Brief thoughts on Facebook, Ravenwood Fair and the future of casual gaming on the internet

I generally don’t like to talk about anything other than my games on this blog. For the most part I am far too opinionated on matters outside of my cosy little world of crafting simple games that I’m sure I’d end up in some libel case or something. But a few stats that I read this morning intruiged me. So much so that a few thoughts came to me that are probably worth sharing to invite discussion.

World of Warcraft has always been something of a benchmark for me in terms of the numbers of people playing it. As a MMORPG with upwards of 12million subscribers (how this breaks down in to active players I don’t know) I have always seen it as an unrivaled phoenomenon in terms of online gaming.

But Facebook more than trumps it.
500 million users with half of them active every day. (October 2010)

That is staggering.

Little wonder then that John Romero (he of DOOM and Quake) should choose Facebook as the platform for his latest release Ravenwood Fair.
Just this morning I read that Ravenwood Fair’s userbase (within a week or two of launch) had shot up to 2 million.

These are incredible figures.

So what does the future hold for hardcore game designers ?
I’m fairly sure that John has other projects bubbling away but to be able to develop something against Facebook’s architecture and see that kind of take up in such a short space of time must be attractive to every game development biz guy out there. Certainly the designers.

You have far reduced operating costs, minimal marketing fees (what’s better than word of mouth or the odd “Like” on your Facebook page ?) and the added bonus of an instant audience/market to the tune of several million people.

What it surely means is that game designers can sit back and spend most of their time doing what they do best – designing entertainment for the masses.

So what can we expect in the near future ?
What bracket of gaming are we talking about here ?
Is it relevent to the wider gaming scene ?
Will the so-called “hardcore” gaming crowd ever embrace a social network for the means of delivery for its favourite games ?

I’m already thrilled by the potential of HTML5 being adopted by all major browsers. The bedroom game designer’s revolution is upon us and gathering momentum. Good old fashioned individual creativity that spawned some of the finest games of my youth (Jet Set Willy, Mercenary, Chuckie Egg etc) can once again hold its head up high and find an audience of millions.
The now common scenario of publishers throttling true creativity through financial limitations and reluctance to spend cash on untried and untested ideas can be overthrown by genuinely creative people who don’t care for or require a budget of millions to produce simple games.

I am now encouraged to investigate further exactly what Facebook can offer as a platform.
Even if I don’t totally adopt it I can rest assured that there is enough of a culture of casual gaming amongst its userbase to be able to successfully market a game hosted elsewhere.

Wonderful times ahead for casual game designers.

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  • Troy Gilbert  On November 4, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    It’s hard to draw a strict comparison between WOW and the various successful Facebook games. WOW’s 12M subscribers are dedicated enough to pay $15/month. That’s $180M/month in revenue. That’s very close to equaling (if not exceeding) the *total* revenue generated by all Facebook games.

    While Facebook may have 500M registered users, as you point out it has about 250M that are “active daily.” An even smaller portion of that are active playing the games. And an even smaller portion of that pay *any* money to play the games. And an even *smaller* portion of that pay anywhere near $15/month.

    In addition, while it may seem like “viral marketing is free!”, most of the successful Facebook games spend quite a bit on advertising (mostly inside of Facebook) in order to draw in users, particularly since Facebook has limited their automatic viral channels they previously leveraged.

    Development costs are no different than traditional Flash game development, and the operating costs are definitely higher: you’ve still got to host your app and service your customers, both costs that increase as the audience increases.

    Finally, designing a financially successful Facebook game (in the mold of most of the current popular ones) requires a lot of design trade-offs revolving around monetization. Because you’re not charging to play, you have to, one way or another, charge the user to advance in your game. And from personal experience I find it difficult to balance the highest quality gaming experience, i.e. maximize the fun, while still maximizing the monetization. (Which is why many game designers find the current crop of Facebook games unappealing.)

    All that being said, Facebook is a fantastic opportunity in the same ways that any web-based game is a fantastic opportunity: incredibly low barrier-to-entry for the developer and an easy-to-reach audience (in comparison to brick-and-mortar retail, or even console digital distribution). But the “gold rush” is over, the easy money has been soaked up (largely by Zynga).

    Personally, I aim to develop games that run independently of Facebook but have *hooks* into Facebook (and Twitter). This gives you the best of both worlds: easy discoverability amongst your potential audience (leveraging the same viral channels of Facebook apps), plus you live outside of Facebook’s walled garden and are welcoming to those who stick mostly to Twitter (or use neither!).

  • markw1970  On November 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Thanks Troy. Your knowledge of this stuff is clearly far before my own.
    I was taken in by the audience figures in the headlines rather than the amount of money being generated.
    I am still shocked at how quickly a game can gain such wide appeal through a single web site.
    I should really stick my head outside some more and see what’s going on in the world :-)

  • Cody  On November 5, 2010 at 7:26 am

    Speaking as a frequenter of Gamasutra, Troy seems right on the mark with the news that comes from Facebook games. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter so I don’t understand the appeal these games have, but the story of Cow Clicker is very sobering and worth the read…

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