Lives Notes from “Asynchronous Games on Social Networks” at Social Gaming Summit
We’re here at the Social Gaming Summit at UCSF Mission Bay in San Francisco. A fantastic, big crowd is on hand for today’s event – probably close to 400 people from game and social network companies.
The first session this afternoon is “Asynchronous Games on Social Networks,” including:
» Siqi Chen – Founder, Serious Business (Friends for Sale)
» Blake Commagere – Founder and VP Engineering, Mogad
» Shervin Pishevar – CEO, Social Gaming Network
» Mike Sego – Developer, (fluff)Friends
» Andrew Chung – Principal, Lightspeed Venture Partners (moderator)
Andrew – Asynchronous gaming has been a concept for a long time, since Diplomacy in the 50’s to fantasy football and baseball via phone and now online. Ian from Persuasive Games wrote a paper in 2004 when he was at Georgia Tech describing asynchronous games, defining them as: 1) supporting multiple players playing in sequence, 2) requiring persistent state that affects all players, 3) breaks are the organizing principle, 4) asynchronous need not be the defining characteristic of the game.
Shervin – We’re building what I call social games 2.0. The first generation of games on social networks were very simplistic. We’ve reached about 50 million installed users on Facebook and about a million daily actives, 1 billion page views a month. We’re recruiting the best game developers.
Siqi – We’re a game studio producing social games on social platforms. Right now we have one game, Friend For Sale. We ask ourselves, “Can you imagine the game taking place outside a social network?” If not, those are games we’re interested in.
Blake – I cut my teeth working on the Causes application, I’m proud to be part of that. You can see influences of game mechanics there, but it may be a little more subtle. After that, I created the monsters applications, and I’ve been working on that for the last year, bringing them to other platforms as well. We’re at about 27 million installs, between 400-800,000 DAU.
Mike – I started out at EA, working on Sims Online, and then I went to Google to work on Gmail before getting lured back into games. (fluff)Friends is what would happen if you just made something cute and didn’t stop. I’ve been flushing out this virtual world around cute animals.
Andrew – How do your games fit the pattern of asynchronous games?
Shervin – We started with Warbook, which is a strategy game. All our games are asynchronous.
Siqi – FFS is a game where you buy and sell people as pets, we designed it as a way to meet cute people. It’s very asynchronous, which is a byproduct of going after social interactions where you interact with your friends. Rarely are more than a few of your friends online at the same time, at least within Facebook.
Blake – My games weren’t designed to be asynchronous, they were designed to be as viral as possible. It was later that I shifted my focus to add more game play elements.
Mike – With FF, it’s much more the consequence that Facebook is an asynch communication platform, and FF is just a cute version of Facebook. Just as when people set up their Facebook profile and later other people come and check it out, it’s the same way with FF – setting your fluff status, writing on your fluff wall.
Andrew – How important is the presence of the social graph for asynch gameplay? Often when I started playing Scrabulous, I had to play with strangers because my friends weren’t there that much.
Shervin – We started working with auto-matching engines. Two chess players have a more enjoyable experience if they have a similar skill level, even if they’re not friends. We have to do both. Another example is Zynga’s Scramble, which has both synch and asynch modes. So I think some games can be either.
Siqi – There are some games that simply can’t exist without the social graph, like Parking Wars or Pack Rat. These almost have to be asynchronous. Previously, I made a game called Mafia, but because you had to play with 10 people at the same time, it was impossible to play with your friends.
Blake – Younger users seem more comfortable interacting with strangers, older people tend to want to play with their friends. This makes sense, the best parties you go to when you’re in your 20’s are interesting because people are there that you don’t know that you may want to interact with, but that changes when you’re in your 40’s.
Mike – Being able to meet new people with similar interests is really important for FF, because it’s tons more fun to talk with people who share the same degree of passion. I got invited to a Fluff wedding the other day. That part is less dependent on the social graph. Ultimately, the people who love the application the most are important.
Andrew – How do you move people down the spectrum to make them more engaged and hard core?
Mike – I think of my users in 3 different groups. There are the people creating the experience with me, creating the art, etc. There are people who are sharing the experience with others, petting etc. And there are the trial users. I try to consistently release something new and different that may appeal to users that haven’t been more engaged before. I have used contests and events to do this, like the Easter Egg hunt. Some people who hadn’t taken the time to get stuff to decorate with before, enjoyed hunting for easter eggs.
Blake – There is always going to be some subset of your userbase that’s never going to play more than their 30 minute lunch break, because that’s all the time they have. Don’t inundate users with too much experience at the beginning, gamers hate to read, I’ve never read a game manual in my life.
Siqi – I think there’s a lot to learn from traditional MMO design, things like levels. If you get to the next level, you get this new shiny thing. It makes the game more complicated, but it works. Our hardest core users use more synchronous features.
Shervin – The first generation of social games were incredibly simplistic, and the platform was so viral, that it was a lot easier for apps to grow. But it behooves all of us to invest in content. I’m staying up late at night building social games 2.0, games with richer content, deeper stories, much better user experiences. It’s going to become harder for independent developers. I can’t talk about the games we’re working on, but you can look at Playfish. Their engagement levels are high and they’re growing faster than those that have come before.
Blake – There will always be room for the asynchronous experience that users will enjoy, some are just not going to play synchronously. A Zynga game Ghost Racer is interesting, it records your race and allows your friends to race the “ghost” of your car, making the asynchronous experience feel quite synchronous. I haven’t seen anyone else push down that path, I think it’s quite interesting. I was swearing at my friend who was beating me in this game, but he wasn’t even playing.
Andrew – What are ways that you’ve thought about expanding your games beyond Facebook?
Shervin – With Warbook, we did text messaging based moves. I actually think mobile is the perfect platform for asynchronous games.
Blake – I get discouraged every time I look at mobile. The carriers have really killed innovation.