By Yvette Wohn
Platform matters when it comes to social games, according to Dan Fiden, general manager of the San Francisco studio of Playfish. Speaking at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle, Fiden emphasized that what we generally call “social gaming” sometimes is not really social. His talk was appropriately named “Why Friends Matter: Designing Social Emotion.”
“[Players] are friends before gamers,” Fiden said. “A lot of that has to do with the platform. The game becomes a context to live out all of the emotions and relationships that you have with people. Social network sites leverage strong emotions between your friends. We like making games on social network sites because we can play with people we do know. Social network sites are great platforms because friends are always accessible.”
Fiden’s stance on the importance of platforms was almost entirely opposite of that of Steve Chiang of Zynga. In an earlier talk, Chiang had said that the user-size of the platform was important, explaining why Zynga jumped from MySpace to Facebook, and are looking at more open platforms. Chiang downplayed the role that Facebook played on the success of Zynga games while Fiden said that the success of the game strongly depended on the platform. Fiden, however, was more interested in game-play between existing friends rather than strangers.
Fiden also differentiated “virality” from social experience. “A viral game incorporates mechanics that requires interpersonal communication for individual advancement. A social game is a game framework for a social interaction. Virality is good for business, getting people to re-engage and drawing people to the game. It’s important for success of games, but don’t make them social,” he said.
He gave examples of what he thought was virality, giving examples of some games (including Playfish’s) that use interaction between players as a game mechanic. Some examples could include so-called “helping” a friend complete a task or reciprocating an in-game gift. He said that too many rulesets of the game that impose these types of player interactions can crowd out truly social interactions.
Fiden suggested that social game developers should think outside of the box and not limit themselves to the games that are currently successfully. “Limiting ourselves to the few games that have been made over the pasg couple years is maybe not the way to think about it. Let’s look at all the awesome social games that have been released on different platforms. What we should do is remember that games that are deeply social were made way before video games,” he said.
He said that providing evidence of interaction is important for asynchronous play. For instance, if a friend visited one’s farm, how can we create something more meaningful than a pop-up? How do we do that in a way that feels more natural?