Thursday, September 9, 2010

Were Facebook games just a fad?

PopCap's chief creative officer Jason Kapalka recently said in an interview that the golden era for Facebook games was over. Not that Facebook gaming would suddenly disappear, but that there would be so much competition, so many new companies rushing very similar games to the market, that the genre would become less and less profitable.

I can believe that. I recently got an "invitation" to review a Facebook game that I'm not even going to name here, which anyone here could have designed on a napkin in 5 minutes. It was a different setting than Mafia Wars / Farmville / Frontierville, but otherwise played EXACTLY like those. You advance by mindless clicks. You advance FASTER by buying stuff in the item shop or lassoing in your friends. You can spend more money on decoration. And that's all there is. There are hundreds of Facebook games like that now, and it is likely that sooner or later market saturation sets in, if it hasn't already happened.

Frankly I'm not overly worried if some new game companies making shoddy Facebook games flounder. It would be good if the message arrives in some places that casual games are NOT the future of gaming. They are a *part* of the gaming market, and a part that was underdeveloped. But the gold rush is over, and now normal economic rules will prevail: If you want to make money in a competitive market, you need to offer a better product than your competitors, or the same quality at a cheaper price. The latter is difficult, with the price being already misleadingly advertised as "free", so companies will be forced to make better games.

Another factor here is the evolution of gamers. There will always be some people who really don't want more from a game than what Farmville can offer. But there are others who start out with a game like Farmville, and then want something a bit more challenging. I think that this is a good thing, to have "introductory" games. You can't just shove people into the deep end of a hardcore game and expect them to like it. Market segmentation ultimately helps everybody, as it creates a larger overall market. And when investors realize that the "make easy money with Facebook games" phase is over, maybe we'll get more investment in the kind of games we would like.

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