Tuesday, March 27, 2012
City of Clicks
Personally, the most important thing that has come from the experience are some realizations about the current state of platform and technology behind the Facebook game scene itself. Simply put: from a pure technical perspective, City of Wonder is inefficient. Actions that would take one or two clicks on a traditional PC game routinely require double the amount of inputs in a Facebook game.
Consider the simple example of moving one of my buildings one square to the left. To do this, I have to:
1. Click on the build menu
2. Click on the building I want to move
3. Click on the "move" menu
4. Click on the space I want to move it to
It would be so much faster if I could right-click to get context menus, bulk-select objects by clicking and dragging, or simply use keyboard shortcuts. However, because of the limitations of the browser and the programming language of most Facebook games (usually flash) this just isn't possible right now.
I don't know much about flash, but I imagine that these problems will be solved some day and Facebook games will get more efficient and capable of handling complex actions. But let's just put on our tinfoil hats for a minute: do Facebook and the companies invested in making Facebook games have any incentive to make these games more efficient?
Inefficiency and clunky interfaces are integral to many Facebook games. The point of microtransactions in games like City of Wonder, Dragon Age, or Ravenwood Fair is to give you a chance to pay your way out of having to slog through tedious actions and wait times. For those who aren't paying for more actions, including large amounts of busy work and ponderous menus extends the amount of productive playtime.
Since I don't buy things in Facebook games, the single-click/single-action model still ensures I spend a minimum amount of time in the game. With some more intelligent mouse input and a few keyboard macros, I could probably burn through all my Facebook gaming in a half the time it usually takes me. Once I did that, I would just quit playing, which is exactly what game developers want to avoid.
Now I won't go so far as to claim there is some kind of organized conspiracy to keep flash simplistic and Facebook gaming clunky, but I can't help but think that the technology and the monetization models seen in some of the most popular games has had a large influence on Facebook game design. Facebook games let you pay to cut through the tedious stuff, so what impetus is there to remove said tedium?
So how can we create meaningful game experiences on a platform largely defined by the inclusion of meaningless action? I don't have the answer yet, but I'm working on it. For now, I'll just say that it's a tricky problem created by the confluence of technology, game design, and economics. It's also an exciting problem, and its novelty continues to draw talented designers (including Sid Meier himself) to the community. Given enough time and innovation, I hope we'll be able to build something more greater than a city of clicks.