There is a significant divide between core video game players and social gamers. Though the latter doesn’t pay much attention to the former, core gamers tend to regard social games with scorn.
One reason can be narrowed down to a mild case of xenophobia. Our unfortunate human nature causes us to bristle when we believe someone is intruding on our territory and changing the landscape in ways we don’t regard for the better.
Some core gamers also feel that there’s something dirty about dishing up money in order to gain an instant edge over competitors: There’s little honor in achieving the finest items, weapons, and armor via microtransactions.
But there’s one other reason behind the criticism of social games, and it’s a valid one: Some of the more successful social games ape ideas that were done earlier and better on consoles. Can anyone deny the link between FarmVille and Natsume’s Harvest Moon series? Here’s another: Social games on Facebook that play quite a bit like Nintendo’s hit franchise, Pokemon. Some of these include Monster Galaxy, Miscrits: World of Adventure (1.4 million players), and MinoMonsters (114,196 players).
These games all combine the monster-capturing mechanics of Pokemon with the usual options for microtransactions that let you pay for upgrades and items. And with the success of Pokemon Black/White for the Nintendo DS, which sold one million copies in 24 hours, it’s not difficult to see the draw of the series’ Facebook “counterparts.”
Imitation games are inevitable regardless of the platform. This is doubly true for Pokemon. But it’s disturbing to see blatant rip-offs breed on Facebook because social gaming is in its infancy, and original ideas in the genre are already rarer than baby unicorns. Though it’s not popular opinion, social gaming deserves the chance to come into its own and flourish. Pokemon clones and farming clones are certainly popular, and will make money–but they won’t do much to help social gaming grow to become a strong, healthy genre brimming with must-play games.
But it’s also important to remember that there are game developers who sincerely love the idea of social games. They want to help the genre grow, and they want to do it using their own ideas. Brenda Brathwaite, the COO of Loot Drop, addressed the derivative nature of social games at GDC 2011 and assured attendees that not everyone was an imitator.
“We are not like them, and we do not come from that world,” she said. “Like you, we want good gameplay, we want compelling experiences, we want casual, and we want hardcore. We want to make a great game for the 43-year-old Facebook Mom, because – damn it – she deserves a great game, too. We are not the ones making what some of you call “evil games” but rather the first f**king wave, the Marines storming the beach to take our medium, our culture, and our potential back.”
“And as you look upon these games and curse them, know that we look upon the very same horizon and see a great space of possibility. I hope you will someday be the occupying force.”
Regardless of how you feel about social games, they’re going to stick around for a while longer–probably forever. And if you’re worried about clones and copycats, fear not. Developers who matter know the state of things, too, and they’ve decided it’s unacceptable. Hopefully their works will rise above the undulating sea of imitators and deliver the medicine that will help ease social gaming through its growing pains.