A personal opinion
I spent last week in the wonderful city of Seattle for the Casual Connect conference.
It was my first time going. I tried to keep my wonder lust to a minimum and just experience the talks and people as best I could.
It was quite the mix of excited hope for the future of the social game space and the fear that the social game bubble has burst.
If you only listened to the big players in the space then you would have walked away feeling somewhat disheartened that the future of social games has been locked up and that there was little point in even trying to get into this market. Companies like Zynga and Playdom had some discussions about what they expect to happen in the coming months. The words “Viral is dead” were thrown around a lot as well as it is all about “retention of players” now. I would agree that this would be the case for studios that have seen massive growth in this area for the past couple of years. When you start a game with a small team and a few players then balloon to 80+ million players in a year, only to see 20 million leave in a couple of months, you are going to want to focus your future on keeping everyone you can.
I see companies falling into the Hollywood model of success. The big folks don’t want to take the risk of coming up with something completely new and having it fail. They have too much to lose, at least that may be what they are thinking. When we see a hit movie come up and make loads of cash there follows a rash of copycats and similar films that try to capitalize on the success on the original. This works well enough and has been a model for games as well over the years, either through sequels or similar types of games. How many “Ville” games are out there now? I wouldn’t consider this a bad thing. What can be bad is when companies feel there is no room for risk taking at all and if you believed the discussions at Casual Connect, this seemed to be the case.
I still think there is room for small studios to make an impact in this space. You may not get to be as big as some of the others but if you focus on creating something that people will want to play then even a couple of million players can give you a return on investment.
Paying attention to the lessons of the past is a good place to start. Entertainment has evolved quite a lot over the years. TV shows, movies and games that we enjoyed, as kids don’t always hold up to our memories. Technology plays a role in this. So does our collective desire to be surprised by what we see or play. Creatively we are always trying to push to the edge of what is enjoyable. Sometimes it can be too extreme and other times too familiar to be seen as a true hit. In TV, Lost and 24 have changed how we are entertained and have spawned a large number of similar styles of story construction. In film The Blair Witch Project helped change our perception of what made a good film, (I’m not a fan but I can see how it affected the industry), I suspect that JJ. Abrams film Cloverfield owes some its success to that earlier film.
Casual games are still very much in their infancy and I think evolving much faster than other forms of entertainment. Its growth, in many ways, is unlike any other before. Its evolution will most likely be as fast.
I live in excited hope for what ever comes next!