Industry Reset Buttons

The hot industry trend is evangelizing social games. Many took up this habit fairly recently, playing catch-up at shows like DICE last week. The Kosters of the world have been atop their social soapboxes for years.

The aspect I find interesting is that a number of, shall we say, developers of a certain age (such as Richard Garriott) are moving from big-budget studios to the social realm.

In addition to smelling all the dollars in the water, I posit that there is another element at work here. The relative simplicity of web and mobile development is reminiscent in many ways of the first big era of console and home computer games. A few guys in a room can build a game from start to finish and make ridiculous money doing so. Old guys like Lord British find themselves back in their comfort zone.

You tend to see these folks in blogs and interviews touting statistics and trends which support their theories, which is only natural; developers tend to write and give presentations that promote their world view. This is why you have to study developer blogs with a watchful eye, because you should assume they will frame facts in a way that supports their assertions.

For example, I tend to write about big-budget MMOs because that’s the kind of game I enjoy working on and playing. I certainly enjoy playing Peggle, but I don’t see myself ever taking a job to design such a game. I’d probably end up making a version of Breakout where each brick spits out a quest when you hit it and you use your paddle to catch falling pieces of epic loot. In other words, I’d sink my career.

I don’t begrudge anyone making or playing social games, though; it’s not my cup of tea, but I see no need to get snotty about it. I think social gaming is performing a valuable service to the industry by pressing a virtual reset button. While big-budget games and giant publishers continue to drive hardware evolution, ubiquitous platforms like Facebook and the iPhone will once again allow lean-and-mean development that proves you don’t need top-end graphics to make a fun game.

Needless to say, the more developers that jump on this trend, the more garbage consumers will be served. And, inevitably, social game development will balloon out of control and become just as muddy and expensive as the current generation of console games.

But that’s okay–a new industry reset button will come along soon enough. Game design is, ultimately, about pattern recognition.

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