Asynchronous gameplay has been largely a winning formula in Facebook games. this has largely been due to the fleeting nature of how people use the social network: a short session here and there. It has meant that games have made themselves to adapt to their usersä routines and schedules, rather than the other way around.
Even if asynchronous gameplay still definitely fits like a glove for a certain set of genres and game mechanics (just think Draw Something), here’s three things that synchronicity has going for it:
1. Facebook is banking on real-time
Facebook is striving to engage users with more real-time features, such as the activity ticker at the top right corner. This builds ground for gameplay that pulls players together instantly, there and then, for a match, or another kind of social interaction via game mechanics. The platform shapes and constrains its users’ behavior, and designing for that also applies to developing social games.
2. Real-time interaction, when executed well, creates a strong sense of social presence
This is usually what people mean when they vaguely refer to social games needing to become ‘more social’ and are not able to express what they actually mean. Immediate physical sense of the presence of other players, even if in the form of avatars made of pixels, is one factor in creating a strong sense of social immediacy, but only one - there are others such as reciprocity, whether it is instant or delayed. Nevertheless when executed well, real time tends to trump: the stronger the sense of presence, the stronger the emotions, the stronger the retention - the stronger the game.
3. Synchronous gameplay lends itself for emergent gameplay
When players are able to interact in real time with each other, and possibly the game environment, different combinations of fun emerge. This kind of emergent gameplay often has strong retention and replay factor, as it manages to produce randomness and unpredictability. When coupled with a skill element, creating that elusive ‘one more go’ sensation in the player is closer to the developers fingertips.
So there, a quick take on three benefits of taking the synchronous path with your game. Our studio’s latest game is jumping on the bandwagon, with real-time matches with up to four players, on physics-driven destructible environments. Go and take aim at fellow Penguins and you never know what happens!
1) Social games have high production values: It’s not only the art in Gangs of Boomtown, but there’s also a whole host of voice acting in the game. And then there is the soundtrack: Quite unparalleled in social games, with each game area having their its own theme. Headphones recommended!
In this new world of service-based, free-to-play games, the product manager may be the most important person in the company (second only to the game designer; in some cases more important.)
And no, a product manager is not a new term for a “game designer”. A game designer, traditionally at least, didn’t have to worry about the business objectives. They may have been the consumer champion but that was based on instinct and ego. A product manager needs to temper that instinct with data, the ambition with resource limitations, the game design with revenue requirements.
Nicholas Lovell writes about product management - principally I agree, yet the scope and importance of the PM role is entirely dependent on the company/studio structure. For example, I work in a studio where Product Managers report to Product Owners, whose role is similar to that of an Executive Producer; each production track has a PO, who is in effect the business owner of the project, and therefore also the one who sets requirements and constraints, and ultimately calls the shot. The PO is also in a key role when developing a concept and taking it from an idea into a product. In another studio, the PO/Executive Producer role might be supplanted by the Product Manager altogether.
Nevertheless, in case a product manager does not have such broader production responsibilities s/he can focus on optimizing the game to player (customer) needs, while staying true to the vision. And yes, it is a marketing role only in the sense that product management in the contemporary sense is; it is turning the bullhorn around and listening to the crowd rather than broadcasting to them how great our product or service is.
Also, a shift towards business constraints in the game designer role is evident. This is symptomatic of the current demands for the craft of game design, as more and more platforms embrace the free-to-play model. The bottom line is that one cannot really design games in the free to play context without taking the particular business model into account - free to play affects everything, more or less.
Finally, it is of utmost importance to a successful project and product that game designers and product managers work well together; as I’ve mentioned in some of my talks, it’s like putting magicians and numerologists together: If the combination works, the result is like alchemy: Fun + Virtual goods = Revenue.
The top ten games were created by nine different developers, with only one, wooga, creating two of the ten. While previous years in Facebook gaming have been dominated by one genre (such as farming sims) or one company (such as Zynga), 2011′s most popular games suggest a growing diversity and sophistication of the market.
The above quote from Inside Social Games’ summary of the year’s most popular games - our Zombie Lane included! - is quite telling of how the market has matured.
Personally, 2011 ended with very hectic months of product ownership, supervision of game designers, and contributing to studio management while simultaneously creating a new concept; therefore my posting and tweeting has been minimal. Fast times at social game development, indeed.
Nevertheless, I wish my readers and followers Happy Holidays - another exciting and game-changing new year awaits, including awesome product releases from Digital Chocolate soon!
RT @SocialGamesGuy: A Guide To Breaking into Social Games http://t.co/URnkqLa via @socialtimes #socialgames
Zombie Lane nominated! Finalists Revealed For 2011 Game Developers Choice Online Awards http://t.co/cZYIitc
Towards the end of his talk, Begemann touched briefly on the development of social interaction between gamers and its future evolution. Begemann drew comparisons between asynchronous gameplay in social games with the interaction often witnessed between toddlers. “Social games are parallel play. People want to play for themselves. Sometimes, they may walk up to the other and either help or destroy what the other has been doing.”
I’m glad Begemann has been paying attention while listening to me talk at Casual Connect ;) Of course it was Sulka Haro from Sulake who made the initial observation with respect to the notion of parallel play in studies of kids’ play. The point is really about how parallel play creates a particular kind of social presence - asynchronous one, that is. All the outcries about introducing ‘more social’ into social games are essentially about making social presence more intense and acute, something that the audience Begemann is talking about is not ready nor receptive for.
The way they engage their players is not through interesting gameplay, it’s done through extrinsic rewards - basically bribes.” These are badges, pats on the back, and so forth. As he explains; “I’m level two! That person over there, who started playing five minutes ago, is level one! I’m better!
Read the whole Gamasutra write-up, link above. Honestly, Cityville is not fun? Army Attack is not fun? Zombie Lane is not fun? Diamond Dash is not fun? What’s wrong with these people, establishing some high-brow monopoly of fun?