Archive for the ‘Social Gaming’ Category

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.