Game Design Tales
Social games against Game Design
Okey, I had to use a controversial title, now that I’ve got your attention we can settle down into what seems a common and recent debate.
What are these so called social games? Weren’t games or better yet, competitive multiplayer games already social? Forums and communities have been around for ages, there certainly wasn’t a lack of communication tools either. So what makes these games different from previous ones?
I believe that to answer this we need to look at the origin of it all. Social games are actually a new category that arose to cater an emergent market. Thanks to social sites like Orkut, Facebook and the entire sociosphere, people started gathering around friends or virtual personas. This created an opportunity for game companies to capitalize on. People were already gathered and communicating, games were just a logical step after virtual chatrooms.
There is a lot of heat everywhere saying that these new games are not actually games, that they are not meaningful enough, that the people playing them are not really gamers…
Wait a minute, what!?
If we go by the technical definition, these applications have a context, they have objectives, they have a risk/reward balance, they have a character, they may have a background story, they have a audiovisual representation of the world. So why would they call it non-games?
Playing with this idea a while in my head, I came to the conclusion that the design goals on these games have a different end-point than traditional games (even casual ones which are similar in terms of production). Game designers of these games are probably asking themselves, how do I get more friends to play the game? And with this simple fact, they kill two birds with one stone, they have a central design strategy as well as a really powerful marketing tool.
What the trend seems to be is that you can progress in the game by getting more friends, paying with real money or playing by bursts at a time forcing you to come back to see the fruits of your labor. Each one of these mechanics, if you will, end up working together to generate a big user base, which is where the value is. If you have a giant user base, each new item or promotion you introduce, could potentially generate lots of revenue.
Wrapping up, I promise.
Traditional games, have a range of mechanics that work as a tool to progress in the game, to reach a ultimate goal, be that slaying a big Boss, wandering into the last level or getting to the first place on the high-score ranking. Of course, there are a lot of traditional games on these social networks, but then they are mostly based on high-score rankings that put you in a direct competition with your friends.
This ends up shifting the way you design these applications, which are still games, that just seem to appeal to a different audience. The good thing is that this just opened the market, it created opportunities. Of course there were going to be clones of successful games, but that is not any different that we have already seen (Remember what happened with the first FPS? the first RTS?, the list goes on).
And that is basically the end result of all of this, the beginning of a new game genre, “Social Games”. It’s something that you may realize a few years later, when the concept has gone mainstream. And this is usually the case when something new, that breaks the mold, comes around. Whether the entertaining value decreases in favor of profit or not, that’s a subject for another debate.（Source：gamedesigntales）