Monday, November 7, 2011

Facebook the second

Do you know that annoying feeling you get when you read about a new game and then find out you won't be able to play it because it runs only on platforms you don't have? Like iPhone games for people who don't have an iPhone. Or XBox games for people who bought a Playstation. Well, after several weeks without Facebook I was starting to get that same feeling about Facebook games. Read about something interesting, and had to dismiss it because I wasn't on Facebook any more.

I am still very much opposed to the idea of mixing my real identity with my gaming identity. That is mainly a search engine problem: There are valid professional reasons for people to search for my real name on Google and find my patents or scientific publications. And there are valid entertainment reasons for people to search for my pseudonym to find my writings about games. There isn't much overlap between these two worlds, and thus it is better that there are two different names to search for.

But then I realized that Facebook has an incredibly tiny footprint on Google. You can produce tons of game spam on Facebook, and Google will never see it. And as my real name isn't unique anyway (somebody else even got a website with my real name as URL), having a Facebook account under my real name is actually not a problem. I can avoid the mixing of real life and game life by simply not putting anything about my real life on my real name Facebook account. Fortunately me and my real friends are so ancient that we still use completely outdated methods of communicating, like talking face-to-face, or using last-century communication tools like the telephone.

So now I'm back on Facebook. At first I started with games that I don't need friends for. Both Woodland Heroes and Triple Town are very good. Woodland Heroes uses a complicated variation of the old Battleship game as combat mechanic. And Triple Town is one of the best "three of a kind" puzzle games I've played. But then I stumbled upon other games for which friends are needed. So where would I get those if I want neither real life friends nor my blog readers? Well, it turns out most games have forums, and most of those forums have a specific and very active "add me as friend and neighbor" section. In no time I had 20 new "friends", all of which were happy to send me virtual stuff in exchange for my virtual stuff. So I'm good for all sorts of Facebook games now.

Looking at the activity of my new "friends", I don't think I can really call them "casual gamers". At least some of them are seriously hardcore, considering how much time they spend on Facebook games every day. Not to mention that certain Facebook games need significantly more skill than most MMORPGs. Triple Town is *not* an easy game to play well. And I found out that I totally suck at hidden object games.

Meanwhile Google+ seems to have missed the boat with games. The service has barely grown, there are only 21 different games available (Triple Town is one of them). But Facebook users play 927 million hours per month, and half of Facebook's logins are specifically to play games.

I find it interesting that Facebook has a rule against playing with strangers instead of real friends, while the game companies run forums away from Facebook in which they run "add me" threads. There is a clear conflict of interest here between the company running the platform, and the company running the games. Facebook never really told me why exactly they banned my Tobold account, the "playing with strangers" was on a list of different possible causes. But seeing how widespread that is, I don't think I'll be banned again. And this time I could provide a government issued ID if Facebook asks for proof of my existence. But as Raph Koster mentioned in his GDC talk, I'm still very aware of the fact that playing on a platform in the "cloud" means that somebody somewhere has his finger on the power button and could end my second Facebook game experience.

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