Will Facebook bring back PBM games?

Earlier this year Facebook announced their new Facebook Platform that allows developers to add applications that users can add to their profile and share with their friends. All these networks let you embed flash into your page, but in Facebook’s case applications can take advantage of all the features of the network itself: news feeds, friend lists, profile details, etc. And Facebook happily allows you to run advertising or charge the users of your application, so you can monetize your users. Developers have created 7782 applications as of this writing.

Not to be outdone, Google announce a new API last week that is sort of the open-standard equivalent to the Facebook Platform. It’s called Open Social and a bunch of non-Facebook social networks and application providers (including MySpace… remember them?) signed on to support it. Network effects work like crazy on this kind of site, so it remains to be seen if Open Social can boost these other social networks, but to the application providers it doesn’t really matter. As long as both APIs support some of the same basic functionality, a developer might as well port their app to both standards.

Of course games are a common application that people write for the Facebook platform. The application tagging on Facebook is pretty crappy, but “gaming” accounts for 879 of those applications. The most common games are trivia games (which seem to exist for every NFL team), games where you “attack” other players and get a news item with the results, simple arcade games with leaderboards, and turn-based board games. Many games give you benefits in the game for inviting people to play, which helps to spread the games through the network very quickly.

The one thing that all these games have in common is that they’re incredibly shallow. That lets people get into them easily but it also keeps them from being particularly sticky. I haven’t seen any metrics on the subject, but it seems like most people tire of any given game within a few days or weeks and remove it from their profiles. The Vampires/Zombies/Werewolves/Slayers game is incredibly popular with more than 900,000 daily active users total, but even more people have moved on from the game to other things. An October 28 article on Free to Play reported that Food Fight had 36k active daily users. It now has less than 23k.

The way people use Facebook puts some serious restrictions on the type of game that can be integrated with Facebook. While millions of people use Facebook every day they don’t spend a huge amount of time there each day. Games that require all players to be online at the same time have a serious disadvantage over games that work asynchronously. You might see FPS and RTS games on Facebook at some point, but they will never be as popular as “throw stuff at your friends” games simply because they have to be real-time to work.

One type of game seems to be entirely non-existent in the current crop of Facebook games: turn-base strategy games. There has always been a community of people playing these games flying under the radar. Back before the web these were called Play By Mail, and Flying Buffalo sold many of them. These days they are more likely to be web-based daily turn or action-point based games. These games are perfectly suited to a platform like Facebook:

  1. They are asynchronous
  2. You can play them in minutes a day
  3. They are deep enough to retain players for months or years

The big question is whether or not someone can design a Play By Facebook game that is easy enough to get into to succeed. Most of the PBM and turn-based strategy games have been pretty intricate simulations of something or other and are generally not for the feint of heart. To succeed on Facebook a game needs to be something that a total novice can learn to play in minutes, because that’s all the time somebody’s friend is going to give the game before they move on to something else. Very few games can manage that while staying deep enough to keep players engaged long-term. There is an opportunity here for someone that can pull it off, though.


20 Responses to “Will Facebook bring back PBM games?”

  1. Tim replied on :

    Star Web (PBM game from Flying Buffalo) was an amazingly good game. I have always been amazed that they never “webized” it. The game would be in a way trivial to turn into a web based game, and I could imagine getting a fair bit of players willing to pay some relatively small amount to play it online. Surprised nobody hasn’t cloned it.

  2. robusticus commented on :

    Did you ever play anything by Reality Simulations?

    I played their Forgotten Realms game waaaay back in the day, once. I had a boss who would play it all the time at work and got me hooked for a bit.

    I’ve always wondered if that was properly licensed, and I imagine it is, since they are still at it. That was a great game, though, always wanted to see a digital version.

    And there’s always ANSI Risk, that was fun, but another license.

  3. Joe wrote on :

    Oddly enough, many of the facebook games are unlicensed clones (down to the name) of existing games. There are a few Mario games, Frogger, Pacman, etc. I expect that the IP owners for those games will eventually notice and shut them down, but it struck me as odd that they were on there at all. The Terms of Service for Facebook Platform drone on endlessly about IP issues and that stuff is clearly not allowed.

  4. robusticus replied on :

    Piracy! Truly Shocking.

    Somebody should hex up Azeroth for a TBS facebook game and see how that flies. Given that the best looking Risk clone (Attack) has 60K daily active users. And it isn’t even a drawn out one-turn-per-day version.

    BTW, RSI says they have a license, and they charge $7.50 per turn.

    What do you make of Silverlight?

  5. Jeff Freeman said on :

    A metric ton on BBS door games were asynch – as most BBSs were single-line (one user at a time).

    They ranged from really being single-user games – cards and dice games, etc. – with maybe no more than a top-ten scores list, to being fairly complex.

    Common practice, though, were for games to be fairly quick to play (that day’s turns, if they were long-term games).

    They scaled-up to accommodate players with more time on their hands via instancing, so to speak. The hard core gamers played multiple games, the softer core players played fewer.

  6. Joe wrote on :

    I had a lot of fun playing Trade Wars 2000 and some arena combat game on a BBS back in college. We wrote some software to analyze the data that you could dump out of Trade Wars and used our advantage to club all the other players over the head. It was a blast. :)

  7. Peter Ferguson said on :

    With games such as Warbook on facebook, I get the feeling of the old BBS days. Which I still prefer in some ways over the Internet. BBS’ were tighter nit, and had a more community feel to them.

    Games like Trade Wars, and Esterian Conquest could easily be transfered to Facebook. I’m actually surprised that no one has done this yet. I really hope to see this happen. I’m itching to play Esterian Conquest again. That game was fun.

  8. Andy wrote on :

    The licensing and pay-to-play issues will certainly limit a lot of pbm efforts on Facebook. But it would be great if we saw a revival of pbm gaming.

    I strongly recommend To Boldly Go (TBG) – http://tbg.fyndo.com/tbg/tbg.html – a free, open-ended, sci-fi strategy game that’s been playing for over 10 years now. Turns are 3 times a week, and the order-entry form is pretty simple. We actually have a few old Trade Wars players in TBG too…

  9. Joe wrote on :

    There’s really no reason why a PBM game on Facebook would need to be either licensed or pay-to-play. Most of the people who pick up your game will have never heard of Trade Wars, To Boldly Go, or Star Web. A new game that uses some of the same mechanics but is well integrated with the social network would probably be more popular than any of them.

    Facebook users are reluctant to pay for things, so you’re likely to bring in far more money with something that hooks them in the game before demanding money (like pay-for-stuff) or even building a game with very little management overhead and let ads support the thing.

  10. Chris said on :

    I am in complete agreement about facebook. They should adopt the game ESTERIAN CONQUEST. It’s simple to understand,easy to play, and it was alot of fun back in the old BBS’ing days. The sound of my modem crackling and dialing, and wurrinng… (sorry got lost in the moment) I loved those days!

  11. mich thought on :

    I do benefit from this new platform. I so like many applications available in facebook now. I get to enjoy my free time playing my favorite Realm of Empires. It’s just so sad to know that some applications or games are not licensed. How could this happen?

  12. WMMorgan said on :

    “Esterian Conquest”???… did someone say “Esterian Conquest”?… count me in, if it ever flies again.

  13. John Hansen said on :

    Hello. We ran the registered Esterian Conquest on our computer bbs’s for years and LOVED IT. Our members did too – although occasionally they got hot at each other and us. Is there any space strategy game out there now that works on websites? I had solar wars but it wasn’t very good or didn’t seem to be. MajorHart@sbcglobal.net

  14. JMoore replied on :

    I ran Esterian Conquest for years on my BBS. It was very popular…seems most folks migrated to VGA Planets as programs developed. If I remember right, the developer of Esterian Conquest lost his source code when lightning destroyed his computer..and much other stuff at his home. That was long ago when I tried to get some changes made to it, so haven’t heard anything since he dropped off the radar. I may still have the bbs installation discs (3.5) around.
    Would be nice to have that game available.

  15. WMMorgan said on :

    Esterian Conquest had such a simple format, and was certainly based on simple algorithms and formulas. How hard can it be to just code a new EstCon from scratch?

  16. Effonelson thought on :

    Geez I might have the Esterian Conquest discs as well. Have to break out the 5.25″ floppy too. I wouldn’t know what to do with it then though… sounds like there is a market out there for it though!

  17. WMMorgan replied on :

    One of the grestest things about EstCon was that it was almost pure galactic fleet strategy. You didn’t bother with trading or mining or domestic economic policy, which I think is a lot of make-work that fouled up other similar games. The most ‘domestic’ things you had to do was set a single empire-wide tax rate, and decide what you wanted to build on each planet out of its annual production points: armies, groundbases, orbiting starbases, or 6 different kinds of ships.

  18. johncorea commented on :

    Hello fellow esterian conquest fans :) I miss the game as well. Back in the day i wrote a graphical interface for the game. EC COMMANDER. It made the game even more fun…

    Then a few years ago I started working on a version for windows. I didnt lay out extensive plans how it would work but i just had fun laying out the screens. A couple screenshots below

    The esterian universe screen :)


    The build menu


    Anyway…. to do it right is alot of work and I just wasnt willing to put in all that time and then discover not that much interest. I may get back to it someday. I wish someone else would though. i sure enjoyed that game. The stories I could tell! some people took it very serious! The intrique! :)

    One thing that detered me was not having the original game rules. I was working off the top of my head as to how the game worked

  19. ron said on :

    Loved EC. I certainly wish there were a version available true to the original or at this point I would settle for a clone.

  20. tnovelli thought on :

    Cool. I never realized EC was so popular. Some of my friends are nuts about it. I’m starting work on a clone or take-off. It’ll be web-based of course, using HTML5 Canvas for the map.

    We’re also seeking players for a bona fide game of EC starting this week… see tnovelli.net/conquest if interested.

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