Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 10, 2010
Were Facebook games just a fad?

PopCap's chief creative officer Jason Kapalka recently said in an interview that the golden era for Facebook games was over. Not that Facebook gaming would suddenly disappear, but that there would be so much competition, so many new companies rushing very similar games to the market, that the genre would become less and less profitable.

I can believe that. I recently got an "invitation" to review a Facebook game that I'm not even going to name here, which anyone here could have designed on a napkin in 5 minutes. It was a different setting than Mafia Wars / Farmville / Frontierville, but otherwise played EXACTLY like those. You advance by mindless clicks. You advance FASTER by buying stuff in the item shop or lassoing in your friends. You can spend more money on decoration. And that's all there is. There are hundreds of Facebook games like that now, and it is likely that sooner or later market saturation sets in, if it hasn't already happened.

Frankly I'm not overly worried if some new game companies making shoddy Facebook games flounder. It would be good if the message arrives in some places that casual games are NOT the future of gaming. They are a *part* of the gaming market, and a part that was underdeveloped. But the gold rush is over, and now normal economic rules will prevail: If you want to make money in a competitive market, you need to offer a better product than your competitors, or the same quality at a cheaper price. The latter is difficult, with the price being already misleadingly advertised as "free", so companies will be forced to make better games.

Another factor here is the evolution of gamers. There will always be some people who really don't want more from a game than what Farmville can offer. But there are others who start out with a game like Farmville, and then want something a bit more challenging. I think that this is a good thing, to have "introductory" games. You can't just shove people into the deep end of a hardcore game and expect them to like it. Market segmentation ultimately helps everybody, as it creates a larger overall market. And when investors realize that the "make easy money with Facebook games" phase is over, maybe we'll get more investment in the kind of games we would like.
Great to find a post here that I agree with. Every single line is right on the spot.

I'd like to add one thought, though:
One reason why these games were so successful in the past were networking effects. Much stronger networking effects than in 'usual' MMOs or even single player games.

But the networking effects become much weaker if players play a lot of different games.

If a facebook user has 10 friends and these 10 friends play 6 different games he is much less likely to join any of them than if all 10 players play one game (farmville).
I'm reserving judgement until Civilization Network launches.

What we need is a range of games that use mechanics beside repeated clicking and business models that progress beyond pay per click.

Provided that Facebook remains the dominant platform for social networking, I'm expecting a new era of Facebook games. Blizzard are already thinking along those lines...
I got into a beta for an online game that was very similar to what you mentioned, though it stood separate from facebook (at least the way I "played" it). It was awful. The graphics were cute and well-done, but the "gameplay" was nothing more than clicking to advance seldom with a decision to make, let alone an interesting one.

Some people will buy into this kind of stuff--hell, people buy into the dumbest scams every day--and they will continue to indefinitely. It's a bit depressing.
Facebook cracked down on the 'scam' parts of the business, and people are wondering why the golden age is over? From day one the 'games' on FB were garbage, yet there was no incentive to improve them when the real money was not in the quality of the product, but in how deep your hooks sink into people.

It will be interesting to see who will survive in the post-scam era, as companies will have to actually produce a product that can stand on it's own.
Every often, just as with food, our tastes refine with age. After a while you just want something that is a little bit more.
It is the essence of a market that once you have a dominate player making big money in a segment, the easy times are over. You cannot just rush in and expect to make easy money any more.

Back in March, at GDC, the message was "OMG! Farmville! Must make Facebook games to prosper!"

Which was the exact same message as a couple years back at GDC when Richard Garriott essentially said, "OMG! World of Warcraft! Must make MMO games to prosper!"

Other times it has been Free to Play or iPhone games.

The mere fact that somebody had success and made money with a segment doesn't mean the ground is fertile for any poorly thought out, ill-staffed project you can come up with.

You have to bring something new to the table, something that differentiates you.

Facebook games are not a fad. Facebook is merely a platform. The fad is thinking that you can get rich by shoveling any sort of crap game onto Facebook.
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