A Rant by Scott Jon Siegel

,
Social Game Designer
Hi .

The opinions expressed here are those of the presenter, and do not represent the views of his employer.

First off, I'm Scott and not my employer, etc.

I just want to say how incredibly honored I am to be up here. This is easily my favorite panel every year at GDC, and it's incredible to be on stage with such amazing people that have truly made a real impact in my industry. So, really, thank you to all of you. With that said, my rant this year is entitled-

YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG
YOUʼRE DOING IT WRONG:

YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG
WHY THE LAST TWO YEARS HAVE NOT BEEN AWESOME ENOUGH
SUBTITLE: WHY THE LAST TWO YEARS HAVE NOT BEEN AWESOME ENOUGH.

YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG
WHY THE LAST TWO YEARS HAVE NOT BEEN AWESOME ENOUGH
And when I say "you", I'm not employing some kind of "royal" you. This isn't just directed at the esteemed few here up on stage. I mean all of you. Everyone. If you're in the audience and you're making social games, or even thinking about making social games, I am talking to you right now.

WHAT YOU’RE DOING RIGHT
MAKING LOTS OF MONEY ENGAGING LOTS OF USERS CREATING LOTS OF JOBS

I'll be fair. You're doing some things right. You're doing making money right. You're doing engaging lots of users right. You're doing creating jobs where there weren't jobs before , right.

WHAT YOU’RE DOING RIGHT
MAKING LOTS OF MONEY ENGAGING LOTS OF USERS CREATING LOTS OF JOBS MAKING GREAT SOCIAL GAMES
But you're just not making great social games. And by great games I mean game-changing games. And the game needs to change because it's just not good enough.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/markrabo/4654298588/

These are the faces of people who are "getting" a game. They are seeing a game at its mechanically finest, and appreciating the careful interplay of a game's rules. This is my favorite moment of playing a new game, of *getting* what makes it tick. And yet when I play social games, I never hit this feeling.

Instead, I hit this feeling. Disappointment. I get the system, and it disappoints me. And since social games are my job, and my passion, I feel like this every day. Every day I play the latest social game and every day I am let down. And I'm sick of it.

TWO YEARS AGO...
WE WERE DOING GREAT
And it bums me out because two years ago, we were doing GREAT. Great in the sense that things were showing potential. WE WERE ON THE RIGHT TRACK. We were seeing real glimmers of hope,

Parking Wars area/code, 2007
with games like Parking Wars way back in 2007,

Bejeweled Blitz Popcap, 2008
and Bejeweled Blitz, a mainstream title that reinvented itself through some subtle rule changes.

MouseHunt HitGrab, 2008
And MOUSEHUNT. Still one of the most compelling and unique titles to ever grace Facebook, and it is CRIMINAL if you study this space and have not played and deconstructed this game.

But I can't name anything from the LAST TWO YEARS OF SOCIAL GAMING that was as INTERESTING to me as these titles. And I mean interesting from a critical, game design perspective, not a business perspective. Successful, sure. Massive, also yes. But not INTERESTING.

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?
So, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? WELL, ACCORDING TO ME, THIS THE HELL HAPPENED:
WELL, AS FAR AS I CAN TELL, THIS THE HELL HAPPENED:

ONE GAME CHANGED THE ENTIRE INDUSTRY.
One game changed the entire social game industry, and that game was

Farm Town Slashkey, 2009
FARM TOWN by Slashkey. This game came out of nowhere. Wasn't made by Playfish, or Zynga. Any of the big players at the time.

FARM TOWN DAILY ACTIVE USERS

DeveloperAnalytics.com

And yet Farm Town rapidly became the biggest game on Facebook, and the most influential social game of the next two years,

through a combination of a time-based return mechanic focused around crops, and a deep integration with Facebook's "Requests" channel, forcing players to send and accept Requests in order to receive gifts, and visit their friends' farms.

APPS WITH FREE GIFTING?
YES
2 Title

NO

YES
47

Title

NO

48

3

Winter 2009
http://www.slideshare.net/miaconsalvo/using-your-friends-top-interaction-mechanics-in-social-games

Fall 2010

These features are quite common now, but they weren't in January 2009, and in most cases Farm Town did it first. It influenced the entire industry to take up the same tropes.

And as an industry, we became FIXATED on the success here. But we weren't good at interpreting success beyond the simplest layer. We saw something that worked, and we did what came natural:

http://www2.parc.com/isl/members/jbreiden/glyphchess/glyphchess.html

We started mimicking these success patterns. And then mimicking other mimics. Everything just got more and more recursive. Even the games which bare no immediate resemblance to Farm Town, still retain those same patterns.

+

TIME-BASED RE-ENGAGEMENT NEIGHBORS VIA REQUESTS FREE GIFTING VIA REQUESTS EMPHASIS ON LONGER SESSIONS AD SPEND CROSS-PROMOTION

SUCCESS!
We all created this common vocabulary of "success". And we started repeating it. But this formula instills BAD HABITS, and creates dangerous assumptions about what success *means* in social games.

L IA C O Y S C T LA AL EA RF G E ES HM T + A G
SUCCESS?
I've seen some amazing developers come in, and make Facebook games, and just DO IT WRONG. Because this formula as a foregone conclusion is one of the THE GREAT FALLACIES OF SOCIAL GAMES TODAY. What's worse, the formula leads to player assumptions of the limitations of what Facebook games can do.

TIME-BASED RE-ENGAGEMENT NEIGHBORS VIA REQUESTS FREE GIFTING VIA REQUESTS EMPHASIS ON LONGER SESSIONS AD SPEND CROSS-PROMOTION

"There’s no other word for it except evil. Of course you can debate anything, but the general definition of evil in the real world, where there isn’t like the villain in the mountain fortress, is selfishness to the detriment of others or to the detriment of the world."

JON BLOW

BRAID, THE WITNESS

And what's even MORE WORSE, is that it drives away potential new talent from the space -- developers who just don't see what more can be done. And the fallacies propagate and spread.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tunruh/233316674/

All because two years ago, we made a hard right turn and never looked back. We never reconsidered the road less traveled. THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE.

The best thing we can do right now is strongly rethink the last two years of social game development. WE NEED TO START OVER.

THIS IS OUR ETCH-A-SKETCH MOMENT,

OUR CHANCE FOR A BLANK SLATE.

SHALLOW ESCAPISM

a short-form indulgence of distraction, often as a punctuated instance of a more long-term form of escapism.

And maybe we can give ourselves the time to think about what works on the platform, what I call Shallow Escapism, these brief and fleeting moments of procrastination which we choose to fill with play.

THE MAGIC CIRCLE

And we can think about how the magic circle plays into these brief moments.

And how the best games create that magic circle within the player's mind,

and how it can persist even when the game's no longer in front of them.

Maybe we can take a closer look at those early examples

And find something new to play with, to iterate on.

Or maybe we can look over at the mobile space, which fills those same or similar idle moments in our lives through fast bursts of low-friction gameplay,

and yet has seen a great deal more innovation than social games.

http://shelleydraws.com

But the best thing we can do is work together. No developer should be an island. If we can figure out how to do this right, it's a win for everyone.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tunruh/233316674/

Please, help me take the road less traveled.

ONE MINUTE REMAINING
I've been given an extra minute which I will now spend on

BONUS RANT

http://www.flickr.com/photos/devos/100755121/

my bonus rant, in which I bite the hand that feeds me.

So, the description for this panel is a bit lengthy, but one part stuck out to me,

namely where Eric and Jason say the panelists range from "scarred veteran to hothead youngster",

SCARRED VETERAN?

and it certainly gave the rest of the panelists the fun exercise of trying to guess which one of them was the scarred veteran,

HOTHEAD YOUNGSTER

but it was immediately obvious which one of us was the "hothead youngster",

HOTHEADED YOUNGSTER
which, by the way,

HOTHEADED YOUNGSTER
should be hotheadED. HotheadED youngster. That has been bothering me for WEEKS.

So I don't understand why I'm a hothead, unless it's because I called Ian out for spending more time satirizing my industry than trying to help legitimize it. Or because I tried to empower indie game developers to make social games by accusing them of being afraid to do so, thereby employing the "Biff Tannen" school of logic.

Or why it's really necessary to focus on my age. I guess I'm sorry that I'm young? I feel like I end up apologizing for that far too often.

TIMELINE OF SOCIAL GAMES INVOLVEMENT
SCOTT JON SIEGEL JUNE 2008 BRIAN REYNOLDS JULY 2009 STEVE MERETZKY NOVEMBER 2008 TRIP HAWKINS MARCH 2010 BRENDA BRATHWAITE SEPTEMBER 2009 IAN BOGOST JULY 2010

But it's worth noting that despite my age, in terms of social games,

TIMELINE OF SOCIAL GAMES INVOLVEMENT
SCOTT JON SIEGEL JUNE 2008 BRIAN REYNOLDS JULY 2009 STEVE MERETZKY NOVEMBER 2008 TRIP HAWKINS MARCH 2010 BRENDA BRATHWAITE SEPTEMBER 2009 IAN BOGOST JULY 2010

I'VE ACTUALLY BEEN DOING THIS LONGER THAN ANYONE ELSE ON THIS PANEL.

SCARRED VETERAN
SCOTT JON SIEGEL JUNE 2008 BRIAN REYNOLDS JULY 2009 STEVE MERETZKY NOVEMBER 2008

TIMELINE OF SOCIAL GAMES INVOLVEMENT
TRIP HAWKINS MARCH 2010 BRENDA BRATHWAITE SEPTEMBER 2009 IAN BOGOST JULY 2010

And I think that actually earns ME the title of SCARRED VETERAN. I certainly have the scars to show for it.

SCARRED VETERAN
SCOTT JON SIEGEL JUNE 2008 BRIAN REYNOLDS JULY 2009 STEVE MERETZKY NOVEMBER 2008

TIMELINE OF SOCIAL GAMES INVOLVEMENT
TRIP HAWKINS MARCH 2010 BRENDA BRATHWAITE SEPTEMBER 2009 IAN BOGOST JULY 2010

HOTHEADED YOUNGSTER
Which technically leaves IAN BOGOST as our industry's HOTHEADED YOUNGSTER. And I really think that's the best possible fit.

SCARRED VETERAN
http://numberless.net scottjonsiegel@gmail.com @numberless

TIMELINE OF SOCIAL GAMES INVOLVEMENT
TRIP HAWKINS MARCH 2010 BRENDA BRATHWAITE SEPTEMBER 2009 IAN BOGOST JULY 2010

SCOTT JON SIEGEL JUNE 2008

BRIAN REYNOLDS JULY 2009 STEVE MERETZKY NOVEMBER 2008

HOTHEADED YOUNGSTER
Thank you.