Archive for July, 2010

July 30, 2010

Going on holiday!

Hey everyone.

Just thought I’d let you know that I’m on holiday until August 16th. I might make a post if I get some downtime and get inspired. How can this not inspire you?

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Jiuzhaigou - One of the places I'm heading

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See you later!

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Sam

July 27, 2010

Rethinking the Artillery game

I did not know this was a genre! I thought it was ‘Turn-based 2D strategy game’ or something like that, but no it’s an ‘Artillery game’.

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Artillery for the Apple II

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The games I’m talking about are Worms, Wild Ones, DDT and Gunbound (a few notable examples). You know the type, the games where you control an individual or a team of little characters armed with a bunch of weapons. Then you proceed to blast each other to smithereens or off the map entirely. These games have barely evolved since the dawn of time, yet they are still tremendously popular. Apparently, DDT is the most popular webgame in China. Wild Ones has around 4 million monthly active users and Worms has had so many iterations that I can’t even recall the latest one.

Recently I was asked to look at these games and come up with a new game that would be a good fit for Facebook. Even Wild Ones (a Facebook game) has extremely limited social features, so my number 1 objective was to bring the best social features from other Facebook games into my Artillery game. In addition to this, I want to streamline the gameplay and combine the coolest features from all the competition to create the best artillery game experience possible.

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Worms Armageddon

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The next few posts on this blog will cover various aspects of the Artillery game, what currently exists and what can be improved. It will all culminate in a complete concept for the ultimate artillery game. Hell, if I manage to sell the idea my bosses might agree to work on it. If that’s the case then this blog will get much more interesting!..

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Sam

July 21, 2010

Gamebook: Brave Arms

‘Gamebook’ is a series which focuses on hardcore gaming on Facebook. These games are similar to those you’ll find on a PC or console, featuring skill based gameplay and PvP action.

Launched this week, Brave Arms is the ‘first social shooter’ on Facebook. Now this isn’t exactly correct, since Paintball Paradise 3D (PP3D) has been around for a while and that is the first shooter on Facebook. Adding ‘social’ to the first shooter tagline might be ok if it had social features, but right now Brave Arms is as social as Quake. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Lets have a look!

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Brave Arms - 3D online deathmatch

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Brave Arms instantly reminded me of Unreal Tournament or Quake. It plays in a similar way. You just run around one of 2 arenas and blow the enemies to bits. Since it’s a new game, everything is a bit barebones but the skeleton is there to play around with. I’ve got to say, I think it’s the best game on Facebook.

Of course, that’s not saying much. It’s one of the only games on Facebook (the others being virtual chores), so there isn’t much competition. However it is definitely one step ahead of the real Facebook games in that the graphics are pretty and the gameplay is pure twitch awesomeness. PP3D is essentially the same thing, with more maps and modes and cool powerups (although I kinda think they suck). What sets Brave Arms apart from PP3D are the weapons. I’m not sure why but shooting paint just isn’t that satisfying. The weapons in Brave Arms feel, look and sound badass. An FPS is only as good as its weapons (or it’s shotguns in my opinion!) and the arms in Brave Arms feels nice in your hands.

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Arms of the Brave

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As mentioned previously, there isn’t much to Brave Arms right now. There is Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch (kill everyone or kill another team) and only 2 maps. But like most streamlined shooters, it knows what it’s doing and does it well. Each weapon is unique (although the SMG and Assault are a bit too similar) and the maps are big and varied enough, with lots of detail, that they don’t get boring quickly. One thing that isn’t bare bones is the character customization. The models are great looking and the clothes you are offered at the outset are varied enough to give you a good choice of looks. I’ve only see 2 people ever look the same once, although it was the generic ‘badass gasmask marine’ look which I can imagine is one of the most popular. My character; Mrs. Warboys, is wearing a 60’s style getup with a huge floppy hat and a boob tube. I’ve seen another guy dressed as a banana.

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Iron Sights in a Facebook game. Oh yes!

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So what are the problems? Well gameplay wise I haven’t got much to moan about. It’s annoying that you can’t change weapons mid-round (you’re stuck with your initial choice) but that’s not a huge problem. The only real balance issue is that the Sniper is way too powerful. It pretty much kills with just a body shot, no need for a shot to the head. This results in Sniper battles (*yawn*) or guys with shotguns having a severe disadvantage. At the moment it’s not a massive problem, because the maps are full of winding corridors and secret paths, but once Snipers start getting good and learn the maps there will be no stopping them.

Lag has been an issue for me, but I do have a slow internet connection and it’s likely that most players are not in Asia (like me). So I’ll leave this one open to debate. Other technical issues have been a real pain in the ass though. The game tends to just disconnect you randomly, but without telling you. The only way you know is if all the other players stop moving. Also when the game crashes (which it tends to do a lot), I keep getting this horrid bug where it says the game is still open but it isn’t. This prevents you from playing until you restart your computer. It is a beta so I’m willing to forgive, but these problems on a Facebook game will not be tolerated by the usual Facebook gamer audience.

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You be dead.

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Technical issues aside, Brave Arms has one final problem. No users! At least in my time zone. That’s why I urge you all to give it a spin. It’s really worth a play and once ranking and social features are introduced then it could be massive.

I’ll be eagerly following Brave Arms. I think the success or failure of this game will be a sign of the future of Facebook gaming. Lets hope it’s a success.

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Sam

July 20, 2010

Introducing ‘Gamebook’

‘Gamebook’ is a series which focuses on hardcore gaming on Facebook. These games are similar to those you’ll find on a PC or console, featuring skill based gameplay and PvP action. .

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Released this week; Brave Arms - The first 'social' shooter on Facebook

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The trends on Facebook game popularity are suggesting that more complex, strategic gameplay is becoming more popular. As InsideSocialGames pointed out just over a week ago, Strategy games are the new Farms. This is crazy in some respects but also unsurprising since there have to be some hardcore gamers on Facebook. Yes they can play traditional games, on the same system they access Facebook through, but perhaps they enjoy the social features. I often comment that Social Gaming doesn’t have to mean bad gaming, that social features can bring advantages to traditional gaming. Perhaps the hardcore gamers who are checking out Verdonia or Backyard Monsters enjoy the built in social systems.

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From the InsideSocialGames link above, the Chief Financial Officer of Playdom; Christa Quarles, had this to say;.

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“I think what’s interesting there is that you have a lot of people trying it out. It’s at least demonstrative that there’s really a harder core audience out there. The initial art for the game, even, is not puppy dogs with big eyes. It’s medieval knights with swords. It validates our opinion, which is that there are harder core gamers on Facebook.”

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While I agree that there are hardcore gamers on Facebook, it’s also important to point out that Facebook is just a huge viral marketing machine. When friends of hardcore gamers are publishing stories about the awesome game they’re playing, it’s likely that some of their Farmville friends might check it out. Maybe these are ‘closet gamers’ who just haven’t realized that challenging online gameplay is really fun. Maybe they’ve become bored of 1-click per minute gaming and the repetitiveness of accepting a quest, waiting for X amount of time and then completing the quest.

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‘Gamebook’ is going to be a regular series of articles on Sam’s Dev Diary where I focus on more hardcore gaming through the Facebook platform. Tomorrow I’ll make a post about Brave Arms because it could do with the publicity and it’s actually pretty sweet.

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Sam

July 13, 2010

Is PC Gaming really ‘dying’?

I was actually going to write a post about this myself but then I thought I’d check some more news and saw this article on N4G: Is PC Gaming really ‘dying’? on Roboawesome.

The article has a great metaphor regarding PC gaming and Console gaming as genres of music;

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“The PC gaming market and the console markets are vastly different from each other – they’re almost impossible to compare.  A good way to liken it would be to look at certain genres of music. In a way you could think of console gaming as pop-music. An entity that is engineered to be popular among the broadest possible audience, good enough to carry musical merit but not too challenging for the listener and easy to get into. You could think of PC gaming as heavy metal. A more underground form of music which is more of an acquired taste and perhaps more challenging on the ears of the listener catering to a more select crowd. Pop music will always be higher in the charts than Metal music is and Pop music will be played on the radio whereas Metal music is played less if not at all but despite all of this Metal as a genre of music will always have a fan base and always have a market. Pop acts, however, will constantly come and go.The same can be said of PC gaming. It won’t have all of the Ad campaigns or the media buzz but will that stop Starcraft 2 from selling millions of copies? Of course it won’t.”

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Nowadays people are saying console gaming is dying too. So perhaps it would be best to call Social Gaming the pop music of society, PC the Metal and Console the Rock (since it’s enjoyed more by the mainstream but doesn’t exactly vanquish the shite from the top of the charts). It’s a good read and also highlights the convenience of Digital Distribution, which will only improve in the future.

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For whom the bell tolls...

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My personal take on the matter is that PC gaming isn’t ‘dying’. Using ‘dying’ is just scaremongering and a grossly inaccurate usage of terms. PC gaming is never going to die. Even if no more games were ever released commercially, PC gaming would continue. Games built using mods are amongst the most popular of all online games (e.g. Defense of the Ancients and Counter-Strike). These games are not sold for profit but are regularly updated (I’m not sure about CS but DotA is still free and updated with new content). Perhaps the age of big budget and non-revolutionary games is over (I’m looking at you Call of Duty) but the best games are always going to sell well, such as Valve games and Starcraft 2 for example. As long as these games create new engines and contain mod tools, then mod-made free gaming is constantly going to be reborn and these communities aren’t going to die just because generic FPS’s fall out of favour.

PC gaming will never die, gamers are too passionate for it to happen.

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Sam

July 8, 2010

Facebook Destined – Rumble in the Void

‘Facebook Destined’ is a feature about games which should be ported onto Facebook. They all share a common theme – simple but addictive gameplay with low technological requirements. Ideas about how social features could be added and how things could be monetized will also be present.

It’s fitting that the first game for Facebook Destined is the first online multi-player game I ever got my hands on. Back then it was when I had a 56k connection and had just signed up to the free multiplayer gaming platform ‘Wireplay’. My username was stupid (Funkst3r) and I thought I’d check out this free game that came with my copy of PC Zone. This was the game that opened my eyes to deathmatch gameplay, and it would be great to see it opening the eyes of casual/social gamers around Facebook.

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Rumble in the Void (RitV) is very simple. Players fly around a space environment, complete with asteroids, space clouds (??), floating barriers and space satellites. The objective is to kill opposing enemy ships using a variety of weapons. The game is 2D with a top-down viewpoint, controlling similarly to the vehicles in Micro Machines with the UP key accelerating, DOWN decelerating and the LEFT/RIGHT keys turning. You have a 6 slot inventory which can be used with the SHIFT key to switch to the next weapon, or by using keyboard shortcuts. CTRL fires weapons and SPACE respawns. That’s it!

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Ship Select screen - RoboTAI my favourite

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Each ship has 5 attributes; Armor, Speed, Thrust, Energy and Recharge. Essentially HP, MP and Manoeuvrability.  In addition, ships have a starting weapon. Some ships have unique weapons which are rarely found on the battlefield, others have suped up versions of standard weapons such as the Cannon or Goo. RoboTAI has a Taser, a short range but devastating weapon which drains a lot of energy. Coupled with his high speed and high energy recharge, he is a devastating hit and run melee attacker.

What makes RitV great fun are the physics. It’s not anything advanced, there are no Havok physics systems implemented here. There’s just a nice feeling of low gravity as you bounce off obstacles/ships or turn. Mastering this system takes real skill so, while it’s very easy to pick up and play, it’s rewarding chasing people and evading death. Coupled with the different ships and weapon mechanics there is a lot of life in RitV.

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There are no screenshots of Rumble on the internet. This is from a camera phone. Apologies!

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RitV was released in 1999 and there has been a lot of development in the broad ‘multiplayer combat game’ genre. What makes a new version of Rumble exciting is the amount that can be added to the game, learnt from 11 years of industry refined online deathmatch.

Rumble already has a leveling up system, which gives nothing but bragging rights. It could be implemented like Defence of the Ancients’ (DotA) leveling system, which gives selectable upgrades to skills with every level up. Other possibilities include Aura style buffs and debuffs to promote teamplay, which would not only improve Team Deathmatch combat but introduce other, more tactical, modes such as Capture the Flag.

Team Fortress 2 is a great example of every character class having a role. With a little bit of re-jigging, each ship could be designed (through attributes and weapons) to have a more specific purpose. What appeared to be haphazard design in the original RitV, can be improved and made more intuitive with few graphical and gameplay design improvements. Intuition is the key to a number of Facebook games, so RitV could learn a lot from Team Fortress 2’s team.

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Rumble in the Void ‘Facebooked’

There are 2 important factors present in all Facebook games; Social Features and Monetization. Here I will attempt to add a Facebook spin to this non-Facebook game.

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Social Features

RitV doesn’t have a home or anywhere players can visit (one of the key social features for many Facebook games). Therefore how is one to promote inviting friends if you have nothing to do with them? As with most gamers, I don’t really need an incentive to play with friends… I like playing with friends. However, most Facebook gamers like to tend to crops, play a guest DJ set or gift them some music. Of course, these games are not real-time so you don’t get the buzz of playing with people you know (like Rumble would). On the other hand, it can’t hurt to have these sorts of features.

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  • Salvage
    All ships in the game would have 2 designs, a simple version and an upgraded version. The difference would be purely visual (to promote balance) but the upgraded ones would look super badass. Much like Hats in Team Fortress 2.Each ship design would be split into 5 parts, which can all be upgraded by finding salvaged ship parts on the battlefield or randomly while players are logged on (a random pop-up). Players can trade unwanted parts with their friends or can be ‘gifted’ parts by their registered allies. Friends are not required to actually give parts, the parts will be randomly generated. Therefore, having more friends = having more parts..
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  • Assistance
    Ninja Warz by Broken Bulb Studios
    has an entertaining system of ‘visiting’ friends. Ninja Warz does not have a customizable player ‘home’ to visit, so it needs to encourage adding friends another way. Every day your allies will need help with random problems such as delivering food parcels or defending the town from shuriken. When you click on a friend, you’ll take part in a mini-game to help them out. The reward you receive is based on the grade you get for completing the mini-game.Rumble for Facebook could have a similar system. It’s space! You could have mini-games for preventing space invaders (see where I’m heading?) or navigating through asteroid belts. Rewards could be in-game cash or special weapons. Rewards could even include salvaged parts mentioned previously.

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Ninja Warz: Deliver food to your allies for cash and experience

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  • Lobby
    The main reason why I think Facebook gaming could be a good thing is because Facebook is essentially a game lobby. When your friends are all featured on a friends bar at the bottom of the application, appearing online and showing their level/experience… isn’t that a lobby?

    RockFREE has a lobby system where you can visit other players’ clubs. These clubs are just rooms for you to queue playlists and challenge each other. This sort of functionality can be introduced into Facebook Rumble, notifying friends when you create a lobby and allowing invites to currently online allies.

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Monetization

Another huge debate with free-to-play, or ‘freemium’, games is how to monetize the product. If you want a game to be a fair competition, which all online multiplayer combat games should be, then you cannot charge for powerful weapons. If you do that, the game just becomes a ‘Who spends the most?’ contest. Playdom’s Wild Ones has turned into this. While the game has standard weapons that are surprisingly powerful, premium weapons such as the ‘Nuke’ are not only extremely strong but also take no skill to use.

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Yeah I just one shotted a guy with my premium Tornado Grenade

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Any skill based game where a lesser skilled person can win by using money is wrong. It will quickly become tiresome for non-paying players and, since 90+% of people don’t pay, the community will die.

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  • Insurance
    I believe that Insurance is the most effective form of monetization with respect to keeping balance yet providing something worth spending a bit of cash on. While I’m sure it is in a number of games, the first time I’ve seen it is in Dragonica. Dragonica is a free to play MMORPG which appears to share my views on paid-for content. You cannot buy powerful loot with money (that would devalue high end dungeon crawling), but you are able to upgrade weapons. Unfortunately for you non-paying customers, weapons have a chance to break when they’re upgraded. So you find a powerful weapon and want to upgrade it a few times, maybe the first time you risk a 20% chance for it to break. After a week you’ve somehow managed to add 4 powerful gems to your items. Every upgrade makes the risk higher, you don’t just lose the weapon now… you lose the gems. This is a huge incentive to buy insurance, for a small fee, to guarantee that your free items survive the process. Yes it seems rather sinister at times, imagine risking it with an ultra-rare item and losing it on the first upgrade! However, it ultimately gives the player a choice and at least they have a chance to have an item as powerful as those who drop $20 a month on premium items.

    For Rumble there could be a similar system. Perhaps not on weapon power (since that could seriously hurt new players who get insta-gibbed) but perhaps speed or acceleration could be upgradeable with parts. Players can risk upgrading as much as they want, but when they get to levels where it makes a real difference on the battlefield they might think twice and say “hey, I’ll buy insurance for $1… just in case”. There are lots of ways to add small bonuses for individual players which shouldn’t drastically effect game balance. If ships had auto-regen health (a la Halo) then the delay before health regen could be reduced slightly. Perhaps energy could recharge a bit quicker. These are little things that could make a difference at higher levels of play, when people really start to get competitive.
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  • Please Wait
    This is the Farmville factor. Actually, I don’t play Farmville so I’m not sure if they even have pay-to-speed-up. Ok lets call it the Verdonia factor. Verdonia is a new strategy game based on Evony (but I don’t want to name anything after that joke of a company) in which you build various resources and structures in your town, then capture territories and defend them from enemies. It’s like a simple version of Civilization. Unlike Civilization however, you cannot skip a turn. Remember when you build a Granary at the start of a game and have to skip about 20 turns for it to build? Well in these real-time games, you have to wait hours. I just upgraded my Town Center to level 9… it took over 48 hours. If I was a serious Verdonia player and wanted to play it properly, I’d pay to speed that up. Right now I’m not so I’ll wait 2 days and play some other game. But for people who only play 1 or 2 games, or those who really enjoy it and want to get an upgrade immediately, they will pay.
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    Over 11 hours before my troops are ready? *Whips out wallet*

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    Rumble could do the same with its upgrade system. Perhaps users could create maps, remember they are just simple top-down arenas. On these maps you could build various obstacles, but they would take time to complete. You could hire a ‘Galactic Building Contractor’ to do the work for you, or you could DIY. The former costs  you but it’s done instantly, the latter is free but you’ll have to wait. Pay to speed up the upgrade of your passive farm resources or pay to speed up your custom battlefield… what would you rather pay for?

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  • Convenience
    Another thing I first noticed from Dragonica (it was the only free MMORPG I’ve played, so I credit a lot of these ideas to that) is that you pay for convenience. If you want to travel from A to B you can run there, which entails loading times between zones and hostile monsters to fight. On the other hand, you could use the premium Town Portal Scroll to instantly teleport to Town. In games like World of Warcraft you also get these items. Your Hearthstone is the same concept, but you pay with time (in the form of a cooldown). What is the most inconvenient thing about deathmatch? Respawn of course!
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    Home is where the Hearthstone is.

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    Lots of fast paced FPS games did away with respawn times altogether because it’s just a pointless inconvenience. In a deathmatch, there’s no point having people waiting to spawn. Now in Team Fortress or an objective based team game, respawn is used to balance the battle. Defenders with no respawn times = an immovable object. For Facebook Rumble deathmatch modes, respawns will be around but for monetization reasons. Players could purchase items which reduce their respawn times. It wouldn’t affect balance because the strongest players will never die… their kills:deaths ratio will be fine. Initially these respawn reducers could be given away for free (like a trial) so that newer players don’t get frustrated while they’re learning the game. Other convenience items could be health/energy regen delay shorteners (as mentioned previously) or even teleporters to non-combat areas to speed up navigating the map.

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As you can see, there are a lot of interesting features from other Facebook games that can be brought into an atypical social game. Indeed, some of these features might actually increase the longevity of the game and give a reason (other than awesome gameplay) for users to come back. This has been a long post and I congratulate anyone for reading through it. As I’ve been writing it, I’ve got more and more into this idea and I think I’ll be coming up with new features for this theoretical game in future blog posts. I wanted to do game design, so I guess this is it! Stay tuned for more info on Facebook Rumble… hopefully one day I can find someone (or teach myself) who can make it into a real game!

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Sam

July 1, 2010

An intriguing reason why Facebook games aren’t very interactive

Just started my Quora account today and it’s pretty addictive. Think Yahoo Answers combined with Twitter, you can follow questions, people and trend various stuff. Also it’s got a community that know what they’re talking about… for now.

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Anyway, I was looking up the question ‘Why do social games shy away from mini games or games with actual gaming value? ‘ which is something I often wonder. The most voted answer was ‘money!’, these games are cheaper to make and easy to monetize. But I thought the following answer was very interesting and I’d known it without realizing;

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“One of the big reasons is because this is distracted play.  People play these games while chatting online or at work or doing other activities.  Anything that requires constant attention for more than 30 seconds will just not work because the player cannot divert the attention necessary to it. As the space evolves you will start to see more gameplay emerge, but for now assume that anyone playing these games is playing 4 of them at once while chatting with 3 people.  Try it, it is not easy.”

Seth Sivak – Game Engineer for Music Pets

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Currently I play a ton of Facebook games for my job and while I enjoy Wild Ones and Epic Goal the most, they’re games I play the least. Why? Because I’m at work and can’t concentrate on a single game for any amount of time. Games which require 1 click per 5 minutes are going to be on my radar much longer than games that require my undivided attention in order to progress. I’ve got too much to do to focus on one, comparatively sub-par, game. I’m guessing most Facebook social gamers are like this, and this is why games with poor gameplay are still so popular in comparison.

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Sam