Social Gaming is one of the trends of the moment, and the best examples of the genre are Farmville, which has reached 80 million users via Facebook, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on Xbox, which has topped $1 billion in sales since November 2009.
Despite the fact they are both very different games on different platforms, they both share many similar attributes which have seen two radically different audiences become engrossed, enthralled, and in some cases obsessed and possibly addicted.
1. Shareability: Using Facebook as a platform means Farmville is easily able to spread across 300 million users. Although Call of Duty is in a walled garden by only working with people on the same system (whether Xbox, Playstation or PC), all three options now allow for friends lists and invites into games, allowing me to be invited into a social group as soon as I turn on the games console. When Call of Duty launched I could see 20+ of my friends were playing, meaning the pull to join them was incredibly strong.
2. Grindability: Something that’s been noted in social gaming is the ability to ‘level up’ and progress simply by investing plenty of time (or by paying to skip the time requirement). Both Farmville and Call of Duty reward you simply for spending time with them, even if you don’t do particularly well. Even if you constantly kill your crops, Farmville gives you ways to keep going, and Call of Duty gives you bonuses for finishing a multiplayer match or benefitting from the skill of your teammates.
Image by Flyinace2000 on Flickr, used under CC Licence.
3. Accessibility: Both games allow you to jump in and start playing quickly without barriers. Although you can earn better rewards in both games, in Farmville they are really just enhancing the same game mechanic you already have – and in Call of Duty the weapons you unlock aren’t that much better than the ones you start with. Instead of leaving the all powerful weapons for players who have spent months with the game, this means that as a beginner, you can still do OK in a game to give you a reason to carry on.
Farmville image by RustyBoxcars on Flickr, used under CC Licence.
4. Social standing: Whether in Farmville or Call of Duty, you’re rewarded with marks of your progress which give you an element of social standing with your friends – in Farmville it’s buildings, pets and better crops. In Call of Duty, once you’ve finally got through 70 multiplayer ranks, you’re then given the option to reset every reward, but now you get a badge to show you’re ‘prestiged’. And you can do it again, and again, up to 10 times apparently.
I’ve dabbled with Farmville, but the small social group whose respect is probably more relevant to me are on Call of Duty, which is why I’ve spent a seemingly ridiculous amount of time on the game in the last few months.
5. Ways to rank: With Farmville you can rank for experience, levels, and by helping your friends and neighbours – if I help a friend they get a message telling them how lovely I am. By the same token, Call of Duty not only gives you an overall level, but scores you on score, wins, kills and accuracy, meaning that there’s always someone you know that’s just ahead in one of the leaderboards, and you’ll always have one score that’s respectable.
A world of gamers:
I’ve written before about why the time is now right for pervasive social gaming. It’s now backed up by Windows Mobile 7 including Xbox Live. Gamers are not a niche group of teenagers – they’re the 55% of female Farmville players who are 43 years old on average, or the middle-aged guys who have gone from an early 90s console to the latest Xbox or Playstation after work or their kids are in bed.
This doesn’t mean that the current media (TV, radio, print etc), can’t still command huge audiences, but they’re converging more and more (Pop Idol etc using text voting, user-controlled radio (disclosure, I work on dabbl), the use of QR codes and augmented reality to brief new technological life into print, etc. Games have pervaded everything as much as story-telling, even if the critical debate about them is still in the early stages of evolution.