Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
News Flash on Facebook Games

EA is shutting down their range of Facebook games, like Sims Social. Calling that a "news Flash" is actually a pun, because I do have a theory why Facebook games are currently in a death spiral, and even Zynga had to shut down lots of those games. And my theory is that this has to do with the fact that these games are Flash games, and thus do not run on most mobile devices.

In case you hadn't noticed it yet, tablets and smart-phones are currently hot as surfing and gaming platforms, with PC sales down by 14% due to that. Now if you used to play Facebook games and bought an iPad, you will quickly realize two things: You can't play your Facebook games on your iPad, and there are a lot of iPad games available with similar gameplay to Facebook games, but a lot less need to constantly spam your friends. Why play Farmville if you can play Hay Day instead?

Flash basically negates the advantage of having a game online and accessible from everywhere. I assume players would be quite interested to be able to check on the status of their virtual farm or city on their smart phone during a lunch break, but the technology gets into the way of that. But if it isn't possible with a Facebook game, it is possible with native iOS games that work on the same farm- or city-building gameplay and run perfectly well on an iPhone. I don't own an Android device, but I read that they don't officially support Flash either. There are "flash browsers" available for iOS and Android, but the one I tried on the iPad ran Facebook games horribly.

So I think as PCs stop being the casual surfing device of choice for many people, the reliance of Facebook games on Flash is going to hurt these games savagely. And that could ultimately even lead to a lower interest in Facebook itself, as so many of its users use it for playing games.

Hi Tobold, I'd like to add some clarifications about your observations.

> Even Zynga had to shut down lots of those games

That is true but in my opinion that's a result of a huge-impressive-inflated growth of the company in just few month. They hired a lot of developers, got new offices and overall spent a crapload of money based on the Farmville/Cityville success. But they stepped too far, outgrowing themselves. That's a typical "new economy bubble" effect.

> Flash games, and thus do not run on most mobile devices

A good game is supposed to be multi-platform. I am currently loving a jewel-like game called "Candy Crush". It's a flash-based game AND an iPhone/Android App. You share the progress among all the platforms and the app version is even faster and more responsive. The Facebook-based port can die, but the app will last much longer (20mil likes on FB)

> tablets and smart-phones are currently hot as surfing and gaming platforms

True, but they will never work for all the games. You can always "play" a fun FPS on your phone but you will never really enjoy it without a keyboard (or -at least- a pad). Stuff like RTS and big MMO's will have a hard life on a touch-based device. You can have some fun but I don't see the iPad or any Android-based device as a solid platform for a long-term gaming experience. You install the occasional (free) game, have some fun and uninstall. And I guess that's why we se big numbers for semi-unknown games: everyone can give a shot at them, before uninstalling or forgetting forever about them.

On a side note, PC gaming is still very strong in my opinion. I can see why people are spending less for AAA titles (which cost 50+ bucks): because we can find good-awesome alternatives in the indie market. Take Starbound, the spiritual successor of Terraria: the small team started its own preorder campaign (on their webiste, using a kickstarter-like method with rewards) and they raised 610K already. it's a pixel-based videogame, it's not a "huge" thing: but they will surely hit 1mil soon.

Gamers start being tired of "big" companies who ask you a lot of money, release semi-decent titles and keep luring you to download "amazing" DLC's. Instead, spending 5-10-20 dollars for Indie games (or Steam sales) give you a HUGE sense of respect from them.
But all mobile devices have HTML5 with canvas and fast javascript.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that they never had such things as realistic business models and quality.
Well, I mean you have a legitimate point, but PC sales are down 14% due to people and businesses holding off on purchasing new computers because of Windows 8. I mean, overall the PC is obviously old news, but there's that.

There's also the Wii effect. That sort of light ultra casual game is just not going to hold people for long, or get them to pay lots of money for it. Farmville was a fad, fad is over, case closed.
Note that many of the "Flash games" you play on the web could easily be converted to iOS and Android games if repackaged using the Adobe Air player. Why game studios do not do this is a complete mystery to me. It's free platform diversity.
Of course, it couldn't be because Facebook games are inane and shallow, right?
Have you turned on your TV lately? Inane and shallow appears to be a recipe for success. And it isn't as if the "social games" on the iPad have much more depth than the Facebook games they replace.
@Rugus - haha I'm also stuck into Candy Crush! Amazing that a stupid, frustrating game can be so addictive. >.<
Ruzzle is another great game (app) that could be easily ported to HTML5. And yes, I guess I will pay for that.
I agree with Tobold about flash being a dead-end when it comes to many social games.

It was the platform of choice but now mobile is and when face with the choice of re-writing the game from the ground-up, many game companies prefer to shut the whole thing down.

I think that game companies (especially a publisher like EA) have come to the realization that platform gaming is not worth their time - be it on Facebook or appstore.

The reason is simple, once (viral) loopholes are shut, the platform sucks all the profits out leaving a market of "perfect" competition. As you know from economy 101, there's no profit in such a market.

They will still translate some of their franchises to platforms but the days of "facebook is the future of gaming" are over.
I don't think there will ever be "definitive" platforms/environments in the gaming industry. Hardware, software, OS's ... everything keeps changing year after year.

What seems to be amazing/optimal today... will be horse poo tomorrow. Damn, when I look at my old floppy disks, VHS tapes, CD disks... I feel like we were living in the stone age.

Facebook was a pretty cool place for Farmville-like games. And that's why it gained a HUGE amount of players. Then things changed, and will keep doing so. Just think about how much smartphones changed in the last... year?

We're now in the HTML5/Android/iPhon era. Do you think it will live longer thatn.. say... 5 years? What about the next 10 years?

Tobold: The same people that play bad games may or may not be the same people that watch bad TV. The problem with the comparison is that TV and video games are extraordinarily different in the way people consume them. It's one thing to passively watch a bad TV show, it's quite another to actively participate in said badness.
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