Social gaming is the new hotness. Haven’t you heard? Zynga is taking over the world, and Mafia Wars and Farmville are the most popular games on earth. What, you just own a Playstation 3 or an Xbox 360? Those are so passe. I’m sure you play on your own, in the dark, while we’re happily picking blueberries with our friends.
Is this really what it has come to? Is social gaming the future of gaming, as many Facebook gamers claim? Is a single player experience in the form of ‘core games’ a brief aberration that will be relegated to the least social of creatures?
The games director for Facebook, Gareth Davis, says that solo gaming is an aberration, and that games have almost always been social and with Farmville and other Facebook games they’re just going back to their roots.
He claims that Facebook is the largest game platform in the world and that more people play Facebook games than on any other platform. While there’s no official metric, with 350 million users vs. 120 million Playstations sold I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
What Davis’ statistics don’t take into consideration is that Facebook games are just awful, and barely qualify as games. Farmville is a monotonous money grab, where millions of players fork over money to Zynga to be able to harvest their raspberries faster.
In addition, Facebook gaming is hardly a social activity. Mafia Wars is considered social because your abilities in the game depend on the number of friends you have on your social network. There’s no interaction in the game between you and somebody else though, other than through a generic ‘X player has attacked you’ message that appears every so often.
Many ’social gamers’ would suggest that they’d rather pay $15 a month to harvest crops with their friends than pay it to monster game designer Blizzard who steals lives through the ungodly juggernaut known as World of Warcraft.
According to them, World of Warcraft players are loners who cry themselves to sleep in the dark, rather than social butterflies who love interacting with guildies and other server denizens but are held back in real life by their most likely terrifying personal appearance and crippled self confidence.
Core gamers, unite
Go to any game convention and you’re going to see people dressed up to celebrate their favorite game characters. Nathan Drake, Master Chief, Gordon Freeman, the Left 4 Dead gang, Final Fantasy characters and Solid Snake are just a few of the icons that have brought so much joy to so many. When was the last time you saw somebody dressed up as a blueberry, or a tractor, to celebrate Farmville?
Farmville takes advantage of a simple human need for easily defined accomplishment, and while many games do the same thing, there are also stories told and experiences shared. I guess you could recant the tale of the last harvest in Farmville, but if the person you’re talking to cares (and has played the game) they likely know exactly what you’re going to say.
Core games are the past and the future of gaming, and while Facebook games are going to exist in their own niche, there’s room for expansion and not exclusion.
Brick breaker on the Blackberry is played by millions of businessmen across the globe. They likely don’t consider themselves gamers. I hesitate to call Farmville players ‘gamers,’ as that term is reserved for a different experience.