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Games meet daytime TV – Farmville is the early days of the evolution of games from “film” to “television”

By on March 30, 2010
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The games industry is changing.

And the change is every bit as seismic as the emergence of television in the late 1940s was for film.

Why is there so much hatred of Farmville amongst games developers?

This is a game that is enjoyed by 85 million people every month. It is insanely profitable. It was developed rapidly and iteratively to deliver what consumers want.

Surely we should love it?

The end of film?

AAA console games are like movies. They are premium, blockbuster products. They are (broadly) aimed at an audience that has high disposable income and spare time to spend to on 40 hour epics. In practice, this often means young adults, before they’ve settled down and have families.

Much like films.

Speaking from my own experience, I have basically stopped going to the cinema since I had a baby. By the time you’ve added the expense and hassle of getting a babysitter, the enjoyment simply isn’t there to justify it. My AAA gaming habit has also taken a kick (although I did manage to finish Dragon Age: Origins in three months).

But Facebook games? They are accessible.

They are accessible to people like me who no longer have hours to commit to games. They are accessible to people who have never played any type of game before (one third of Facebook gamers have never played any other type of game). They are accessible to anyone who baulks at spending hundreds of pounds on a piece of hardware and then £30 a go to play the games.

In short, it’s a mass market medium, much like television.

Will Farmville games kill AAA?

Did television kill film? For a while, the film and cinema industries were terrified, convinced that television would prise their audiences away. They fought and complained and said that television was rubbish.

And then discovered it was their saviour.

It gave a long tail to movies  A new revenue stream. Cinema was harder hit until it realised that it needed to smarten up and offer a unique experience, and now it is thriving.

Facebook games are like television. They are mass-market, accessible, need no special skills (have you ever tried playing a PS3 game with someone who’s never used a controller before…), and are free.

They represent a large part of our future.

But Facebook games are shit!

Read GamaSutra, and every story will have a developer saying something along the lines of “Facebook games aren’t real games, they’re shit.”

There is no doubt that they are in a different league to the craft and production values that go into AAA console titles.

So why do I think that Facebook games are such a big part of our future?

Because we are at the early days of Facebook games. To extend the television analogy, Facebook games are daytime TV. They’re not even good daytime TV. In the evolution of games-as-TV, we haven’t even reached Countdown.

There is no Facebook equivalent of The Wire. Of Dr Who or Torchwood. Of Dispatches or The Blue Planet or Desperate Housewives. We haven’t even got to soap operas (although I’m trying with Spirit of Adventure on Facebook)

AAA and social games will co-exist

We are at a really exciting stage for the games industry. New gamers are coming into the market all the time. We are truly mainstream for the first time in our history.

Unfortunately, the market is polarising. Mediocre boxed products don’t cut it any more. There are fewer AAA titles every year (although the successes are making huge revenues) and work-for-hire studios are going out of business.

But the opportunities in the world of games-as-television are huge. Whether that’s Facebook, social games, web games, iPhone games, mobile games more generally – the mass market is finally here.

Which I think is fantastically exciting. I can’t wait to see where talented developers take game development.

But it’s bad news for those few small-minded people who think that the only good games are played on a console or come in a box.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
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  • Andy Rogers

    This is spot-on – we are working on some very interesting projects in this area, and you're right 2010 will see some major entertainment-time changes…

  • Stunning stuff..I was on the lookout for this for many days now.

  • and there's not only social games but also all those game arcades with online flash games that are also free and very popular!

  • I think we can expect all of these things. Facebook publishers becoming channels. Strong niche channels. Improving quality (I think it will start meaning graphics, which is a mistake, because the secret of Facebook games is “instant access” and sociability, not graphical fireworks.
    And the AAA folks who hate Farmville are in denial – television is going to be huge.

  • I've been thinking about this too. Facebook games are like TV.

    If the games follow TV's trajectory, we can expect:

    – Market pressures to gradually increase quality in the top rated shows. We don't yet know what “quality” means in the context of Facebook games.

    – Specialist channels that aim to deliver a whole bunch of shows that appeal to their subscriber base (VH1, HBO, the sci-fi channel)
    – More cult games to emerge for niche audiences (the Babylon 5 of Facebook games)
    – Mass market channels that aim to get top rated shows. We're seeing Zynga, Playdom, etc. in these categories already. How long will it be before they start publishing third party games instead of developing everything in house?