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Facebook Games Level Up

October 12, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Brian Reynolds is another "real game" developer who made the leap to Facebook games when he joined Zynga last year as its chief game designer, creating the hit title FrontierVille. Previously, he played a major part in creating such multi-million-selling strategy games as Civilization II, Rise Of Nations, and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.

He dismisses criticism of social games, noting that it's a young industry and not all traditional game developers are keeping up with developments.

"As the platform becomes more familiar to them, they'll see that social games are becoming more interesting, more sophisticated," he says.

Reynolds believes that much of the criticism comes from developers who make "really big, expensive, and complicated games that take them years to create... and who feel that these tiny social games that run in browsers somehow don't count as games.

"The funny thing is that, I, as a game designer, think there's a lot more actual design going on in the social space than in the triple-A space."

"That's one reason I got into this... because in the triple-A space you spend three to four years getting the technology together, getting the art and production values right, composing the music and the sound effects, and so on.

"The amount of actual game play you design is only a small piece of the $30-million budget. I'd spend months and months where there wouldn't be any actual game design going on."

In Facebook games, however, Reynolds says the designer is bandwidth-constrained. "You need to come up with a game that loads in two to three seconds and will entertain someone for just a few minutes at a time. And that, I must say, is quite the challenge! What's important is not how many impressive graphics you can deliver or the quality of your technology -- it's the design of the gameplay and the quality of the interactivity. And that's what I'm really proud of."

Reynolds believes that Facebook games have evolved considerably since the word games and quizzes of three years ago. Last year's FarmVille, Café World, and FishVille -- all from Zynga -- were still fairly simple "but were charming and really accessible to a lot of people," he says.

"Now that we've established that there's a huge mass market audience for Facebook games, we are starting to make titles that aren't necessarily more complicated, but are more entertaining and let friends interact with each other in more sophisticated ways," Reynolds explains. "Like in any new platform, it takes some time to figure out the best ways to entertain people. But we're getting there."


Indeed, Zynga's most sophisticated game, says Reynolds, may be his own FrontierVille, released in June. It's similar to FarmVille in many ways except that, instead of a farmer, the gamer plays the role of a pioneer in the Old West.

"It's head and shoulders above anything seen before in the genre," he notes, "since we invested in trying to move the needle in a whole lot of different areas of gameplay innovation, of social interaction, and so on." Specifically, he cites the pioneer story element, the multiple activities from which the gamer can choose, and the social element that allows gamers to assist their friends in those activities.

"If you were to play FrontierVille for 15 minutes and then FarmVille for 15 minutes, you'd immediately see the difference in the level of complexity," he notes. "Not only will our fans enjoy our newest title, but I have a feeling that skeptics who say we're not creating 'real games' will gradually fade away."

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