Features that nobody likes can be adjusted or removed. Popular elements flourish.
It starts to seem less harmless when you realize games can be made to hook players into mundane cycles of reward-oriented clicking. And that designers can use information about engagement to ensure players spend money. Free-to-play social games promised light, friendly distractions from one’s workday where spending money was only an optional enhancement, but the reality of social game design on Facebook favored gradually-escalating pinch points, the careful use of friction, a slow, insidious ramp-up where players became accustomed to ease and plentitude that the game gradually pulled away from them.
“If a player repeats something, it’s fun,” said Zynga’s Mark Skaggs in 2010. At DICE that year, Jesse Schell now-infamously made a doomsday prophecy about players desiring rewards for every behavior, a consequence of a design trend that favored Skinner Box mechanics, where users receive gratification, then are forced to wait a requisite amount of time before doing it again.
By the time 2010′s Game Developers Conference came around, the spiritual anxiety around social games was palpable. Ian Bogost released Cow Clicker, a satire of hollow social game mechanics that, to his consternation, became his most popular work.
In “Fear and loathing in FarmVille,” Soren Johnson delineated the tension: Veteran designers took center stage, excited about a new frontier for games, joining burgeoning social game companies like Zynga and Playdom. Meanwhile, a moral disgust for Zynga and its model for Facebook games radiated from the gaming world’s corners.
It seems hard to believe that only two years later the roar of battle has all but died. Most of the designers who left their traditional paths to join social gaming firms – Frank Lantz, Brian Reynolds, Raph Koster, Brenda Brathwaite, Soren Johnson — are no longer in Facebook games, casualties of Zynga’s shrinking business or other diminishing social opportunities, not long after publicly celebrating the opportunity to make a game their way, outside the traditional grinder of triple-A.
Whatever happened to Facebook as a game platform? Where are the storied designers who believed so much in Facebook now? Even supposing it was the economic-treadmill model of design that was poorly-considered and not the idea of social gaming itself — a moderate stance endorsed by many who thought there had to be something useful that game design could do with Facebook’s nigh-billion eyeballs — why has “social” itself gone from watchword to bad-word in so little time?
“I saw a lot of creative potential”
Scott Jon Siegel has spent virtually his entire career in social games, joining Zynga in 2008 when there were just 80 employees. By 2009, he was at Playdom during its acquisition by Disney, urging independent game designers to disrupt the rigid business logic of social games with genuinely-playful works.
It was Area/code’s successful 2008 Parking Wars Facebook game that jump-started Siegel’s faith in the idea that games on Facebook didn’t have to be “evil.”
“From that game I saw a ton of creative potential,” he says. “Here was a platform that allowed its games to tap into the social graph, and games that could do this well could allow us to think differently about our connections to other people. It was a platform of play built upon the connections shared with friends and family. That should have been huge. And it was huge. It was just huge in a ‘business, exploitation’ sort of way, rather than a ‘setting new creative benchmarks’ sort of way.”
“When we made [Parking Wars], our first Facebook game, the platform seemed like a genuinely interesting new way to make games,” says Kevin Cancienne, formerly Area/code’s director of game development. “We were always interested in games as social interaction — that games are almost always more interesting when there are other real people involved.”
Working on the asynchronous Facebook platform seemed like a rich vein of potential for multiplayer games that bypassed the significant tech and design challenges of realtime multiplayer, Cancienne says. “In many ways for us, back in the beginning, Facebook was simply an amazing, enormous lobby for asynchronous multiplayer games.”
In general, Area/code did work-for-hire development projects for companies looking to use games for promotion, focusing on bypassing the usual cynicism of tie-in projects in favor of making honest games. Parking Wars itself was promotion for the A&E television show of the same name; Cancienne says Area/code won the contract versus a few non-digital game projects on “purely creative terms.”
Parking Wars had the fortune of hitting the market before microtransactions became essential to Facebook game design, and of only having to satisfy the goal of “getting a lot of eyeballs on a thing.” In that regard it could be seen as “pure,” but it’s often hard to discover where the line between the sheer possibility in connected play and shrewd business interest lies.
Area/code was co-founded by Frank Lantz, a close friend of Ian Bogost’s. The company was bought by Zynga in 2011, right as Cow Clicker’s popularity reached neurotic proportions. Bogost often drew controversy for publicly questioning whether social game designers felt honest about their philosophy or were swallowing greater concerns in favor of business opportunity.
“I think a great many social game developers are mistaking the success of their games for positive contributions to humanity,” Bogost told me in 2010. By then, the growth of popular games was already beginning to slow down, but it didn’t stop Disney from acquiring Playdom for $563 million — not long after Electronic Arts spent $300 million up-front for Playfish.
“My guess would be that lots of those people were either talking nice and/or wearing extremely rose-colored glasses when they spoke about the great potential made possible by the Zyngas and the Lolappses of the world,” says Cancienne. “We used to joke about it, back at Area/code (before we ourselves gave into the dark side) that it was awfully convenient that the place all these veteran game designers said was super-promising also happened to be the places that were suddenly offering huge compensation packages.”
“It’s not hard to see how the bubble burst”
Veteran designer Raph Koster, known for his leading work on Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online, as well as his influential book A Theory of Fun, had been committed to the utopic goal of user-led social game design since founding the Metaplace platform in 2007. Metaplace aimed to democratize virtual worlds development by letting players make and own their own spaces, and part of that vision of ownership involved showing and sharing on social networks like MySpace and Facebook.
“That didn’t click, and then we also tried putting a social world on Facebook,” Koster recalls. “At that point, it was becoming clear that we needed to pivot away from our original goals, because we simply weren’t getting traction with virtual worlds. It was a very painful decision, but we decided to instead use the technology to make social games. We were running out of money and had to find an approach that would work.”
In that respect, Koster’s embrace of the supposed social potential on Facebook was partially a business necessity, although the company had been exploring social network integration since long before the boom. While Koster and his company focused on their own site, Facebook games marched ahead. Zynga bought one of Metaplace’s competitors, MyMiniLife, and integrated its technology (“their tech became a foundational part of Zynga’s success,” Koster says).
Metaplace closed in 2010, and Koster joined Disney’s Playdom shortly thereafter. “One of the things that was attractive about Playdom was that they had made a point of bringing on a lot of creative talent from the traditional games industry, and tried to find a balance between those approaches,” he says.
Even before that, Koster had tried to bridge the philosophical anxiety between triple-A and social games, and the rampant cynicism about Facebook. “There was a lot of lack of understanding on both sides, I thought,” he says. “Over in the MMO community, I had people calling me a sell-out for doing Facebook games. I also saw plenty of social game people come at things from what I would term an arrogant place, saying that they had solved all aspects of the game business.”
Part of his mission became evangelizing the genuine joy and potential in this opportunity to reach a brand-new audience. Many game designers, like Infocom veteran-turned Playdom VP Steve Meretzky, talked about the beauty in games for everyone (“people in retirement homes playing Wii Sports and everyone’s parents and grandparents getting DSes and playing Brain Age”). Others, like Bogost, worried about assigning an inherent moral supremacy to something just because “your mom likes it.”
“I suppose the one true value of the whole ‘social gaming’ thing is that it really expanded the audience for games in a big way,” says Siegel. “I’ve always loved the ability to put
something out there and have millions of people try it and see it.”
“Speaking personally, at the height of the bubble, all the talk about ‘games for moms’ began to grate a bit,” recalls Area/code’s Cancienne. “After a while, it was hard for me not to hear ‘but a middle-aged woman in Ohio won’t understand that’ as a dismissive, reductive, and small-minded excuse to dumb down gameplay and hew to established conventions.”
In Cancienne’s view, in fact, the laser-focus on an imagined, mass-market “moms and middle-aged women” demographic might have been where the Facebook boom began to waver: “You had a huge population of product managers, game designers, and developers making games that they themselves didn’t like,” he says.
“What’s worse, they were supposedly making them for this cohort that existed as a cartoon — the middle aged mom sitting at home, bored with her life,” he adds. “Given this mostly male, mostly disinterested group of people cynically making games for this other group that existed primarily as a stereotype, it’s not hard to see how the bubble burst.”
“The weakness of the Facebook games platform is a direct result of Zynga’s ‘design’ decisions”
“I was torn, because I did, and still do, believe in that opportunity,” says Koster. “But I also really loved what we were doing with Metaplace.com and really believed in it. The message of accessibility and games for everyone is something I have been speaking out about for a really long time… there’s a big canvas there, though it isn’t just about the mass market accessibility, but also about the affordances of the platform – meaning, there are kinds of games that can only be made on top of something like Facebook. The million-player game, the game that exploits the social network, the game that relies on collective action… so it wasn’t just the idea of ‘games for mom.’”
Was Facebook a good platform for that vision? A considerably more moderate Scott Jon Siegel suggests that Facebook as a platform for games might have suffered from knitting itself too closely to the needs of its most powerful developers. Zynga’s repetitive, metrics-driven design may not just have created audience fatigue and damaged the perceived opportunity, but permanently impacted Facebook’s suitability.
“I feel that the weakness of the Facebook games platform is a direct result of Zynga’s ‘design’ decisions over the years,” says Siegel. “It’s led to a samey-ness across the Facebook charts, and a platform that’s become increasingly cumbersome to developers, in part as a reaction to years of developer exploitation of that platform’s communication channels.”
Five years ago things were different, Siegel says, recalling a platform-holder eager to court strong developers as well as underdogs that would benefit from extra nurturance. “But Facebook has historically catered the most to developers who provide the most financial incentive for doing so. I’m not sure we’ll ever know exactly how cozy Zynga and Facebook got with each other, or how much it negatively impacted other developers, or the platform. But I’m fairly certain that relationship helped sour the platform for a lot of people — both developers and players.”
Ian Cummings left EA’s Tiburon studio and its Madden NFL franchise to help found Row Sham Bow, whose Woodland Heroes was a widely-recognized success on Facebook. Ian Bogost spent some time on the company’s board of advisors (“Developing for the Facebook Platform is picking out the wallpaper for one’s own death row holding cell, the cleaver for one’s own blood sacrifice,” he once effused in unsurprising dramatic fashion).
Cummings remembers Bogost “wondering aloud whether Zynga had simultaneously created and destroyed the entire Facebook game industry,” he says, a statement that seemed shocking to Cummings at the time but now seems less so. “I think the unfortunate thing about the immediate turnaround times, along with the gold rush of every developer jumping onto Facebook, meant there was a massive flood of copycat ideas and techniques.”
“Zynga [was] dominating the pack by such a wide margin in terms of daily and monthly users, then every single development studio just started accepting a lot of their design practices as the gold standard,” says Cummings. He recalls he kept expecting a more traditional, core-friendly game to arrive on the Facebook platform and transform the landscape (and its traditional, dubiously-ethical business model of only monetizing 1 percent of users, or ‘whales.’)
“It never happened,” says Cummings, who now works at Zynga. “I start to think it probably won’t.”（source：gamasutra）