Archive for November, 2010

November 26, 2010

Too much chocolate is making Facebook sick

Digital Chocolate recently reskinned Millionaire City and MMA Pro Fighter to increase their town-building/text-based RPG portfolio threefold. This surprises me, as Digital Chocolate are known for being quite original and creating more complex games on Facebook. This is going to be more of an opinion piece, since it could be working very well (and apparently it is), but I absolutely abhor the direction they’re taking.

Facebook has a real problem right now. The flood of low quality clone games make it difficult for new gamers to distinguish between what’s worth playing and what isn’t. There’s a reason that it now costs tens-hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a successful game, unlike before, when it was possible by tiny startups with low capital. New games without the backing of a massive player (Zynga, Playdom, Playfish etc.) do not have an established user base to feed from. The only way new games from independent developers can make a mark is through extreme advertising spends (and Facebook is an expensive platform to advertise on) and a bubonic plague level of virility. The former is impossible when compared to the levels that Zynga spends. The latter is much more difficult than it sounds, as a virus requires a base to spread from.

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That is what’s great about Applifier and Appstrip, as they encourage inter-app feeding for the little fish in the Facebook ocean. However, these applications are also ran by businesses and their selection process will favor applications that already have a ton of users. I believe there is a MAU requirement to apply nowadays. The only way a budding Facebook developer can amass enough users to be regarded as ‘successful’ is to have the best game in the world. Only through blowing everyone’s mind will the virility begin and replace the need for massive advertising investments.

This is not good enough. A game might still be innovative, brilliant and extremely fun, but be overshadowed by the mountains and mountains of uninspiring, cloned rubbish on the Facebook gaming marketplace. As a company that already has an established user base (12.7 million MAUs on Millionaire City), it breaks my heart to see a developer, that has innovated and taken risks in the past, stoop to this level. Digital Chocolate should be releasing the next innovative PvP strategy game, not reskinning and exacerbating a problem that the company itself has faced before it emerged.

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As I said previously, I’m sure this makes a lot of business sense. Apart from cannibalizing their existing user base, I’m sure reskinning MMA Pro Fighter into Ninjas Rising and Epic Fighter is going to attract users who like Ninjas and Elves but hate Mixed Martial Arts. Hollywood City will attract people who like movies (although isn’t that just as generic as people who like money a la Millionaire City?) and Vegas City will attract people who like gambling. Digital Chocolate might have a very healthy balance sheet, but Facebook has eaten too much chocolate and is turning into an slow and inefficient way to play social games.

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Social gaming is facing the same demise as Augustus Gloop

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The Facebook gaming marketplace is overwhelming and confusing, and most new users will encounter uninspiring garbage. Social gaming needs innovation and quality, but first it should take a look at itself and work on losing some weight. This has to start with developers and I thought Digital Chocolate were one of the good guys who would help lead this charge.

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Sam

November 22, 2010

Nightclub City: An intentional or accidental case of hidden complexity?

Booyah’s Nightclub City has been around for a while and it’s one of my favourite success stories on Facebook. It isn’t backed by one of the big boys, it’s original and it actually has some pretty sweet music. All this comes in a very pretty package with high production values. It’s a bit like Car Town; coming from an unknown developer (Booyah didn’t take credit for it until months after release) and surprising everyone… especially the naysayers who think Facebook is getting too difficult to develop new successful games for.

Nightclub City appeals to both genders and all age groups; drinking and dancing is almost a universal hobby around the western world. You design your DJ in the simple but enjoyable avatar creator, then you hit the decks and start sucking the pennies out of boozed up revellers. It began with a very small playlist of independent/low status tracks and mashups, then switched to 30 second previews from iTunes. Once it got bigger, it could afford to bring in some real music and actually began collaborating with willing artists. Since then, Nightclub City has grown and grown. Now it features regularly on the list of the applications with the highest MAUs.

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Booyah's Nightclub City

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I refer a lot to the past tense, as it’s been months since I last hit the cloughb. I’m unaware of any new features (although I hear something about organizing special parties and theme nights), but that doesn’t matter because Nightclub City had one feature which kept me playing for weeks. And I don’t just mean logging on every day, I mean playing. What most interested me about this particular feature was that it felt completely unintended. I think it was exploiting the game, a bit like how cross-ups are said to have been a glitch from Street Fighter II that were intentionally left in the game to add depth.

The trick was simple. Whenever a ‘High Roller’ walked into your club, they had a very high chance to purchase a table at your club, if it was available. Tables earn you a large initial payment, then a smaller bonus once the patron was done. If you were paying attention, you could see when a High Roller had paid upon entry, wait for them to sit down and then kick them out of the club! This gave you a big injection of cash and freed up the table for more High Rollers. In doing this, I managed to earn cash at a much quicker rate than my friends. It turned a simple ‘one-click-per-minute’ game into one with some basic micro skill. The quicker you were at kicking them out, the more money you earnt. If you were tactical, you could place your bouncers in specific locations that would minimize the time it takes to throw a High Roller out of the club and get them ready to throw out the next one! Until I found this trick, I felt that I didn’t have much control over my destiny. Like most farming games, you’re a slave to the clock… to the schedule the developer decides for you. In Nightclub City, I could influence my success with this simple trick, which made it more immersive and satisfying. It felt like a game and not a chore.

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Thanks for the table fee Nicklas

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After thinking like this, I started to realize the appeal of resource management social games. Nightclub City was full of little mechanics which made you think. These mechanics let the stronger players stand out, but the weaker ones still enjoy their leisurely game experience. It’s the holy grail of Facebook gaming. How does one make a fun, engaging and long-term game without making it too complicated for the most casual of players? Game developers want the big spending Facebook ‘High Rollers’, but High Rollers are only going to play your game if you have the numbers in your ‘club’. The super-competitive cash cows need the free-to-play people. Nightclub City’s expulsion mechanic, as well as the barman/DJ abilities let the hardcore players optimize and maximise their revenue (the appeal of these games). Yet they were packaged in such a simple and accessible way that your 60 year old grandma didn’t get scared off by the confusing ‘special moves’.

In one of my first ever blog posts, I discussed whether depth requires complexity. Unless you’re the inventor of Chess, it’s pretty difficult to really achieve timeless fun with only a few pieces on the board. Yet, I’ve been thinking recently about hidden complexity. Nightclub City looks simple on the outside, but more hardcore players can have an engaging experience if they want to. I believe that letting players choose their own experience, rather than the designers choosing it for them, is key to this. Give players the tools to create their own level of complexity and you’ll achieve the accessibility that social games need, but the hardcore cash cows that the developers need to stay in business.

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Sam

November 18, 2010

DDR and Drummania – They’ve still got it…

It may seem a bit old skool, but I played a bunch of DDR and DrumMania today. I’m in Hong Kong on a visa run and I’ve had to waste the day away. Unlike China with its poor imitators, Hong Kong has got proper DDR and DM machines.

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Dance Dance Revolution

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November 12, 2010

LoL: Week 17 Champion Reviews, Week 18 Rotation

Good day!

So last week’s selection was ok. Some great, some meh. Highlights were definitely Morgana and Lux, although Gangplank was much more fun than I thought he’d be. This week is thoroughly disappointing but probably because I’m still stuck playing with bots…

  • Annie (again)
  • Ashe (again)
  • Heimerdinger (again)
  • Taric (again)
  • Shen (again)
  • Rammus
  • Ryze
  • Akali
  • Poppy
  • Kog’Maw

I suppose it will give me an excuse to finally review Heimerdinger and Taric (who I missed their first time round), but this selection definitely has the potential to blow my mind. Expectations are low! Why? Well there are only really 5 ‘new’ champions for me and Ryze is one of the bots so I’m aware of what he’s like anyway. Akali doesn’t really interest me but I’ve wanted to use Kog’Maw for a while. Anyway, enough with the doom and gloom there are some great champions from last week. I’ve been crazy busy though so I’ve only got 5 for you. I played all of them at least once but I couldn’t give you a great review for Fiddlesticks or Gangplank without a few more plays. Tristana and Sivir look boring (Tristana is boring, she’s a right-click champion) and Kayle I didn’t have time to have a go with. I just hated Dr. Mundo (quite mid-game) so there’s no way he’s getting a review! So apologies about the missing reviews, here’s Amumu, Morgana, Lux and Gragas for you…

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November 5, 2010

Where is the ‘Social’ in Social Gaming?

It’s been a while since I last looked at a social game but I felt like some late-night reading and searched Gamasutra for some game design articles. Working in a company predominantly occupied with Facebook (and Facebook Connect), it’s difficult not to be intrigued by social games. It’s an exciting space, despite what some detractors may say, and the breakneck pace and competition is exhilarating.

During my search I spied this recent article by Aki Järvinen, lead social designer for Digital Chocolate. If you’ve been a fan of the blog you might know that I do like Digital Chocolate. I took a long look at NanoStar Siege for my Gamebook feature 3 months ago and it’s one game that ranks up there with the ‘real’ gaming experiences on Facebook. However, this is besides the point. Aki was not talking about the age-old argument of real gaming on Facebook (that’s a dead horse that we can all flog long into the future), but the complete lack of ‘social’ in social gaming.

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November 4, 2010

LoL: Week 16 Champion Reviews, Week 17 Rotation

Hi there,

Slightly earlier than I would have liked, Riot have rotated the free champions this week in League of Legends. Once again I haven’t got to play every champion from Week 16 but the main reason I’m disappointed is that last week’s champions were so fun. This is going to be a generally positive set of reviews, compared to the contrast of last time!

This week the free to play champion rotation includes:

  • Amumu
  • Dr. Mundo
  • Fiddlesticks
  • Gangplank
  • Kayle
  • Morgana
  • Sivir
  • Tristana
  • Gragas
  • Lux
  • At a first glance, I’m pretty disappointed. Sivir we had 2 weeks ago (although I didn’t get round to playing her because she looks so boring) and Tristana is free for everyone with a Facebook account… i.e. everyone. For the remaining champions, I’m very much looking forward to playing Morgana, and Lux seems pretty cool from the Champion Spotlight.

    Anyway, I’ve got 8 champion reviews for you after the jump…

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