A lot has been written lately on blogs regarding games on facebook – see the posts by Matt Mihaly and Brian Green in particular – and about the next big thing for games – see Raph Koster‘s excellent GDC Prime presentation. So I thought I’d add our thoughts on the benefits of social networks as a games platform into the mix.
What really excites us at Playfish about creating games in the context of social networks is that from a game design perspective you have access to so much game play data and immediate feedback on design tweaks. You can instantly monitor how a newly developed feature is used and if it contributes toward game play and distribution. We can interact with our players and ask them questions or react to their thoughts. We’ve been able fix things players have been concerned about and recently even solicited feedback on a feature idea – something you can only dream of on most other games platforms.
One of our first Who Has The Biggest Brain? players, Stuart Dredge, pointed out on the facebook game forum that the game generated more feed items than were necessary – people were playing more than we had anticipated. It took around an hour to fix. It’s a great feeling to be able to look after our users and be reactive within hours rather than having to wait for weeks to release a patch, or even worse not be able to fix the issue at all as might be the case on other platforms.
This is very different from the situation in for example mobile games, where network operators and the market structure prevents you from having any interaction with your users at all. I will be touching on this next week while chairing The 5th Annual Mobile Games Forum 2008 in London on 23-24 January, as well as in my upcoming talk on “The Rise and Fall of the Operator Game Deck?” at GDC Mobile in San Francisco on 18 February.
So the obvious benefit of social networks as game platforms is that they enable us to create new, social reasons to play and new ways to distribute games which should provide the next engine of growth in the industry. But a more subtle and perhaps more important benefit is that the immediate feedback mechanisms we have access to also help us create better games even for standalone play. After all, no other platforms have access to the kind of social feedback / tweak loop that we do, so we really have no excuse not to make our gameplay as good as it can possibly be over time.
Looking forward to all the things we’ll learn from our players!