Happy Sunday. This is where I make a spurious link between something I have done this week and computer games, before linking to some better pieces of writing from other people.
The new film version of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (TTSS) was released this week in the UK. And since it’s been getting rave reviews, we went to see it. This was always going to be a tricky film to make because everyone compares it to the iconic 1970s TV series. If you read any reviews, there’s a 95% chance someone compares Gary Oldman’s performance to Alec Guiness. But truth is, there only a certain number of ways to play George Smiley and everyone thinks Guiness absolutely nailed it.
You can compare this to the challenge of making a sequel to a much loved game, or an expansion to an MMO. People want to see all the things they loved about the original, but they want them to be new and fresh too. They want the NPCs to hit all the beats they remember, but still to have a continuing storyline. TTSS performs the miracle of translating a book that had enough content to fuel a whole TV series into a single film without feeling that any key information to the plot was missing. To do this, actors, writers, cinematography and director use a phenomenal amount of economy with their acting, shots, scenes, and writing. Smiley is a hard character to pin because he’s written as someone quiet, introvert and understated, but who also feels things very strongly. If you go see the film, just watch how Gary Oldman portrays that with each single pose or shrug of his shoulders. You don’t hear the internal monologue but you know it’s there. So when he does raise his voice – for one sentence, in one scene – it’s arresting.
The other game related thought about the film is how incredibly immersive it is. For the whole duration, you are there in their world of browns, greys, beiges, cigarette smoke, and half full whisky bottles. Every detail is perfect. And none of it is thrown in your face.
I think that as gamers, we do appreciate how important details are in making our game worlds sublime, immersive experiences. I’ve seen so many joyful blogs written about small details in game worlds that implied untold stories or thrilled the blogger. In fact, this probably plays a larger part than pure gameplay mechanics in ‘immersiveness’. But will a dev that counts only metrics of how many times each player completed each achievement ever really see the contribution that immersiveness makes to how long players WANT to spend in their game worlds? It’s not clear, but it all goes towards those nebulous notions of quality and gameworld realism which can make these games so special.
So how are Facebook Games doing these days?
An interesting milestone in facebook gaming was passed recently. Sims Social passed Farmville in numbers of daily players, which is probably good for making EA shareholders feel like buying social gaming companies was a good investment.
Of course, Zynga has moved on since Farmville and released at least two more hit games (I lose track of them all). Tobold has some praise for Adventure World, which is one of them, but notes that you will need a lot of friends or a lot of money to advance.
I’ve been trying out the open beta for Heroes of Neverwinter, which looks very promising so far and less demanding of large numbers of friends. It’s based around gathering a group of adventurers together and heading off to clear out little dungeons. Combat is turn based and grid based, reminiscent of the original Dragon Age Journeys flash game before they moved it to Facebook.
I think Neverwinter in particular shows how some Facebook games are evolving these days. It’s fun, and definitely less annoying than the typical Zynga spam-a-friend-fest. But it would be more fun for me if it wasn’t a facebook game – still, this probably means that I’m not the target audience. My style of gaming is ‘play games when you have at least 30 mins free’ and not ‘I’m on facebook anyway, might as well take a couple of mins every so often to amuse my friends with virtual game items.’
Muckbeast has a heartfelt rant about Facebook games, that I think most gamers will find sympathetic.
In the social gaming space, the industry average is that only 2% of users ever pay a single penny. When only 2% of your customers think your product is worth anything, that’s not a good sign.
If you wanted to improve your monetization rate, what would you do? Some possibilities:
- Make the game more fun.
- Give players more value for their money.
- Create engaging content people are excited to pay for.
All good ideas, right? So those are the kinds of things Zynga, EA, etc. probably do to increase monetization, right?
Instead, they come up with incredibly annoying gimmicks like “energy systems” that interrupt your gameplay every few MINUTES and nag you to buy more energy to keep playing. We have literally looped back to pumping quarters in a machine every few minutes to play a game, folks. Ridiculous.
Thing is, most of the several squillion people who actually play these games regularly probably aren’t gamers and don’t care so much about these things. For them, sharing virtual game tat with their friends is all in a day’s social networking.
So while I like Neverwinter more about about 90% of the other Facebook games I have played, the chance of me spending money on it is zero. Therefore, I’m very much not the target audience, and who knows whether they’ll be interested in D&D style adventuring when they could be playing Sims Social instead.
Strangely enough, I did spend some money based on a social networking game this week. The game was Night Circus, written and coded by the same team who run Echo Bazaar, and I bought a copy of the book which the game was designed to advertise. (I do find some of the game text/ concepts a bit precious but I figured I was intrigued enough to pay a few pounds for a book at least.) The book is actually better than I was expecting, so recommended if you like magical romances and magic realism and stories about magicians holding mysterious duels. The characters feel oddly stylized though, more like silhouettes than real people, but I was entertained. So that at least was a perfectly targeted piece of gamified advertising – I’m all for it ;)
Mana Obscura has held a ‘smile week’ this week and has been writing about things he loves about MMOs. Here he discusses how amazing it is that they work at all, and how largescale the systems are behind them. I have always had a sense of awe about computer networks myself too, ever since a technician told me at Uni that the ethernet stayed up ‘by the grace of God.’ The more I know about ethernet, the more I suspect he had a point.
The Official WoW Magazine is dead in the water after five issues. The Ancient Gaming Noob has a copy of the email they sent to subscribers with info. Who’d have thought that computer gamers might not be all that interested in print magazines, huh?
The Rampant Coyote asks what single player RPGs can do better than MMOs. Given that we’re in the middle of some sort of conflux, I think this (and the opposite question of what MMOs do better than single player) has never been more timely.
Bronte discusses WoW raiding and problems with overtuning content, and some of the assumptions behind it. The basic idea that each tier of raiding should be more difficult/ complex than the last is fine if you started on day 1 as a Molten Core nooblet and worked your way up – less fine if you were new to Cataclysm and had to try to learn everything at once, with a bunch of players who are bored before they start and lost their patience with newbies two expansions ago.
OutDPS has some issues with the storytelling in Cataclysm (he notes that the lower level zones are often great but that the high level story is … not compelling.)
And on one last Blizzard related note, COO Thomas Tipl has stated that Blizzard are planning to release six ‘proven’ properties over the next three years. Gossip Gamers guesses that these will be 2 WoW expansions, 2 SC2 expansions, Diablo 3 … and maybe a D3 expansion. Don’t expect any more Wrath-style large WoW expansions is what I’m saying.
Rohan posts an interesting analysis of MMO players, comparing people who like fixed schedule events (like regular raid nights) to ‘transient’ players. I think there is a lot of truth in this, and the way I play is very different when I’m in a group that has fixed nights to when I just log in when I feel like it. PvD also mulls this over and wonders if that’s the problem that the new LFR (looking for raid) PUG raid finder with its special low difficulty mode is intended to address.