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社交游戏8个真相编辑本段回目录

最近我们在Facebook发布了《SimCity Social》,我为之感到骄傲。为Maxis/EA开发了将近10年的PC热作(主要是《模拟人生》游戏),我为何要为一款Facebook游戏而自豪呢?

我在两年前开始制作社交游戏,那时我还没有“参透”这类游戏的真谛。我需要帮助的时候并不想去劳烦我的朋友,也只想根据自己的时间安排玩游戏,而不希望被游戏的日程表所摆布。那时我并不认为这种游戏有什么真正的深度或有趣的玩法。

与许多PC/主机游戏玩家一样,我认为如果我不喜欢某款Facebook游戏,那它就一定是个垃圾。但这真是一种主观偏见。现在我已经了解了爱玩Facebook游戏的用户类型,也理解为何许多Facebook游戏其实是客观意义上的杰作。

为此我要撰写本文解释Facebook游戏的本质,以化解PC/主机游戏玩家对这类作品的偏见。

SimCity Social(from raymazza)

SimCity Social(from raymazza)

1.策略元素很棒,但它需要迎合目标用户

我开发《SimCity Social》时的目标之一就是为大众市场的Facebook游戏带来更多深度。但若只是因为Facebook游戏需要易于学习和快速上手的特点,就砍削《SimCity》标准游戏的所有复杂性那就真是一个错误做法。

我认为《SimCity Social》找准了穴位——拥有足够挑战心智的策略元素,但又不会吓退大众用户。不幸的是,有些评论却并不愿意花些时间了解这款游戏,“这款游戏从来不让玩家坐下来思考策略”。

《SimCity Social》的城市布局是围绕给予玩家战略选择而设计。这也由此引发了许多论坛针对城市布局策略的讨论,例如下图这种布局建议:

placement strategy(from raymazza)

白色空缺是指道路(from raymazza)

《SimCity Social》中的策略来自一些规则和变量:

1.房屋(居住区)控制人口数量;

2.房屋附近的景点和装饰可引来人口;

3.景点可以升级以增加其覆盖的半径范围;

4.房屋如果靠近海岸线,人口就会倍增;

5.商业建筑因附近人口而收益倍增;

6.工厂靠近海岸线也会收益倍增(游戏邦注:但它们会产生污染,污染气体飘浮于附件建筑上空,会导致后者功能暂时失效)。

例如,以下是一位玩家针对不同地段的商业建筑所作的对比截图:

comparison of various locations(from raymazza)

comparison of various locations(from raymazza)

(将商铺放置于人口密集的地区可获得更多回报)

这些规则,结合有趣的地理布局,创造了一个复杂的系统。这里没有很容易解决的最佳策略,并且策略也会因你的目标而变化。对于人口密度而言,第一个截图中的布局也许很棒,但若考虑海岸线、商业街、工业、景点布局或建筑演变等因素,它并不算最佳方案。

随着用户增长,更多玩家会使用电子表格和白板绘制自己的最佳战略,并因此产生了许多看似在图解CPU内存模块的Excel模型:

optimal placement(from raymazza)

optimal placement(from raymazza)

(这是一名玩家最大化人口的优化配置方案)

事实上,不遗余力地寻找游戏布局策略,这已经成了游戏对某些玩家的全部意义所在。在此他们不考虑美观、任务,也不会为了游戏进展而收集物品。除了优化资源配置,他们不考虑任何因素。以下是一名玩家试图均衡地最大化所有建筑类型配置所制作的模型:

a player-made Excel sheet(from raymazza)

a player-made Excel sheet(from raymazza)

(这个Excel表格显示了玩家的布置策略,以及可由此通过商铺、景点、装饰物和房屋收获的奖励)

所有这些元素都融入核心循环,后者的主要作用在于提供更好的机制以便玩家增加人口。

复杂的系统是核心循环的一个组成部分,而简单易于理解的界而则可为Facebook游戏增加很棒的维度,给予玩家一种意义感。还有更多Facebook游戏需要往这个方向看齐。

一个“简单的”界面限制了游戏所拥有的复杂度,但这种简单性是迎合目标用户的必须元素——因为大众用户一般都不是PC/主机游戏玩家。

2.社交游戏培养了更多游戏用户

这是一个宽泛的比喻。将玩《吉他英雄》与真正弹吉他相比较。《吉他英雄》更为通俗性,更易令人获得即刻满足感,所需投入时间更少。但玩真正的吉他更为益智,从长远来看,对人更为有益。

Prince甚至拒绝在《吉他英雄》中植入自己的音乐,他认为“让孩子们玩真正的吉他更重要”。

这是否就意味着《吉他英雄》就是一种糟糕体验?不,事实上,《吉他英雄》为那些没有时间或并不想玩真吉他的群体创造了一种接触吉他音乐的机会。它取悦了2500万玩家,它实际上让许多玩家更为深入地欣赏乐器,并让三分之二的非乐器控玩家萌生了学习一种真乐器的想法。

real guitar(from raymazza)

real guitar(from raymazza)

(《吉他英雄》带动了更多人欣赏真正的吉他音乐)

同理,Facebook游戏瞄准的是那些没有时间或兴趣玩其他游戏的用户。这些之前对此并不感兴趣的用户突然因此看到了游戏的魅力。正如《吉他英雄》带动更多人学习真吉他一样,Facebook游戏也成了启蒙人们玩PC和主机游戏的课程。《The Sims Social》中的轻度体验增加了人们对《The Sims》PC游戏的兴趣,许多《SimCity Social》玩家也都表达了想玩玩《SimCity》PC版本的意愿。

有些Facebook游戏拥有1亿以上玩家。客观来说,许多Faccebook游戏都是很棒的作品,因为他们给许多人带来了乐趣。我并不是很喜欢《CastleVille》,但现在已经可以认同它的价值——它让数量远超过《魔兽世界》的玩家获得了乐趣,并且其中多数人从来不花一文钱。

3.快速加载时间意味着逐渐扩展内容

你不应该指望能够从Facebook游戏中获得堪比《Skyrim》的庞大内容。这里的挑战在于加载时间。在Facebook游戏中,我们不能寄希望于玩家干坐着等待游戏加载几千兆字节的内容。

我们的加载时间要控制在几秒以内。如果游戏历时30秒才能加载完,那真的太慢了,这样我们就会在游戏开始之前流失大量玩家。

load time(from raymazza)

load time(from raymazza)

(Facebook游戏必须在几秒内加载完毕,否则就会流失玩家)

但是,成功的Facebook游戏可以通过逐步(一般是每隔一两周)推出新内容而弥补这种不足。《The Sims Social》在过去一年的目录中拥有成千上万个游戏对象,但它们会分批露面,不会一涌而上。Facebook游戏发布之时才是真正的开端。

4.更多涂鸦墙消息意味着更多用户,但也存在风险……

这是我对Facebook游戏颇为矛盾的一面。如果得到许可,多数Facebook游戏都会在你的涂鸦墙或timeline中发贴,这正是它们面向大众用户自我推销的方式。如果使用得当,它还可以用来分享你在游戏中的有趣时刻。

我的设计师告诉我,Facebook游戏只能发布一些与玩法相关的有趣时刻,比如《The Sims Social》中两名玩家相互调情这类在你的Facebook好友圈中具有八卦价值的内容。这可以让整个玩家群体更快乐,并且也不会违反Facebook的有关规定(事实上,Facebook还使用《The Sims Social》中的例子展示相关功能)。

A sim Couple(from raymazza)

A sim Couple(from raymazza)

share(from raymazza)

share(from raymazza)

(玩家可以分享这种有意义的时刻)

但产品经理则发出了另一种论调——他们重视的是游戏收益及病毒传播性。数据显示到达一定程度的发贴量可以引来更多用户,而更多用户则意味着我们更有机会支付开发成本。

这一点是无可争议的事实,除非我们可以挖掘数据指出更少的病毒机制能够产生更良好的长期结果。但在一款持续更新的游戏中,我们无法进行简单的测试并获得有意义的结果。

最让我吃惊的是有许多玩家根本不在乎。他们什么都喜欢分享——这也成了游戏体验的一部分,并且也想知道自己的好友在游戏中发生的一切情况。甚至有玩家在论坛中反问:“为什么不把所有东西拿出来分享呢?”

5.用于控制节奏的能量和时间阀

想试玩Facebook游戏的玩家较常见的一个抱怨就是“你做任何事情都要用掉精力,用完了就什么也做不了。我不想被精力值所束缚。”我最初也有这种疑问,但Facebook游戏有三个充分的理由采用这种设置:

Energy mechanic variants(from raymazza)

Energy mechanic variants(from raymazza)

首先,我们瞄准的是目标用户。正如一名玩家所言:“社交游戏锁定的是那些无法花90分钟玩电子游戏的群体,因为他们要上班,还要照顾孩子和其他琐事。所以一般每天只能玩10分钟,每天玩两次游戏……”这也正是我们的目标用户所需要的游戏体验。

我们要求玩家降低游戏速度,歇口气,享受与好友在一起的时光。许多玩家喜欢这类游戏所创造的这种放松机制。如果在其中植入太多玩法,就会让你的目标用户从大众群体转向小众玩家。事实上,在《The Sims Social》中,我们有些玩家抱怨单次游戏时间太长(因为我们制作了一些玩家无需耗费精力就可以执行的活动)。想象一下,玩家居然会希望单次游戏时间更短一点!这正是Facebook游戏玩家的需求。

其次,这里还有更深度的玩法和设计动机:Facebook游戏反映了游戏即服务的理念,这意味着开发者要通过逐步更新内容保持游戏新鲜感。

但这意味着游戏需要控制节奏。如果你让某人去玩《SimCity 4》,他们很可能仅用数天就建设了一个城市。没错,最硬核的玩家会持续数周接二连三地建设城市,但许多玩家可能只建了两座城就不再玩游戏了。

能量和时间阀是Facebook游戏的节奏控制器。如果我们不在《SimCity Social》中植入这一机制,多数玩家就会只建了一座城然后就离开了,这样我们甚至赶不及发布新内容维持他们的新鲜感。

第三,出售能量是一个很重要的收益来源——它甚至可能影响到游戏的利润。

当然也有其他设置能够取代能量及显性时间阀,但它们一般都会改变整个游戏设计,因为他们有赖于创造无尽内容的系统——例如PvP、谜题或程序生成世界。并且即使是这样,含有潜在无限重玩性的谜题游戏(游戏邦注:例如《Triple Town》或《Diamond Dash》)仍然经常使用类似能量的机制,因为它们仍然对玩家速度有要求,并需要依此创收。

6.Facebook游戏制作很困难

人们对Facebook游戏的另一个误解在于,制作Facebook游戏很容易。没错,成功的Facebook游戏并不需要100多人的团队历时4年时间开发而成(而《The Sims 3》却需要这种投入程度),但开发《The Sims Social》仍然花了一年时间,并且上线时的团队规模也达到40人左右。游戏发布之后团队规模几乎双倍增长,并且都知道我们手头持有一个重磅产品。

来自单人游戏领域最大的隐藏开发成本之一就是服务器客户端框架,它至少让开发和QA投入时间增长了双倍,并且滋生了更多漏洞。一个简单的单人游戏功能转换到在线领域时,如果它有很多服务器代码以及防黑客的安保工作需求,那就真是一项令人备受摧残的苦差事。

光是为了优化加载时间,有效运行算法,清除内存管理,开发团队就投入了无数个小时。你可能会认为因为比起主机或PC游戏,这些游戏看起来真的很简单,所以我们开发团队根本没必要搞得这么复杂,但要知道许多最出色的Facebook游戏都在不遗余力地将Flash技术推向极致。

除此之外,Facebook游戏还含有大量UI。设计蹩脚的UI并非难事,但设计并整合令人赏心悦目,易于使用,具有极佳信息传递功能的UI确实颇费功夫,并需要大量的迭代。

7.Facebook游戏需要与好友互动才有趣

人们对Facebook游戏的另一项指控是,玩这种游戏需要不停地骚扰好友。许多Facebook游戏会要求你邀请他人参与城市建设,或者给予一些特殊的收集物品:

hire staff(from raymazza)

hire staff(from raymazza)

Facebook游戏如此设计有3个原因:

1.这是为了控制游戏进程;

2.这可以通过希望付费跳过等待的玩家创收;

3.来自这些机制的Facebook通告可以提醒玩家重返游戏(有时候会让新玩家尝试体验游戏)。

这种不时向好友寻求帮助,并向他们表示感谢的机制同时也是一种提醒玩家谁在玩游戏的系统,这可以让你知道在线下的现实生活中可以同谁进行社交互动(因为你们玩过同一款游戏,拥有共同话题)。

但这一机制还处于初级发展阶段,它的延展性并不好。对没有其他好友在玩游戏的玩家来说,他们除了花钱,就无法更快推动游戏进展。而对拥有大量好友的玩家来说,他们的游戏收件箱可能会积压无数的好友请求。并且随着好友们相继退出游戏,你自己所玩的游戏也会变得越来越困难,这个过程就好比是油尽灯枯。

我在2012年GDC演讲中曾指出,我认为社交游戏应该更接近于《魔兽世界》而非《无尽的任务》,因为《魔兽世界》能够先满足单人玩家的游戏体验,而如果和好友玩则更是趣味无穷,但《无尽的任务》却基本上是无休无止的单人游戏体验。顺便一提,多数社交游戏其实并不具有多少社交性——它们需要更多真正的社交功能,比如《SimCity》中的关系功能(游戏邦注:游戏会根据玩家与好友的互动情况,显示其城市在好友城市中的特殊地位)。

interacting with your friends' buildings(from raymazza)

interacting with your friends’ buildings(from raymazza)

(在《模拟城市》中,你可以通过与好友的建筑进行互动,建立两座城市的友好关系。)

friend bar(from raymazza)

friend bar(from raymazza)

(好友工具条可显示玩家同每位好友的城市关系。)

重新回到好友请求:我希望能够自己安置建筑中的职工,并随时间发展自动满足其他好友的请求,但单人玩家也并非毫无乐趣可言。我还想使用更便捷的方法找到活跃玩家,让他们组队一起玩游戏,即使他们并非彼此的Facebook好友。我们已经看到Zynga在这方面的努力,但这种设置应该在所有含大量好友请求的社交游戏中普及。

8.无需花钱获得游戏进展

人们对社交游戏的最后一个误解就是,你不花钱就无法获得进展。实际上除非你没有好友在玩游戏,情况才有可能如此。而在《SimCity Social》或《The Sims Social》等其他许多Facebook游戏中却可以不花钱就获得进展。有大量Facebook玩家分文未花,就可以成年累月地免费玩游戏。如果说“价值=娱乐/成本”,那么玩家无疑获得了许多价值。我们正在有效地创造一种拥有无限娱乐价值的特性。

社交游戏这种“必须花钱”的污点有一部分是来自系统中无处不在的潜在消费内容。在游戏中,你所看到的每一处,都有一个可以加速的指定任务,都有一个需要雇佣工人的建筑,或者一个你需要购买的绝佳付费物品。在《SimCity Social》中至少有10种不同的Diamonds(这是游戏中的付费货币)消费渠道。对付费玩家来说,就代表一种绝妙的选择和能力,也是一件好事。对非付费用户来说,这是一种提醒——即他们并没有获得完整的游戏体验。

premium objects(from raymazza)

premium objects(from raymazza)

事实上,开发一款出色的Facebook游戏需要耗费大量成本。并且运行承载成百上千万玩家的服务器的总开销也非常之高——尤其是在多数玩家从不付费的情况下。所以我们需要合理增加一些付费机会,以便让游戏有利可图,避免因为免费提供内容而导致入不敷出。

目前来看,我们让玩家花钱的方式已经是我们所能找到的最好方法。我们不能让玩家提前付费——这会极大限制我们的用户规模(iPhone平台已经证明含有微交易的免费应用比付费应用更具盈利性)。我们也不能采用订阅模式——没有多少人愿意还没试玩就为一款Facebook游戏付钱。所以我们只能让游戏免费,玩家上门后才好证明这款游戏很有趣,值得为其花钱。我们也不能转向章节式的付费内容,或者禁止免费用户玩游戏,令其达到一定消费额后再重新开放游戏,因为这样也会极大损害玩家的积极性——所有免费玩家都会停止玩游戏,而我们却需要他们来维持游戏的社交网络。

我真心希望获得符合以下条件,并能够让Facebook游戏盈利的新方法:

1)满足主机/PC游戏玩家市场的需求;

2)不会严重地削减用户;

3)不需要大量投入。

但目前来看,我们已经使尽了浑身解数。

总结

作为一名设计师,我很享受开发Facebook游戏的过程。我之前已经开发了9年的PC游戏,这对我来说真是一个很好的转型。这就好像是编剧从撰写戏剧台词到电影剧本的转变。这是一种拥有一些交叉的新体验,其中的挑战甚为不同,并且让你受益匪浅。

在这里,你开始学会尊重参数,令其与你的设计直觉和谐相处。你由此获各了玩家与你的设计互动时的有趣见解,也得到了迅速回应用户的机会,推动游戏向玩家所喜爱的方向发展。你认识到了清楚交流信息的重要性,以及如何由此推进设计(这是更多PC/主机游戏所需要掌握)。除此之外,你还能够让规模远甚于PC/主机游戏的无数玩家获得快乐。

但其中的负面影响在于,你可能因此而被PC/主机游戏玩家所鄙视,但却获得了更多大众用户的尊重,这其中包括更经常玩Facebook游戏而非PC/主机游戏的亲友。我作为一名设计师的终极目标就是一直让人们获得快乐。我们一年前发布了《The Sims Social》,现在每月仍有1500万玩家在玩这款游戏。所以我认为我们没有走岔路。

我还会一直喜欢设计Facebook游戏吗?这要看情况。我在此所解释的多数设计选择现在都还有优点,但可能很快就会过时。这一领域还有许多有待挖掘的空间。如果我们可以推出仍然可吸引大众用户的更有趣玩法,更有深度的社交机制,那我仍然看好这一领域。(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,作者:Ray Mazza)

SimCity Social & 8 Truths of Facebook Game Design:

Ray Mazza

An Explanation of Facebook Games to the PC/Console Gamer in me of 2 Years Ago.

Recently, we launched SimCity Social on Facebook, and I’m proud of it. After nearly 10 years in the industry developing hit PC titles for Maxis/EA (primarily The Sims games), why would I be so proud of a Facebook game? What has gotten into me?

Two years ago, before I worked on social games, I just didn’t “get” them. I didn’t want to bug my friends when I needed things. I didn’t want to play on the game’s schedule rather than my own. And I didn’t see any depth or interesting gameplay (and in many cases, there was none to see).

Like many PC/console gamers, I figured that if I didn’t like a Facebook game, then it was a bad game. But that was a subjective view. Now that I understand the types of people who enjoy Facebook games, I understand why many of these games are objectively great.

So I’m writing this post to explain to my past self why Facebook games are the way they are, and to dispel some of the misunderstandings that PC/console gamers have about them.

1. Strategy is Great, But it Needs to Cater to the Target Audience

One of my goals while working on SimCity Social was to bring more depth of gameplay to mass-market Facebook games. However, it would have been a mistake to try and shove all the complexity of a normal SimCity game into the Facebook variant because these games need to be easy to learn and quick to play.

Instead, I think SimCity Social hits the sweet spot – enough strategy that it tickles the mind, but not so much that it would scare away the mass market. Unfortunately, some reviews (like this one) don’t take the time to understand the game and instead dismiss it out of a general loathing for Facebook games, making comments like, “There was never a moment where I had to sit back and think about strategy.”

The main aspect of SimCity Social – city layout – is designed around giving players strategic choices. And it has given rise to many forum threads discussing placement strategy, with carefully crafted suggestions like this:

(the white gaps are filled by roads)

Strategy in SimCity Social arises from a few rules and variables:

1.Homes (residential zones) hold population.

2.Attractions and décor increase population in nearby homes (radii and shape vary).

3.Attractions can be upgraded to increase radius of effect.

4.Homes get a population multiplier from being near coastline.

5.Businesses get a payout multiplier from near population.

6.Factories also get a payout multiplier from being near coastline (but they may produce pollution, which floats over nearby buildings, rendering them temporarily ineffective).

For example, here’s one player’s comparison of various locations for a business:

Placing businesses in higher population areas gives better payouts.

These rules, combined with an interesting terrain layout, make a complex system. There is no easily solvable optimal strategy, and strategy varies depending on your goals. The layout in the first image of this section may be great for high population, but it doesn’t account for coastline, businesses, industry, shape variations of attractions, or how the catalog of buildings evolves.

As our audience has grown, more players have whipped out spreadsheets and whiteboards to theorize optimal strategies, leading to Excel mockups that look like someone was diagraming CPU memory blocks:

One player’s theory of optimal placement for maximizing population.

In fact, some players are geeking out on the strategy so intensely that it’s what the entire game has become about for them. Not decoration. Not quests. Not collecting for the sake of progress. Not anything – except optimizing. Here’s one Excel mockup from a player who stepped back and tried to give equal attention to optimizing placement of all building types:

(A player-made Excel sheet representing their placement strategy and various bonuses conferred on and by businesses, attractions, décor, and homes.)

And all of this ties into the core loop, which focuses on affording better mechanisms to increase population.

Having a complex system that is part of the core loop and that has a simple, understandable interface can add a wonderful dimension to Facebook games and give players a feeling of consequence. More Facebook games need to evolve in this direction.

A “simple” interface limits the amount of complexity a game can have, but this simplicity is necessary to cater to the target audience – a mass market not typically composed of PC/console gamers.

(For more reading on depth, I recommend Smart-Depth: Adding More ‘Game’ to Social Games by Henric Suuronen.)

Which leads me to…

2. You Are Not the Audience: Half a Billion Other People Are.

Here’s a loose analogy. Compare playing Guitar Hero to actually playing a real guitar. Guitar Hero is more accessible, more immediately satisfying, and takes less of a time commitment. But playing the real guitar is more cerebral and, in the long run, more constructive.

Prince even turned down the opportunity to have his music in Guitar Hero, stating that it was “more important that kids learn how to actually play the guitar.”

Does this mean Guitar Hero is a bad experience? No. In fact, Guitar Hero makes the guitar accessible to an audience who does not have the time nor the initial desire to play the real guitar. It has made 25 million such people happy. And, in fact, it has given many of them a greater understanding of and appreciation for instruments, and led to 2/3 of non-instrumentalist players deciding they’d like to learn a real instrument.

Guitar Hero leads to greater appreciation for the real guitar.

Just the same, Facebook games target a wide audience that doesn’t have the time nor desire to play other games. People who were never interested in games before are suddenly seeing the appeal. And the same as Guitar Hero leads to a desire to learn the real guitar, Facebook games can also be a gateway to PC and console games. The light experience of The Sims Social has led to increased interest in The Sims PC games, and many SimCity Social players are expressing interest in trying the SimCity PC games.

On top of this, some Facebook games have had over 100 million players. Objectively, many Facebook games are great because they give so many people enjoyment. I never liked CastleVille much, but now I can appreciate it for what it is: a game that has made many tens of millions of players happy – more players than World of Warcraft ever had – and most of them never paid a cent.

3. Fast Load Times Mean Content is Spread Out Over Time

You can’t play a Facebook game and expect the amount of content to be on the same level as, say, Skyrim. The main challenge is load time. In a Facebook game, we don’t have the luxury of expecting players to sit through a long download with gigabytes of content.

We count our load times in seconds. If the game takes 30 seconds to load, that’s too long, and we’ll lose a lot of players before they even see the game the first time.

Facebook games must load in seconds, or players will leave.

However, successful Facebook games make up for this by releasing new content over time – usually every week or two – cycling new features and object in, and others out. The Sims Social has had thousands of game objects in its catalog over the past year, but only a portion of them are available at any given time. Facebook games really just get started when they launch.

4. Lots of Wall Posts Means More Players. But…

This is an aspect of Facebook games I’ve been conflicted on. When given permission, most Facebook games like to post to your wall or timeline. A lot. This is how they self-market to reach a wide audience. And, used correctly, it also helps share interesting moments from your game.

My designer heart tells me that Facebook games should only post the most interesting moments from gameplay, like when two players in The Sims Social “WooHoo” with each other – the sorts of moments that carry intrinsic value for your Facebook friends and are highly comment-worthy. This would make the overall player base happier. And Facebook agrees (in fact, they use this same example from The Sims Social).

A Sim couple about to “WooHoo.”

Players get a chance to share this meaningful moment.

But the other side of the argument comes from the Product Managers – those in charge of the monetization and the virality of your game. Data shows that a certain high level output of posts leads to a wider audience. And a wider audience means we have a better chance of paying our dev costs. Period.

There’s no way to argue with that unless we can dredge up metrics that show that fewer viral mechanisms leads to better results in the long-term. But in a constantly-updated game, we can’t easily do a test like this and get meaningful results.

Most surprising to me is that there are plenty of players who don’t mind. In fact, they enjoy sharing everything – it’s part of the experience, and so is getting to see everything that’s happening to your friends who are playing. The sentiment is summed up by one player on our TSS forums who said, “Why wouldn’t you post everything?”

(Check out my GDC 2012 talk for more of my opinions on this topic.)

5. Energy and Time Gates are Used for Pacing

A common complaint by gamers who try to give Facebook gaming a shot is, “You have to spend energy to do anything, and it runs out. I don’t want to be limited.” I questioned this at first as well. But there are three good reasons Facebook games are built this way.

Examples of “Energy” mechanic variants.

First, we come back to the intended audience. As one player points out: “Social games are intended for people who do not have 90 minutes to play a video game because they have jobs, children, and other commitments. Playing it for 10 minutes a day, twice a day…” is exactly the sort of experience our target audience is looking for.

We’re asking our players to slow down, take a breather, and enjoy the time with their friends. Many players appreciate the relaxed schedule that these games create. Expecting too much gameplay in a single sitting will shift your game from a wide audience to more niche. In fact, on The Sims Social, some of our players complained about play sessions that were too long because we made activities you could do without needing energy. Imagine that! Players wanted the game sessions to be shorter! That’s the audience Facebook games serve.

Second, there’s a deeper gameplay and design motivation: Facebook games are Games as a Service, which means the developer intends to keep the game fresh with updates over time.

But that means the game needs to be paced. If you drop someone into SimCity 4, they could build an entire city in just a few days. Yes, the most hardcore players would continue to build city after city for weeks, but a lot of players would build a couple, and then be done with the game.

Energy and time gates are the pacemakers of Facebook games for good reason. If we didn’t have them in SimCity Social, most of our players would build up a city and then leave before we had a chance to release more content to keep them interested.

Third, selling energy can be a significant portion of revenue – so significant that it can make or break a game’s profitability.

There are alternatives to energy and explicit time gates, but they typically change the entire game design because they count on systems for creating endless content – like PvP, puzzles, or procedural worlds. And even then, puzzle games with potentially unlimited replayability (such as Triple Town or Diamond Dash) still often use energy-like mechanics because they remain great pacers and the games need to make money.

6. Facebook Games are Hard to Make

Another misconception is that making a Facebook game is easy. Fortunately, Facebook games don’t yet require 4 years and 100-person teams to be successful, which is roughly what it took to develop The Sims 3. However, developing The Sims Social still took 1 year and at launch the team was about 40 devs. Then the team nearly doubled in size after we launched and knew we had a hit on our hands.

One of the biggest hidden dev costs when coming from the single-player space is the server-client structure, which at least doubles dev and QA time and gives far more opportunity for bugs. A simple single-player feature can become harrowing when translated to the online space if it requires a lot of server code and security work to prevent hacks.

The team also inevitably spends countless hours optimizing for fast load times, efficient streaming algorithms, and clean memory management. You might think that because these games appear simple when compared to a console or PC game that we might not have to do all of this – but many of the best Facebook games are pushing Flash to its limits.

On top of this, Facebook games tend to have tons of UI. It’s fast and easy to design crappy UI, but designing and implement a pleasing, easy-to-use, strongly-communicative UI takes a long time with plenty of iteration.

7. Yes, You Need to Play with Friends. But…

Another common gripe is that you can’t play without bugging your friends. Many Facebook games require you to ask each other to staff buildings or give special collectibles:

Example of a standard staffing mechanic that requires friends.

Facebook games do this for 3 reasons:

1.It’s a way to control progress.

2.It makes money from players who want to pay and skip the wait.

3.Facebook notifications from these mechanics reminds players they have a reason to return to the game. (And sometimes they get new players to try the game out.)

The continual back-and-forth of asking friends for help and then thanking them also serves as a constant reminder of who is playing the game – and this lets you know who you can socialize with about the game when you’re not playing.

But the mechanic is in its adolescent years. It doesn’t scale well. For players who have no other friends playing, they can’t progress unless they’re willing to spend money. For players who have tons of friends, their game inboxes can get bogged down with hundreds or sometimes thousands of requests, at which point it’s all just noise. And as your friends slowly stop playing, your personal game gets tougher and tougher, like a wick slowly burning down until it dies out completely.

In my GDC 2012 talk, I convey my personal view that social games need to be more like World of Warcraft and less like Everquest, in that WoW is first and foremost a fun and friendly place for solo players, yet even better with friends, versus the constant impending doom of trying to play EQ solo. Incidentally, most social games aren’t very social – they need more true social features, like SimCity’s relationship feature where your cities can develop special standings with your friends’ cities based on how you interact with them:

In SCS, you can build your relationship between your cities by interacting with your friends’ buildings.
The friend bar shows the flavor of relationship with each friend city (Mean, Nice, or Twin Cities).

Back to friend requirements: I would love to try having staffing and other friend requirements auto-fulfill over time, where you could use friends to speed them up, but the solo player isn’t out of luck. I would also like to see easier ways to find active players to team up with, even if they aren’t your friends on Facebook. We’ve seen Zynga making progress here, but it needs to be widespread in all social games that have heavy friend requirements.

8. You Don’t Need to Spend Money to Progress

One final misconception is that you can’t progress without spending money. This only tends to be true if you have no friends who play (but I’d like to change that; see above). Otherwise, it’s easy to play SimCity Social or The Sims Social or plenty of other Facebook games without spending money. A vast majority of Facebook gamers never pay a dime, but play these games for months or even years. Where Value = Entertainment/Cost, players are getting a significant value. We’re effectively creating a singularity of infinite entertainment value.

Part of this “must spend” stigma comes from having pervasive opportunities to spend. Everywhere you look, there’s an appointment to speed up, a worker to hire, or an awesome premium object to buy. There are at least 10 different ways to spend Diamonds (the premium currency) in SimCity Social. To spenders, this represents great choice and power, and it is a very good thing. To non-spenders, it’s a reminder that they’re not getting the whole experience.

Players can pay for game coins, special objects, or more energy, among other things.

The truth is that developing a fantastic Facebook game costs a lot of money. And the overhead costs of running servers to support millions or tens of millions of players is high – especially when most of them never pay a dime. So we need to walk a fine line between adding enough opportunities for players to spend such that we become profitable, and going out of business because we offer too much for free.

So far, the ways we let players spend money are the best we’ve found. We can’t make players pay up front – it will limit our audience too much (and evidence from iPhone shows that free apps with microtransactions tend to make more than paid apps). We also can’t require subscriptions – not many people would trust a Facebook game enough to pay just to try it; instead we have to let you play for free so we can prove that our game is fun and worth spending money on. And we can’t switch to only paid episodic content or stop the game unless you pay at a certain level because again, that would drastically reduce our audience – all the free players would stop, but we need them to keep the social network strong.

I’d love to hear ideas for new ways to monetize a Facebook game that would (1) please the Console/PC gamer market, (2) not severely cut down our audience, and (3) not require more investment. But right now, this is the best we have.

Lastly, a Reflection on Personal Satisfaction

As a designer, I’ve had a (mostly) wonderful time working on Facebook games. After 9 years of developing PC games, it was a welcome change. I imagine it’s like going from writing plays to writing movies. It’s a new experience with some crossover; the challenges are different, and it enriches you.

You learn to respect metrics and use them in harmony with your gut design instincts. You get intriguing insights into the way players interact with your designs, and you get the amazing opportunity to react quickly, so the game evolves into a reflection of your players’ desires. You learn the utmost importance of crystal clear communication and how to design toward it (a skill that more PC/console games need to embrace). And among other things, you make tens or hundreds of millions of players happy – far more than most PC/console games.

A downside is that you get less respect from PC and console gamers – which, being a PC/console gamer myself, can weigh on me. But you get more respect from just about everyone else, including friends and relatives who tend to play more Facebook games than PC/console games. My ultimate goal as a designer has always been to delight people. We launched The Sims Social a year ago, and 15 million players still enjoy it every month. I’d say we’re on the right track.

Will I continue to enjoy designing Facebook games? That depends. Most of these design choices I’ve explained are good today, but soon may be tired. There’s plenty of territory to pioneer. If we can evolve with more interesting gameplay and deeper social mechanics that are still appealing to the mass market, then I look forward to it. So far, it has been an invaluable experience.(source:raymazza


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