被收购之后的Area/Code团队所设计的《Friend Game》富有创新，但由于EA游戏《Sims Social》的原因，Zynga并不打算对其长期投入，因此它迅速消失在大众视野中。Zynga在今年初为了节约开支而关闭了Area/Code工作室。
面对《Candy Crush Saga》开发商King在移动崛起，在Facebook榜单取代了Zynga这一局面，Zynga似乎打算进入博彩领域（这一理念被现任Zynga首席执行官Don Mattrick叫停了）。免费手机游戏市场从Facebook平台的灰烬中兴起，但游戏本身却鲜有遗作。
With the luster of social games gone, what now?
by Leigh Alexander
“It favored the most ruthless, basically”
Koster says that neither blame nor credit can be laid solely at Zynga’s door. “The fact is that it was a wide open new market, with virtually no controls on it. It was a gold rush scenario with no regulation,” he says. “And what happens in those situations is that those who are the most clever with their tactics can build a massive lead based on practices that don’t work very well in a more mature market, that are often outright unethical.”
“Eventually, Facebook started clamping down on those practices, but it nonetheless established the tone of the market in a way that powerfully shaped the platform and developers on it,” he says. Even though exploitive practices had been stamped out by the time Koster joined Playdom, the business infrastructure was irrevocably changed: Metrics were emphasized over design, development relied on split testing over relatively-short time frames, and data was tracked to the minute, rather than a broader look at customer lifecycles, Koster adds.
“It was a situation where, if you didn’t engage in those practices, you were going to struggle,” he says. “It favored the most ruthless, basically. And once limits started being imposed, there was still left a culture of optimization based on fairly short-term incentive structures.”
The result from a design standpoint was pure conservativism: “Rather than pursuing what could be done on the platform, in the way that new platforms usually encourage, it all instead converged very quickly into just a very few game types that could be proven to work, because there was measurable success in doing so,” says Koster. “The period of fertile experimentation was cut short, to my mind, and the winners ended up being those who innovated on business practices, not game designs.”
He also thinks the sudden gold rush surprised Facebook, leading to a platform where APIs weren’t usefully-specific for game making, constant changes made extra work for developers, dashboards were unsuited to administration and community management facilities were limited.
The risk-taking and invention designers like Siegel hoped to see from smaller companies in the social games space was nearly impossible within those kinds of constraints in both business and design: “[In] various ways… the platform was rigged toward favoring larger companies,” says Cancienne. “The platform API itself was a continuously moving target, with features changing or being removed on a continual basis. If you were a small shop, it was very, very difficult to stay on top of this and keep your game using the platform optimally — or even working at all.”
“F2P energy mechanics became a one-size fits all solution, and no one we spoke to was interested in hearing about other options,” he says.
“By the time we were acquired by Zynga I think we mostly had a grin-and-bear it attitude,” says Cancienne. “We hoped against hope that we’d be able to get something interesting done on this platform that had been churning out garbage for so long, at this company that clearly had its heart in the wrong place, but for most of us, our guts told us our odds of making something we’d be proud of were very, very small.”
Friend Game, designed by the Area/code team after acquisition by Zynga, was innovative, but the company didn’t seem to commit to the title long-term alongside noise from EA’s Sims Social, and it quickly faded from visibility. Zynga closed the Area/code office at the beginning of this year as part of larger cutbacks that included the closure of fellow acquisition Newtoy.
Abstractly, then, the potential for innovation and meaningful social game design on Facebook was there, but the platform came unprepared to host games in the first place, and quickly hewed to what metrics-obsessed giant companies wanted. It seems that as went Zynga, so went the platform all along: Headlines about MAUs, DAUs, concurrent users in the millions and massive revenues have been replaced with ones about layoffs, executive exodus, falling revenues and studio closures.
Zynga seriously considered entering the gambling arena (that idea was tabled by Xbox head-turned-Zynga CEO Don Mattrick), as Candy Crush Saga maker King.com, now also a mobile games giant, usurped Zynga on Facebook charts. The free-to-play mobile market seems to have risen from the smoldering ashes of Facebook, but the games themselves leave little legacy.
“The numbers have dropped from completely insane to garden-variety insane”
That shift toward mobile makes Facebook itself less relevant as a web presence, suggests Koster, who left Disney Playdom over a year ago. “I spent my time in Facebook development mostly trying to create new kinds of social experiences. I think I wasn’t the only one trying things along those lines,” he says. “It doesn’t seem to me that most of those experiments worked – not just mine, but those of other people as well.”
Broader audiences don’t seem as interested in more synchronous interaction, which was a big push many designers thought could ‘legitimize’ Facebook games. The shift toward mobile will allow Koster to revisit other design interests, like puzzle-making. Meanwhile, “I haven’t found myself wanting to play a Facebook game since I stopped working on them,” he says.
There are still millions of people playing Facebook games where most of the design community no longer has to see them seeking White Mystery Eggs in their newsfeeds. Thanks to platform changes, most users opt out of seeing social game notifications.
“The numbers have clearly dropped off from the completely insane levels they were at a couple of years ago, but they’ve really only dropped from completely insane to garden-variety insane,” Cancienne says. “We’re still talking about millions and millions of people playing games on Facebook every day. What’s definitely changed is the rhetoric around them and the amount of mind share they command within the industry.”
“There’s never been a better time for gamers and developers to start working with Facebook,” said the company in its recent Q3 earnings release, claiming there are now more than 260 million people playing games on Facebook every month. The company says its users spent more than $1.5 billion in games in the first half of the year.
But Siegel sees a perfect storm of disinterest keeping developers at bay: “The platform has become more difficult and more costly to develop for, at the same time that the perceived opportunity has waned,” he says. “At the same time, I think that trust in the Facebook platform from a user perspective is probably at an all-time low.”
Even though he once believed in a wide array of opportunity and possibility on the Facebook platform, Siegel himself has run out of motivation to try any games on the platform, assuming any Facebook game he tries will be poorly designed, lack invention, try to trick him into spending money and spamming friends, and start emailing him regularly without permission. With those assumptions in place, it’s hard to imagine developers would see the value in putting time and energy into Facebook games anymore.
“A lot of people now equate ‘game on Facebook’ to ‘spammy piece of shit,’ which I don’t think is an unfair or inaccurate estimation of the situation,” he says. “To what do I credit this? Zynga, of course.”
The end of the Facebook boom might even mean that “social” itself — once such a broad trend embraced by designers and triple-A publishers alike as bigger than Facebook and Zynga, and full of potential — is no longer a lustrous buzzword.
“To most developers, ‘social’ is a means to an end”
“I’ve heard Facebook wants to start reaching out to indies, but I’m pretty skeptical,” says Cancienne. “And as a full time indie, I’ve basically left behind pitching games to people, so while I have no doubt that ‘social’ is now a bit toxic, it doesn’t really affect me.”
“I would not be surprised if ‘social,’ in the sense of the social network games we have seen until now, is a bit tainted,” says Koster. “Everyone thinks they know what it means. But to me that means that actual social-ness has a huge amount of design space left in it. We shouldn’t give up on it.”
Since starting his games career with Zynga, Siegel says his experience in the social space has been so demoralizing that there’ve been consequences to his mental health. He expects his current job will be his last in the game industry, and even if it were possible for the concept of ‘social games’ he once believed so strongly in to see a renaissaince, he won’t be participating.
“‘Social’ has always been a red herring,” he says. “To most developers, ‘social’ is a means to an end. It’s an advertising opportunity, a re-engagement tactic, a viral hook. Games still thrive broadly on Facebook. Millions of people play games on Facebook every day. But they’re playing in spite of the shortcomings of the platform… If we can flush out a lot of the bad choices made over the last five years, I see no reason why games on social networks can’t have a renaissance at some point.”
“But I don’t know how possible that is, or how soon it could happen, or whether it’s even possible for it to happen on Facebook anymore,” he adds. “All I know is I’m done trying.”（source：gamasutra）