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Games Meet Daytime TV
by Nicholas Lovell on 03/30/10 06:11:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Why is there so much hatred of Farmville amongst games developers?

This is a game that is enjoyed by 85 million people every month. It is insanely profitable. It was developed rapidly and iteratively to deliver what consumers want.

Surely we should love it.

The end of film?

AAA console games are like movies. They are premium, blockbuster products. They are (broadly) aimed at an audience that has high disposable income and spare time to spend to on 40 hour epics. In practice, this often means young adults, before they’ve settled down and have families.

Much like films.

Speaking from my own experience, I have basically stopped going to the cinema since I had a baby. By the time you’ve added the expense and hassle of getting a babysitter, the enjoyment simply isn’t there to justify it. My AAA gaming habit has also taken a kick (although I did manage to finish Dragon Age: Origins in three months).

But Facebook games? They are accessible.

They are accessible to people like me who no longer have hours to commit to games. They are accessible to people who have never played any type of game before (one third of Facebook gamers have never played any other type of game). They are accessible to anyone who baulks at spending hundreds of pounds on a piece of hardware and then £30 a go to play the games.

In short, it’s a mass market medium, much like television.

Will Farmville games kill AAA?

Did television kill film? For a while, the film and cinema industries were terrified, convinced that television would prise their audiences away. They fought and complained and said that television was rubbish.

And then discovered it was their saviour.

It gave a long tail to movies  A new revenue stream. Cinema was harder hit until it realised that it needed to smarten up and offer a unique experience, and now it is thriving.

Facebook games are like television. They are mass-market, accessible, need no special skills (have you ever tried playing a PS3 game with someone who’s never used a controller before…), and are free.

They represent a large part of our future.

But Facebook games are shit!

Read Gamasutra, and every story will have a developer saying something along the lines of “Facebook games aren’t real games, they’re shit.”

There is no doubt that they are in a different league to the craft and production values that go into AAA console titles.

So why do I think that Facebook games are such a big part of our future?

Because we are at the early days of Facebook games. To extend the television analogy, Facebook games are daytime TV. They’re not even good daytime TV. In the evolution of games-as-TV, we haven’t even reached Countdown.

There is no Facebook equivalent of The Wire. Of Dr Who or Torchwood. Of Dispatches or The Blue Planet or Desperate Housewives. We haven’t even got to soap operas (although I’m trying with Spirit of Adventure on Facebook)

AAA and social games will co-exist

We are at a really exciting stage for the games industry. New gamers are coming into the market all the time. We are truly mainstream for the first time in our history.

Unfortunately, the market is polarising. Mediocre boxed products don’t cut it any more. There are fewer AAA titles every year (although the successes are making huge revenues) and work-for-hire studios are going out of business.

But the opportunities in the world of games-as-television are huge. Whether that’s Facebook, social games, web games, iPhone games, mobile games more generally – the mass market is finally here.

Which I think is fantastically exciting. I can’t wait to see where talented developers take game development.

But it’s bad news for those few small-minded people who think that the only good games are played on a console or come in a box.

(This post was originally published on GAMESbrief this morning)

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Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Agreed. However, there is a universe of games lying between AAA and facebook games and parts of it are growing. I think a lot of people don't want to come home to use a mouse after using one all day at work. As low as the barriers to entry are to web-based games, I think that the console market could also grow considerably by catering to wider tastes and preferences. Nintendo are obviously leading here with Sony and MS following soon.

Also, I had to laugh at the fact that you used Torchwood as an example of "good" television. I used to watch it with my friends because it was so terrible that it was hilarious. Very few programmes can claim such status.

Nicholas Lovell
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It's a fair cop on Torchwood. What can I say.

Jesse Tucker
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I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm waiting for these types of games to offer more than "Progress Quest you play with your friends."

Nicholas Lovell
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And my point is that it is coming - we're just stuck in the "daytime TV" phase

Zack Hiwiller
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We should love it for what it might be someday maybe?

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Since Nicholas is talking from and about the point of view of developers I think he is saying that developers can and should create what they would love it to be someday.

Kumar Daryanani
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At some point, AAA game developers will realise that making Facebook game tie-ins for their big release titles is a great way to build brand awareness.

Jesse Tucker
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The point of this article is definitely not "Farmville is awesome," but rather something closer to the notion that good things can come from the Facebook/Social/Casual/(and even free to play) scene and developers shouldn't totally dismiss it. Farmville has some of the aspects of games that I find utterly unappealing.

This article wraps up much of the gameplay, and short of personalized touches added to the game and a sense of community, I don't really see much that's appealing about the game. Sure, much of the design compels you to continue playing and buying stuff through just about every means possible, but just because it compels you to continue playing, it doesn't mean it's good.

Stephen Chin
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Interesting analysis/thought. One can perhaps extend this to the idea of DLC/episodic games. That these things are not platforms in and of themselves but a part of the whole platform and whole franchise. Just as modern media franchises are using many means to retain the fanbase (TV Series A has a facebook page, twitter, ARG games, webisodes, etc), perhaps we should learn from TV these sorts of integrated experiences and entertainment practices.

On an aside, I tried out Spirit of Adventure. I was intrigued.

Thomas Engelbert
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Oh yeah. Thinking about modern german tv reminds me why I left my tv in the cellar to play catch with the dust, years ago. Cheaply produced shit to sell to the masses is still cheaply produced shit for the masses, even if some managers optimised it for making big revenue over the years. And in my opinion at least tv got worse and worse over the last few years. Though there are some nice series...

DLC on the other hand, well, here's something I can really get into. Take Magicka for example. I usually don't play that much multiplayer, so the basic game + the Vietnam DLC would be enough, which is cheaper than the whole package, from which I wouldn't use half of the content anyways. Ok, I bought it all DLC by DLC after all, because I wanted to support Arrowhead (a great game with innovative ideas for such a reasonable price? That's slowly becoming something rather rare these days), but that's an exception.

What about splitting AAA Titles up into several parts and being sold as DLCs? I mean, instead of selling a game for 50€+, why not selling the basic game for 15 - 20€ and then adding 20 DLCs for 2€ each? Or even 40 DLCs for 1€ each. I'd rather spent 60€ on the game bit by bit, if it is great enough to keep me entertained, than 50€ once, just to realise after a short time that the game starts boring the crap out of me...