Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This should be fun.......

So I have decided to return to school. I stay my first term on the 26th.
Interestingly, I would have thought that after not having been in school for over 20 years.
Honestly, the thought of the academic portion doesn't bother me at all, in fact, the only thing that seems to give me pause, would be the large crowds that are present in a collegiate environment.
Over all, I think I am really looking forward to this.

The Agonizingly Slow Death of Social Gaming

I have been playing social games on Facebook now for several years. I started with Farmville and started exploring many of the different genres of social games.
First, let me say that I believe that social gaming was a great idea. You can sit down and play games with your friends who, may not have the time, or a way to come over visit with you personally, or with any frequency. You can play games with your family, even if they live halfway around the world. Making it even more appealing, you can chat with them, as if they were sitting across a table from you playing a board game, or on your couch playing a video game.
At first, it was, (no pun intended), all fun and games. Lately, however, it has been the source of constant frustration.
If it were merely one game, I wouldnt even bother writing about it. But I have noticed it has been creeping into all the games.
Games are supposed to be fun, relaxing, something to eliminate boredom and monotony.
Have you played any Facebook games lately? Finding they are not "fun", like they used to be? Have you noticed that, instead of feeling relaxed, you are starting to feel stressed about the game you are playing? Are they starting to feel like drudgery to you?
I understand, I feel the same way too.
Lately, there is one game that has me in a "love/hate relationship" more than any other.
Frontierville/Pioneer Trail.
Did you just grab a handful of hair and try to pull it from your head?!? Yeah, I get that.
This game, and many other games on Facebook, has a massive amount of potential to be a lot of fun. And to be fair, in the beginning, it actually was. By beginning, I mean the first 10 levels or so. After that, I began to see just what a nightmare this game was going to become.
The problem with social gaming as a whole, is that it depends on having friends who are willing to be your "neighbors". If this were the only requirement, then social gaming would not be a  threat to itself, but sadly, it is not the only requirement.
No, there are additional requirements for your friends, and to be fair, they have the same requirements as you do. Theoretically, that should makes things work out well....unfortunately, social gaming doesnt factor in the human element of things.
Here is where social gaming begins its catastrophic fail.
You have to ask your friends for stuff.........LOTS of stuff, and when it comes to having to ask your friends for LOTS of stuff, no other game pushes the envelope more than Frontierville. The makers of Frontierville/Pioneer Trail, (Zynga), expect you to be more greedy than any other social game that I have ever seen.
Now, if the human element were not involved in this process, again, it probably wouldnt create any issues. But the human element dictates that we become bored doing repetitive things. As a result, the retention rate for many of these games, is that for every 100 friends you have as a neighbor, you will be lucky to have 25 left after 6 months.
The reason for such an exodus of people in such a short amount of time is, I believe, the fault of the game developers.
Why? Well, to start with, they make these games and call them "in-beta". And in the beginning of the game, it certainly is true. What this means, is that the game is, "unfinished", and that you should "expect there will be bugs".
Ok, for the record, I am all for beta testing. The entire purpose of beta testing is to find and eliminate bugs before the game "goes retail". These games usually do not "go retail". However, the word beta still implies a process which at some point will be terminated, (the game will be considered finished). However, I believe many of the companies making these games, call them beta, and then use that as an excuse, (i.e "its beta, its gonna have bugs"), will very little intention of actually fixing the bugs, unless they are "serious bugs", but instead focus on delivering new content to the end user in hopes of keeping them longer so they can keep making money thru the advertisements. Frontierville/Pioneer Trail undoubtedly fit this profile. Many, if not most of the bugs that existed BEFORE Pioneer Trail, are still creating major issues for a multitude of players. This right here is one of the biggest reasons for a pc game, or a platform game for that matter, to fail.
If your car was having electrical issues, you would not expect to take it to your mechanic and hear him say, "Ok, so let try adding a cigarette lighter, and a cd player, and a cb radio, and a satellite radio to your car, and we'll throw on some new tires and add another steering wheel. Hopefully that will  fix it". But that is exactly what many of these companies are doing. Adding stuff in the hopes that the "new stuff" will be good enough to make you wanna "keep your car", in spite of its issues.
Ok, so lets get back on track. To make things even more frustrating, even with 100 friends, you only are allowed so many "asks" per day. I believe with Frontierville it is 50.
Thats not so bad then, right?
Wrong again.
The problem with this, is that not all your friends spend everyday on the pc, and even if they are on the pc every day, that doesnt mean that they are playing *your game* every day. And, even if they are on the pc, and playing *your game*, every day, they still may not be checking your feeds every day to see what you need. And even if they check your feeds, they may not be looking far enough back thru your posts, because if you play at 7am, and they start playing at 7pm, and they dont look back to your 7am posts, they have no idea that you need a particular thing.
So ultimately, you end up playing a game, with the hopes that your friends are dependable, both in playing long and short term, and that they will always be on when u are, OR at least always go back thru their posts so they always know what you need and when you need it.
Well, that doesnt sound unreasonable, and it certainly isnt unrealistic. I mean, I only have 100 neighbors now whose posts I have to keep track of, reading all of them up to the last time I logged off. After all, I have all the time in the world, just as all of my fiends do. You guys do too, right? Your all jobless, none of you are students, or have a family so that you have no obligations, which allows you to spend every waking moment just going thru 100 of your friends feeds to make sure they have everything they need to play the game successfully, knowing deep down in your heart that they are doing the exact same thing too, right? Right? Hello?
Why are you all suddenly so quiet? I can hear my own echo......and was that a cricket chirping I just heard?
In the ecological and economical world, there is a term for this.......UNSUSTAINABILITY.
So, to help shorten the length of this post a little, let me give u an idea of how this looks, using the actual numbers withing the game.
Currently, I have 28 quests that I am working on. I also have 7 subquests. These are quests which may/may not require me to ask friends for stuff, but they require me to do something (usually build something), which does require it.
So, main quests alone, currently, I must ask my friends for 211 various items. Two of the quests I have also require that I visit a neighbor and harvest a specific plant type. This is a little less problematic than having to ask my friends for an item, but still requires the help of a friend or 3 as there are 3 different plants this quest wants me to harvest. Hopefully I can impose on my one friend to plant all 3 crops, or impose on 3 friends to plant one of each.
Now, in addition to the 211 items needed for quests, I also have 5 building on my property that require me to ask for my neighbors help yet again.
This accounts for a whopping 435 items!!! Five buildings require more than double the amount of items than 28 quests!!!
Im not done yet.
On top of all of this, I have one school lesson that I am working on. To complete this lesson, i must ask my friend for 40 additional items.
So, to complete all of the above, I must ask my 100 friends, of whom only 25 seem to be active players, for a grand total of 686 items.
So, in a perfect world, I would send out my 50 requests a day, (some of these are not direct request, but most do require you to ask by checking names off of a list), and the next day I would have 50 of the parts I need, allowing me to complete 28 quests and 5 building, and 1 school lesson in ONLY 14 days.
*Sigh* God I wish we lived in a perfect world.
Unfortunately for me, we do not live in a perfect world, so I am going to ask 50/100 players, of whom only 25 are seemingly active, check tomorrow to find that I have 7-14 gifts waiting, of which only 2-5 will be something I actually asked for, meaning that these 28 quests, 5 building and 1 school lesson will all be completed around April of next year...LITERALLY.
Of course, this assumes that none of the, "human element", creeps into my world forcing me to not play for a day or 2 hear and there, and that there will be no interruptions to my power, or internet for anything that could cause me to loose a crop, or for my gift requests to get "lost" when either asking, or receiving.
The really sad thing for social gaming, is that this litttle......err, long rant, really only touches on the surface of these issues. It would not have been a hard thing at all for me to break this up into a five part-long blog, maybe longer, and going in depth about many of the issues above, plus one or two other contributors which I didn't even bring up.
I will not try to predict how long before social gaming collapses. I will merely say that, without major changes, it will.
Really, social gaming and MMORPG's, (think Everquest and World of Warcraft), are not unlike.
The difference being that, with MMORPG's, they are starting to correct for the issues that being "social" creates. Both Everquest, Everquest 2, and WoW have made modifications to their games to allow people to still be able to be social, without relying on their friend to reach "endgame".
When Everquest first came out, the whole reason to group was that it was very, very hard to reach endgame without needing to be in a group. This created many of the same issues that are now coming out in social gaming, in that you had to rely on your friends being on, in order to accomplish your missions. But with MMORPG's, it was never so abusive. Even if your "friends" weren't on, you could still enlist the help of people who were not your friends to accomplish the same task. Lately, they have found that even that hasn't been quite enough. It has helped, but many MMORPG's have added a lot of "solo-able content". That way, if your friends aren't on, you can still find plenty to do to help you move closer to the endgame, until your friends do log in.
Oh yeah, did I mention that every time I complete a quest it opens up a new quest or two?
So who wants to play a social game with me? :-D