If you have ever used facebook, especially since the facebook platform has exploded, than you know that the platform is used by many people to play games. If you read Gamasutra--or really any other gaming related media--regularly than you know the names of companies like Zynga and Playfish and why they are important. Still, the idea of the social gamer seems to baffle many people. Jesse Schell recently spoke about just how weird facebook really is. For the past six months I have been part of a team working on a facebook game called Music Pets. Now while in the scope and scale of facebook games Music Pets is still in it's infancy I feel like I have had a glimpse into the seedy, wretched underbelly of hardcore facebook gamers.
When I first started to see "add me!" messages trickle onto the application page I started to take serious interest. This whole facebook game idea was foreign to me and I always felt like an outsider because I could not actually play many of these games for longer than a few sittings and I refused to "spam my feed" and allow the game to "harvest my friends" in order to get ahead. I started to friend some of these early adopters and talk with them, and that is when things started to get weird.
See, I had always assumed these people (facebook gamers) were the bottom feeders of the gaming ecosystem, they loved to spam their real life friends with invites (Assumption #1), they do not have the attention span to stick with more than one or two games (Assumption #2), they are not competitive (Assumption #3), and they were too stupid to understand complex game systems (Assumption #4). Well, I was totally wrong.
To illustrate my failures I am going to use a single user as an example and dissect their facebook profile to show all the lessons I have learned and I think are important for anyone making facebook games. I consider her to be on the top of the hardcore facebook gamer food chain, which makes her ideal for this sort of analysis.
(Note: There are 400 million people on facebook, even if a tiny percentage of them are hardcore gamers than that is a significant community)
Lesson Learned #1: Hardcore Gamers make facebook avatars
I find the idea of making a gaming-only facebook account fascinating. Many of the problems I had with playing these games was centered around the fact that my "real friends" would actually see me doing it. This felt like I was going to wear my warrior's armor from World of Warcraft out to a party and why I will never actually install the World of Warcraft facebook app.
These users have circumvented this problem, they just make another account. Honestly, I am sure this is against the facebook terms of service, but I would be willing to bet that facebook does not have an issue with these users. I bet this person uses their gaming account way more than there "real" account.
You will notice that this user will re-purpose the Info section of their facebook profile to store all their game related information. This was also a huge shock to me, but now it makes sense that they don't care about their favorite TV Shows or favorite Quotes. They want to find more people to play with.
I have even found that some hardcore users will make many accounts. They will multibox these accounts or use others simply as mules. These facebook gamers do all the dirty tricks that we hardcore gamers assumed they were too stupid to figure out.
Lesson Learned #2: Hardcore Gamers play many games
I had always thought that if you had played one of these games you had played them all. That is not true as you can see from the picture below.
Something to note is that this person is playing ~5 different Farm related games and at least 3 different Pet games. This person even offers to give gifts and to come visit people in games they no longer play.
The reason it is important to know all the different games that a person is playing is that you want to maximize the amount of things that person can do for you and then you can do for them in return.
Lesson Learned #3: Hardcore Gamers are hardcore
The main reason to invite another person in most of these games is so that they can give you free gifts and visit you. This is a unique thing in social games where you literally cannot experience most of the content by yourself and need many, many other people to collect everything you might want. The picture below is under her "Interests" section in her profile, but it is just a surrogate for her FAQ section.
Whenever I attempt to classify if a gamer is "hardcore" or not I try to look at what I think is their fun vs. achievement ratio. For this user it seems obvious that they are not playing these games to make more friends, she wants to achieve more things. She wants to win.
Lesson Learned #4: Hardcore gamers are smart
I am sure that many developers have seen this. These hardcore gamers will create guides and walkthroughs that rival even the best analysis you can find on ElitstJerks. If you check out the picture below you will notice that not only does this person have a walkthrough on collecting all the spices in the spice rack for Cafe World, but they also created their own filter for the facebook feed!
Now that might not seem like a big deal, but it is very impressive. This user was able to figure out a way to get the facebook feed to work for them. They want to sort and see only the posts for a specific game so they can go through each one of these to collect the free gift. This has to be done for every single game that the player is actually playing.
I can not really express how surprised and impressed I was with this little bit of hackery. It is amazing to see how these people force facebook to work the way they want it to.
I have learned a lot in my short time with the hardcore facebook gamers. I have new respect for them as somewhat intelligent people that just happen to love playing games. I think that the stigma of social (read: facebook) games will soon be totally gone the same way that the casual game stigma faded away when we started to see the great casual games from people like Popcap. The quality of games continues to increase on facebook and as we have already seen it will be a large part of this industry for the foreseeable future.