Insomniac opens Facebook, mobile division

Resistance developer unveils Insomniac Click, forges "Contract With the Audience" promise to layout priorities like fun, gameplay depth.

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Insomniac Games is expanding into the world of social games. In a post on the developer's official blog, chief creative officer Brian Hastings today announced the formation of Insomniac Click.

Insomniac is now the company behind Ratchet and Click.
Insomniac is now the company behind Ratchet and Click.

A new division within the Ratchet and Clank and Resistance developer, Insomniac Click will focus on games for mobile devices and Web platforms like Facebook. In his post, Hastings stressed that the move will not impact Insomniac's traditional console-based development focus, noting that all Click employees--excluding himself--were newly hired for the project. Additionally, the new division will strive to make a different sort of game than those for which Facebook is best known.

"Many social games out there are more activities than games," Hastings said, "that is, a set of tools but no problem. For instance, you plant crops and then harvest them to make more money so you can plant more crops. Your tools are: pick a crop, plant it somewhere, harvest a ripened crop. But what problem are you solving? There really isn’t one. You can’t succeed and you can’t fail, and that’s part of the fun. But at the same time, without having a problem to solve, it’s less of an actual game than Tic-Tac-Toe."

To prevent Insomniac Click's titles from fitting into that same nongame category, Hastings laid out a five-point "Contract With the Audience," spelled out below.

1. Social interaction must be mutually enjoyable. Imagine you had a friend who left five voicemails on your phone each day asking you to join his time share in Alaska. This would seem like pretty antisocial behavior, even downright pathological. But in the current social gaming landscape, this is often the norm. Many games outright require you to ask for gifts from friends to complete even the most basic goals and tasks. And the underlying problem is that neither the asking nor the responding is inherently fun. If you’ve played these games, you’ve seen the pop-up windows where you send a “request” to any or all of your friends so that they send you a peppermint stick to help build your gingerbread house. But clicking that window isn’t fun. And being the recipient of the request isn’t really fun either. If the gifts were rare and unique, it would be fine – just like getting a gift in real life. But when the giving and asking for gifts becomes the central gameplay experience, it is no longer fun for either party. We promise to create social interactions that are fun for both players.

2. Game tuning must benefit the player experience. It’s no secret that social games are actively tuned to what are commonly known as “The Three Rs”. These are Reach (the number of people playing the game), Retention (the number of people who come back), and Revenue (money earned per day.) It’s standard procedure right now to carefully test every decision to see which one increases one of these three factors. This often results in things like “hiding” the button that chooses not to spam all your friends. Or making the default payment transaction the highest possible amount so if you’re not paying attention to the radio buttons, you’ll end up forking over $100 in a single click. Or displaying a series of five pop-up promotion windows each time a player starts the game. Each of these things must have had a positive effect on one of the Three R’s, but each one also detracts at least a little bit from the overall player experience. In console development, since the revenue is mostly paid up front, developers are free to focus solely on player experience. Maybe this is idealism talking, but I think it’s possible to create social games that focus on improving the player experience first and foremost and that the Reach, Retention, and Revenue will naturally go up when people are enjoying the game itself.

3. Gameplay Depth. We want to create worlds to explore, challenges to master, and a continuing story to discover. We promise to deliver the richness of gameplay content that you would expect from a console game, but freely playable online.

4. Easy to Learn, Hard to Master. We promise to make a game that anyone can learn and play within a few minutes, but that takes months or years of practice in order to become one of the top players in the world.

5. Make It Fun First. Our strategy is to first create core game mechanics that are fun to play independent of any social framework. We then integrate the social aspects of the game in ways that people naturally enjoy playing together.

Insomniac is just the latest core game developer to embrace the social gaming trend. Ubisoft, Take-Two Interactive, THQ, and Electronic Arts have brought their respective Assassin's Creed, Civilization, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and Dragon Age franchises to Facebook. Meanwhile, companies like Capcom and Namco Bandai have built on their mobile expertise to break into the Facebook business with new efforts like Smurfs' Village and Treasure Abyss.

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