Originally posted at NY Video Game Critics Circle.
As Zynga prepares for its IPO, I often wonder about the future of social games. Social games are most often thought of as Facebook games, and they’re the most addicting form of media I’ve ever seen. That includes games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft.
Social games are free to play – initially. But after you play for a while, you have to pay for upgrades in order to proceed. Or you have to invite your pals to help you out of a jam. Or you have to do both. A few of the players, called “super whales” in the social games business, spend up to $6,000 a year playing social games (according to a study/ press release from Meteor Games). That’s an incredible amount of money to spend.
For instance, I recently indulged in a much-touted role playing game from Playdom called Deep Realms. Some of the top game journalists and videogame developers were giving Deep Realms a swing as well.
But when I found myself trapped in a dungeon, I found I couldn’t beat a large demon with the powers assigned to my avatar. I really didn’t want to bother friends for help. And, though the story was not very impressive and the graphics were circa the late 80s, I liked the role playing game genre enough to want to continue. So I spent $5 to upgrade in the hopes of defeating the demon and leveling up.
It did no good. Clearly, the game wanted me to spend money and bug my pals to help me. Or, they wanted me to spend even more money to get out of the cave. I stopped playing.
Social games such as Deep Realms are in their infancy. But they need to get a lot better and they need to do that quickly. The game design needs to be less repetitive. And there needs to be a narrative, a strong story that keeps players engaged. The tale of a young farmer eschewing the plowshare to pick up a sword and find his missing brother was not just derivative. It was mediocre and banal.
But what if social games were, as they say, ripped from today’s headlines? What if there were a News Corporation/Rupert Murdoch-inspired social game called Scandal?
And Scandal could be multi-faceted, a gem of social gaming.
The premise: Start out as a reporter/intern and work your way up to head a behemoth like News International as power attempts to corrupt you. You could solve cases as an investigative journalist, and your friends could help. And, as you move up the ladder and level up, you’d need to buy upgrades to make your way and exert your savvy upon those with whom you work.
And then when you’re on top, when you are buying and selling the biggest of media companies, how do you prevent a scandal from ruining your empire? Not to mention the sheer embarrassment getting pied.
I don’t know about you. But I’d play it.