The game development industry should get over its hang-ups with social gaming, accept that the medium isn’t inherently evil, or boring, and embrace what is an exciting and upstart-friendly games platform.
These were the conclusions of a striking MIGS speech made by Scott Jon Siegel, a game developer working in the Facebook games space at Playdom.
And while the summary of his talk may provoke a knee-jerk reaction from sceptics, his argument is making waves across – not ironically – social networking sites, where his speech is being lauded as a breath of fresh air.
“I'm not exaggerating when I say that I want to save my industry,” said the ex Zynga developer, as quoted on his notes.
“It might not look like it needs saving, and many people would argue it's doing just ﬁne. But from a creative perspective, social gaming's a little down and out,” he added.
“I'm challenging everyone here to re-think their assumptions about social gaming, but I'm most directly talking to the indie community. The punk-rockers of games. Those small, nimble, ad-hoc conglomerates of smart thinkers and doers who have become increasingly active over the past year.”
Siegel explained how distinguished game academic Ian Bogost, as part of an elaborate satirical joke, made a social game called Cow Clicker – tasking player to click on cows every few hours.
“The ridiculous thing is, without even trying hard Ian actually made a moderately successful and compelling game,” Siegel said.
“At its height, Cow Clicker had 24,000 Monthly Active Users, though it's since dropped to around 13,000. But the remarkable thing is his DAU/MAU -- a common metric for measuring player retention -- has been going up.”
Driving his point home, he said:
“You know, an old writing professor of mine once challenged us to write bad ﬁction. He wanted us to try and create something terrible -- ignore the rules of “quality” we set for ourselves.
“The result was some actually interesting things. Once we were given permission to write crappily, we were freed from constraints and certain expectations of what “good” writing looks like. We were actually allowed to be playful. And it worked.
“Ian Bogost has been making incredibly earnest games for years. The one time he tries and makes something terrible, it gains tens of thousands of players within a month of its uncelebrated release. Unanticipated golden poo.”
Siegel suggests that, once developers free themselves of the preconceptions of what is conventionally credible, great games can be made for thousands of fans.
“So, I don't know. Maybe the indie community has its ironic necktie on too tight. Maybe some of the most playful people in our industry are so busy feeling like they should feel opposed to games on social networks that they're not willing to try being playful.
“Or, you know, maybe they're scared.”
To read the speech in full, go here.