What game genres do you associate with Facebook gaming? Puzzle games perhaps? Maybe strategy games, or match-3 games? Cow clicking simulators? Most likely, the racing genre didn't come to mind at all, with a distinct lack of driving titles on the social platform.
A team of former Midnight Club
veterans is looking to fill that gap, with its upcoming game Carnage Racing
. Notably, they've taken the Jagex name, and are now working out of Jagex's new California studio.
"I don't think there is anything magic about making a racing game that runs as a Facebook app in the browser," explains Michael Currington, technical director at Jagex California.
"Our advantage may be that we started this project with a huge amount of experience of making driving games, but without a pre-existing technology base that we had to build on. So when making our game we were not trying to shoe-horn a C++ engine into a custom browser plug-in and could instead start from scratch on a browser friendly technology."
Of course, coming from a retail-driven environment, these developers are having to learn to adapt to the social gaming model fast.
"We were very aware that our players have nothing invested in the game when they start playing," Currington continues. "The initial 20 minutes are crucial to a free-to-play game, whereas you can force your player to sit through an intro cutscene for 20 minutes in a console game without losing most of your players."
Browser games offer numerous advantages over console games too -- sharing and viral options are notably far easier to integrate than in the console world.
"We spent a lot of time determining the ways we wanted our game to interact with players and their friends through Facebook," he adds. "I think it is very easy to use Facebook in an entirely obnoxious way, but there are also some great ways to use Open Graph and the Facebook APIs to enhance the game experience."
Despite all the graphs, DAU counts and "share to wall" opportunities that Facebook throws at a developer, Currington believes that the core principle behind game design never changes, no matter what platform you're building for.
"A fun game is a fun game irrespective of platform," he says. "The importance of creating a game that is really enjoyable and that people will want to play, time and time again, is the most important design focus by far. After all, there is no point having a game with excellent monetization if it isn't fun because nobody will play."
will allow non-paying players to continue racing forever with no restrictions. "Pay-to-win" is a dirty term at Jagex, and the only in-app purchases you'll find in a Jagex game are extra content to enhance the experience, rather than giving players an unfair advantage.
The big question is, can Jagex appeal to more hardcore players on Facebook, with a racing title that is a console-like experience? Currington believes that the game's matchmaking facilities, which allow skilled players to compete with more social gamers via special strategic elements, will help to draw in every type of racing fan.
As he points out, "With more than 1 billion users on Facebook, I doubt there are very many hardcore game players who don't already use Facebook every day" -- it's simply all about offering these players something that they actually want to try.
And what of the current Facebook and social game exodus, with players (and in turn developers) moving across to mobile games? Says the Jagex man, he's not worried, as his team is being careful to stay open to as many platforms as possible.
"I think anyone who is completely married to a particular platform should be worried, irrespective of who they are," he adds. "The marketplace is moving so quickly that you have to leave as many options open as possible should you want to expand your platform base in the future."