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How Sid Meier Civilized Social Gaming
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How Sid Meier Civilized Social Gaming

July 7, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

[Renowned game designer Sid Meier tells Gamasutra how his traditional "find the fun" design philosophy can translate to the fast-paced, metrics-based world of social gaming, with his latest title, CivWorld.]

When Sid Meier launched the original Civilization strategy game back in 1991, he never could have predicted the paths that the constantly-evolving games industry would take the franchise over the next 20 years.

Since that first entry, we've seen four more entries in the core Civilization turn-based PC series, plus all their expansions and spinoffs. And in 2008, Meier led development of Firaxis' Civilization Revolution, a version of the franchise tailored for a console experience that also arrived on handhelds and mobile devices.

Meier chooses his projects carefully -- he only has so much time. While designer Jon Shafer was busy heading up the creation of last year's Civilization V (still prefixed "Sid Meier's"), Meier couldn't help but to continue to explore new platforms for new audiences, this time with the Facebook game CivWorld.

CivWorld launched in open beta form this week. Gamasutra spoke with Meier, who is just now making his social gaming debut. While there are certainly examples of hugely successful social games on Facebook that are riding a new wave of game development methods, Meier is still taking an old-school designer philosophy: use your gut to "find the fun" first, then little details like income will fall into place.

That means that he's ignored the "launch soon, update often" mentality of the biggest social games. Meier said he's been at work on CivWorld for about a year-and-a-half -- way longer than typical social game projects. Here, Meier admits it's an "experiment," but he's hoping that social gamers will catch on to his traditional take on the fast-paced world of social gaming.

Christian Nutt: How much of a challenge was it to approach designing social games for the first time?

Sid Meier: It was definitely a challenge. I think that was actually a big part of the appeal of the project, kind of taking the core ideas of Civilization and expressing them in this new medium. We had a lot of fun a couple years ago taking Civ and bringing it to the consoles with Civilization Revolution, and doing a version for the Xbox and PS3 and the DS. That eventually kind of turned into an iPhone version and an iPad version as well.

It was just a lot of fun to kind of take those four Civ ideas, and then figure out how to do them with a console controller instead of a mouse and keyboard and different interfaces and different audiences. That's kind of a fun design challenge.

So, when Facebook came along, it was also intriguing to see how we could take the core ideas of Civilization and use them in this whole different kind of play style, where people aren't playing in concentrating blocks from beginning to end but are playing 15 minutes, a half hour a day, an hour a day, whatever their particular schedule is, and also really explore the cooperative gameplay side of Civ.

That's something we don't get to do a whole lot with a traditional Civ game. But cooperative gameplay is a lot of fun and can really add an extra dimension to the game. Where Civ has traditionally been essentially a single-player experience, civilization in the real world is a multiplayer experience. A lot of people are involved, and to get to explore that, the idea of people working together, playing together, playing in an environment with your friend, cooperation, all that kind of stuff, were the new elements that we really wanted to explore with CivWorld.

So we wanted to kind of keep the core of Civilization, those basic ideas, but use this new technology and this new kind of gameplay as kind our starting points.

CN: Was designing for a cooperative multiplayer experience -- not just for a couple people, but for a couple hundred of people a time -- change Civilization a lot? How did you approach that?

SM: It changed it a fair amount. What we were really looking for were opportunities for people to work together -- to really reward teamwork, reward communication, reward the teams, the groups of people that really worked well together. That was really one of the fundamental changes.

In PC Civ, you kind of are king, and you get to make all the decisions, and nobody can say no to you. [laughs] In CivWorld, it's really more about the social aspect, convincing people that you've got the good idea, working together with other players. And again, it's a real Civ game. We've got technology. We've got culture. We've got battles and military and economics.

You can do a lot of things on your own, but the game really comes into its own when you start cooperating and working together with other players, specializing and figuring out what's going to be your role in Civ. That was a very new element, but I think it really fits with the whole idea of Civilization and the concept. I think it worked out pretty well.

CN: You talked about just now just bringing in all of the elements of Civilization is known for, all of the depth, but at the same time trying to design for short session duration, which you alluded in your first answer. So, how does that work?

SM: Right. Well, we actually did the math, and the amount of time actually corresponds a lot to PC Civ game. For example, Civ IV or Civ V, you might play 15 or 20 hours to complete a game. Well, in CivWorld, you probably play those same 15 or 20 hours. You just spread that time out over a couple weeks. CivWorld is a game, and it has a beginning, middle, and an end. It's just a different rhythm, a different schedule for players. So, we're giving them, in that sense, a similar amount of gameplay, but it's just done in a different pace and schedule.

CN: Is that driven by the design of the game in the sense that you gave people things that are digestible quicker or in smaller chunks? Or is it just due to player expectations of how to approach a game on Facebook?

SM: I think it's about the players. The fundamental idea is you can play in a world together with your friends. So, you probably don't have enough friends who can spend 20 hours straight playing a game to play classic Civ. So, we designed a game that was a fun experience if you were able to play from 15 minutes to an hour a day, and we think that your friends can probably afford that amount of time.

Or you can find a group of people that would enjoy spending that amount of time playing Civ. So, the game rhythm, the tempo of the game, the things that you can do, and how you accomplish things are based around the idea, of playing one or two sessions a day, coming back, checking in every now and then. So, it's really about how do we make a game that you can realistically play with a bunch of your friends. That's the kind of time commitment that would seem to make sense.


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Comments


Ian Bogost
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Here's a question that seems to sit hidden underneath this interview: is Facebook just a distribution platform atop which games sit, or is it an ecosystem in which games evolve (or devolve)? It seems like Meier thinks the former is the case.



On the one hand it's encouraging to hear Meier say "if we can make a fun game, there will probably be some way for us to monetize that." But on the other hand, it seems like a terribly naive thing to believe, doesn't it? Isn't the very idea of the Facebook platform, to some extent at least, that a particular kind of monetization method is driving considerable aspects of the design process, for better or worse.



It will be interesting to see if a game as well-known and well-regarded as Civ will be able to "break" Facebook, as one breaks a wild horse, turning it into a distribution platform more than a perverted symbiant. But even if it does, is that a replicable act for new work? And do others have the will and desire to make it so?

Justin Nearing
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Facebook as a gaming platform is predominantly the latter, where ecosystems change or evolve. Some of this is forced, such as Facebook changing policies or functionality, while some due to changing trends of the FB population. Either way, successful apps have to keep iterating in order to keep growing.



Monetization has to be baked into gameplay from the very beginning, and Sid is a bit misleading here, because there's been monetization hooks in the game since early beta. I think Firaxis is going to see massive revenue if they can monetize the social ranking of civilizations- if you can pay to be top dog of a civilization, people will do it. 15 minutes of fame, even if its to be king of a facebook game for a day, is very compelling.



Existing/Non-FB-native IP has been proven to be successful on the platform. People see an IP they love/trust, they are more compelled to try the app. Basically, branded IP has an easier time acquiring new users. Will CivWorld "break" facebook? No, Zynga has already done as much trailblazing on the platform as Firaxis could ever hope to achieve, dedicating 110% effort in social networking games.

Dan Robinson
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@Justin You can't pay your way to the top of the leaderboard. For better or worse there are limits to the Civ bucks you can spend to gain an advantage. I agree that Zynga is very successful, but they are not known for making great games.

Adam Bishop
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I've loved the Civ games (except 5) and I was eager to try this out, but when I went to add the app I discovered that I couldn't do so unless I gave it permission to post to my wall. That made me decide against it. Maybe I'm just not the market for this kind of game, but I'm not interested in having a game spam my friends with automated messages. If I think it's good, I can tell them myself.

Dan Robinson
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@Adam You should be able to hide posts from apps in Facebook, even if they have permission to post.



@Ian I don't see how this game lends itself to the kind of monetization we see in most Facebook games. It appears that this game was designed to be the best experience possible for those who visit Facebook. I am very happy that the designer has taken that approach and not tried to shoehorn mechanics designed to separate people from their money. If I were a betting man, I would say that this is the first game that will "break" Facebook.

Carlo Delallana
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Dan, have you played the game? I'm curious to see what folks here think about the initial experience.

Ian Bogost
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I tried but couldn't get it to connect to the server :|

Dan Robinson
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I am having trouble getting in also. I will try again later tonight.

Paul Tozour
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It has potential, but it's kind of an overdesigned mess so far. The UI is very messy, clunky, and generally horrible. There are far, far too many misappropriated / maladapted features from Civ to wrap your head around while you try to learn how to play the game.



And the gameplay so far seems to be mostly waiting for your city to build itself (very slowly) ... so they added bizarre minigames that have nothing to do with the actual game to distract you while you're waiting for your city to get big enough.



It's really strange. Rather than focusing on giving the player something to do while his city is growing (other than mousing over resources), they added an art puzzle minigame ... a choo-choo train minigame ... and an odd little maze.



Having said that, I'm still enjoying it, and it's still head-and-shoulders above a gameplay-free clickfest like Empires & Allies.

Carlo Delallana
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I agree on the overdesign and UI/UX issues. I'm having a hard time reconciling what my experiences are with the game and the gameplay discussed in the interview.

Justin Nearing
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I'd have to agree with everything except for the last line. CivWorld is a hard-to-understand city building game peppered with minigames, E&A is an easy-to-understand city building game peppered with minigames.



The difference is execution, and E&A executes with clear direction to the user on what theyre doing and how to do it. Civ just gives you a city and no explanation of what you're doing.



In the end, I think it comes down to what the goals of each game are: Zynga's goals was to make another FarmVille killer, in this they did a pretty good job. Firaxis was to experiment on Facebook, in this they probably succeeded. However, I don't think users who have never been exposed to Civilization series will have a favourable first impression of the IP.

David Hottal
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I enjoy it. The mini games aren't pointless. They are a way for you to earn science, culture, or gold.



It doesn't seem to be a game that you sit down and play hours straight, but check in and play for 15 min or so.



The co-op aspect is pretty interesting.

Paul Tozour
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> I enjoy it. The mini games aren't pointless.



Well, they're completely unrelated to the game itself. It's a shame the developers couldn't find a way to spend those development resources to the actual game. Especially when that game is in desperate need of some actual gameplay.



> It's pretty lame.



Agreed.

Dan Robinson
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@Paul and D PH Why did you think it was lame? I'm just asking. You both felt like the game missed the mark and I'd like to know how. Were you expecting a more robust Civ experience like a Civ IV?

Paul Tozour
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@Dan: Well, because there's simply no gameplay there.



The core gameplay is, at best, a very weak exercise in city-building that never amounts to anything more, and supported by a very kludgey UI.



It also involves no fewer than three separate minigames as distractions, which are not really entertaining and serve only as a reminder of how little gameplay there is in Civ World itself.



It also has a fairly appalling number of game features that really only complicate matters without adding any gameplay at all.



No, I wasn't expecting something like Civ IV, or any Civ, for that matter. I approached it with an open mind, and I wasn't expecting anything in particular, beyond some level of gameplay.



Give me interesting and meaningful decisions to make, all inside of a single unified gameplay experience that's rich enough to stand on its own without extraneous minigames hacked in.

Dan Robinson
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@Paul Fair enough. Maybe we will see some of these things addressed in the next version/release.

Alberto Fonseca
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I just got started playing it and have to say it's looking like a pretty rough beta so far. One surprising aspect for a Facebook game is how hard it is to actually play with your friends. Unlike Zynga games that at the very start pester you to invite your friends and share on your wall, in Civ you have to wait and play more to earn the right to play with your friends... strange... Maybe I'm not into it far enough but it feels like a single player experience so far, and oh yea, there's a bunch of other people playing online too but they're not my friends. ;)

Dan Robinson
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@Alberto I am having trouble understanding how to play with other people as well. However, I am enjoying the game. It seems like a Facebook version of Civilization Revolution. You can buy "Civ bucks" to gain resources faster, but these are not forced upon you. They are introduced in a tutorial that you can skip.



So far it seems like a very Civ-like experience. I am eager to hear what Ian thinks once he gets a chance to log in.

David Hottal
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You join a civilization with your friends, or against them.



You have to play a little at first and then it gives you the option of joining a civilization or starting a new one.

Thanh Nguyen
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@Alberto: You join a certain Zynga game and wanna make more friends because more friends is more action points, more rewards... but, it's not true-friends, there are very few cooperative tasks those we like to join (all we need to do is to gift and gift more items...) . We have about 1k friends, who we never connect, after joining some Zynga games.



But in CivWorld, If you wanna win the game, reach to new contents of game, you should work together, although your cooperators are only in-game-friends.



Please think about, "How do we work together" in CivWorld and Zynga games. It's quite different when taking Civworld beside Zynga games. CivWorld has a clearly goal (I mean a clear end-game) but Zynga games haven't.



Play more and hope you won't think CivWorld is a game for playing individually anymore. CivWorld's experience = More friendship more power, win the game faster.


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