Playfish: The Social Gaming Provocateurs
August 24, 2009 Page 4 of 6
That leads us to the comparison that social gaming has more to do with the traditional board game than with some of the video game innovations over the past couple decades, in a way.
SD: Well if you look at board game numbers they really will impress you I think. We did some research, and there are little published numbers, but they are published by Monopoly, which was started in 1935.
And they have sold something like two hundred and fifty million boxes of Monopoly. I mean, that's unbelievable, right? That's just a huge number, so we were thinking, "Wow..." And imagine the longevity of that, right? People have always wanted to play games. I think we've just been a bit too focused over the past, maybe, what, 20 years or so, on the hardware, and what the hardware can do. And I think now that the hardware can do anything -- we've come to that stage where the hardware can do almost anything, right?
So, now, suddenly, there's a whole generation of people who are starting to focus less on the hardware and its capabilities, and more on the users and their needs. And so, it brings better experiences.
It's happened in music first, and now I think it's starting to happen in games. Thinking, "What do people really want?" And the beauty is that, now, rather than sending a questionnaire to a hundred people, you can do total population sampling on Facebook. We can get the live pulse, for us, of six and a half million people, on any given day.
So if I put my finger out on the Playfish audience, 24 hours later, I've got the opinion of six and a half million people. And that's pretty powerful in game design, because suddenly, because they all run as services, I can say, "OK, what if I changed my button from blue to green? Would people prefer this or not?" How would I know this, as a game designer? I could have the creative [drive], but what if I really want to design this with the user in mind?
Something blew my mind is that social gaming companies can test ad copy. They put a certain invite phrasing to one percent of their audience... and then they track the clickthroughs. And that is ridiculously granular and kind of amazing, really.
SD: So, I think, the beauty in the illustration that this gives is that what the web can teach us in terms of game design. I think many traditional creative industries shied away from those messages. Metrics can be both good and bad, obviously -- you shouldn't design by metrics, but if metrics can be an enhancement to what you do, then it could be quite powerful.
Especially tied to the underlying layer. Metrics in themselves are nothing. You can say, "Hey, this ad copy wins." Great. That's not what we are concerned about. What we are concerned about is, sub-segments of our audience, how do they behave? How do they play our games? How can we make the experience better?
So we may learn the lessons the hard way. We release some games with a finite gaming session, and some games with infinite gaming session. So, Pet Society, you can go in and in 30 seconds get your fix, or you can play all day long, and the experience is still meaningful.
Whereas Who Has the Biggest Brain? was four minigames, 60 seconds each, and we discovered that people prefer the fluid game mechanic where they can define the investment in time, rather than being dictated at.
Especially with the traditional console games, with their long PR cycles, you get a sense of -- at least in the press -- how the designers expect you to play a game by the time it comes out.
And the example for me, that really opened my eyes, is that when Animal Crossing first came out on the Gamecube, I played it like a regular game, because that's how I play games. I played it for like three hours every day for a month. This is absolutely not the way they want you to play Animal Crossing; it's completely wrong.
But I really loved Animal Crossing for a month, and I recommended it to everyone I talked to for a month. So in the end, Nintendo still won.
SD: First of all, we are huge fans of Animal Crossing, and I can relate to that, and I still think that many people even today play it. But I think the important thing is that the game needs to have meaning for you as a user, right? You're not part of a huge group. You have specific ways you want to consume your content. And the important thing is to realize this.
But, at the same time, how do you make the game accessible for people with different needs? I think MMOs talk about this all the time, right? What about the level 70, you know? How are you ever going to be relevant to both a newbie and an old-timer?
So, what we do is, we try to provide lots of meta-games inside of the game. In Restaurant City, it's a game about expression. It's a game where there is no hard metric to win. It's about having the coolest restaurant. And it can go into a thousand directions. You can create a crazy Japanese restaurant, or a small Italian one, or you can mix all the themes together.
However, you also have pretty old-school leveling inside the game. If you choose that this matters to you, you also have achievement paths. You have hidden achievement, and you have all kinds of trading. You can define your own dimension in which you want the game to become relevant to you, and then develop that dimension.
And so, part of the design challenge that we have, that we're trying to address, is how do we make a game that's as relevant as possible for an audience that's quite diverse. Without scaring away people who literally just want to play in the sandbox, without that element of competition, and without shutting them out of enjoying the experience.
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