Remember Farmville? Wish you didn’t?
Like many innovations, the first wave of social gaming used its new capabilities in an ugly, brute force manner. That didn’t stop a lot of us from playing Facebook games, but that doesn’t mean they were good.
There is still a strong vein of casual gaming in Facebook, I mean I can’t really ignore the existence of Candy Crush or Words with Friends. But unlike the initial wave of social games that bombarded your news feed, these games have an actual game element to them.
Honestly, though, what’s downing Zynga is not their games themselves, but the regard with which they treated their users. Candy Crush has (to my chagrin) perfected the Skinner-esque random reward mechanic to the point where people will give them money to keep playing and to win, and though I’m not a fan of that it is a business model. Zynga’s core games had the freemium model, but by rabidly sharing everything their users did (“so and so just bought a cow!”) it pissed off a very large percentage of Facebook’s userbase. Who then blocked the games.
As for me, I’m not a casual gamer. And from that end, it makes a lot more sense to spend three to five dollars on a solid older game title from a content distributor like Steam than it does to pump that money into something mindless like Candy Crush. And as dedicated computer games become more varied, cheaper and more accessible (both in terms of gameplay and hardware requirements), casual games will need to reach very broad audiences to have any sort of chance. As Zynga should be learning, operating within the walled garden of Facebook is not an ideal way to reach a broad audience, even if you blast messages to the whole damn network every time someone buys a fucking cow.