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Playfish: The Social Gaming Provocateurs
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Playfish: The Social Gaming Provocateurs

August 24, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

I think that's actually a really relevant question for the whole industry -- traditional console, PC gaming -- creating experiences that appeal to a wide variety of people on different levels. Games can tend to get focused in, especially when they get a real marketing mentality of, like, "This is exactly who's playing this game, this is exactly what they like." Some games, however, have a variety of aspects that appeal to different audiences.

SD: That's absolutely right. But I think I would go further. I think the issue, also, is that relevance always comes within a context. And if the context is all the players in the game, or even all the players on a specific server, that's a very hard problem. Statistically, you'll have a distribution in needs, and it's very hard to cater, with a single game, to all of those needs, at once, in the same environment.

Because if you're a newbie and you log in, you're either going to be killed within the first five seconds -- which is usually my experience when I'm logging on to Xbox Live, for example -- or you're shouted from like a thousand directions, and you go, like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa! That's... What's happening here?"

And so, what we've tried to do is redefine that context. So rather than try to make the game more relevant to everyone, we're trying to transform the game into mini games, and those mini games are focused around just you and your friends. So we don't allow you at the beginning to play against everyone. What we try to do is try to build this really cozy environment, which is just you and your real-life friends. Why? Because those friends are going to care about you. They're going to try to mirror their real life relationship. And if you're already friends, that's a positive one, right?

So if, in Pet Society for example -- and we've seen this like a thousand times over -- you start and you're in this really bland, empty room. And sure, there are some tutorials to help you, like, "Okay, take your furniture here..." which might look like overkill for the traditional gamer, but imagine someone who has never played a game before in their life. They're like, "Okay, so what do I do?"

So we've got those -- but we've found that those tutorials are almost never needed. Why? Because many people have their best friend sitting next to them, saying, "Okay, Here's what you do! You take this thing, and you put it there..." and the next thing that happens is that as soon as someone else has joined, they usually get showered with presents, like a reward. Their friends rewarding them for having joined, making their experience better, because they get more friends to interact inside the game, and so they send them, like, "Here's this really cool sofa!" and then they go, like, "Oh, that's great! I'm receiving all those gifts!"

And you help the leveling because you transfer the high investment from the -- let's call them quote-unquote "hardcore" players -- to the new players, because they want everyone to grow inside the game. So, some people have called this the ability of creating positive experiences, where the aim is not to whack everyone that comes into the game, but rather try to collaborate together, to let everyone express themselves in different ways.

Because, if you think of yourself as an expressive person, and you are very proud of that, and you say, "Look! I've done something amazing," it's going to have no meaning if you've done it on your own. So, if your friends join the game, like you said in this experience you described, and don't want you to play, it still has no meaning to you. What you want is to see what you've done, so they can go, like, "Wow! What you did was great!"

But that only can be done meaningfully if you have context. So that friend also must try his own view, so you can then compare. And then you can talk about it forever, and say, "Oh, I like the direction you've taken, versus the direction that I've taken."

There are several hooks that you can take in social game design. There's social competition -- more like Who Has the Biggest Brain?, and those kinds of things; or it can have social collaboration, which is somewhat what some of our future games are about; or social expression, which is exactly what we've done.

Who Has the Biggest Brain?

And you mentioned your iPhone earlier, but one of the big drivers, for example, in real world marketing is that people don't buy objects anymore for their utility. All phones can do phone calls, all phones can do calendar and web browsing, but the reason you'll buy a Palm Pre -- it's all about self-expression. You put it on a table and go, "I'm an Apple kind of guy," or, "I'm a Blackberry dude," and so this is a very powerful hook in getting you into the game.

Facebook. Is that your primary platform?

SD: So, it depends what you mean by "primary". Our vision is that in the next three to five years, every single web user -- you know, one and a half billion of them -- is going to have their friends mapped onto some kind of a network. And those mappings, or social graphs, are going to be accessible through an API to us developers. That's the end goal, right?

So at the moment, the company that's most successful at growing this kind of social graph is Facebook. And so, yes, it's primary in the sense that most of the users are currently using Facebook, [so] the answer is yes.

We are present on MySpace, on Bebo, on Yahoo!, on Google, on Netlog, on iPhone, and Android... So we cover a spectrum of platforms, and the philosophy here is, we bring content to where people are, and if you are a MySpace user, and you elect to have your friends on MySpace, we shouldn't be the ones dictating to you where you and your friends should hang out. That's your choice. And so we just integrate into your community by providing that Frisbee that I was talking about earlier.

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