Gareth Davis' GDC Social Gaming Summit keynote was a mixture of old and new, but his larger takeaway was the potential future of cross-platform gaming, based around your friends.
There were quite a lot of congratulatory statistics (rightfully so), including the facts that 70% of the Facebook audience is global (i.e. non-U.S.), 200 million people use Facebook daily, and 400 million monthly. Over a million developers have created over 500,000 apps over the last few years, and more than 200 million people are playing games every month on the service.
Davis is platform manager at Facebook, heading up the games division. "We've moved beyond the core gamer," he said, "and we now have people playing games across every demographic." Much of this was old news to veteran Facebook developers, who packed the keynote on the new summit's first day. Davis mentioned that the Facebook platform is changing the way games are designed, monetized, developed, and marketed - and that interacting with friends is the true value seen in these games, calling this "the ultimate compulsion loop."
He reminded us that most games throughout history have been social, from backgammon to chess, and that even modern board games and video games are social, from Risk to Rock Band.
"Pretty soon all games will be social," said Davis, "and we won't call them social games, we'll just start calling them games again." This was one of the better points made during the keynote - extrapolating on the sentiment, the way we describe these games may alienate certain developers from appreciating their applications beyond just the Facebook realm, which in fact is a point Davis addressed later.
Now that Facebook is available on iPhone, consoles, desktops, and other devices, Davis envisions a future in which developers will tailor content to specific device. You could be playing a different aspect of a single game universe on iphone compared to someone who's playing on console, with another person on desktop or web playing something strategic - but everyone's playing the same game. This has long been a dream of a certain set of developers, and Davis poses that the Facebook platform could make it a reality. Not that all of the games would run on Facebook, but they could use the platform to communicate with each other.
One interesting future-looking aspect of Facebook is the use of identity in games, taking players' profile pictures, hiring on friends, and the like. "Every [traditional] video game I've played, it was absolutely nothing about me," David said. "I was totally anonymous. A Facebook game is different." It can know age, name, face, friends, and he says there are lots of opportunities there, like tuning a sports game to know what college you graduated from, and your favorite sports team.
"Imagine a game where the story includes my real-world relationships," he continued. "Imagine I'm rescuing a loved one, and the characters look like people I know," and items are based on things you know and like.
"Suddenly you have an incredibly new, immersive experience, something we haven't really seen before." He recommended that attendees check out the "flashforward experience" and "prototype experience" videos, both of which put together something that includes your identity. "The first time you see this it's like 'woah!' It's something you haven't experienced."
"As far as we've come with social gaming, we're really only beginning," he admitted. "Every new platform brings with it a defining, iconic game. I think the iconic Facebook game still lies ahead of us. The killer social game, the Mario of Facebook, is out there, and will likely come from somewhere in this room."