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The Sims Online as Social Networking Game Inspiration?

10 December 2009 1 comment

I made an off-the-cuff comment a short while ago regarding both The Sims Online and the current crop of social networking games that is now making me scratch my head and say hmmm

Consider social networking games. Many of them require a lot of similar behaviors pioneered by The Sims Online, such as going to another person’s cafe (as an example) and picking up trash and chasing out dancing penguins.

I’m not describing The Sims Online in the above quote, but rather what we do now in many social networking games, by the way.

I only beta tested The Sims Online, so my experiences with the game are very limited and so what follows is based on what my friends (some of whom wound up sticking with The Sims Online once it launched) and I did during beta.

The game was very similar to The Sims, where you’d have a house that you’d buy and place stuff in. You would go around to other houses of other players and socialize and use objects to help your avatar gain in skill and earn money. This is an extremely basic overview of the game and how it related to player interactivity.

Now consider the many social networking games such as the ‘Ville and ‘City games out on the social networking sites. You have your own area of the game in which you build and do stuff. Then you visit friends, where you can go an aid them in limited means. Doing so well earn you cash and some experience points. Granted, in these types of social networking games you are limited in what you can do (usually limited to just pressing an “okay” button), but the fundamentals are there.

Is it fair to say that The Sims Online inspired some of the design choices of some of the most popular social networking games out there today? I don’t know, but there is a very strong similarity in design.

Facebook to (maybe) change SRPG notifications

31 October 2009 Leave a comment

FacebookThis article brings a big smile to my face:

Facebook is meeting with top app developers on its platform to discuss a series of planned changes that could drastically alter the virality of social games, according to Venture Beat. If the report is correct, Facebook plans to alter the way notifications and requests sent by apps (including social games) display on user news feeds and profile pages. The changes would move these notifications to less visible parts of a user’s Facebook page.

One of my biggest qualms (and the qualms of my friends) is how much SRPGs spam news feeds and profiles. I’d love to have all this stuff shoved into a corner somewhere. The whole idea for SRPG designers is to push out all of these notifications to inspire friends to play with friends. But the problem is, and this has happened to me and countless others, not everyone wants to know that you recently reached level 97000 in Cafe Pets War Mafias.

Hopefully Facebook will work on behalf of it’s millions of users and push the devs to understand that there are not a lot of happy people with the Facebook service out there specifically because of game notification spam.

Categories: srpgs

That’s 8 point 6 million with an “m”

25 October 2009 1 comment

Cafe WorldHoly crap! That’s my response after I read a post on Raph Koster’s site (I’m playing feed catch-up) which quote from/linked to this article regarding Zynga’s Cafe World:

[Cafe World] has grown from 0 to 8.6 million users since it launched a week ago, according to AppData, based on a combination of cross-promotion from other Zynga games (including FarmVille) and advertising on Facebook.

The article goes on to say that Cafe World is not a clone of Playfish’s Restaurant City, but it is. It just takes all the bad things out, such as having to refresh your workers every hour, and not making you go through hoops to collect ingredients for recipes.

Speaking of RC‘s design, that whole ingredient collection thing is absolutely evil. You can’t really progress in the game per se, although you do get more space and the opportunity to hire more of your friends to work for you. The real thing that keeps you playing is the desire to collect more ingredients so that you can learn more recipes and raise their levels. But ingredients are devilishly hard to get: you either pay an arm and a leg for them on the market, spend $2000 and 2 days minimum (assuming you keep the plants watered) growing them in your garden (and you don’t get things like milk or ice, etc.), or wait for your chance daily to earn an ingredient by correctly answering the question in the daily quiz, as well as earning one ingredient daily. The way those clever bastards at Playfish have done it is that you want desperately to get ingredients as much as you want to make a really phat-looking restaurant. These two design elements combined make players more likely to spend money on microtransactions than they would in some other games, especially because in-game money is pretty much fixed if your restaurant is running 24/7 at the top of its game.

Zynga’s CW, on the other hand, has no current reward features, is somewhat illogical in its “buzz rating” system, and doesn’t have that level of pinache that RC does… yet. But, it’s Zynga, and they make better copies than everyone else, so I’m sure there will be a lot of great things down the line with the game that will make Electronic Arts ponder if it should have considered starting rumors about purchasing Zynga rather than Playfish instead.

This bit of the above article is also interesting:

To get a sense for what Café World means for Restaurant City, take a look at what happened to Slashkey’s Farm Town before and after Zynga launched FarmVille in June. As FarmVille grew, Farm Town’s traffic leveled off, even though it is staying steady with nearly 19 million monthly active users. The same may be happening for Restaurant City, as its traffic has also leveled off in the last week.

Players tend to forget about the original, and move to the next best clone out there. This is one of the reasons why the SRPG market lacks some serious innovation at this time. The good thing is that (hopefully) as the market continues to skyrocket, there will be developers out there who will explode SRPG game design, making it much more exciting for gamers, and more World of Warcraft-like profitable for the developers themselves.

Facebook SRPG experiment continues to FAIL

25 October 2009 2 comments

So far, my Facebook social roleplaying game experiment is an absolute failure. I wonder if it’s because I’m not as proactive as I could be, playing 10,000 games within my experimental Facebook account.

My iPhone experiment, however, is going along nicely, but it really depends upon the game. You can see the myriad of games that I’ve been playing on the iPhone below:

SRPGs on the iPhone

SRPGs on the iPhone

Swabs Online and Agency Wars are two new additions to my small stable of SRPGs. I only began checking them out today. The remainder I have been playing for a while, but unfortunately individual game data is not stored anywhere for most of the games, so when I had to swap my iPhone to “change the battery” at the Apple Store, I wound up losing all of my account data.

Gameplay for these games are mostly the same: press, press, press. Agency Wars seems to be slightly different in this regard, and Storm8‘s World War III is the one that I’m enjoying the most, mostly because I like, well, World War III scenarios. Some of the games listed above don’t have mission leveling, and I find that I tend to like those a lot less than I do the ones which have it. This is because I don’t really feel as if I’m accomplishing anything when I’m playing these kinds of games–the whole button smashing game design seems a lot more obvious because of it.

Getting more players in your team is not as easy at it is in most SRPGs when it comes to the iPhone. In order to recruit, you need to give people your character code. This means that you need to have other friends with iPhones and actively tell them your code if they decide to play the game as well. This can result in not a lot of people on your team if you don’t have a lot of iPhone-enabled friends with a need to play SRPGs while they are waiting for their latte machiatto espresso chai tea doubleshot at Starbucks.

Another design flaw? Possibly. Except players in many of these games have come up with a way to inspire others to invite them to their teams. Since all of these games have some sort of player versus player feature, many participants have taken to naming their character after their game code. This allows people to quickly scan the PvP list, find those who want to be recruited from the list, and send an invite. As an alternative to this, some players, after fighting another player, will leave a combat on their victim’s account with their character code.

Not all games have this level of recruitment agency. On Playdom’s Mobsters, I’m having no luck finding anyone to recruit, but so far World War III has been pretty good to me.

Of course, if I wanted to spend money, I could simply pay for points, which would allow me to acquire NPCs to fill my roster. Until recently, Apple didn’t allow microtransactions for free iPhone apps; recently, they changed their policy, allowing game developers to earn revenue via both microtransactions and adverts. I am not a Rockerfeller, so my SPRG gaming is going to be as free as I can get it.

Categories: srpgs Tags: , ,

An experiment in fail? or how being anti-social in social rpg’s makes for a lonely, lonely world

13 October 2009 Leave a comment

Cafe WorldSo far, no one has decided that I’m worthy enough to friend in Zynga’s Mafia Wars, so I’ve decided to add their clone of Playfish’s Restaurant City, Cafe World. Like Restaurant City, Cafe World features a player-run restaurant in which you cook dishes and have your friends serve guests. There are a number of differences and improvement over Restaurant City. For example, your staff don’t get tired from working; as long as you have food, you will not have to check your cafe every hour or so to boost your staff’s energy. Dishes are also ingredient-prepared, meaning: you have to click your stove to “add an ingredient” magically several times when you begin to cook a fresh dish. Friends can also send you drink gifts which, when used, will take additional money from each sitting guest.

As in Restaurant City, Cafe World is dependent upon friends. To get staff, you need to select from one of your friends. The good thing is that they don’t have to already have the Cafe World installed; it’s not at all a requirement. But what if you’re a lone experimenter who lacks any friends? What happens then?

Select a friend to hire a waiter... oh, I have no friends :(Game over. That is, until I actually have at least one friend. Total show stopper. I don’t think Zynga or any game designer who has this kind of game feature considered a loser such as myself.

I guess I can’t play until I have a friend to hire. As it is, I can’t do anything. Logging back into the game returns me to the above screen. My restaurant sucks, and I haven’t even opened, yet! I guess that means I can’t play Restaurant City, either.

An Experiment in Social RPGs

12 October 2009 Leave a comment

Mafia WarsThe main theme of this year’s Austin Game Developer’s Conference, which happened to be the first that I’ve ever attended, was social networking games. I attended several panels regarding SRPGs, including one conducted by Playdom‘s Steve Meretsky (a childhood game design hero of mine, specifically his amazing work with Infocom, the best game company ever) and the final keynote, conducted by PlayFish‘s Sebastien de Halleux. It’s not that I was actively attempting to attend SRPG stuff; SRPGs are not part of my work in the Industry. It simply could not be avoided.

At the same time, I’ve had an interest in casual gaming. I’ve been playing them since Bejeweled first hit the Web. And, according to the IGDA, I’m totally within the targeted range of this type of game product: female, at home, late 30’s… except I’m a hardcore gamer. Casual games, and SRPGs, tend to target those who may not be gamers or consider themselves to be. SRPGs have the added twist of being, well, social. If a friend of yours on a social networking site is playing the game and they invite you to play, it will be likely that you will start playing the game as well.

So, I’ve decided to try an experiment in social RPGs. I’m not interested specifically in the microtransaction portion of their design (which will be the future of gaming as we know it, IMO), but more about how SRPGs spread virally, their common or uncommon traits, etc. I’ve created a second Facebook account for this purpose, and signed up for one SRPG, the very popular Mafia Wars. I won’t be adding games unless invited by friends… in fact, I won’t be adding my existing friends at all. I want to see if a complete stranger with absolutely no ties to anyone can proliferate in this genre, as well as the viral spread of these games. Let’s see how it goes.