Are Designers Running Out of Ideas?

Are Designers Running Out of Ideas?

Have social network games makers run out of ideas? It’s an intriguing question, especially given the industry’s continued emphasis on Facebook games and social gaming companies like Zynga, Playfish and Playdom, not to mention one we explore more deeply in a CNN article entitled Imitation Breeds Success For FrontierVille. Using FarmVille‘s recent successor’s meteoric rise (20 million users and counting) as an excuse to compare and contrast the two games, we ask a panel of game designers, executives and journalists whether or not imitation is more rife in social games than traditional PC and console gaming. And for that matter, if a general lack of innovation and glut of cloning is running rampant and killing the social game business.

Thankfully, the response came back overwhelmingly positive in favor of social game makers just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible with the medium. Also interesting to note is the extent to which game developers themselves essentially shrug off the practice of borrowing from older games, citing it as an all too common and necessary occurrence in the games business, whether electronic or otherwise. Moreover, several even argue that copying and expanding upon existing concepts is actually beneficial to players, as it provides context and a frame of reference for enthusiasts when first approaching these titles. Who knew that thievery was looked upon with such fondness in industry circles?

Either way, we couldn’t resist putting a couple follow-up questions to Wade Tinney, founder of Bumper Stars and Lucky Strike Lanes maker Large Animal Games.

Do players really want more of the same?

If they like it, then usually the answer is yes. Ask the crossword puzzle players of the world. Ask the Harry Potter fans, or the folks in line for the next summer blockbuster. Ask people who buy sequels. Yes, people want more of the things they like.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that people don’t also like being surprised by new kinds of fun – but even then, players need something familiar to latch on to.

Are social game makers running short on ideas as of late?

No, of course not. In fact, I’d say there is a lot more innovation in both mechanics and themes happening in the social space than there is in the traditional console space. Of course, the most innovative games don’t typically come from the companies with the biggest marketing budgets, so those games are less likely to break into the top of the charts, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.

Reasonable arguments, it’s true. Still, there’s always a flip side to every story. Consider these rebuttals, which come courtesy of Libe Goad, editor-in-chief of

Are we really seeing an outcry for more creativity and innovation in social games?

“I say it’s the human condition to want variety in anything – including Facebook games. FarmVille is still a massive game, but its popularity is on the decline — once the game was at 80 million players, and now it’s around 60 million. In the meantime, the popularity of newer Zynga games such as FrontierVille and Treasure Isle has increased dramatically since launch. Obviously people are getting tired of the same old and looking for something fresh and exciting.

Just how common is stealing ideas in the social game space?

There are tons of copycats out there, but I think social game makers are just beginning to get started. We’re starting to see some more creative ideas coming out, especially from Playfish, which is owned by Electronic Arts. Their games are not as big as Zynga’s, but they certainly are starting to add more creative elements to their games, e.g. Pirates Ahoy!, a pirate-themed game that combines elements of a role-playing adventure game like Final Fantasy (go on quests and battle enemies for points and loot) with a treasure hunting game along the lines of Treasure Madness or Treasure Isle.

And there you have it: Imitation or innovation – we leave it you to decide which currently predominates, and the social gaming industry ultimately favors.

About Scott Steinberg
Scott Steinberg is CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global, and a noted keynote speaker and business expert. Hailed as a top tech expert and parenting guru by critics from USA Today to NPR, he’s also an on-air analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN.


  1. Justin Nearing

    “FarmVille is still a massive game, but its popularity is on the decline — once the game was at 80 million players, and now it’s around 60 million.”

    This drop in players correlates to Facebook changing viral channels on the FB platform. Many games utilizing this as a main source for aquisition/rentention started seeing a decline in MAU once notifications were turned off for third-party applications. []

    With a game like Frontierville, it marries innovation with imitation. While the mechanics behind the game are nothing new, they have executed it well- keeping the player engaged and leveraging the users friends as they play.

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