Thursday, March 18, 2010

Facebook: Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

I quit WoW early last June. I re-subbed to WAR for a month or so and pretty much quit playing MMOs until January when I started playing EVE. Which I’ve since quit and I’ve started playing Darkfall.

So what did I do between July and January?

Mostly Facebook Games.  So it’s with that perspective that I wanted to write about my take on Facebook games and why the world is not ending.

Accessibility of Browser based games
One of the most powerful reasons that Facebook games are popular is because they are BROWSER based games. GDC raised the profile of these games recently on the blogosphere and I’ve been reading a lot impressions about why Facebook games are / are not the future.

While the Browser nature of these games gets a brief mention, it’s often overlooked.  Stop doing that.  It's important to understanding why these game "work" and are popular.

The fact that these games run in Browsers makes them widely accessible to anyone who has a computer or access to the internet. You can play them on a cell phone, at the Library, on even your Mom's computer.

And most importantly, it means you have access at work.

I can’t think of anyone who could get away with playing WoW at work. Yet, with a Facebook game, a person can log in for 15-20 minutes three or four times a day without anyone noticing.

And likely, your boss won't even be the wiser for it.

Taking a break at Work
Zynga, unethical bastards that they are, noticed a trend in games like Mafia Wars. Usage dropped over the weekend when people weren’t at work. People didn’t feel the need to log in when it wasn’t part of the work week.

Now think about that for a moment. A browser based game means a game that can be played during working hours. BUT, the gameplay wasn't compelling enough that it could keep people as interested during non-work hours.

In other words, what these Facebook games largely tap into is “fuck around” time at work. It’s not really competing with off-hour entertainment time.

Warcraft, Team Fortress, or pretty much any other game that’s not “safe for work” competes with our leisure time (not "at work" time). This is the time that I could be otherwise spending reading a book, watching TV, bar hopping, or whatever else I enjoy when I’m not at work.

Facebook during Happy Hour? I think not.
Zynga also noticed that games (like Farmville) which had “timers” did compel people to check back during non-work hours. The timer amounts to a penalty if the player doesn't log back in to harvest crops that will spoil.

In short, the only way to get people to play these games during leisure hours is to build in these types of motivators. Chris Hecker had this now e-famous quote on the topic:
Extrinsic motivators will lead you towards dull tasks, and you're totally [cornering] yourself into designing shitty games that you have to pay people to play with reward structures.
Chris's fear here is that devs will just opt-out for the simplest thing that gets people to continue to keep logging back on.  I'm not so sure about that.

I have to say that for me personally, logging in to check on a crappy game during my quality leisure time wore thin pretty quickly. I couldn’t sustain it and it’s one factor that led me to quitting these games.

In my mind, these games just don’t compete with MMOs because they aren’t competing for my leisure time. They are competing for “fuck around” time in the workplace. A drain on productivity? Perhaps? A threat to my leisure time gaming? Unlikely.

I'll be much more interested to see what happens when some quality games (like Sid Meir's Civilization) show up on Facebook.

Social Networking gets too much credit
I would argue that the Browser accessibility is, in fact, the single most important trait of these games. Moreso, in many ways, than the Social Networking aspect which gets all the credit.

While I’ll not deny the power of Social Networks, I think it’s important to point out that Facebook and these games enjoy a very synergistic effect. In other words, do people come back to Facebook in order to Network or in order to play Games?

The truth is both reasons. There is a synergy between the Social Network and Game that keeps people coming back because one reinforces the other. We play a Game because our Social Network is playing. However, we also Social Network because we can do so through playing Games.

Here to stay, but not here to ruin your day
We need to accept that the online gaming market is growing into a much more mainstream market. That’s not a bad thing.

As I wrote above, these games don’t compete at the same level for the quality of our time like Warcraft or any other MMO. Mainstream users are just not going to be (on average) spending 15 hours of liesure time on these games. They are mostly going to spend time at them while at work or while the kids are at school and then spend evenings doing some other leisure activity.

Liesure activities which may include better quality games.

1 comment:

Stabs said...

Very interesting analysis and I'm sure you're spot on.

More of a threat to Minesweeper and Solitaire than to WoW and Eve.

Makes a lot of sense.