从《Words With Friends》看经典游戏设计要素
尽管从网页平台转向手机社交游戏仍然只是理论上可行的想法，但Zynga游戏《Words With Friends》却无疑是在两个平台都获得了持续成功的典型。
有些事情要从头说起。《Words With Friends》是达拉斯工作室Newtoy的第二款游戏，后者首款游戏是2008年发布于iPhone平台的《Chess With Friends》。那一年《Scrabble》在北美版权所有者孩之宝公司起诉了Facebook游戏《Scrabulous》侵权，《Scrabulous》这款已在Facebook大获人气的游戏随后就退出了这个平台。
在发布《Words With Friends》之前，Newtoy已经拥有一系列准备条件，包括：支持面向移动设备异步玩法的技术基础框架；游戏的品牌名称（“With Friends”）；原有竞争对手的没落（游戏邦注：这里指《Scrabulous》这款游戏，在孩之宝停止起诉时该游戏又以《Lexulous》名称重出江湖，但人气已经远不如当初水平）；以及竞争对手被起诉让Newtoy所收获的经验教训——如果游戏未能呈现本质上并不相同的音效及美术设计，那它就有可能遭遇法律纠纷。
尽管如此，当时的《Words With Friends》也仍然还是个未知数。EA已在2008年面向iPhone推出《Scrabble》授权游戏，而《Scrabulous》的遭遇似乎表明，Newtoy这家初创公司要颠覆已经先于其60年诞生的游戏，只是一种不可能实现的幻想。
这种变化在一定程度上让游戏免受侵权纠纷之扰，同时也用一种全新视觉效果重塑了字谜游戏形式。与EA为《Scrabble》推出的固定木质贴图和柔和的面板相比较，《Words With Friends》采用的明快、圆角设计更令人眼前一亮，这种设计与游戏最初运行的极简式移动设备甚为兼容。
而Newtoy不但令该应用加载更为迅速，而且还允许用户输入另一玩家的用户名就可以开始同对方玩游戏。这种设置障碍较低，所以很快就带动了游戏人气增长。《Words With Friends》随着时间发展也逐步添加了更多UI和注册元素，但它是在积累了足够的用户和影响力之后才增加这种设置。
Zynga With Friends
Newtoy被收购并变身为Zynga With Friends之后，陆续推出了三款With Friends新作：《Hanging With Friends》、《Scramble With Friends》以及《Matching With Friends》。前两者遵循的是《Words With Friends》与《Chess With Friends》的路线，根据热门猜字游戏及桌游进行了调整，支持在移动设备上的异步玩法。
但这些续作所收获的人气和影响力都不敌《Words With Friends》。 《Words With Friends》最近在Facebook平台的MAU高达1340万左右，还曾在iOS付费应用榜单登顶。在其他续作中，《Scramble With Friends》表现最佳，在Facebook的MAU为400万，最近在iOS榜单位居第25名。与之形成对比的是《Draw Something》，它在Facebook的MAU已降至1120万，在iOS付费应用榜单位居第251名。
很多人都想知道为何Zynga With Friends无法再续写《Words With Friends》的辉煌，答案很明显：只有少数产品才能成为热作，并且我们难以预测哪个产品会脱颖而出，之前的表现并不能保证未来的成功。而更有趣的问题是：从《Words With Friends》的发展过程中我们能够汲取哪些经验教训？
Newtoy的游戏并不算是真正意义上的设计型游戏。该开发商以《Chess With Friends》起步，通过为早期的iPhone游戏异步玩法提供有效的匹配机制来增加经典游戏的吸引力。象棋是热门游戏，但不像字谜游戏那样大众化，而《Words With Friends》却能同时收获用户覆盖率，并实现在移动设备和网页平台上的异步玩法。Newtoy更改了《Scrabble》的一些细节，但这种改变还算不上是一种设计创新。
但Zynga仍允许旗下工作室保持相对独立的运作方式，并且《Words With Friends》的设计也早于Newtoy被“Zynga同化”之前。这种情况表明Newtoy可能只是崇尚较保守的设计方式，更倾向于重新包装经典设计而非发明全新游戏题材。
设计创新纯粹主义者可能会鄙视这一做法，但这种态度未免有失公允——毕竟游戏方式设计多种多样，不可一概而论。而且我们也得承认，《Matching With Friends》（发布于几个月之前）也确实体现了一些设计创新，尽管它并未跳出传统的连线消除模式这一框架。
但《Matching With Friends》并未像Newtoy的其他游戏那般成功。那么由此来看，开发者有何理由不保持原来可行的设计方式——以新包装呈现人们所熟悉的设计？
《Words With Friends》极为适合这种开发理念，因为它同时涉足两种领域：它是从桌游传统演变而来的数字游戏，并可将桌游融入了充满未知数的Facebook、移动平台，以及未来可能出现的新兴平台。
第一步应该很简单：修整当前游戏的明显缺陷和弱点。例如，其应用启动/存储过程已经远不如当初版本。要求用户注册帐号也许是不可避免的步骤，但这种需持续数分钟的过程，却让《Words With Friends》丧失了原先即时上手的便捷性。
以《Words With Friends》中的词典为例。它的设计很糟糕——非常初级和不完整，无法识别常用词、复数、时态以及其他语型变化。没有哪一个铁杆玩家不会遇到这种问题，但这也并不算游戏设计问题。毕竟，有限的词典也可以成为一种有趣的玩法约束条件。例如，《Scrabble》的规则就禁用缩写词，部分原因是为了减少两个字母文字的玩法出现次数。实际上，我们可以针对词典设计出多种可行的解决方案。
《Words With Friends》可以尝试推出最有竞争力的字谜游戏词典。它可以通过使用更好的词典，或经过多次更新来实现这一点，甚至可以使用人工计算方法来确认可被接受的字词。
事实上，词典设计还揭露了这款游戏的另一个特点：《Srabble》是一款关于“认字”的游戏，而《Words With Friends》则是关于“找词”的游戏。由于游戏不会惩罚无法在词典中找到匹配字词的玩家，所以玩家可以不断尝试，直到找到匹配的字母组合为止。异步玩法在一定程度上强化了这种游戏模式，每个相隔甚久的游戏回合并不会给玩家带来任何社交焦虑感。除此之外，每个玩家都有各自的游戏屏幕，因此可以隐藏自己可能采取的下一步行动（而在咖啡桌上玩的字谜游戏则不具备这一优势）。
实际上，《Wrods With Friends》还是可以继续鼓励玩家找字词，但可以添加一些正交元素来减弱其不甚重视中高级水平玩家的倾向。
《Words With Friends》或许也可以采用类似方法，但要呈现相反的结果。它可以存储和呈现玩家的所有尝试步骤，例如玩家在面板上摆放不整的瓷砖，以及被词典所否定的“猜测结果”，这样玩家就可以部分地猜测出对方将要拼写的字词，以及他们的拼写习惯。
或者《Words With Friends》也可以完全采用找字功能，将其视为游戏更核心的环节。尽管我们难以想象这样的游戏是何面貌，但这也并非完全不可行的做法。例如，EA手机版《Scrabble》就有一个提示系统，它可以自动在面板上挑选最合适的字词。
这个解决方案可能有点过头了，正如在7个字母的Bingo游戏中玩家能否获胜就要取决于他们在游戏中的完成度。但我们仍可以想象有这样一种版本的《Words With Friends》，它要求特定瓷砖中只能出现特定长度的单词，得到特定的奖励，或者在面板中的特定区域邀请玩家进行限定的尝试操作。这种邀请可以提供一些提示内容，或者提供一些与之前已匹配好的单词所含有的相同奖励。
对玩家和游戏所有者来说，异步手机游戏的好处之一就是可以让人们多次体验即时性的游戏回合。因为这些行动是有限的，不会过于浪费时间，也因为玩家无法规定对方的游戏时间安排，所以常会出现在《Words With Friends》中同时开启多个游戏的现象。
但与传统的《Scrabble》或《Boggle》不同，玩家无法根据能力水平来识别对手。当我同妻子玩《Words With Friends》时，我可以发挥自己的最佳水平，我们是旗逢对手的竞争者。我的儿子也很厉害，但我每次都能赢他。我女儿还不是我的对手，她一般只玩自己看到的首个单词。
同象棋一样，在《Scrabble》的竞争赛中，系统会根据能力以及匹配度来给玩家排名。如果《Words With Friends》也演变为高度竞争性的运动，设置正式的排名系统以及障碍条件也未尝不可，但目前还不适合推行这种措施。
持续制作《Words With Friends》
与上述设计建议相反的提议同简单性有关：《Words With Friends》是经典字谜桌面游戏经过微调而演变而来，毕竟添加过多额外配置功能只会搅乱游戏让玩家望而却步。但有些游戏设计模式并不会随着筛选和提纯而演变，《Words With Friends》可能就属于那种经过长期演变进行复杂化，而非简单化的游戏。
更进一步而言，社交游戏领域的市场修正现象或许可表明，过去5年的基本开发模式（游戏邦注：即快速增加，快速迭代、调配人员）正是其批评者所忌惮的金字塔骗局？即便我们接纳了科技初创公司不顾一切快速发展的理念，但产品成功站稳脚跟时，我们难道不该再深入挖掘，探索如何令其更为成功的方法（而不只是同其他竞争产品展开你追我赶的拉踞战）？而看到游戏续作远比原作更为逊色时（正如Zynga With Friends之后发布的异步手机游戏），我们不是更应该采用这种做法了吗？
而对Zynga来说，最好的做法似乎就是将其成功游戏作为运用到别处的原材料。《Draw Something》已授权改制为电视游戏节目，但《Words With Friends》却正往推广平台的方向发展。除了与孩之宝合作推出桌游版本，该游戏最近的数字更新内容还添加了一个复杂的名人锦标赛内容（含有好莱坞明星及企业赞助商元素）。这也是一个解决方法：将电子游戏视为一个点燃跨媒体战略的火种。从这个选项来看，定期推出新内容看似一个极富吸引力的替代性选择。至少它关注的是制作游戏而非制作内容素材。
我并不确定Newtoy是否打算一直制作《Words With Friends》游戏内容，也不确定EA Tiburon是否有意让《Madden》系列持续发展下去。但那种缓慢而仔细探索游戏本质、发展潜力，以及玩家及设计师如何长期改变游戏的做法，确实是一种尚未被人们所颂扬的美德。（本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译，拒绝任何不保留版权的转载，如需转载请联系：游戏邦）
Persuasive Games: Words With Friends Forever
by Ian Bogost
What lessons can we learn from Zynga’s popular game, Words With Friends? In the latest Persuasive Games, video game researcher and designer Ian Bogost examines whether social games can find room to grow.
Imagine that you were a big game studio that had built your business around free-to-play social network games. Say that you had recently gone public, but your stock was down sixfold from its IPO price. And let’s also imagine that the social network facilitating most of your business was also taking a hammering on Wall Street. Imagine too that analysts had suggested that an underdeveloped and under-executed mobile strategy was cause for worry among investors in both cases.
Oh, and just for kicks, also imagine that you’d recently spent a couple hundred million dollars to acquire a smaller studio with a red-hot mobile title, but that said game’s performance had declined rapidly in the quarter after the acquisition. In the meantime, imagine you had let your most successful mobile title wallow in disregard since acquiring its creator more than a year before.
Obviously, this isn’t a hypothetical scenario. It’s the recent story of Zynga. With its stock down and its prospects in question, the company has faced multiple executive resignations and fielded tough criticism from financial analysts.
Even if the shift from web to mobile social games is still just a theory, Zynga seems to have all but disavowed a proven, continuously successful game that performs well across both platforms: Words With Friends.
History With Friends
Some history is in order. Words With Friends was the second title from Dallas studio Newtoy, which first released Chess With Friends on iPhone in 2008. That’s the same year an infringement lawsuit from Scrabble’s North American copyright owner Hasbro had driven Scrabulous off of Facebook after a year of intense popularity on the platform.
Newtoy thus had a number of things going for it in advance of the release of Words With Friends: a technology infrastructure for facilitating asynchronous play for mobile devices; a brand-name for such games (“With Friends”); the untimely demise of an incumbent competitor (Scrabulous later relaunched as Lexulous and Hasbro dropped its lawsuit, but the game never achieved its former glory); and a helpful reminder of the legal obstacles that the studio might face if it didn’t offer a substantially different audiovisual presentation from the genre’s ur-game.
Still, Words With Friends was hardly a sure thing. Electronic Arts had managed to get an officially licensed iPhone version of Scrabble to market in 2008, and with the downfall of Scrabulous it seemed impossible that an upstart like Newtoy could upset a game with a 60-year head start.
But amazingly, it did. We’ll never know exactly why, but for once design may have triumphed over marketing. Not game design, either, but visual and experience design.
Visually, Newtoy’s crossword game wasn’t very different from Scrabble or Scrabulous in play, although the developers wisely revised the appearance of the tiles and board along with the position of bonuses and the value of individual letters.
These alterations partly helped the game avoid copyright infringement challenges, but they also recast the familiar crossword formula in a new visual light. Next to EA’s faithful recreation of Scrabble’s staid wooden tiles and pastel board, Words With Friends’ bright, rounded, plasticy look felt fresh, clean, and well aligned with the minimalist mobile devices on which the game was first played.
From an experience design perspective, Newtoy did an expert job with the app’s startup and “onboarding” experience. Back in 2009, EA’s iPhone Scrabble displayed a lengthy animated splash screen (it still does), then required registration to start games with friends.
Newtoy not only made its app load quickly, but also allowed users to start a game just by entering another player’s username. The friction was low, so playership increased. Over time, Words With Friends has added many more layers of UI and registration, but did so after gaining enough users and mindshare that the network effect helped overcome a bulkier experience.
Given Zynga’s ongoing interest in buying studios for their users as much as or more than their game properties, it’s clear that these two decisions were central to making Newtoy an appealing acquisition target for the social game Godzilla.
Zynga With Friends
Since becoming Zynga With Friends, the studio has released three new “With Friends” games: Hanging With Friends, Scramble With Friends, and Matching With Friends. The first two follow the same course as Words and Chess, adapting popular folk- and board games (hangman and Boggle, respectively) for asynchronous mobile play.
But none of the studio’s subsequent titles match the popularity and influence of Words With Friends over time. It boasts 13.4 million monthly active users (MAUs) on Facebook and has held the #1 top paid app spot on iOS as recently as last week (it’s down to #72 this week). Of the other titles, Scramble With Friends has performed best, with 4 million MAUs on Facebook, and an iOS ranking of #25 this week. By comparison, Draw Something is down to 11.2 million MAUs on Facebook and is the #251 paid iOS app.
It’s tempting to ask why Zynga With Friends hasn’t managed to produce a “With Friends” like Words, but that answer is somewhat obvious: hits are rare and hard to predict, and previous performance doesn’t guarantee future success. A more interesting question is this one: what lessons can we learn in advance from Words With Friends about the future of game development?
Games Without Game Design
Newtoy’s games haven’t really been game designed games. The developer started with Chess With Friends, adding appeal to a classic by offering an effective matchmaking mechanism for asynchronous games in the early days of the iPhone. Chess is popular but not as accessible as crossword games, and Words With Friends offered both increased reach and a refinement of asynchronous play on mobile devices and eventually on the web as well. Newtoy changed some of the details from Scrabble, but nothing substantial enough to qualify as design innovation.
Zynga has received a lot of flack for antipathy toward game design, favoring the “borrowing” of existing designs, to put it kindly. Indeed, the company’s overall corporate strategy has been one of trying to outrace itself, launching new games or acquiring new game studios and shifting players to new games as old ones atrophy.
Still, Zynga allows its studios to operate relatively independently, and the design of Words With Friends predates Newtoy’s Zyngaficiation. It’s possible that Newtoy just prefers a more conservative approach to design, one focused on the re-packaging of classic designs rather than the invention of new genres.
Design innovation purists might scoff, but such a reaction is unfair: after all, there are lots of ways to do game design. And admittedly, Matching With Friends, released only a few months ago, does offer some design novelty, even if it does so within the proven match-three genre.
But Matching hasn’t taken off nearly as much as Newtoy’s other games anyway. Given the evidence, why not stick with what works — presenting familiar designs in fresh packaging?
The changing marketplace might offer one reason. It’s still too early to tell if the social game trend was just a bomb with a fuse long enough to help a few companies sell or go public, and sustainable enough only for their senior-most management to cash out big. But no matter the answer, things seem to be changing.
Perhaps one of those changes will be a return to deeper game design. Not just deeper in systems design — finding truly novel designs even in a familiar design space — but deeper in long-term preoccupation, like making the same sushi every day for 75 years. Rather than see a crossword game as a trifle, a distraction that will be replaced soon enough by a letter game or a colored tile game or a cow clicking game, what if we assumed just the opposite: that any particular game is worth playing for a lifetime, at least in principle, and therefore that every game is also worthy of infinite design refinement?
When we talk about game design like this, mathematically deep games come to mind first, games whose naturally designed properties result in an enormous solution spaces. Games like go, chess, and StarCraft. These games are sublime, but they are also scarce — as perhaps they should be. Everyone should not be fated to search for the unicorn.
It’s a less exotic but perhaps a nobler task to pursue a better and better take on a proven idea. Games like chess and go persist because they are old and mysterious enough to have hypostatized into legend. Games like Scrabble are a little different: invented in the modern era, they have identifiable designers and defensible copyrights. They’ve been commercialized and licensed within an inch of their lives, and as a result they’re household names.
They’re also static. Dead, almost. Scrabble doesn’t change much, even when it gets adapted for computer. It can’t: to do so would be to give up the stability that protects it. But digital games have a natural excuse to exceed their original boundaries, especially in today’s era of digital downloads and constantly recycling hardware.
The materials from which computer games are made have always been pliable, but the products themselves have been fixed for physical distribution. Consoles, computers, screens, and handheld devices once remained relatively stable for long periods, whereas now they change their internal and external features and abilities almost too often.
Normally, these infrastructures underwrite a designerly attitude of short-term techno-fetishism: do what’s necessary to exploit whatever’s new while biding time until something else is new. But perhaps when pushed to extremes, obsolescence flips into commitment: when things change fast enough, there’s no choice left but to eschew blind novelty in favor of incremental refinement.
This isn’t anything new, really — some games already live long through constant change and update, social games among them. Zynga even has a term for it: “cadence”, the process of continually adding new features and mechanics to a game. FarmVille has cadence, and so does Madden NFL, albeit of different sorts.
At its worst, cadence means the soul-killing grind of a new feature a week, and that’s mostly what we find in today’s social game design practices. But at its best, a cadenced approach to design works slowly and deliberately over the long haul, rather than hot and fast for a short sprint, before the next thing offers new distraction.
Words With Friends is a good candidate for such treatment because it has a foot in both worlds: a digital game drawing from board game traditions but translating them into the weird, uncertain waters of Facebook, mobile, and whatever might emerge next to and beyond it.
The first step would be easy: remedying the obvious flaws and foibles in the current game. For example, the onboarding and app launch/restore process is far less elegant than it once was. The need for proper account registration was probably inevitable, but until recently Words With Friends would freeze on launch or reactivation to communicate with the network, undoing some of its earlier convenience as a pick-up game given a few minutes’ distraction.
And there’s no excuse for the game’s ongoing unwillingness to preview the score of a placed word — computers are pretty good at adding, after all.
But some seemingly obvious flaws might not be, when seen from the perspective of longevity and evolution rather than short-termism. Cadenced game design is a process of designer and player co-discovery, not just agile development efficiency. It’s a process of building a durable cultural form as much as a stable product.
Take the Words With Friends dictionary as an example. It’s terrible — rudimentary and incomplete, failing to recognize common words, plurals, tense changes, and other inflections. No serious player will fail to encounter this limitation, but that doesn’t make it a game design problem, exactly. After all, a limited dictionary might be a welcome play constraint; for example, Scrabble’s rules prohibit abbreviations partly to reduce the number of viable two-letter plays (often key to expert play). Rather, the dictionary could be seen as an opportunity with many possible solutions.
Words With Friends could strive to offer the most complete word game dictionary around. That could take place through the use of a better dictionary, or through continuous updates, or even by using human computation to suggest and validate rejected words that should be included.
Or, if its creators really wanted to embrace Zynga-style monetization, the Words With Friends in-game store (did you even know it existed?) could sell custom dictionary add-ons: Disney/Marvel, Election 2012, Particle Physics, Molecular Gastronomy, Proust — whatever.
Or, following Draw Something’s model, Words With Friends could release limited edition collections of words, keyed to current trends or events. Like in Bookworm, these words might offer a bonus if played in a particular game. No matter the case, the dictionary’s shortcomings suggest many possible avenues for future development, not just one obvious solution.
In fact, the dictionary reveals another of the game’s quirks: while Scrabble is a game about knowing words, Words With Friends is a game about finding words. Thanks to the game’s lack of penalties for plays that don’t find a match in the game dictionary, players can try out endless possible combinations of letters until one of them works. The game’s asynchronous nature tends to magnify this play pattern; none of the social anxiety of long turns exists in a distributed play session. And besides, each player has his or her own private screen for play, thus making it possible to hide experimental moves in a way that wouldn’t be possible on a coffee table.
What to do with this unexpected situation? One answer would be to revel in it. Zach Gage’s indie word game hit SpellTower features word-finding as a core mechanic, eschewing both time constraints and vocabulary exertion in favor of an open invitation to try as many hypothetical moves as possible before committing to one. But Gage — who admits that a hatred for traditional word games partly motivated SpellTower — had to devise a completely new design to offer an experience based on finding words over than manufacturing them.
Instead, Words With Friends might embrace its encouragement of word discovery, but add orthogonal elements to downplay its tendency to take over games among well matched, mid- to high-level players.
One answer already exists in Zynga’s other mobile hit, Draw Something, which demonstrates every stroke of a player’s entire drawing while presenting the result to a competitor. This revelatory experience is certainly part of the excitement and appeal of the game, but it also serves a design purpose, implicitly challenging players to guess a drawing as early in its creation as possible (even though the game offers no explicit rewards for doing so).
A similar approach might be possible in Words With Friends, but with the opposite result. By storing and displaying all of a player’s trial moves, including loose tiles placed on the board experimentally as well as word “guesses” rejected by the dictionary, an player would gain a partial view of an opponent’s tiles, as well as his or her placement penchants.
Thus, a balance could be struck between the boundless experimentation the game currently allows and the closed, touch-play effect of traditional tabletop Scrabble. Discovery would still be possible, but in a form dampened by revelation.
Or, Words With Friends could fully embrace word discovery, making it a more central part of the game. Such a result is harder to imagine, but not impossible. For example, EA’s mobile edition of Scrabble offers a hints system, which automatically selects the best word on the board.
This solution may go a bit overboard, as successes like a seven-letter “bingo” really ought to be limited to player accomplishment. Still, you can imagine a version of Words With Friends that might highlight words of a specific length crossing a particular tile, playable over a particular bonus, or in a particular region of the board, inviting controlled experimentation. Such invitations could simply offer hints, or they could come with bonuses akin to those suggested earlier for special per-match words.
For players and game owners alike, one of the benefits of asynchronous mobile games is their tendency to encourage multiple simultaneous sessions. Because moves are finite and not terribly time consuming, and because a player cannot regulate the play schedule of his or her opponents, it’s common to start up many games at a time in a title like Words With Friends.
But unlike traditional Scrabble or Boggle, there’s no way to distinguish players from one another by ability. When I play Words With Friends with my wife, I can play at the top of my ability; we’re well matched competitors. My son is very good but I still beat him every time. But my daughter doesn’t stand a chance against me; she just plays the first word she sees.
As with chess, in competitive tournament Scrabble, players are ranked by ability and matched accordingly. Establishing formal rankings and handicaps for Words With Friends might be appropriate if it evolved into a highly competitive quasi-sport, but for now such action would be premature.
In the meantime, there’s still considerable opportunity to tune the game to make unmatched matches more enjoyable: the prohibition of two-letter word plays, algorithms more elaborate than mere randomness for letter distribution, play clocks, or any other number of variations that could find their way into individual matches on an ad-hoc basis.
Such additions might increase the satisfaction of individual players or reduce atrophy between partners willing to play but frustrated by a difference in ability or commitment. They might also re-awaken interest in the game among players who had put it down in favor of once-new alternatives.
Words With Friends Forever
Opposition to any of these design suggestions would likely appeal to simplicity: Words With Friends is a lithe take on a classic crossword board game, and adding jillions of extra configurable features only muddies the waters and turns players off. But some game design patterns don’t evolve through winnowing and refinement, and Words With Friends might be a game whose long-term design evolution arises from complicating rather than simplifying its experience.
After all, people don’t still play StarCraft because it reduced the real-time strategy game to wabi-sabi austerity, and they don’t still play Madden because it narrowed its design down to local minimum of video game football. There’s beauty in elegance and simplicity, but there’s also beauty in convolution and elaborateness. Perhaps our industrial obsession with modernist minimalism has blinded us to the equal, if different beauty of the baroque.
Furthermore, what if the apparent market correction in the social games space suggests that a fundamental development pattern of the last half-decade — fast ramp up, fast cadence, burn and cannibalize — turned out to be just the pyramid scheme its critics feared? Even if we were to adopt the tech startup ideal of fast growth at all costs, once a product succeeds at establishing traction, doesn’t it make sense to dig down deeper and ask how such a success could be made even more successful, rather than chasing ghosts? And doesn’t it make even more sense to do so when follow-ups have been proven less successful than the original, as in the case of Zynga With Friends’ post-Words asynchronous mobile roster?
There’s an anxiety about such an idea. Game design purists privilege design innovation over all else. Technology purists privilege new devices, computational capabilities, and modes of play. Simultaneously, critics within and without the industry mock video games’ tendency toward rehashing the same games in the same genres over and over again. What could be worse in the eyes of a novelty-obsessed public than working on a particular title for years, decades, even a lifetime? To make it better, yes, to dig deeper into its design space, sure, but also because it’s gratifying and sustaining to work on something with long-term prospects.
As the social game industry “corrects”, as the market analysts would put it, some of the hubris, excess, and trespass of social games will slough off like dead skin — not necessarily because those practices will seem wrong in retrospect, mind you, but because they will no longer sustain the fast growth leveraged speculation demands.
As for Zynga, it seems to be responding by treating its successful games as raw materials best put to use elsewhere. Draw Something was licensed for a television game show, but Words With Friends is becoming a promotional platform. In addition to a deal with Hasbro to create a board game edition of the title (with mobile phone slots in the tile cradles, even), the game’s latest digital update adds a complex celebrity tournament with attractive Hollywood stars and corporate sponsors. That’s certainly one answer: treat video games as mere kindling for larger transmedia bonfires. Given such an option, the soul-killing grind starts to seem like a downright charming alternative. At least it focuses on making games rather than making fodder.
Still, we ought to be careful not to throw the snakeskin out with the snake, so to speak. In its positive incarnation, cadence might be the best lesson to take away from social game design, even if needs considerable revision to escape its legacy as an entrapment technique. A cadence is a rhythm, a pattern that keeps something going. For runners and cyclists it’s a measure of gait, the number of steps or crankset revolutions per minute. A drum cadence or a military cadence keeps time, offering a beat to marching musicians or soldiers.
A cadence isn’t just something you can measure because it keeps going, but a practice operating at a pace such that it can be kept going. Cadenced game design can be a type of sustainable game design, one capable of producing and reproducing a particular game by keeping it going, refining it, changing it, updating it. For a long time. Forever, perhaps.
I’m not sure if Newtoy wants to make Words With Friends forever. I’m not sure EA Tiburon wants to make Madden forever, either. But that slow, deliberate exploration of what a game can be, what it can do, and how it can be shaped in the hands of its players and designers over a very long time — that’s a virtue, and an unsung one.（source：gamasutra）