Wednesday, December 7, 2011

EXP Podcast #150: First Facebook Forum

Admit it: You didn't think we would do it, did you? You thought all our talk of investigating Facebook games was brought on by too much turkey and an overabundance of holiday spirit. Today, Jorge and I are happy to present to you a conversation about our initial experiences with a handful of Facebook games. In addition to the games themselves, we discuss the nature of social games, monetization, and ethical design. As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts and we invite you to join our experiment by befriending us on Facebook. Thanks for listening!

Here are our dedicated Experience Points Facebook accounts:

Jorge's account
Scott's account

Discussion starters:

- What are some of your favorite Facebook games?
- For those of you who play them, how do the social aspects of Facebook games influence your behavior while playing?
- What game genres are still underrepresented on Facebook?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Run time: 40 min 34 sec
- Games discussed
- Ravenwood Fair
- The Sims Social
- Hero Generations
- Dragon Age Legends
- PixelJunk Monsters
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. Did you guys did go through the tutorials for Ravenwood Fair before you started playing? It wasn't that hard to get started.

    Also, since you asked about John Romero and Ravenwood Fair here is his post mortem from his blog:

  2. I'm only halfway through listening to this, but it's so fascinating that I have to leave a comment; I'm really glad y'all are doing this!

    A couple of notes:

    * In the discussion of Ravenwood Fair, one or both of you talked about meaningless clicking. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts as to why you interpret clicks that chop down trees in Ravenwood Fair as meaningless while you don't (I assume, I could be wrong!) interpret clicks that kill demons in Doom as meaningless. And that's not a rhetorical question, I really am curious, I think there's something to be dug out of that question.

    * In the bit that I just finished listening two before I walked in the door, Scott hypothesized that Facebook games want to get you clicking as soon as possible because they want you to use up energy and hence have a desire to spend money. There's probably something to that, but there's something else really important going on there (especially in the first play session): when working on Facebook games, you have to be acutely aware that players don't owe you any of their time/attention at all. A player who has bought a game already has invested something in that game, so while they might grumble about a bad tutorial, say, it won't (generally!) cause them to give up that game and go do somewhere else. Whereas somebody who is coming to a Facebook game hasn't invested anything more than clicking a link, and can leave just as easily. So you can put all the care you want into the later stages of the game, but if you design your tutorial (heck, even your initial loading screen) such that only 1/3 of players make it all the way through instead of 2/3 of players, you may actually have lost half the money you'll ever make on the game right there, in the form of potential lost earnings for those players. (And their friends - if you want, I can write down an equation about how friends contribute to FB games making money.) Which, actually, means that in their own way FB games have to be more respectful of players' time than other forms of games.

  3. Okay, now I've listened to the whole thing. It was very interesting at the end hearing you talk about how FB game players don't have the sort of game literacy that you expect game players to have while remembering you two complaining earlier on that you found the Ravenwood Fair interface confusing, so I was really glad that you immediately dove into exploring that yourselves.

    In terms of recommendations: these days I hear a lot of buzz about Triple Town, though I'm not sure how interesting its social aspects are. The game I have the fondest memories of is Social City: for whatever reason, its construction aspects spoke to me in a way that other similar games didn't. I think it's being shut down quite soon, though. (Actually, that last fact would also be worth talking about, probably!) I also think Gardens of Time is good for what it is: if you're in the mood to find hidden objects, then it's a well-done execution, but of course you're not always in that mood. (I sometimes am.)

  4. Great insights and suggestions as always, David.

    The more I think about Facebook games, the more I question my own beliefs about the basic aspects of video game design. It's hard to explain, but my mind has been effectively "colonized" by what has been historically considered normal: games are "products" not "services," they have specific beginning and ends, they are predisposed to fostering skills like dexterity/tactical thinking, etc.

    I still have reservations about them, but I can't shake the feeling that I would have a much different opinion had I not come of age (physically and intellectually) in the era of pre-Internet games. Strangely, I haven't been this excited about video games for some time. Not because I like the games or even the philosophy behind them, but because I'm unexpectedly finding my assumptions challenged.

  5. Hey Dan, thanks for stopping by!

    I went through the tutorials and, in hindsight, I suppose it might not have been as bad as we made it out to be. Even so, I think the rapid introduction of a bunch of different activities gave me the idea that things were much more complicated than they turned out to be.

    Even though most actions lead back to one of the few units of currency, they're initially made to seem varied. It also doesn't help that the interface is extremely cluttered, even my Facebook standards.

    That was the blog post I had read, thanks for posting it! I think it explains a lot about Ravenwood fair in general, as he essentially admits that he tried to distill the aspects of the most popular existing Facebook games and implement them in their most profitable form instead of trying to create something new. I'd be interested in seeing a more original Romero-designed social game.

  6. Cloudforest Expedition is the next game from John and the team at Loot Drop:

  7. I second the great insight comment.

    To answer your first question re: clicking, in Doom at least I get the impression there is skill involved in executing my clicks. Enemies may move or fire back, and my ammo may dwindle, making the act of clicking significant. The cutting down trees bit, besides requiring no skill, also strikes me as artificial. I think you are correct in pointing out its "artificiality" may be no different from that of other games. So I think its actually the energy meter that makes these issues more glaring to me. That is, each action I make has a numerical in-game value in the form of energy. Chopping down a three, for example, takes 4 units of energy, and then I have to stop playing. When I look at the forrest, and all the trees I'll have to chop down, I am struck by the knowledge that what is potentially fun (building a carnival) has little to do with actually chopping trees, and that each time I do chop a tree, I have less energy to spend on the ostensibly fun portion.

    I would say this is the equivalent of the Sims charging you energy for your Sim to go to the bathroom (which it does not). This is a perceptual problem though, I admit. Mechanically, EA could force sims to pay for toilet use, but reward players with two extra energy, making up for this lost time. Regardless, the impression that the designers are forcing value onto what I consider a valueless act would still rub me the wrong way.

    Also, thanks for the suggestions, I'll be checking those out soon.

  8. For what it's worth, I actually enjoy cutting down trees in Ravenwood Fair. It's similar to Minecraft in that respect - sometimes, I'm in a creative mood, and want to shape my world, but sometimes I just like going down to my mine and digging away.

    Actually, what bothered me at first about cutting down trees is the deforestation aspect: I'd like to be able to craft a fair with trees where I want them, but the game really wants you to keep chopping away until you run out of energy. Though the trees do grow back pretty fast (or at least they did when I was playing), so I think probably you can reach a more pleasant steady state than I thought at first

  9. Yes, that sounds almost exactly what mosts interests me about them - trying to figure out what I dislike about FB games is for reasons that I think are pretty good on further reflection, what is because I'm just not the target audience, and what is because I'm not used to the conventions. (I'm a lot more used to the conventions now than I used to be, of course.) Also, if there's something I don't like about FB games for reasons that seem good, do I see a similar problem in games that I'm more used to thinking of? (There's plenty of filler and grind in FB games and in console games; seeing that in FB games has ended up leaving me less happy when I start seeing filler/grind in console games.)

    And, of course, there are good sides of FB games that raise similar questions - e.g. there's a norm of a certain kind of expressivity (in particular in how you design your farm / house / whatever), and now I'm starting to wonder whether I'd like that to be similar common in console games.