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Video: How Zynga convinced Facebook users to play an action adventure game Exclusive
August 30, 2012 | By Staff

August 30, 2012 | By Staff
More: Design, Exclusive, Video

[Note: To access chapter selection, click the fullscreen button or check out the video on the GDC Vault website]

Is it possible to make a social game that can appeal to both casual and hardcore players? It's not easy to find a satisfying middle ground between these two polarizing audiences, yet that's exactly what Zynga Boston tried to do with its recent Facebook title, Indiana Jones Adventure World.

The game sought to blend traditional action adventure game design with Zynga's accessible social mechanics, and at GDC 2012, Zynga Boston lead designer Seth Sivak offered an in-depth look at how these seemingly disparate concepts came together in one package.

Sivak explained that Zynga wanted to capture the essence of popular action adventure games like Ocarina of Time or Tomb Raider; it was a lofty goal, but making these types of games in a social context is far more difficult than you might think.

"The real question comes down to, how can we make this kind of game for everyone?" Sivak said. "There are some very basic differences between [those games and a social title]. We can't use a normal D-pad or any sort of controller; we just get a mouse. And when you're dealing with Flash just get one button, since you don't get the right click."

Zynga had to work within these and other limitations to make sure that the action adventure gameplay would make sense even to the most inexperienced players. It was a complex, challenging, and exhaustive process, but Sivak said he and his team learned quite a bit about social game design along the way.

To learn more about the creation of Indiana Jones Adventure World and to get an inside look at Zynga's development process, be sure to check out the above video, courtesy of the GDC Vault.

Simply click the Play button above to start the video.

About the GDC Vault

In addition to all of this free content, the GDC Vault also offers more than 300 additional lecture videos and hundreds of slide collections from GDC 2012 for GDC Vault subscribers. GDC 2012 All Access pass holders already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription Beta via a GDC Vault inquiry form.

Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company. More information on this option is available via an online demonstration, and interested parties can send an email to Gillian Crowley. In addition, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault admins.

Be sure to keep an eye on GDC Vault for even more free content, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from upcoming 2012 events like GDC Europe, GDC Online, and GDC China. To stay abreast of all the latest updates to GDC Vault, be sure to check out the news feed on the official GDC website, or subscribe to updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.

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Game Designer


Michael Joseph
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This is a rather surreal presentation on human trap design. I recommend watching it if you haven't.

I think calling this product (which can't be lost and is always solvable by everyone everytime on the first try) an action/adventure game is a stretch on multiple levels. If it weren't for the Indiana Jones skin...

I think an alternative title for this could be "How to foolproof your traps so that even people who need instructions on their shampoo bottles will not be so confused as to avoid getting caught in them."

After watching this I also can't help but feel that a designer producing Zynga style "games" would after a time come to resent his/her own users and think all sorts of horrible thoughts about them. This might make it easier to rationalize taking their money. Seriously. I say this because in the video you can sense palpable levels of frustration and disbelief at the gaming inexperience of some of their playtesters.

Seth Sivak
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Speaking as a designer from a Zynga product (and this product in particular), I can assure you that I did not come to resent the players of Adventure World. Trying to make a game appealing for an audience beyond yourself is actually an interesting design challenge and a valuable skill (ask anyone that makes games for kids).

As it turns out, this presentation is focused on the tutorial, which usually has no chance for failure in most games. If you do end up trying the game out, be sure to play long enough to get to some of the later levels and see the harder puzzles. While we do not ever say "Game Over", the puzzles do become open ended and are not always solvable on the first try, for example check out this walk through of one of the 100+ maps in the game:

The important take-aways from this presentation are around iterative design and the importance of user testing, which I think is probably useful regardless of your audience and the type of game you are making.

Roberto Dillon
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"There are some very basic differences between [those games and a social title]. We can't use a normal D-pad or any sort of controller; we just get a mouse. And when you're dealing with Flash just get one button, since you don't get the right click."

point-and-click style of adventures have been around for 25 years (including some great Indiana Jones titles, which are actually referenced in the talk!) and usually they were played by mouse and a button only so there's plenty of material to refer to for inspiration.

BTW, I did try to play Adventure World but couldn't force myself to even finish the tutorial: it felt just like an exercise in spamming dozen of friends and I didn't find any interesting gameplay element whatsoever. The control scheme was actually the only thing I liked...

Paolo Gambardella
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well, if we look at DAU and MAU (200,000 and 2,500,000, respectively), it is not so true that "Zynga convinced Facebook users to play an action adventure game". But I really like the return of Isometry! :)