Say Social Gamers, You Want a Revolution? Talk to Facebook

facebook-icon“This is a disruptive, challenging time in our industry, but there are opportunities for better collaborative innovation if we challenge the status quo…” – Malcom Gladwell

The web is changing. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have become our new information and communication hubs. In the beginning , one of the biggest appeals of social games was their integration with existing social networks – the ability to log in to one site to conduct all your social stuff, including multiplayer gaming.

But now that social games have evolved into all-but standalone communities within social networks, and now that players have become more avid and interactive, AND now that social game developers have “mastered” the art of getting users to spam their friends… well now its time for change.

The New Face of Facebook

Facebook is taking the aggregation approach to new levels, increasingly expanding to a “whole web product” – a complete social experience that seamlessly spans web, mobile and desktop to provide real-time, customizable social networking any way you want it.

We’re changing. We’re all trying to be more timely, efficient and productive. We want our online experiences to be as egocentric as the offline ones. We want to connect in ways that are mutually beneficial. We want a new framework and new dynamics for the way we navigate our social web. More than that, we want it all and we want it now.

The Perfect Social Medium?

How do you define such a generic term as “social game”? The options are endless, but for our purposes: social games are played within an existing (online) network , especially games in which recruiting and interacting with friends earns points and advances a player in the game.

While MMOG developers struggle to keep reinventing the social wheel, the Facebook platform offers such unparalleled reach. Social games typically have very low barriers to entry – free, easy to learn and no new device required – plus, players already have a whole network of friends on the site.

cloud-gamingFor social game developers, getting players to invite and interact with their friends is crucial for success. The viral nature of online social networks is what enables such rapid and enormous growth in games like FarmVille, which has accumulated a mass of 72.9 million million active monthly players on Facebook. FarmVille recently earned the title of 2009’s biggest social game, with over 27.5 million active users logging in daily.

So is “cloud gaming” a win for everyone? Perhaps, but…

Challenging Convenience

Social game gift giving is getting ridiculous. Notifications of all sorts are beginning to seriously over-dominate the social networking experience as a whole – becoming their own barrier to entry (or reason for exit, as the case may soon be). But game developers aren’t likely to amend the situation anytime soon – to them, notifications look a lot like dollar signs.

With new genres of gameplay come new concerns. Players are getting multiple gift requests, neighbor notifications and various achievement notices on a daily basis. The distractions remain unless or until you click on each notice individually to accept or ignore.

If players want to do well in the game, they need to accept gifts and such. And if they want to really excel, they need to see all those seemingly unimportant notifications (to pick up extra coins and speciality items from friends). But every time social gamers log into Facebook, they are inundated with requests and notifications – intruding prominently on their personal territory, and fogging up news feeds for everyone. You can tweak your Facebook settings in attempts to control the noise, but in the end it feels useless. You’re stuck in a downward social networking spiral of gift-giving proportions, and there’s no way out. *Queue violins*

bombarded_head-fireUnique vs. Universal

Platform-wide standards would enable Facebook games to appeal to an even broder audience, but for now social game developers are choosing to sacrifice common sense for individualtiy.You can’t blame them for employing techniques that reel in new users and maximize profits, but at some point, player satisfaction will suffer if developers don’t stop testing the limits.

Facebook Credits, the site’s virtual currency, is a perfect example of  a could-be convenient solution that won’t be universal anytime soon – it makes SO MUCH more sense than having a different virtual currency for each and every game, but social gaming giants don’t want to take that pay cut in virtual good royalties to Facebook.

It’s time for change. What exactly that change should be is a topic of endless debate, but it’s necessary and worthwhile, and I’ll go so far as to say it is crucial for game developers (and Facebook) to figure out a new way of doing things, and soon. Otherwise, players are going to get fed up and start leaving – to re-simplify their Facebook start page and news feeds, and free themselves from an endless stream of spammy notifications.

A Facebook Face-Lift

Maybe its Facebook who should really be worried about the great gift giving meltdown, not the developers. It is, after all, the Facebook platform. So if social game developers won’t, Facebook can – and should – amend/enhance the user experience by consolidating game notifications, requests and invitations into one area. Users are overloaded, bombarded at every turn, and getting annoyed.

A designated Facebook game portal is one possible solution to this problem. When Facebook users log in, they should have the right to a clutter-free start page. Since social games are such a growing part of social networks, it’s not a totally far-fetched idea to think they should have their own section. That way, upon log-in, users can check their other Facebook news, and when they’re good and ready, click on a game portal tab, where all social gaming will go down.

I’m all for give and take, and think a gaming section would be beneficial to all parties invovled – uesrs, developers and Facebook/social network sites. Players would get a semi-separate, yet still integrated social gaming experience, without the spammy notifications dispersed throughout their social hub. Developers would get a more captive audience, as well as new opportunities for advertisment, promotion, etc. through the Facebook game portal page. And Facebook would get a much-needed facelift, new areas for expansion, and new interest from game developers in the Facebook platform. Win-win-win.