The Games Industry vs. Social Games

The Games Industry vs. Social Games

Humans are an argumentative bunch of primates, and gamers are a particularly quarrelsome branch of that group. Brenda Brathwaite, the former creative director of LOLapps and the current COO of John Romero’s new company, Loot Drop, is particularly heartbroken over the community’s general boiling hatred for Facebook games. Whereas we’ll all unite to fight back against a slander piece like Fox News’ “report” on supposed sexual violence in Bulletstorm, Brathwaite notes that developers and gamers alike are unfairly hostile towards the “threat” of social Facebook games.

“I know that things are upsetting to you, and I can assure you that they are also upsetting to me,” Brathwaite said at GDC’s rant panel. “I have seen the strip miners make their entry into games. I have seen them exploit technology and new platforms. Not for the purpose of crafting beautiful creative works but for the purpose of taking the audience for all they can get. They are not one of us, nor are they from us. Rather they are from another space.

“We are absolutely not the ones making what some of you call ‘evil games’. We are the first wave – the marines storming the beach to take our culture and our medium back. As you look upon these games you will see on the very same horizon a great space of possibility. I hope that you will someday be the occupying force.”

The nature of video games is changing so rapidly that it’s hard to blame developers for eying interlopers with suspicion. Even Nintendo admitted outright at GDC that it’s worried for the future of its full-priced retail line up against 99-cent iOS games. And as far as the veteran gamer is concerned, they’re not impressed with being endlessly harassed on Facebook to join farms, find lost cows, fall into a Mafia hierarchy, etc. Nor are they thrilled by the very idea of people paying money to rush to the fore of the game’s elite players: Achieving success through microtransactions goes against the very nature of a game, as games exist amongst all animals to refine skills through competition.

But Brathwaite also makes some good points for the current state of the social games market. Legitimately hard-working social game developers don’t want to the cheap imitators hanging around Facebook anymore than we, the gamers, want to see them there. Respected faces from the industry, including Brathwaite, Romero, and Brian Reynolds obviously didn’t decide to make social games because they were in desperate for money or reputation: These are developers that admire social gaming’s potential to bring together families and friends online. For them, losing their hard work under a deluge of imitator trash would be disastrous and heartbreaking.

To that effect, it’s not fair to generalize about the universally poor quality of social games than it is to generalize about another game genre–or, if you like, the supposedly stunting effects of violent games on young children.

We may not like some aspects of the current games industry, and it’s an unquestionably busy, merciless landscape. But social games will very likely continue to exist in some capacity, which is why it make sense to back up Brathwaite. When the dust settles, we’ll want to see the industry’s best social game developers offering their best efforts for a genre that is not going to go away, however hard some may wish for it to disappear.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

2 Comments

  1. Social games are just games with integration to popular social networks to add some competitive social feelings to the outcomes of gaming. Just like wow player are significantly motivated by showing off gear, mounts, and shove the fact you’re of a higher level in the face of your mates – AAA titles should simply start integrating facebook and such for matchmaking and score ladders as that’s what its all about, maybe them silly little gifts and polluting FB news feeds as well. iOS games are just toilet and bus games. People buy them for different reasons, they are not competing with AAA – it’s not that anyone buys angry birds INSTEAD of call of duty. If the AAA market is doing relatively bad recently it’s because everything that comes out these days is trash.

  2. “… as games exist amongst all animals to refine skills through competition.”

    That’s a pretty narrow view of games (check out Callois and others). This speaks to a “core gamer” bias, one that persists in pockets but which has quickly been swamped as the mass market has developed. This market is “everyone else” — the hundreds of millions of people playing computer games now who weren’t doing so a few years ago.

    Social games definitely need to continue to evolve and improve, and they will. They may not please hardcore gamers, but who says they need to?

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