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Opinion/Round-Up: Social Gaming - Where's The (Creator) Fun?
Opinion/Round-Up: Social Gaming - Where's The (Creator) Fun?
June 25, 2009 | By Christian Nutt

June 25, 2009 | By Christian Nutt
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[Gamasutra's Christian Nutt returns from this week's Social Gaming Summit in San Francisco with a look at social networking gaming's hardheaded business attitude, the iPhone, and what 'virality' really means.]

I was more optimistic going into the Social Gaming Summit this year -- which we've written two other in-depth write-ups from -- than I was heading out of it. Last year, it seemed young and hopeful.

This year, the mini-conference focused on Facebook and MySpace social network gaming -- led by firms like Playfish and Zynga and microtransaction-based games like Mafia Wars -- seemed a bit more dry. There was lots of emphasis on marketing, metrics, retention, and was constantly punctuated by what seemed to be an endless repetition of the terrible, made-up word "virality".

Okay: that's the cynical take on the conference. And I missed the last session featuring the quite un-cynical Daniel James from Three Rings who can't help but bring personality into any proceeding.

But for all last year's feeling of hope, after hearing about harnessing the power of social relationships to bring gaming to new heights, about collaboration with the established game industry to create something greater than either... this year's left me wondering what I was hoping for.

Sponsors of the conference included SuperRewards, Offerpal Media, Daopay, GlobalCollect, and Social Gold. If you don't know what these companies do, you can pretty much guess from their names.

No, console and PC developers don't just do it for the love. But their passion for more than the dollar makes sessions at Game Developers Conference, Microsoft Gamefest, IGDA Leadership Forum and other industry summits inspirational, as well as good business.

You can easily and quite often rightly accuse game developers of being naive. On the other hand, during the "expert talk" on metrics, (Lil) Green Patch CEO David King delivered a design lesson that seems to sum up social gaming -- or does if you're feeling uncharitable, anyway.

Pointing to a slide that showed that one quest in one of the company's Mafia Wars clones was particularly popular, King said, "You can use this kind of data to inform game design." I expected the follow-up to be along the line of "you can make more quests like this."

But no: per King, "You can say 'Well, maybe this is too good of a payout, and we could use this as a point to push more monetization.'" Players, in other words, should be forced to pay real-world currency to take on that quest they enjoy so much. It's carrot-and-stick design.

As The Joker says in The Dark Knight, "If you're good at something, never do it for free." Game developers who sell packaged software for $60 a hit certainly don't. In 2009, data mining and focus testing are integral tools in game creation.

But still: the immediacy of both the granularity of the metric (they like this!) and the suggested developer response (charge them!) were a little uncomfortable.

Creativity vs. Analysis

The battle between creative game design and the drive to create a Pavlovian response (and hopefully induce payment) in the game audience was a major theme of the conference.

Hi5, a gaming-focused social network based in the U.S. but much more popular in Latin America, skewed the discussion towards "fun" -- with spokesman and executive producer Andrew Sheppard, one of the few to even use that word all day.

"We're now focusing on fun and defining the social graph around that," he said. "It's an important nuance but it's a very key thing to call out." Facebook and MySpace aren't game platforms; they're social platforms that support games. They don't necessarily understand "fun", nor shape their systems around promoting it.

"There are more things about social gaming that are different than similar," says Mark Pincus, founder and CEO of Facebook's top game developer, Zynga, of comparing the medium to traditional console and PC games. And Zynga takes a very analytical approach to the market.

There's infinite room for competition on social networks, as the web is vast -- Pincus said Zynga "welcomes" newcomers to the market. But that infinite space means that there is infinite duplication. Jeremy Liew, managing director of Lightspeed Venture Partners, has the obvious response: "I think you guys welcomed [massively popular Facebook game] Farm Town with FarmVille, yesterday," referring to Zynga's own casual farming game -- and drawing big laughs from the audience.

How does Zynga decide what games to make? "We look at success metrics around virality and retention before we launch." The company, according to Pincus, spent $2 million developing a game called Guild of Heroes, but never launched it because "it didn't drive the right metrics."

This makes business sense; these kinds of decisions are made everywhere all of the time. The disquieting thing is that the topics of fun or creativity -- or any of the virtues most in the game industry like to inject into their commercial products -- were rarely if ever addressed.

On 'Virality'

If there was one word that was painfully overused at the conference, it was "virality". I mean, first up, it's not even a word. It's a neologism, and a pretty tortured one at that.

But it's still the core of the social gaming biz, at present. The basic idea is that the best form of marketing on a social network is user-to-user. Why? "Virality discounts user acquisition costs, potentially down to zero," says Siqi Chen, founder of Serious Business, makers of the hugely popular app Friends for Sale.

Chen is convinced that gaming virality is crucial: "We spend a lot of time making small incremental changes in our app, because a 10% change could separate a dying app from a growing app." He has the charts and equations to back this up, believe me. He's a man obsessed by data (we'll get to metrics in a minute.)

Virality has actually been run into the ground, to an extent, argues James Currier, CEO of WonderHill. "People tend to be less viral now, because viral [marketing] started in the U.S. in '97, '98."

There are other options, too, says Greg Tseng, of social networking site Tagged. "There are lots and lots of other type of user acquisitions than virality. There's word of mouth, there's cross-promoting, and there's search engine optimization. If the lifetime value of your customer is high enough that you can spend money to acquire users, then you should, by all means, do that. In Silicon Valley, there's almost a religion around 'viral at all costs'... But if you look at the biggest players, they spend a lot of money."

Offerpal Media acquires users through incentives, so it's no surprise that CEO Anu Shukla isn't totally convinced of the efficacy of virality. "We've seen less and less applications really use the viral loop effectively," she says. "I think more commonly what we're seeing is that you need a sustained effort to buy an audience."

But users you acquire might not be valuable, Shukla admits. "We've found that the users that we acquire don't have the ROI, they don't monetize. It's a delicate balance." No other platform can allow developers to attract such a huge audience so quickly, but an easily-gained audience may not be that valuable.

Despite his obsession with statistics, Chen doesn't want virality to steal the show. "We didn't want this to be, 'Social gaming is all about metrics, so you make something crappy and add a virality engine to it.' You have to have a good game. Metrics will not replace design."

Playfish COO Sebastien de Halleux was even more overt. "The core metric -- I hear a lot of people talk about 'virality.' The Playfish approach is to focus on something quite different, which is fun," he argues. "This puts game design as the core metric of game distribution."

Playfish does subtly encourage its players to recommend its games to friends, but only based on whether or not they truly enjoy them: "Quality drives distribution because it's up to the users," he said.

How? "We [want to] ensure that only people who are deeply engaged with the content invite their friends." Common tactics in other Facebook games include forcing players to recruit friends to access advanced content, by contrast.

The iPhone Isn't There Yet

It's hard to tell whether the speakers like the iPhone just because everybody likes the iPhone, or because they do see value in it. The only consensus about the device seemed to be that it hasn't quite arrived as a social gaming platform just yet.

"We think that iPhone and other smart phones represent a really important platform for social gaming, because it's going to make social gaming accessible to a lot of people who would never get it," Zynga's Pincus says. "We've made a big commitment to iPhone and mobile far ahead of the business opportunity."

Of course, with its Facebook Connect API, which allows outside applications to pull Facebook user data and feed information back to user accounts, the company's Gareth Davis was bullish on what he called "multi device gaming" (Connect will also interface with Xbox 360 and Nintendo DSi later this year.) "If I have an iPhone and you're on Facebook, we can game together," he observes. But nobody else who spoke about it seemed that impressed so far.

In a world of limitless space, the App Store limitations were even more grating to the social network crowd. Lightspeed's Jeremy Liew thinks the current state of the app store works counter to the natural growth of social gaming on platforms like Facebook: "I think this is a really important difference between social and iPhone games... It's a lot more like retail because there can only be top 25 games on the shelf." In web culture, "retail" is a dirty word.

Words like "nascent" were tossed around about the platform, with Shukla adding there's "not a lot of money" in it. The opportunities, for social games companies, seem to still be computer-based.

Convergence is a Tough Road

So, yes: Facebook integration is coming to Xbox 360 and, in a more limited way, to Nintendo DSi, by the end of the year.

But the integration and collaboration between the traditional games industry and the social gaming industry has not seemingly gotten much further in the year since the last Social Games Summit, despite the obvious hopes of last year's speakers.

I think that there are really obvious reasons this isn't currently happening. Tech-oriented, web-trained, fast-paced, hard-nosed Silicon Valley culture is not really that similar to game developer culture. Outside of GDC Austin (operated by Think Services, which also owns Gamasutra) I haven't seen a lot of opportunities for the two industries to mix.

Most crucially, everybody's too damn busy trying to get their jobs done to really spend a lot of time or thought on the issue.

That said, Facebook's Davis is still optimistic that we're just in the run-up period. "I think we're at the beginning and it's going to take a few years. There's a lot to learn as both industries converge, and they're both complementary."

The reason for his optimism? Davis has seen unannounced projects from big companies that work with Facebook Connect. "It's still very early, and I don't think any of these projects are announced, but I'm very impressed." He describes them as "fundamentally social" and "device-based and hooked into a social network," with the "device" in question most likely to be an iPhone or Xbox 360.

Most developers get into games because they're fundamentally interested in the medium. Zynga's Mark Pincus has a different perspective on the function games serve on social networks: "People get fatigued on the news feeds and they want another experience they can share with their friends."

Games have always been used to kill boredom; but with all the statistics the packaged game industry trumpets about being the primary form of entertainment for so many, these days, the mindset that they're just second-string timewasters may be tough to swallow for many developers.

James Liu, COO of Oak Pacific Interactive, one of the biggest social networking companies in China and home to a 400-strong MMO development team made a really interesting observation about the reading material the OPI engineers have by their desks.

"These guys are [engineering] PhDs from top notch schools, but they study economy right now," as well as psychology: the better to understand and motivate user behavior in social networks. That's simply not broadly the case in the game industry as we think of it, right now.

The cultural difference between the extant game industry and the social gaming people does seem to be rooted in pretty deeply in pure terms of organization and process. The Silicon Valley term "engineer" was constantly thrown around; the game industry's "designer" was never really spoken of.

Back to Siqi Chen's obsession with metrics: "Internally I always consider metrics our most important project, probably to our detriment," he says, while Dave King pegs his engineering staff at "60 or 80 percent metrics and analysis, 20-ish percent to other stuff."

His engineers are experts in analysis, too -- they have to understand what the data represents to make the required changes to the games. The granularity that Chen and King showed on stage was extremely impressive.

These include RPG games broken down by level 1-100 showing exactly where users dropped off; multicolored charts showing every quest in the game and how frequently each is completed at a per-level basis; hourly reports on clickthroughs of different variations on promotional copy for the same game.

King's games are simple -- really, really simple -- but the thought that goes into making them sticky and making users pay is conversely rather complicated. In a weird way, it's almost the reverse of the packaged game industry.

As noted above, it's simple to get a lot of users quickly, but they may not be useful -- which is why King wants to figure out why the ones that are playing continue to do so, and make them pay when they reach content they enjoy. His engineers respond instantly with tweaks. He doesn't have a business otherwise.

With packaged software, it's primarily making a holistic experience that's worth $60 after years of hype -- and that's (more or less) the end of the story, till the sequel rolls around. And that cultural difference may be tougher to surmount than getting people to attend the same conferences.


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Comments


Aki Jarvinen
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Interesting piece, but why so defensive? If the video game industry is to embrace the service model, as e.g. Valve is suggesting, metrics etc. are to follow - as all the data collection via Steam already shows. Is that data used only for optimizing the fun factor?



Furthermore, there is no one monolithic criteria for fun, is there? What is fun in Facebook should not be evaluated by the criteria of fun for triple-A game development. Moreover, there are examples of clever game design in social games as well, such as Parking Wars.



I think Andrew Chen has perceptively addressed some of the aspects you write about in this piece '5 Major Cultural Differences Between Games People and Web People': http://www.insidesocialgames.com/2008/10/27/5-major-cultural-diff
erences-between-games-people-and-web-people/

Simon Carless
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I think one of Christian's points is that, while it's good and correct and businesslike to be metric-driven, and it's something a lot of regular game developers sorely lack, a fair amount of the output of social gaming companies feels a bit soulless, simplistic, and excessively tied to monetization above all else.



In fact, in that Chen piece you linked, I think this is the crux of the positive _and_ negative over the rise of rigidly metric-driven gaming: "Many of the top Facebook apps were simpler, dumber, and better distributed than their competition, and distribution in itself can be a competitive advantage."



Of course, many of these companies are monetizing pretty efficiently, so there's really no problem from a business point of view. So perhaps we have no right to grouse. And there's some interesting use of time-based gameplay mechanics. But when Zynga's biggest new title is a clone of a clone of Harvest Moon, I personally find that a little bit depressing, creatively. Anyone else?

Ian Bogost
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Yes, it's more than a little depressing. And ironic, perhaps, because I've often thought that the ("traditional") games industry's origins in silicon valley technology culture have negatively affected its collective desire to rise to the level of art and culture. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that out the silicon valley technology industry is far worse.



Aki, it's no accident that Parking Wars was made by game designers, not by web assholes. It's not the platform (Facebook, etc.) that's the problem. It's the people, and the motivations, and the results.



Somewhere, a bright-eyed child stares into the starry summer night and dreams of ... monetization? I'll take naive adolescent power fantasy over that.

Simon Carless
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Oh, and Parking Wars is absolutely a stand-out in interesting social game design, and a great example of how asynchronous gameplay can be cleverly tweaked, but I feel it's a bit of an anomaly - you don't _need_ to be that clever to make money with social network games (and in fact, Parking Wars was a promotional campaign, rather than set of with microtransactions, as I'm sure folks know).

Charles Hudson
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Christian,



Thanks for your thoughtful post. I think you've done a good job of highlighting a lot of the tension between the traditional games industry and the emerging social games side of the house. For all the talk about virality, most of the leading developers are beginning to have a much deeper appreciation for the need to not just acquire but to retain and engage users - flushing users through a funnel, even at a high ARPU, is no way to run a business. I believe that the continued migration of game developers / designers from traditional games into the social games arena is only going to increase the appreciation for that skill set.



To be fair, I think there is a contingent within the traditional games industry that tends to scoff at social games and dismiss them. I see far fewer social games developers who don't respect what traditional games developers and designers do and how hard it is to create a deeply engaging and interesting game on a console or PC - that's no easy task.



I think events like the SGS and your analysis of them are important for helping both sides learn from each other. Articles like this are really important in pointing out the different starting points for each segment of the industry as well as the potential to marry great game design and social networking.



Let's not be too hard on social gaming - the industry is only two years old and most of the folks I know realize there's a lot to be gained from the 30+ years of learning (at a minimum) the traditional games industry has learned about what makes games fun, engaging, and profitable. How that knowledge plays itself out in the world of social gaming still remains to be seen but I know it will have an influence.



Respectfully,

Charles Hudson

Social Gaming Summit 2009

Daniel James
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Hello! Actually, I was pretty downbeat and cynical this time! Happens to us all. One of the things we talked about on my panel was the difference between 'virality' as a set of mechanics (and sometimes tricks) to create viral growth and genuine word of mouth -- excitedly telling your friends about something really awesome that they have to try.



I'm a big fan of word of mouth, but as an online game developer who would very much like more people to play my games, it's hard not to regard enormous viral-enhanced growth enviously.



Facebook and other social network's platforms enable this viral growth, but the audience does behave differently. As Charles points out, the platform is only two years old and it's early to call it on what kinds of games will ultimately be successful. So far, as we discussed on the panel, games have been single-player with asynchronous messaging to other players, but no real multi-player gameplay, by and large. That may change, and with it will come more sophisticated game designs. I believe that vision, fun and quality will win out over metrics in the long haul, but I've been wrong before!



In general, though, I think the rise of social gaming is great news -- more platforms, more players, and in this case, a very open and transparent platform. Much more so than iPhone or any of the half-open measures of console providers. This is cause for optimism!



- Daniel

Ian Bogost
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Charles, I attended (and spoke at) the first SGS and found it informative. It's not the event that flummoxes Christian (and the rest of us), it's the motivations behind its participants.



Games express ideas and create experiences. Sure, maybe many of the ideas current AAA games express are more akin to popcorn flicks than literary classics, but they are quite often earnest pursuits. They are not *simply* tools to make money, drive traffic, increase user share, whatever.



For my part, I think the vast majority of the traditional games industry are embracing social media, not scoffing at it. But they are doing so by figuring out how to make games that can activate, adjust, or change perspectives on people and their friendships. They are not simply "leveraging social graphs for maximum microtransactional sellthrough" or whatnot.

Charles Hudson
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Hi Ian,



I thought your comments added a lot to the first social gaming summit. Most of the top social games developers I know are interested in building games that are played by very large audiences. Social networks are the natural place for these developers to play - when you have 10s or in some cases 100s of millions of users, you can get a game like YoVille, Pet Society, or Farmtown that's reaching millions of users on a monthly basis in under 24 months. That's hard to do on any other platform, including the open web. And I'd argue that kind of user adoption is a sign that social game developers are doing something right.



Many of the top developers who were obsessed with customer acquisition last year are beginning to appreciate the need to build games / experiences that provide lasting engagement and fun for the users. If they don't, the games die. A lot of those folks are trying to learn as much as they can about what has made traditional games (card games, board games, console games, MMOs) fun and engaging and trying to extract those lessons and apply them to the world of social gaming. But a lot of people in social gaming don't come from traditional games and many of the things that we're learning are probably well-known by traditional games folks. It will take time for that learning to be applied to the new medium.



The last four paragraphs of Christian's article really highlight the different economics that free-to-play developers face vis a vis folks who sell packaged product. To succeed in FTP games, you have to be good at customer acquisition, retention, and monetization. FTP folks don't sell games that get $60 a pop from every player - it's actually pretty important to figure out how to profitably support a large base of players on a relatively narrow set of players. And you generally need to get them to buy and keep buying. I hope you can understand how those economics might make developers in the FTP / social space a bit obsessed with monetization as it's the lifeblood that allows them to stay in business and keep making games interesting over time.



Last, I hope people walked away from Siqi and David's talk with a deeper appreciation for the kind of data that social games developers have at their fingertips. Building games on a social network is awesome - you get tons of real-time data about what users are doing, where they're getting stuck, and whether your game is well balanced. Whether a publisher chooses to use that data to improve game design, attempt to boost monetization, or adjust game balance is a personal decision. Having the data and making good use of it to better understand your game ought not be an objectionable thing to do.

Siqi Chen
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Hey guys,



This is Siqi Chen (the "Chen" in that article). I just wanted to clarify what we (David King and I) were trying to do in our presentation. The over all tone of the reactions here is surprising given our intentions.



The topic we chose to present on was metrics for social games - not game design, not creativity, not fun. Those are all interesting (and distinct!) topics. Frankly we don't know nearly as much about those topics, but believe me when I say we're very eager to learn.



Given our choice of topic, I can understand why it might have come across as sanitized and even cynical. In fact, a week ago David and I spent almost an hour debating whether this was even the right topic, precisely because we didn't want to be misunderstood. We talked about how impressive "real" game designers are, how hard "real" game design is, how actual fun+solid game design is irreplacable by data, and on and on. We knew there was a risk that we could send the opposite of that message by our choice of topic. In the end we chose to present on metrics because we thought it's the topic that our audience found most interesting, but we took great pains to make clear that it's just one skillset out of many that you need to win in our space.



It's easy to take a few words out of an hour long presentation out of context and create the opposite impression. The truth is we spent the first five minutes of our presentation stating very explicitly that metrics are *not* all there is to games - that you need to start with something fun and engaging, that it *cannot* replace solid mechanics and sheer fun. So the defensive tone and even overt hostility is discouraging. ("Web assholes?" Really?)



I don't believe metrics and creativity are mutually exclusive. Everything starts with fun and creativity but data is a great tool (and it's JUST a tool) to validate assumptions. We did so #1 because we believe this and #2 we wanted to avoid these kinds of over defensive reactions because it works against the goal of our presentation.



We want to see more traditional games people involved in this industry (in the hopes that rising quality will lift all boats), and to share some of the real tools that is backing some of the business success.





"They are not simply "leveraging social graphs for maximum microtransactional sellthrough" or whatnot."



For my part, I don't agree that's what our industry is doing.



We have hundreds of thousands of people every day who are passionate about the community and games that we have built - we're not just "web assholes." The truth is we've connected millions of people who have real life meetups, and even get married through meeting in our (very social) games - there's nothing cynical about that. We're people who have a background in web, communities, and data driven development that want to share a little of what we know in the hopes of getting more people like you who really understand game design involved in our industry.

David Fox
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Great column, Christian. I share a similar inherent repulsion to the whip-smart but cynical techniques that many social game companies use to turn players to engines for more-monthlies and those more-monthlies into money. I've talked to friend who have succumbed to buying points in Mafia Wars and they ultimately feel ashamed and a bit dirty about it. That's not sustainable.



Sebastien de Halleux from Playfish was breath of fresh air for daring to say that games should be fun first, addictive and viral later.



But I'm not worried. Ultimately, the advantage that us "game DNA" folk have and will always have is that you can't chart fun on a spreadsheet (though the game grammar people will kill me for saying that).

Ian Bogost
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@Charles, @Siqi

I think you are missing the forest from the trees. The concern expressed in this editorial and in these comments are not about metrics, but about the larger sensibility of the so-called social gaming sector.



Game developers are math dorks, we like metrics as much as anyone. And there are tons of examples of instrumentation in console and PC games; and not just in online games either. For example, Will Wright and Maxis have tons of interesting observations drawn from instrumenting The Sims. The difference is that a majority of such games start out with an idea or experience in mind. Sure, economics impacts game design, and sometimes it even drives it.



But it doesn't *start* there. You can cover your product line with sure-things and easy-hits. But you can't back-in to art. There are questions whose answers are measured in users and pageviews.



For what it's worth, I would happily attend the SGS again; I haven't done so simply because I don't live in the SF area and haven't been able to make a special trip.



@Siqi

My comments have nothing to do with your panel or your data. Rather, they are general comments about the differences between game creation as an expressive practice and web entrepreneurship as a business practice. The phrase "web assholes" is indeed inflammatory, but it was meant to be. Silicon valley's culture of technolibertarianism -- money first, ideas later -- feels soulless and hollow to me. And it's surely one of the attitudes preventing traditional games folks from wanting to have anything to do with this sector. It has no soul.



We've met and spoken at length in the past and I think I said the same thing then: social games have the opportunity to help people perceive their relationships in new ways. But I see social media are a utility for games, a channel through which to accomplish things. The question designers must ask is, what things do they want to accomplish? How do they want to encourage people to behave in each other's company? What kind of world do we want to enable?

Mike Lopez
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Very interesting article and even more interesting and thought provoking comments.



@ Siqi: Kudos for adding further context to your talk. It is encouraging to hear you speak favorably about traditional game design and gameplay quality, but those opinions appear to me to be very much in the minority in social gaming and they are rarely heard or broadcast outside of the social gaming community. As a 17 year VG design vet who has been paying attention to the social gaming industry the past year or so I can tell you that the interest of social gaming companies in traditional VG game design processes and expertise seems to be extremely limited and under valued, which will ultimately prevent much of the game design talent and expertise from crossing over. It is too bad since both segments would benefit from greater cross pollination of talent/experience. As AAA video games push further into social networking functionality I would expect those teams to tap the social metrics expertise/talent long before social gaming seeks traditional game design talent.

Siqi Chen
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@Mike:



That's actually very surprising to hear. We're a really young industry, but the trend to me is strikingly clear. All of the companies with some success in the space are *very* actively looking for people with traditional gaming backgrounds. There's a real urgency amongst *all* of the companies I talk to that that kind of expertise is exactly what we need most. We're all doing our best to find hire great designers, so I'm curious to understand where that perception comes from.



"It is too bad since both segments would benefit from greater cross pollination of talent/experience."

I couldn't agree more. I might be biased, from what I can see happening today, the cross pollination is really happening mostly in one direction. I feel that there is a real sense of respect on the web folks for the talent games people bring to the table, but not so much vice versa.

Jeremy Nusser
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My $0.02 from the SGS was that we need to have more direct and actionable takeaways like the presentation that Siqi & David gave. The few sessions that could have been improved were still talking in broad, abstract terms. I completely agree with Charles & Siqi that the industry is still young and evolving - but it is growing up very quickly.



As the social space grows, conferences like SGS will see the need to separate the business tracks from the game design tracks (similar to GDC). Both are very critical to success in gaming, but have a completely different focus. At the end of the day, gaming (social, online, pc, console) is a "business" like any other, that relies on a great "product" for success. A great gaming "product" just happens to be a game that is fun and engaging - the debate in comments here seems to lose sight of those differences.



Jeremy -

Mike Lopez
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@ Siqi: That impression - accurate or not - comes from multiple places:



- Press articles about social gaming like those here typically talk a lot about the business, metrics, 'virality', and page impressions (clicks) but not much about the fun, gameplay quality or design.

- In Video Games, the entire industry pays close attention to both sales data (NPD) and review quality (Game Rankings/Metacritic); unless the sales are stratospheric a game with good sales but mediocre reviews is not necessarily seen as a success even if they make money. In the on-line world of social gaming, developeranalytics.com seems to be the main source of success without any balancing quality source. The emphasis on that site is clearly centered around daily/monthly active users and page impressions.

- Playfish is about the only social gaming company I have heard about that makes a point to talk about gameplay and fun as their top priority.

- Experimentation with some of the top social networking games on FB shows many very simple games, more often than not of relatively low gameplay quality and mediocre gameplay balancing.

- Clone social games are prevalent to the point of market confusion but very rarely are they better than the original (kudos to Mafia Wars) and usually they are MUCH worse.

- On a scan of the top social networking companies web sites, there are very few design roles being hired for and those that are for design are looking for a relatively inexperienced designer (aka cheap/young). VG experience is encouraged but not a requirement and it seems more important in the programmer/art roles than the designers and even then not a requirement.

- Social gaming dev cycles are very short (often

Mike Lopez
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[continued; note to self don't use less than symbol]

- Social gaming dev cycles are very short (often less than 3 months) and rarely give time for comprehensive design and design process.

- My understanding is there is no such thing as pre-production in the social gaming world, which surely impacts the final quality. By contrast it is more and more common for a *new* AAA video game to spend 60% or more of total schedule time on pre-production so that percentage has been increasing rapidly over the past decade.

- A friend of mine at one of the very top social gaming companies indicated that there is a pervasive air from non-VG personnel that experienced VG designers are slow lumbering dinosaurs and their processes and techniques do not apply well in the on-line space. The same colleague says that gameplay fun and quality take a far back seat to page impressions (clicks), which drive most of the development and 99% of the live updates. He has had to learn to keep his mouth shut about improving processes/design and get with the program. As one of the biggest social gaming companies there are apparently several others looking to emulate that behavior and business model.


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