Playdom's Steve Meretzky suggests that there's plenty of room for Facebook games to make their social elements more genuine and more central -- but ardently disputes the idea that the space isn't evolving, or is evolving too slowly.
"We've certainly gotten better at raising the production values of the games, but where we, as an industry, fall short is not moving the ball forward in terms of really making these games more social and taking advantage of the viral channels that Facebook allows," he concedes.
Design VP Meretzky speaks to Gamasutra as part of today's in-depth feature, which collects thoughts on a much-debated and rapidly-growing industry segment from a few of its brightest minds, designers with traditional backgrounds.
We talk to Zynga chief designer Brian Reynolds, a strategy veteran who's worked on games like Civilization II and Rise Of Nations, and Lolapps creative director Brenda Brathwaite, who's been in game development since 1981 with 22 titles under her belt.
Meretzky has his roots in classic Infocom titles, and his wider perspective on the industry's past transitions comes to bear in his views on the pace of evolution in the social space.
"Heck, three years from the start of electronic gaming, we were still in the Pong era," he recalls. "Sure, in 2007 we started with a much higher level of technical possibilities than existed 30 or 40 years ago. But we've come a long way in three years. Facebook games have become more sophisticated, the gameplay deeper, the production bar is higher. And I certainly predict those trends will continue."
"I don't want to hear that Facebook games are Skinner boxes," he adds. "You know, when you come down to it, basically all games are Skinner boxes -- meaningless activities where you're not getting anything out of it other than enjoyment. But in traditional or more complex video games, the Skinner box core is more buried under a lot of sizzle. In Facebook games, just because they are so stripped down to their simplest, barest elements, the Skinner Box skeleton is just more visible."
Meretzky suspects that criticism will wane as more and more traditional game developers join him -- and Brathwaite and Reynolds -- on the social side.
"It's always easier to criticize what someone else is doing than to criticize what you are doing yourself," says Meretzky.