Who plays Facebook games? As the kids say in the schoolyard, your mom. Also, maybe your uncle, your grandfather, your aunt and siblings too And truthfully, if you sneak in a sampling of FarmVille in between bites of your sandwich at lunch, what’s the harm?
The popularity of Facebook games isn’t in question, and neither is the addictive nature of some of its most famous offerings. But the likes of FrontierVille, Texas Holdem Poker and Mafia Wars were designed with quick spurts of gameplay in mind. Casual gamers return to their work or their television show once they’ve watered their crops, and dedicated gamers turn to the latest offering on their console.
Simple aesthetics are a defining trait for Facebook games. Pet Society is cute, but nobody plays it to be wowed by its graphics. But graphics technology is evolving at a pace that’s almost dizzying, and even Facebook games are becoming capable of some pretty stunning stuff. Last August saw the launch of Billions, Save Them All, a Facebook-based path-drawing puzzle game that features detailed, high-resolution graphics in a fully 3D environment. The game, put together by 3DVIA Studios, runs on its own downloadable engine instead of Flash.
It’s a predictable maturation. Social games evolved from primitive HTML to PHP and then to Flash. Developers are naturally inclined to make things look better and run smoother. There’s no doubt they can go as far as they want to go on Facebook, and at a speed that will make the progression of game consoles look like a tortoise’s shamble. The question is, who’s going to play these games?
Billions, Save Them All looks great, and is engaging. But it immediately makes itself difficult for a casual gamer to access on their lunch break. Accessing the game requires installing 3DIVA’s player. It’s an easy enough install, and of course, it’s safe. But for someone who’s not 100% down with computers, nothing’s more frightening than a pop-up box courtesy of Saint Microsoft that says, “You want to install this .exe file? Man, are you sure? This could be some bad juju.”
That’s if the installer is lucky. If he or she happens to be on a company PC that’s armored against virii like a tank, their warning may be accompanied by the boss-summoning clang of klaxons.
And if the install goes well, there’s the question of whether or not the PC’s graphics card will be able to display the graphics at all, let alone at a workable frame rate. That sort of upgrade is difficult enough to make on a home PC. It’s nearly impossible on a work PC. At this point, anyone who uses Facebook to tend to their crops is just going to crawl back into their Flash games and wrap themselves up.
Meanwhile, what happens to these beautiful-looking Facebook games that require keyboard controls beyond point-and-click? It’s possible console and PC gamers might use them to kill a few moments when they’re away from home, but it’s more likely they’d haul around a Nintendo DS, PSP, or iPhone for that very purpose.
No doubt experienced developers can build some beautiful games for social networking platforms. But it’s a wasted effort. Facebook’s main audience is looking for familiarity and ease of play, not eye-candy.