Socially Acceptable

There's more to social gaming than Facebook, and developers are seizing the opportunity to mix the old with the new.

There's no question that traditional console gaming still accounts for the bulk of the video game industry's focus, but with development budgets reaching well into the millions even in the twilight of the current console life cycle, the financial risk of producing a blockbuster game--with a few exceptions--has never been higher. Something has to change or the level of consolidation and closures we've seen among publishers, developers, and other facets of the industry will be far greater than it is now.

But if what various industry luminaries had to say at this year's Design Innovate Communicate and Entertain (DICE) Summit is any indication, that change has already happened, or at the very least, there's a recognized need to embrace a change in philosophy that no longer puts traditional console and PC gaming in an adversarial relationship with social and mobile smartphone gaming. The new philosophy paints the relationship as a symbiotic one where these markets ultimately benefit each other and, in the process, elevate each other's visibility in a crowded market place.

In his presentation at DICE on the myths of mobile games, EA Mobile vice president Travis Boatman specifically pointed to the iOS version of EA's Dead Space, which found success in the same market where games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja dominate despite Dead Space's traditional structure. While Boatman says that this is evidence of a healthy hardcore gaming audience in the phone and tablet space, there's actually something much greater at work.

By virtue of its success and word of mouth espousing its quality, Dead Space suddenly became a known property to untold numbers of people previously unfamiliar with its origins. If there's even the slightest possibility that an original, mobile Dead Space game served as an incentive for a consumer to go out and buy Dead Space 2 or its predecessor, then the symbiotic relationship has already proven its value for a franchise that doesn't have the immediate name recognition of a Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty.

On a basic level, this relationship is an advertising gimmick, but it's a good one because of what it's advertising and the massive audience it's reaching. Since the mobile Dead Space game so closely resembles its console counterparts, EA (as well as those familiar with the property) can confidently state, "If you want to experience more Dead Space, then you should really consider purchasing Dead Space 2 or the original Dead Space." If the iOS Dead Space didn't accurately re-create the experiences found in those games, then the built-in description disappears along with an audience that doesn't have the inclination to read about their fundamental differences.

As Boatman further noted in his DICE presentation, console-like experiences can coexist with smaller, "bite-sized" games traditionally found in various app stores. This is an important realization because it encourages smaller developers--overwhelmed by the big budgets of console development--to not only become active participants in the mobile landscape, but also take part in a similar relationship emerging between mobile and console services like Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.

The way "social" functions in this new philosophy is simple in some ways. Friends typically help drive sales of games when they recommend them to friends, and people generally prefer playing with people they know as opposed to AI. It gets more complicated when trying to explain where the social experience really begins. What is the seed that causes friends to take notice of various exploits and ultimately make the decision to join in the process, thus growing the social experience?

In her DICE panel called "Creating Blockbuster IP for Generation C," Ubisoft's Jade Raymond used the analogy of playing poker in the Old West, when people would use it as a social activity and also a public demonstration of skill. For modern games, the same holds true. Part of what makes World of Warcraft so successful is that it incorporates the social element while simultaneously giving its players something to show for their time investment. This also applies to games like FarmVille, where people can play with their friends while showing off their plot of land, and competitive multiplayer games like Call of Duty, which spawn their own competitive social groups.

Still, it's the success of FarmVille and Zynga's other Facebook games that has largely defined social gaming over the past few years--due in no small part to establishing the social networking site as a viable gaming platform. But even now, that's changing. Traditional publishers and developers are working to bring versions of their games to Facebook or at least create some kind of gateway game that introduces their intellectual properties to a brand-new audience via your friends and their in-game experiences. It might sound a little devious, but in reality, this is what gaming has always been about.

Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award winner Bing Gordon summed it up best in his acceptance speech at DICE when he said, "Legendary relationships can be created because the stickiest game mechanic is people."

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Discussion

15 comments
ryuu-drako
ryuu-drako

as soon as my friends stop saying stupid things on facebook, ill delete that account. i hate facebook. i only use it to make fun of people who might possibly be "high".

MEDzZ3RO
MEDzZ3RO

Played social games for awhile, up until the point I realised I had a games console seconds later.

3v1LR0n1N
3v1LR0n1N

@nsibbs "social" games.... urgh..

nsibbs
nsibbs

facebook... urgh..

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

I have developed a general bad opinion about social games: most of the ones I've played are unoriginal adaptation of Sim City, Sim Farm, Worms and a nice variety of tower defense clones... that without menctioning the thousand of copycats of "Mafia Wars" and so on. And last but not least, there are A LOT, i'm surprised that the market is not oversaturated already. I get "social" every friday when I go to clubs or having some beers with my work coleagues after getting out of the office. I have no need of this games. But to each its own, of course.

hellpolice
hellpolice

@DarthVeng_basic: I thought I was alone on that one (no pun intended) I try to make that point and people look at me like I'm a alien, lol! Mobile gaming is a great way to expose your games to a mass audience to me this has always been a great way for indie devs to start, make enough revenue then jump into the PC or console territories....as far as World of Warcraft I've played for a month or two then got tire of it, I've played my share of "social" games, but the only one I still play nowdays that contains some sort of "Social" element to it are Call of Duty MW 2 and COD Black Ops multiplayer.

lol342
lol342

@ SuprSaiyanRockr I agree but you can allways bring your xbox to your friends house. As long as he has two tv's or bring your own.

RockmasteR-_-
RockmasteR-_-

playing games what I do for fun, facebook is for social activity, I tried to play farmville for a while but then I stopped and never returned, so yeah maybe we really should take a break!

AceCometh
AceCometh

Unplugging is something I need to do once in a while just to mantain some sort of emotional madness. That's where watching movies come in. Video games are my escpae instead. I even deleted my Facebook account just to probe that point!

Vishant
Vishant

I play games predominately to escape from real life, and that can include talking to people. I dont mind social games but agree with DarthVeng, sometimes its good to unplug

Vishant
Vishant

I play games predominately to escape from real life, and that can include talking to people. I dont mind social games but agree with DarthVeng, sometimes its good to unplug

SuprSaiyanRockr
SuprSaiyanRockr

If social gaming is so popular, why are so many games being released with online-only multiplayer? One less game to play with friends, everytime... unless they ALSO have a copy of the game, a broadband connection, the same console, and a gold membership (if on the x360), and even then, it sucks compared to being in the same room. On that note, what is the point of co-op in a game with only online multiplayer? You might as well be playing with AI, it's just as personal. Hell, some games don't even allow LAN. Ridiculous.

DarthVeng_basic
DarthVeng_basic

Everything is about being social these days, and it frankly makes me sick. Don't people like to do things alone and be by themselves anymore? Unplug for awhile folks.

UdderJuice
UdderJuice

I think the two forms of gaming will have to reconcile. There will be people who sit firmly on either side of the fence and there will be crossover demographics. In the end there's a market, and creative industry, for both types of gaming. Having said that, as smart phones become more powerful, there is a LOT of potential to bring hard-core games to mobile devices.

jazilla
jazilla

FarmVille and games of that ilk are the Mariah Carey's and the Celine Dion's of gaming. Tons of people buy their stuff. People that want games like that want light, fluffy, mindless entertainment and that is fine. I really don't get social gaming. Social gaming used to mean a few controllers and your friends all in one room. Game makers now want us to believe that social gaming means sitting in separate rooms playing against people named 420BanSheeXxDominatRxX. Socially, there is actually a disconnect with that line of thinking, and it is partly the gaming media's fault for not questioning it to a certain degree.