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The Strategic Evolution Of Social Gaming
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The Strategic Evolution Of Social Gaming

April 15, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Brian, at GDC Online when you gave your keynote, you said that you expect these social games to become more complex...

BR: I bet I didn't say "'complex." [laughs]

Maybe not complex, maybe deeper experiences...

BR: Deeper! Deeper! That must have been the word. See, the thing is, that it used to be the kind of people that could even get through all the autoexec.bat stuff with DOS to play a game, well they were pretty technically savvy and they apparently liked to figure things out that weren't always the pleasant parts.

And there were fewer people you could sell a game to, but you could be a little bit lazy about how complicated the interface was and they'd still play it.

But gradually, the operating systems became better and more user-friendly. I mean you had Windows, and then even after Windows, there's console games that kind of package it all up and there's no installing something -- you just jam it in and hit play and you're going.

Taking out all that friction, caused by people having people figure stuff out, makes more people like your game. There's more people that are willing to play the game and so then [comically whispers] you can make more money.

So what I think will happen with social games... the trick -- if you're a game designer -- is to figure out how to put depth in. Because it's the choices and the patterns and all that stuff that makes the game fun, and last for awhile, and makes you be able to play the game more than one time, makes you always kind of looking for the next little hidden thing, or trying to get over the next challenge.

And back in the '90s, we could make the games a little more openly complex, in how the parts fit together. Now it's actually more challenging to design the games, because you have to be very subtle with your depth; it has to be very accessible. So extremely simple parts that just happen to have very subtle interactions with each other -- that was what we were trying to do with-- that was what we were trying to do with FrontierVille.

For example, have a lot of little systems, but we don't make the player have to read a book on how to play before they can start. It's more like, "Oh look, there's a whole world of stuff; just click on stuff. No matter what you click on, something good will happen!" And then, eventually, you notice that animals work a little bit different from plants, and then maybe you notice, "Oh look, if I put a sheep here, then the grass doesn't grow back."

And so if I don't want the grass to grow back, then that's a good place that I'll put my animals around to eat the grass. But there's nothing that said you had to do that, and there's no manual that tells you, and there wasn't even a pop up that said, "Hey, by the way, the sheep eats the grass." It's just you kind of play, and you notice, and then you think, "Hey, I learned something! I'm cool because I learned that, and then I feel good about the game and the experience." I think we'll continue to learn how to design games that way. We'll be better and better at hiding the friction, but making there be depth.

Bruce, you've been consulting just for a few months. So are you tired yet of trying to justify social gaming? Do you need to justify social gaming?

BS: Absolutely not. I believe we've reached out to a bunch of people who never had really good experiences; Minesweeper was the best game they could play. And the social networking games are giving them a lot of really interesting stuff; I think it's a fantastic thing. And the fact that they're willing to pay for it and we can make a living doing this, I think it's a terrific opportunity. And I'm learning things, and I think it's fun to be doing it. I don't feel any need to justify it at all.

And Brian, you seem pretty comfortable.

BR: Oh, I'm having a great time. Honestly, I have done a lot more game design in 21 months or whatever it's been, than I'd done in quite a number of years before that. It's a great place to be as a game designer. It's the forefront of this brand new thing that suddenly you can make games that are social, and there's going to be all kinds of new games that are social that we're really just figuring out how to do. So look at this year's social games -- CityVille and FrontierVille -- and then compare them to last year's social games, maybe FarmVille and... I don't know, Café World.

BS: Treasure Isle.

BR: Treasure Isle -- Treasure Isle's actually early this year. And then look at the games from the year before that. I mean, the industry's only been around for about two or three years. And so if you go back two or three years, you're talking about, you know, "accept my zombie bite." Really basic stuff. And then you get up to the Wars games, the sort of text RPG games.

And then you get the Flash games, and now the Flash games are getting better. And I think you're going to see it continue to evolve and get more and more interesting and more and more fun, and it's really fun as a game designer to be working at the forefront of this whole new kind of genre. It's a very exciting place to work.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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