Quote of the Day – Social Gaming in Hindsight

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

Scott Jon Siegel, quoted at Gamasutra on social gaming

Gamasutra is moving into one of the things they do really well, which is looking at how things unfolded in some aspect of the gaming industry in hindsight by pulling in key players and getting them to talk about their experiences.

The topic of the moment is social gaming… which pretty much means games on Facebook… and articles like the one above are starting to show up to examine the phenomena.

Of course, it is tough to pick just one quote out of that article.  Gems abound, such as:

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

And the especially damming:

You had a huge population of product managers, game designers, and developers making games that they themselves didn’t like

You hear a lot of “game studios are businesses” and “they have to make money” when anybody complains about monetization in games.  Those sentiments are true enough, if not exactly a defense against any particularly odious money making scheme.   But when your studio becomes all about the money and cashing in and being the next Zynga, well, something is wrong.

And a lot of the blame in the article goes on Zynga, both for their questionable business practices as well as for their huge initial success attracting copycats and wooing Facebook to tie themselves to the Zynga model.  In the end, so-called social gaming went from a giant cash cow, to a more modest one that now requires some originality to stand out.  You can still make money.  Look at Candy Crush Saga.

An interesting read, and one I am sure some people will take a great deal of satisfaction in.  “I told you so!” should spring to mind for some.

Additional fodder: These two videos about Cow Clicker and Age of Empires Online.

Extra Credit Question: Lord British was telling people they would be stupid not to make an MMO when World of Warcraft was the big, big thing.  He then jumped on the social gaming bandwagon and even attempted to hitch his star to Zynga at one point.  Now he has a crowd-funded project.  What does that say about crowd-funding?

11 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – Social Gaming in Hindsight

  1. bhagpuss

    Not sure is says anything much about crowd-funding. Mostly it seems to say that Lord British can recognize an Extremely Large Object when it is Very Close Indeed. I imagine it’s something he learned on his space travels.

    Unfortunately it seems he didn’t go far enough into space to gain the required perspective to tell which way the Extremely Large Object was heading.


  2. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    The problem I always have with business model discussions is how people assume that the business model has to be done in a specific way. Social games don’t need an energy mechanic or to be cow-clickers, for example, even if most games do that. You could do a subscription game on Facebook.

    The flipside is that different audiences have different needs. A subscription game on Facebook would probably fail because it doesn’t meet the needs of the people who would play it. Most are looking for a diversion, and don’t want to commit to a game by signing up for a subscription. What we think of as “social game mechanics” came about because that’s what worked (and the data shows worked VERY well) for that audience.

    But, eventually the luster wears off. We’ve seen this in every gaming medium as long as I’ve been alive. The great Atari Crash in the 80s happened because companies thought they could just shovel crap games onto a popular console. Casual games got calcified into a few portals that became the gateway. MMOs essentially peaked with WoW and now sets the bar stupidly high for any competitors. Games who get published on Steam are no longer guaranteed to make their developers comfortable. Getting the top slot in the App Store now takes a lot more money than it did. And, yeah, as bhagpuss points out, the luster is coming off of crowdfunding.

    So, what actually happened to social games? They’re not “dying”; Facebook is doing incredibly well and reports are that the market for games just on Facebook is $1.5 billion. But, the growth stopped. As Raph Koster says in that article, the market matured incredibly quickly. That means you can’t just show up with a new game and hope to hit the big time; you have to develop a game, market it appropriately, and try to capture customers the same way you do in just about any other medium. The beauty of social games was that you could advertise (*cough*spam*cough*) to friends. This meant free exposure and people who didn’t identify as “gamers” saw that gaming was acceptable to their friends.

    The possible silver lining here is that if the get-rich-quick artists ignore social games, maybe the time will come when someone comes in and shakes things up with something truly new and groundbreaking. We’ll see.


  3. C. T. Murphy

    I look forward to see the next way Lord British contorts his persona and legacy to fit in with the next trend.

    Still, gotta love him. He’s a survivor! And Ultima.


  4. kiantremayne

    Fundamentally, there are only two business models – not just in games, but in anything.

    1. You produce a quality product that people want, and persuade them to pay for it. They’re happy with what they get and keep paying you until you stop producing a quality product.

    2. You trick people into giving you money through hype, flim-flammery, unscrupulous manipulation or outright fraud. People keep paying you until they see through your manipulation, then they stop. At that point the police may get involved if you went the outright fraud route.

    No prizes for guessing which model Zynga went for, and unfortunately they got to set the trend for social games.


  5. 17Silben

    Well if Lord British is knocking on your door because You are the next big thing… well it seems the canary is dead and no rats are to be found anywhere on the damn ship.


  6. Vatec

    kiantremayne sums it up perfectly. If you make a quality product, people will pay for it, whether that be through subscriptions or purchases from the cash shop. If you want to make more money, keep making a quality product. It’s not a “get rich quick” scheme, but it seems to work often enough to make it worth trying….


  7. Jenks

    ” Lord British was telling people they would be stupid not to make an MMO when World of Warcraft was the big, big thing.”

    Lord British made an MMO 7 years before World of Warcraft was the big, big thing. I guess that doesn’t help you paint him as a kook, though.


  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Jenk – Yeah, but Lord British didn’t stand up in front of GDC and tell people they would be stupid not to make an MMO in the late 90s. He did it in 2007 when UO had gone from a “big, big thing” to the game that was popular until EverQuest came out, which in turn had been eclipsed by World of Warcraft by an order of magnitude.

    So, while an accurate observation there Jenks, Lord British didn’t stop working with UO. Though because of UO, he felt entitled to be called the Father of Online Gaming. And if what I write makes him look like the mayor of Kooksville, Arizona, then it is because Lord British has done all the heavy lifting for me.


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