So here’s a question. What would XBLA look like if it had the same userbase as Facebook? What kind of games would we see on XBLA if someone decided to give an XBox 360 to every single person on Facebook?
|It is dangerous to go alone. Take this|
Would it be the kind of games Facebook already plays host to - FarmVille, CityVille, ItPrintsMoneyVille? Would it be casual games like Peggle, Plants Vs Zombies, Menopause Villiage? Would it be exactly the same games we see now - From Dust, Bastion, Handstitched BombMetaphor?
In other words, would they be very simple games, would they be kinda simple games or would they be complex games? Is complexity a consequence of number of users? Can only games ‘that’ simple be ‘that’ popular? Why so many questions?
Thrown off games
Is complexity an issue in other media forms? No, not really. Soap operas and daily dramas, one of the most popular forms of television, have insanely complex, lengthy and convoluted plots, often dealing with a good number or arcs at one time, with endless reams of squawking characters switching relationships in a blurred and dizzying cacophony of emotion and spit.
The Harry Potter series is over a million words long. A million words. I don’t even know a million words! It’s a big, long, complicated story and it’s the most mainstream thing imaginable. Game of Thrones is even more complex has even more words and that seems to be doing ok for itself. And lets not get started on comic books. I do not even want to know how many Batmans there are.
|Is it Batmans or Batmen?|
So complexity is fine, if not desirable in other utterly mass-market media. So why are the most mass-market of computer games so simple?
You are terrible at this
Could it be that it’s not the simplicity of social games that makes them successful? In fact could it be that it’s the simplicity which results in their difficulties in retaining users? Been there, done that, bored now, what’s next? There’s anecdotal evidence that Zynga’s gargantuan advertising spend is all about retaining their existing users, not attracting new ones. Look at this wooga presentation all about their attempts to stop the drop off in users. Not all is well in paradise. Perhaps things in paradise are a bit too simple?
There are two other things that differentiate social games from traditional games. One is the inability to fail. Recalibrating the spectrum of the worst failure to the greatest success so that the greatest failure results in only a small reward instead of the computer throwing a bucket of pig faeces over the player, allows even those with the most dog-eared of brains to press buttons and see a pleasing sequence of lights and colours. Or indeed, those who have less hurty brains but just don’t give a fuck.
The other is the assumption that the player is, in gaming terms, a complete idiot. Having watched the girlfriend I haven’t mentioned since the title play the various games I’ve made her play and the various games she actually plays of her own accord, there’s one very clear difference. The games I want her to play have more buttons than she has fingers and generally expect her to use pretty much all of them within the first ten minutes. The games she likes to play have one button and are usually pretty impressed when she manages to press that.
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If you look at the complex but mainstream successes in other media, they also exhibit this combination of traits. Either they start very slowly and build up their complexity, or they start complex, but in a suitably self-aware fashion, reveling in their mystery and using it to draw the viewer in. You can’t fail at watching Game of Thrones. Even if you haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on, it’s over in an hour and there was probably an awesome fight and some naked people. The Machiavellian scheming and seemingly infinite character and story arcs can take their time to worm their way into your brain and reward you for watching more by giving you more reasons to watch.
So is simplicity actually clouding the picture? Is it not more a case that deep and difficult games are perfectly appropriate for a casual audience - in fact more desirable - but to achieve this, they need to make sense to everybody and anybody and keep moving forwards, regardless of how ‘well’ the player is playing?
So what I’m saying is, if you’re planning on making a Facebook game any time soon, please could you make one that is complicated, but has simple and well explained controls and no fail state? Then we can find out if I’m full of shit or not. Thanks. You’re the best.
Batman image stolen from Peter Madik
Other images just stolen.
Other images just stolen.